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Family Thanksgiving Flights Need Elaborate Ground Rules

TIMES STAFF WRITER

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

No Gameboys, CD players or 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, because everything else is so complicated this year,” said Capshaw, 43, a television producer. “These aren’t simple times.”

Even in the best of times, flying with children can be a challenge. But this Thanksgiving holiday promises to be especially so, with longer waits, increased security measures and lingering concerns about flying.

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Airports are still expected to be packed in the next few days, with some carriers putting 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 down times but what to say to them if police search their car or they pass armed soldiers.

Jack and Roseanne Phillips of San Diego realized they hadn’t done enough to prepare their fifth-grade son 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 recalled her son, Nathan, 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.”

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Privately, the Phillipses discussed how they could make Nathan feel more secure. Only once, when the 10-year-old asked if they should take separate planes, “just in case,” did his parents consider canceling altogether. They tried explaining that the Nov. 12 crash was not caused by 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 magnetic chessboard, which they hope will help distract him from what they expect to be up to a two-hour wait at the terminal.

Officials at most Southern California airports advise passengers to arrive at least two hours before domestic flights, three for international. Airliners said parents should carry copies of their children’s birth certificates in case their identification needs to be confirmed. Car searches at airports also might delay travel plans.

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“The best advice for passengers this year is be prudent,” said Victor Gill, a spokesman at 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 probably will affect children differently, depending on their age. Though 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 already knows that her 4-year-old daughter, Makenzie, will demand answers when she sees armed National Guard soldiers at John Wayne Airport when they fly to visit grandparents in Dallas this week.

“I know I’ll have to have a response ready for her,” said Colton, who consulted the American Psychological Assn.'s Web site for advice. “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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