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Managing Children at Airport

Outnumbered at the Airport

By Amalah

Dear Amy,

Next month I am traveling with my two sons (who will be five months, and three years respectively when we go) to visit my extended family, and introduce the baby to the rest of the clan.  We’re flying…with a connection.  This is kind of a surprise trip, suggested by my husband who knows that it’s really important to me that my grandfather get to meet his great-grandson.  I’m psyched and more than a little terrified since it’s just going to be me and the two kids.

Advice Smackdown ArchivesSo, how do you suggest I go about this?  I’ll need to bring both carseats for the kiddos since the toddler sits in one on the plane, and my family doesn’t have any that I can borrow once we’re on the ground.  Also, my older son is a peanut and so a booster seat isn’t possible.  So…bring the ginormous double stroller and hope that I can strap enough stuff on my back to make me a legitimate sherpa?  Or bring the single stroller, wear the baby, and hope for the best?  My three year old likes to run in wide open spaces (ie. airports) so I kind of think I need a stroller just to cage the monkey.

Beyond that, I’ve never traveled by air with an infant and it kind of scares me.  While I don’t want to be that lady with thosekids, I fully accept that it’s a strong possibility.

Mostly, I need reassurance.  Am I epically stupid to try and make this trip solo?  I know I really want to see my family, but I also don’t want to be a complete basketcase (I am completely okay being a partial basketcase) before we’re even through security.

Any tips or suggestions that you might have?

(Also, your boys are adorable).

Thank you, thank you, thank you!
E

Here’s the funny thing about me: I’m not a nervous flyer. But I would say I’m a nervous TRAVELER. But only, really, when it comes to navigating airports and train stations. I get all bogged down in worries about long lines and security checks and finding my gate and screwed-up tickets and seat assignments and generally just obsess over everything that could possibly go wrong.

It sounds like we could be twins — you seem pretty zen and accepting about the actual flying-on-the-plane-with-two-kids bit, which is good, and we’ve covered that topic before here.  But you sound more worried about the crazy logistics of getting said two kids and all their related accessories through the airport and ONTO the plane. YOU AND ME BOTH, SISTER.

First, let me suggest you consider this handy little contraption for your toddler’s carseat, the incredibly generically named “Traveling Toddler Car Seat Travel Accessory.” This is what we used for Ezra’s carseat when we flew to Jamaica (also with a connection). We’d originally planned to get one of the accessories that simply turns a carseat into a stroller, but found that most of them were close to $100 — more than we wanted to spend, honestly. So instead we went with the much, much cheaper option that is essentially a strong strap that allows you to fasten the seat to a wheeled carry-on-sized suitcase. A suitcase we then filled with stuff we’d need for the kids, like extra snacks and DVDs and toys and diapers and changes of clothes, and were able to streamline the contents of our diaper bag instead of shoving EVERYTHING we might possibly want or need during two flights and a connection into a heavy shoulder bag.

I LOVE this thing. It was relatively painless to unhook at security to send the suitcase and seat through, and that was our only truly anxiety-inducing moment when we had TWO UNRESTRAINED CHILDREN to deal with. But people were nice and even though I wasn’t solo, folks in line totally helped me get the seat up on the x-ray and blocked Ezra’s escape path until my shoes were off and I was able to corral him through the line.

Other than that, we kept Ezra and his carseat fastened to the suitcase all the way down the plane aisles to our seats (we have a Britax, and it fit), and then we quickly unhooked the seat, plopped it (and Ezra) down and put the suitcase in the overhead bin. We were given priority boarding as a family with small children, but I was surprised at how little time that actually gives you before other passengers board and you can officially become “in the way” if you’re still trying to lug carseats down the aisle after gate-checking a stroller.

So personally, if I were you, I’d wear the baby, strap the toddler to the carseat attached to a suitcase and bring one nice-sized diaper bag. Don’t pack that bag too heavy (keep stuff in the suitcase and then move it over at the gate on an as-needed basis). If you need an actual stroller for the trip, check it along with your luggage, or have your family buy an inexpensive umbrella stroller or check yard sales or Craigslist for something used.

Same for the baby’s car seat. Since it sounds like you plan to bring the baby on the plane as a lap child no matter what, I REALLY suggest you figure out a way to leave your carseat behind and procure one at your destination. (If not…I’m sorry that basically all my advice is useless, because I have no idea how one could haul an infant seat as well, short of leaving the base behind and wearing it like a backpack with the straps, but oh my holy hell that’s a lot stuff for one person who is also in charge of two little people. Commenters?) So your immediate family doesn’t own one, but I AM SURE they could find one for you. Put them to work tracking one down, along with the stroller. Ask neighbors/friends/people-from-church with slightly older children (or visiting grandchildren) if they still have an infant seat hanging around the basement.

