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KIDS ON BOARD

Ah, Paris -- the romance, the food, the airport, the agony

Even the wonders of France may no longer be worth dragging a family and their copious gear through security.

February 11, 2007|Mary McNamara | Times Staff Writer

WE took the family to Paris for Christmas. It was the first time my husband and I wondered whether the five of us could do such a trip again.

It wasn't because of Paris, which was gorgeous and child-friendly, or the fact that we were traveling with 2-month-old Darby. Portable and pleasant, she slept through both plane rides and did not complain about being nursed in the Louvre or on the Pont Neuf.

It wasn't even the cost; we got three of the tickets through a frequent-flier program and found a terrific apartment online at www.londonguestsuites.com.

It was the security.

I don't think our family can again face the gantlet of security forces one must go through to get in and out of this country. Or in and out of Los Angeles for that matter.

Seasoned traveler that I am, I had reduced the children's carry-on items to a minimum -- crayons, paper, Game Boys. We carried no sharp implements, including baby nail clippers, on our persons and had the necessary liquids -- Baby Tylenol, children's cough syrup, Desitin, Purell -- in containers of 3 ounces or less and placed in a plastic bag.

I had measured and weighed our various bags to make sure they complied with the airline guidelines. We had only one real carry-on bag. (After a connection was canceled last summer I will never again travel without a change of clothes for everyone.) We had packed the big clunky shoes and had the kids in slip-ons, had reminded them not to fidget or run or touch the metal detectors as they went through.

And still it was a nightmare.

No matter how you slice it, a family with two kids and an infant has a lot of moving parts. Coats, shoes in one bin, the DVD player and now (this was new to us) the digital cameras and camcorders in another. My husband always sets off the alarm, is duly wanded and patted down and allowed through.

While this is happening, I am trying to gather up all our stuff; make sure my purse, with the passports and the money, doesn't go through ahead of me and get stolen; that I still have the boarding pass; that the kids get their jackets and their shoes on; that the baby is fastened in her car seat and placed someplace where she will not fall (or be stolen); and that all the various electronic things are back where I put them to keep the number of bags streamlined.

The security workers were nice but not helpful. There was a huge line, of course, so other people's stuff kept falling on ours, and people kept bumping my kids and the baby, clearly irritated that we existed and were in their way, while I tried to move as quickly as I could without leaving anything behind.

I was exhausted and sweating, anxious and irritated before we even reached the gate at LAX. Where, of course, the plane was delayed and we sat for almost three hours.

Coming back was worse. It's as if you are punished for leaving the country. At Charles de Gaulle International Airport in Paris we had to show our passports no fewer than five times and have our bags searched twice, though security representatives recognized the size and complications of our group and kindly pulled us into a security station alone so we wouldn't feel the pressure of the line piling up behind us.

But in the connecting city of Cincinnati, we had to collect our luggage and go through customs and then security again. We were threatened with a $300 fine for having a tangerine I had forgotten at the bottom of our backpack. And somehow we left daughter Fiona's Christmas present behind -- one of the cameras that we had to keep hauling out and putting in a bin. A snow globe also was confiscated; it is on the list of banned items. We just made our flight, at a dead run, with the baby bobbing and the kids crying because it was just all so intense.

Again, no one was mean, everyone was just doing their job, but no one's job seemed to include actually helping travelers have the pleasant part of the "safe and pleasant flight." And no one, especially in the U.S., was going out of the way to help a family with small children.

So Paris was wonderful, Paris was a dream, but the actual travel was so bad that we are looking at summer wondering whether we dare set foot in an airport again. Which considering our history of almost rabid travel lust is saying something: If we don't want to get on an airplane, who will?

Perhaps the terrorists have won after all.

mary.mcnamara@latimes.com

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