Home Air Travel Advanced Imaging Technology at San Francisco International – with children

Advanced Imaging Technology at San Francisco International – with children

by Shelly Rivoli

We’re back! Our poor, worn suitcases are spilling out all over the entryway, but before I get to the laundry or any of the details of our amazing overseas escape, I wanted to follow-up regarding the new Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) debate and share our recent experiences traveling with the little ones–and I’d love to hear back from any of you who recently cleared security with kids.

Our first surprise was at San Francisco International, where we were very happily directed into the much shorter line at the green Family Lane. The enormous AIT booth loomed large in front of the security lines, and as we approached, I asked the TSO if it was backscatter or millimeter wave imaging. He grinned, happy to hear from a traveler who knew there was a difference between the two, and assured me it was the millimeter wave model. Knowing that this is the case at SFO—and not at Oakland or San Jose—makes SFO my preferred Bay Area airport, how about you?

He also explained that no, the children did NOT have to walk through it, nor did they have to be physically “frisked” by anyone—and guess what? As their parent-escorts neither did we! We presented our liquids and gels, removed the shoes, and walked through the metal detector as usual. On the other side, a TSO even grabbed our travel stroller without prompting and had it unfolded for me in a flash.

Neither of the airports we passed through in Europe had AIT booths, including Heathrow—which came as a surprise to me. However, as I passed through security at Terminal 3, surprised that I not only got to wear my baby and my shoes through the metal detector, a cheerful little beeping ensued. Guess what? We were the randomly selected travelers—baby and me—who got to be pulled aside and physically searched!

No kidding. Thankfully, it was a very sweet woman who was so friendly and kind that my daughters felt compelled to hang out at my feet as I held out the baby for his diaper-patting and squeezes (which he thought were just more friendly greetings) and got a less-invasive frisking than I’d feared. It was fine. We all laughed and were quickly on our way.

On our way back through Heathrow, at Terminal 5, we were cordially invited to go ahead and preboard when we were ready. So as we stepped up to do so and gave the family surname, we got another surprise. Our government had randomly selected us to receive pre-flight massages—by British airport security. Again, the officers were all very cordial and we had some good laughs, even as they directed us to go downstairs to a more private area…(What?!) Fortunately, this applied only to the adults in our party, and not the kids who were able to sit to the side and look on as we smiled. So we chuckled as they searched through our toy- and snack-stuffed carry-ons. But when the lead officer began to put on the rubber gloves, I admit my stomach rose into my throat.

The rubber gloves, thank goodness, were just a formality. The frisking was once again much less invasive than I’d feared it would be.

How about you?
Have you encountered AIT at the airport recently? How did the TSO’s handle your family’s passage through airport security? And would you choose a different airport based on AIT practices or equipment?

Safe journey,

Shelly Rivoli, author of the award-winning guide Travels with Baby
https://travelswithbaby.com/   facebook

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Anonymous April 13, 2011 - 7:22 am

I recently flew to Abu Dhabi from New Orleans, with several flight changes. Loved the Amsterdam Airport!! My daughter was sleeping as we reached security and the screener came and got her stroller and wheeled her around the machine. I think I understood that they do not scan children (but I'm not sure). In any case, they very gently patted down my 3 year old and her stroller and she never woke up. Fabulous! I will try to avoid Frankfurt, though. There is a family line – which takes at least twice as long as the regular line. And they were impatient with my daughter and I, which seemed strange since it was the family line! In the US, we've been fortunate most of the time. I prep my daughter (who still sometimes freaks at security – and never over the same thing so I can prep all I want!) Most of the screener and airport personnel are nice and we've never had a real problem… hope it stays that way! The new scanners are just being installed in New Orleans so I will be requesting a "pat down" on our next flight out.

cheap flights to Dubai December 15, 2010 - 4:40 am

Thanks for the information..I really like your post..It will be very helpful post for those who will travel with there kids..I appreciate your post..

Limo Hire Melbourne December 8, 2010 - 10:49 am

There is an another way that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is working towards securing this feeling of safety when traveling on a plane is the relatively new adding of Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) in about 70 major airports nationwide.

Liesl December 3, 2010 - 6:06 am

thanks for this ;D i really don't mind these machines… so what if a guy sees my fat but, thin but, etc etc as long as there is no radiation and makes it all saver for all of us, it is good.
My son has never minded being patted down..or scanned — i make him walk through the scanner slowly. and then he will go stand on the cubicle to be hand scanned/patted by himself..

and really — what are they going to do — sexually touch your child – with security cameras and people/personnel everywhere (or even yourself for that matter.)

Here in Asia & other parts of the world – they are very friendly and accommodating to children…. BUT like all good things … be forewarned .. people are going to take advantage of this "family queue" and try to smuggle drugs/weapons etc etc… so that queue will eventually also be scrutinised.

but as we are always reminded when flying – if you keep your side clean, you should be fine.
happy flying.

Shelly Rivoli December 2, 2010 - 8:54 pm

Kim & Wendy – I heard back from SFO re: your comments. They had this to say:

"The security procedures are identical at all checkpoints at SFO, both domestic and international. Actual passenger experiences will vary based upon magnetometer or AIT clearance, however. Additionally, the TSA conducts random procedures so that process is not predictable. I sincerely hope that the service experience is as pleasant as your initial trip through SFO was.

One of your readers was correct about the TSA sub-contracting screening work. SFO has participated in the Opt-out program since the program was created in November, 2002."

Shelly Rivoli December 2, 2010 - 6:56 pm

Right! I'd heard SFO was probably going with private security — perhaps that explains the friendliness and helpfulness of the guards I encountered there! 😉

Ian and Wendy Sewell December 2, 2010 - 6:38 pm

Thank you so much for this post! Even though we've traveled lots with our daughter, the thought of either going through the new machines or having her patted down had me thinking twice about flying. It's so good to know that things at SFO aren't as bad as I'd feared. And yes, I do feel better about the millimeter wave than I would about the backscatter. Also, we do LOVE that family line!

I don't think they're actually TSA agents, though. I read that they're a private security company. Apparently they couldn't hire people at TSA rates to work in San Francisco given the cost of living.

Thanks for yet another informative, helpful post!

Shelly Rivoli December 2, 2010 - 6:25 pm

We were at International, but it would also be millimeter wave at domestic (no backscatter at SFO) as well, and I would expect the procedure with children & families to be the same since it seems like the general policy there, though I haven't gone through SFO domestic since AIT. Anyone else?

Kim Cotton December 2, 2010 - 6:02 pm

As always, thanks Shelly for your reports from the traveling trenches! I like that you're chuckling throughout the process — a good attitude will make a difference. But since my 3yo is seriously squirmy and shy, I've been hesitant to even buy tickets (and have told my preferred carrier so). Any idea what differences there are between the security in the domestic and international terminals at SFO?

DY December 2, 2010 - 4:50 pm

Thanks for the post and blog… I will be traveling for the first time with my son (1 year old) in April so I know this will be a helpful blog. Thanks.

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