While secondhand car seats tend to get treated as OMG SCARY DANGEROUS DEATH TRAPS, it is generally considered perfectly safe to use a seat for a good six years before it’s recommended you retire it. Infant seats are in use for all of six months to a year, so it’s pretty likely your family will be able to track down an acceptable seat that is no longer being used for a baby  but still not past its expiration date.

Otherwise, I’d say just check your  infant carseat with your luggage. (At that point you’ll still have your husband with you to help, right? He will of course stay with you and help you carry everything up until the security line, right? Right.) But you’ll want to check ahead of time and see if your airline considers carseats and strollers as part of your baggage allowance. Some do, some don’t. If your airline does not, score! Check suitcase(s), infant seat, stroller with aid of husband. Proceed to gate with toddler seat strapped to carry-on, baby in your most comfortable carrier, diaper bag. Insist that a family member meet you at baggage claim in the destination airport to collect everything and help you out to the car.

If your airline DOES count strollers and carseats and checking them will result in like, $50 fees both ways, beg your family to do a little beg/borrow/steal action, and barring success at that, buy an inexpensive car seat and cheap-o stroller on Amazon and have them sent directly to your family.  (Here’s a Prime-eligible convertible car seat for $50, and a stroller for $25.) Rather than seeing it as a one-time waste of money, look at it this way: Knowing your family has a couple pieces of necessary baby equipment will make it easier and maybe even more likely that you’ll be able to repeat this trip and visit again super soon. Because it’s going to be fine! You can do this! And you will. And afterwards you’ll be all, “AM WONDER WOMAN. I CAN DO ANYTHING, EVEN IF A FEW PEOPLE ON THAT SECOND LEG OF OUR RETURN FLIGHT HOME THINK OTHERWISE BECAUSE THE BABY CRIED THE WHOLE TIME. BIG FREAKING WHOOP, YOU GUYS.”

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Olivia
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Olivia

Amy, thanks for pointing out that car seat accessory! I had only seen those uber expensive stroller things before. I definitely have to buy one before our next trip.

Sally
Guest
Sally

You can also rent gear when you get to your location. We just googled “rent baby gear” and got an extensive list of places that would even DELIVER gear and ASSEMBLE full sized cribs. I’ve only flown solo with one, but I highly recommend taking a stroller that fits both children, checking your extra gear (most airlines allow children to check one item for free), gate check the stroller and have a bag full of tricks to entertain your toddler.

Zinna
Guest
Zinna

Depending on what city/town you’re flying into, there’s a franchise called Travelbabees that rent out travel equipment. Very reliable and affordable. If you really want to take your carseats with you (which we’ve done too) and since you’re traveling alone with both boys, I would suggest checking both carseats (in carseat cases if you prefer), take an umbrella stroller for the older boy and carry your baby in a sling/ergo/bjorn. Take one carry-on filled with essentials: food/snacks, coloring books, small dvd player if you have one, books, and your essentials. You can check the stroller at the gate and it’ll… Read more »

Brooke
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Brooke

You can check the other car seat. If I were her, I would follow all the advice Amy offered above, but check the car seat in with the rest of the luggage at curb-side check in (maybe hubby can help with this as you manage both kids? hopefully he can drop you off)

susan
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susan

not sure if this applies here, but maybe. a few years ago i had to take an adult client with cognitive impairments to the airport and i was given a special pass to accompany him through security and down to the gate (and his aunt was able to meet him at the gate on the other end). perhaps the airline will make a special accommodation for you so your husband can assist? it IS in their interests that you and your kids reach the gate safely and sanely.

Stefanie
Guest
Stefanie

We have used the Traveling Toddler accessory numerous times. It is awesome. Random people in the airport are always coming up to me and telling me how awesome it is. Amy’s advice here is spot-on, but I will add one bit. Sky cap. Sky cap is your very best friend. It is worth $5 or whatever fee plus tip they have going on to be able to be dropped at the door (thus avoiding the schlepping through the parking garage) and have no checked luggage to drag through the airport with you. Have your husband get your bags settled with… Read more »

Kim
Guest
Kim

Borrow, borrow, borrow. Chances are your folks know other folks with grandchildren or young children, and they can hook into their networks. Also, Freecycle will let you ask to borrow stuff.

