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Holiday Flying Won't Be Kid Stuff

Travel: Parents find they have to take extra steps to prepare their children for Thanksgiving trips.


After deciding to go ahead with plans to fly to Hawaii for Thanksgiving, Hank Capshaw of Glendale spelled out the rules for his 12-year-old son, Kanan.

No Gameboys, CD players or any other electronic gadgets that could hold them up at crowded airport checkpoints. No whining, no running off, no back-talking to airport officials or flight attendants. And absolutely no jokes or casual comments about bombs on the plane.

"I decided we had to keep things as simple as possible on our end," said Capshaw, 43, a television producer, "because everything else is so complicated this year. These aren't simple times."

Even in the best of times, flying with children can be challenging. But this Thanksgiving holiday promises to be especially so, with longer waits, stepped-up security measures and lingering concerns about flying on the part of many parents and children.

Even though the airlines have cut back flights 20% since the terrorist attacks, airports still are expected to be packed in the next few days, with some carriers forecasting capacity at 80% or higher. Almost 35 million U.S. travelers are likely to board planes over Thanksgiving week, many of them families flying together for the first time since Sept. 11.

Naturally, many parents are making extra preparations for Thanksgiving travel, planning not only how to manage children's boredom during airport downtime, but also what to say if their car is searched by police or they pass armed soldiers.

Jack and Roseanne Phillips of San Diego realized they hadn't done enough to prepare their fifth-grade son, Nathan, to visit relatives in Portland, Ore., when he came home from school last week, blaming terrorists for the latest American Airlines crash in New York.

" 'They're going to shoot us out of the sky too,' " Roseanne Phillips quoted Nathan as saying. "At that point, we knew we'd better be more open with him about traveling, because he was obviously more nervous than we thought."

Privately, the Phillipses discussed how they could make Nathan feel more secure about flying. Only once, when the 10-year-old asked if they should take separate planes "just in case," did his parents consider canceling. They tried explaining that the Nov. 12 crash was probably caused by a mechanical failure, not terrorists, and that there was no need to fly separately.

"We didn't know how far we should push him," Roseanne Phillips said. "But we just kept giving him information, like telling him there are a lot of people who are making sure we get on a safe plane. Once he saw that we were totally fine with going . . . it made him feel more secure."

Still, the Phillipses said they plan to arrive at the airport early, pack lightly and give Nathan a present for the trip: a new magnetic chessboard, which they hope will help distract him during long waits.

Officials at most Southern California airports advise passengers to arrive at least two hours before domestic flights, three for international. Airlines say parents should carry copies of their children's birth certificates in case their identification needs to be confirmed.

Car searches also may delay travel plans. At John Wayne Airport, sheriff's deputies are searching every car. Los Angeles International and other area airports are generally doing them randomly.

"The best advice for passengers this year is: be prudent," said Victor Gill, a spokesman for Burbank Airport. "Don't take anything for granted, because things won't be exactly like you're used to."

That is doubly true for children, according to the American Psychological Assn., which warns that heightened security measures will probably affect children differently, depending on their age. While some may be intrigued by the sight of bomb-sniffing police dogs in the airport or comforted by careful searches of bags and cars, younger children may be confused.

Serena Colton, 31, of Aliso Viejo said she knows her daughter Makenzie, 4, will demand answers when she sees "armed troops" at John Wayne Airport this week. The single mother, who is planning to visit her parents in Dallas, said she heard the number of National Guard soldiers at airports has been increased for holiday travel.

"I know I'll have to have a response ready for her," said Colton, who consulted the American Psychological Assn. Web site for advice on soothing children's traveling fears. "So I'm going to tell her [the soldiers] are our friends, and they're keeping us safe. I'm going to tell her they make sure no one gets on our plane unless they belong there."

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