by Mary Thomson
Don't spazz out - Cherie and I did it from here to Breyerfest three times with no problems, including our 'big gun' horses. I will give tips:
Rule: Anything you can't replace, rides with you in the overhead bins.
We found that the smallest o-bin on a 757 holds 5 tests securely wrapped in bubble wrap, quite nicely. Cherie made an excellent guard dog, snarling at anyone who even approached the littlest bin over us. That was probably why everyone avoided us on the flight.
Understand that they may want to unwrap ALL your horses at the TSA checkpoint. Cherie and I have the story of them running the chemical-explosive-detector-wipey-thing over her Largo Wixom, which yeah is funny now, but was kinda nailbitey then...we later made snarky comments about Disco being a plastic explosive, etc. (obviously NOT inside the airport, otherwise they drag you to the little room and beat you on the kidneys with rubber hoses before having you arrested...)
Ask for a HAND SEARCH *IN YOUR PRESENCE* of any of your cargo boxes holding horses. Again: REQUEST HAND SEARCH, IN YOUR PRESENCE. This is the operative phrase.
***Warning, if you do NOT request this, they DO have the ability to open your boxes outside of your presence, including unwrapping horses, etc. -- which is NOT what you want. Which is ALSO why you want the extra time.***
TSA will take the boxes, and you, to a different search area. USE TSA LOCKS which they can open easily, or have your keys, tickets, ID in hand. You will find that the TSA folk are actually very friendly and if you talk to them about what it is you're hauling, they will be very interested, and very careful. When done, lock back up, make sure they mark it in the way they have, to verify that a search was done, and then, bring ZIP TIES and ask them to run the zip ties through the lock hasps or cargo box holes as extra security. Be sure to bring plenty of zip ties for on the way back, as well.
BE PREPARED - they may remove EVERY SINGLE HORSE from your cargo box, and open every interior box/bubblewrap, etc. They have the right to do it. It's their job. Screaming about it is not going to help you. Again, ALLOW PLENTY OF EXTRA TIME, and you'll be fine. be POLITE AND COOPERATIVE, and it will be relatively painless.
There is no reason to be afraid of TSA. If you behave and act rationally (and commiserating with their awful job helps too), they are very nice and helpful. They are not trying to make your life miserable. The trick is TIME and CALM....on your part. I know it blows to be sitting in an airport for hours waiting, but it's better to get there with oceans of time, it'll be a breeze.
I would not use a suitcase unless it's hard-side, of course. And if you use a suitcase, which I think is not a great idea, make SURE you get a luggage strap.
Let me ask you this: Do you want to risk your bag springing open in the baggage system or elsewhere, with horses spilling out everywhere? Me neither. Which is why we prefer the method below.
And again, ANYTHING that is absolutely irreplaceable (OOAKs, test runs, etc.) goes into the passenger cabin with you. Make room in your cabin bag. If you're a china shower, well, tranquilizers would probably help.
OUR PREFERRED (AND PROVEN) METHOD:
Go to WalMart or Lowes. Buy those Rubbermaid "foot locker" type boxes with hinged lids. Contico boxes work well too. Depending on what scale you show, and the size of the box (I'm going to assume traditional scale and the smallest available box here...) they hold about 15 well-packed horses, I'd say, if you put the foals on top (like we did). Use stablemates to 'fill in the gaps.' Make sure you make a LIST OF WHO'S IN WHAT BOX. Make a copy, put one list in the box, keep the other with you. Again as for boxes, anything with a *hinged lid you can lock.* Make sure that the foot lockers you buy have openings for the hasps of the locks to go through (most of them do).
Then purchase a TSA APPROVED LOCK for each box. They will have a little image of a plane on the packaging. These are locks that allow a special key the TSA agents have, which allow them to 'spring' the lock for searches, without ruining your lock. They will then put the lock back on and secure it. You will also know if they've been digging around in there, because they will put a letter to you on the top of your items, when you open your box, that says basically "sorry we had to dig around in here..."
Also buy ZIP TIES as I said before, but do NOT, I repeat NOT put them on until the box has been searched in your presence, otherwise they're just going to cut them off anyway. Again, make sure you have enough ties for your return trip.
Also purchase a BIG roll of REINFORCED PACKING TAPE to tape down the latches for the boxes, to further secure them.
Don't skimp on the bubble wrap. And remember, bubbles OUT.
BIG HINT which I forgot before: *PACK YOUR CLOTHING AROUND YOUR HORSES* as more cushioning and padding, and also helps hold down the extra baggage costs. Your horses aren't going to look at your panties or anything. Also works for takin' the dirties home on the way back. Theoretically you should be able to pack your "you stuff" easily in with the "horse stuff" thereby ending up with 1-2 big foot lockers, a carry-on duffel and your purse, etc.
On one trip we used Australian tech-ice to line the box to keep the OFP's cool and un-popped when going from CA to hot Kentucky, and the grand finale of how Cherie couldn't bear to leave behind the leftovers of what was probably one of the best steaks we'd ever had in our lives (Paddock Grille, Embassy Suites Lexington - HIGHLY recommended! the steak is prepared in a *blueberry* sauce/marinade that will blow your mind...) so we actually packed the steak IN WITH THE HORSES in the box, within the Tech-ice layers for the trip back, and the steak was still perfectly refrigerated and tasty when we got back to Glendale after about 9 hours on planes! But that's how we roll, never leave a prime piece o' meat behind...
Oh yeah, and another thing (particularly performance showers); make SURE that all your scissors, x-acto knives, needles, etc etc etc are packed into checked baggage. I actually forgot I had an X-acto knife with me in my purse once (don't ask) and they smiled and very pleasantly threw it into the trash at the checkpoint. Which blew the cost of a $5.00 ergonomic handle, etc. Total facepalm moment. Save yourself the trouble, do a 'final check' of all your carryon bags, even the little pocket in your purse where you haven't looked for 3 months, because that's where it'll be. Cuz that's where mine was.
Remember to add that TSA is changing their rules ALL THE TIME. Make sure to check with the TSA web site prior to leaving for the latest information.
You guys will be fine. Good luck!
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