OTOH, if your folks have the room to store the bigger items, it will be handy not to have to worry about them the next time.

Sarah
Guest
Sarah

I’m pretty sure that all airlines allow carseats to check for free… Same with approved-models of strollers. (Mainly umbrella, or very small folding type strollers). And they will do a gate-check for the umbrella stroller, if you go that route. There is also the CARES: Child Aviation Restraint System that is more like a harness than a car-seat for the older child. This would mean that once at the destination you would need some sort of booster for your oldest (assuming where you are going has booster laws as well).

Jen K.
Guest
Jen K.

I’ve flown with my two boys (ages 3 and 1) — the older one has special needs and is a runner, so I need to keep him strapped down. We bought a Go Go Kidz wheelie thing, which may be the expensive product Amy references. I love it, and it is so worth the money. You may be able to find a cheap one on Craigs List. My DH pulls up the to curb, and we curbside check the 1-year-old’s seat and our suitcases (I’ve never been charged for checking car seats). I put the little on on my back… Read more »

Jess F
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Jess F

First you read my mind with the sleep regression response and now you read my mind with infant air travel re: car seats and all the crap you have to schlep through an airport. Dear Amy, when did you become psychic? I love you and your commenters. Thanks, everyone!

Rachael
Guest
Rachael

Is there no double stroller in play here for the OP? I have only flown with one, but having the big Cadillac Graco Quattro Tour Delux was a lifesaver. I snapped the carseat in, shoved the diaper bag and random stuff in the basket, and was still able to wheel along a carryon suitcase while pushing that sucker. Yes it was heavy and bulky, but flying with a baby = bulk and inconvenience no matter what. I would say to get a double stroller. Have husband help you get it through security (I had to do my single BY MYSELF… Read more »

Jenn
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Jenn

If I were in your situation I would not be ashamed to ask one of the people at the gate desk for help boarding. They can relay that request to a stewardess or whoever. I can’t imagine making it down the plane aisle with all that stuff plus two little ones. I’m sure someone will be willing to help. Good luck!

Stephanie
Guest
Stephanie

I’m pregnant with my second child, so I can’t really offer advice on flying solo with two children. However, I have flown solo with my daughter at various points – three months, six months, 17 months… It’s a pain in the butt. My suggestion – check everything you can. I have flown several airlines and I’ve never been charged to check a car seat or stroller. They’re not supposed to count toward the baggage fee. The Toddler Car Seat Accessory is great, but I’ve never used it without my husband with me, so I’m a bit terrified about that moment… Read more »

Sharon
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Sharon

Just wanted to throw in another plug for Travelbabees.com – we used them when we had to travel to Fort Worth, TX for a funeral when my son was 4 months old. They were a dream to deal with and had everything waiting for us at the hotel – in fact, the hotel van came to the airport with the car seat and carrier already installed. The pack n play, a playmat and a bathtub were all waiting for us in the room. I was surprised at how reasonable the rates were. If you can’t find a loaner, definitely check… Read more »

Katie
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Katie

Like a couple other previous posters said–it’s worth having your husband at least ask for a gate pass. Any humane agent seeing you’re situation should give you one. If possible, see if whoever is picking you up at the airport could get one also? You would still have to manage the connection, but it would cut down on stress. In terms of security–I’ve done it solo with two, and it sucks. If your husband can’t come through, I think the key is to keep everyone restrained until the last possible minute. ie–get your shoes off, get your liquids out, put… Read more »

Ellen
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Ellen

Last time I flew (with my husband) and our two kids, they wouldn’t let us sit both kids in the same row.  My husband and our older son (in his car seat) had to sit in one row and the baby and I had to sit in the row behind them.  Something about no more than one kid per row?  Not sure if this would apply if you are travelling alone, but it might be worth calling ahead of time to find out 🙂  We had no idea until we got on the plane.

Jen
Guest

I havent traveled in the US but in Europe children under 2 dont get a baggage allowance but you do get the stroller on the plane for free. Normally it goes in the hold but you can hang on to it right up until you get to the door of the plane. Most of the time it is waiting for you at the door again when you get off. I normally keep them in the stroller right up to the last minute and strap my smallest on to me for getting on and off the plane. My one tip is… Read more »

obabe
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obabe

wear the baby AND bring a stroller that will fit both. dont be afraid to ask for help. DVD player and tons of fun snacks. no matter how bad it gets, just remember, the flight will end at some point 🙂

Kate
Guest
Kate

The first time I flew solo with my then-16 month old son, I did not follow any of Amy’s advice and was pretty much a mess (basically, I had WAY too much stuff to carry). Anyway, as we were waiting to board our connecting flight, I saw a mom deplane, without a husband or other adult, with FOUR CHILDREN. Four. One older child walking, two in a double stroller and a baby in a carrier on her back. She wasn’t even screaming. or in cardiac arrest. If she can do it, you can (not sure about me, but you can… Read more »

Kierstie
Guest
Kierstie

When I was flying with our two kids this past fall (2 y.o. and an infant) my husband procured a pass to go through security with us – it depends on the airline, but many of them will let you do this if the threat level is not too high.  You should check on this as it would help for at least the first leg of the trip.  And then fine someone that can go through with you when you are coming back too. 

kirsten
Guest
kirsten

Most airports will allow a gate pass, so some one can go through security and up to the gate with you and the kids. Call the airport and check. Having another person to navigate security will be huge. You just have to ask the check in desk for one on the day of when you are checking your luggage. I also use the CARES seat belts on plane, so much easier than lugging a carseat. on and off a plane. and then you can use your stroller up to the gate, and most airlines I have used do not charge… Read more »

meagan
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meagan

I took the EXACT trip for the same reason a few years ago. The life-saver in the airport was our sit-and-stand stroller and a baby carrier. The 3 year old got on the back of the sit-and-stand, all of our stuff (including his car seat) went in the front of it, and then the little brother wrapped close to me in a carrier. It was actually really easy to load and push. And if you’re curious, and need to travel with triplets or twins, we stacked all 3 of our triplets’ Britax seats on top of each other in the… Read more »

Bekki
Guest
Bekki

I flew, by myself, with my 2 year old twins last Christmas. This is doable, I promise. Two words: CARES harness. Lifesaver for traveling. That solves your hiking through the airport problem. We check our carseats at the luggage counter, and just use the harnesses for on-board. Works great! Then, all you need is the stroller for the kids, and a backpack/diaper bag full of stuff. I wearing the baby sounds like a good idea BUT you’ll have to take it off and put it through the x-ray machine, which is kind of a pain. The other option is a… Read more »

Ree
Guest
Ree

I’ve flown with one kid and with two kids under three years old by myself, in the U.S. and internationally, and will be doing so again next week. When I flew with a 10 month old and a 2.5 year old, here is what worked best for me. 1) An in-line double stroller. I get really overheated standing in long lines wearing the baby. With long security lines, it is really a relief to be able to put the baby down for a little bit. My preferred stroller was an Uppa Baby G-lite, a really lightweight double stroller that can… Read more »

Julie
Guest
Julie

Personally, I would definitely try to wrangle buy/borrow/rent carseat at the destination, because I can’t imagine trying to hau one through security, and sending it as checked luggage I’d be having nightmares of it getting lost and being stuck at the airport without a carseat. But that’s just me – I’ve had luggage show up a day after me often enough that I try to make sure EVERYTHING I absoultely have to have is with me.

Pogita
Guest
Pogita

I have only traveled with one. But honestly after 5 trips, I have finally learned. Check EVERYTHING. I bring my purse and a very small diaper bag and that is it. That way I can just pay attention to the little guy … 

Keely
Guest
Keely

I just flew alone with my 8 month old and 3 year old. I say get a light stroller (you have to check anything over 20lbs) for the toddler and wear the baby. I’d check both car seats and not mess with them on the plane. My 3 year old was fine in his seat. In the carseat he tends to kick the person in front of us. Then you don’t have to mess with anything but the stroller through security. I’ve flown on southwest and American and neither of them charge for carseats or strollers. I think the less… Read more »

annie
Guest
annie

I just did this exact same thing with my kids– exact same ages. I was terrified, but it worked out just fine. So many great suggestions here that I won’t include details about our trip. But here’s one tip…I gave my 3 year old a backpack (a small one of mine) as carryon for himself. And I made it just a wee bit on the heavy side for a kid his size. He was proud to be wearing a real grown-up backpack, and it slowed him down a bit. Whatever plan you find, good luck! YOU CAN DO IT!!

SarahA
Guest
SarahA

Just FYI, if you have 2 kids with you, your husband can get a pass to get through security and help you to the gate. Boarding and the connection is another story but at least you have a little help in the beginning.

I would check the baby seat and wear the infant. I always wear my baby in airports. Much easier. Also, maybe a leash for the big kid? I know a lot of people hate them, but if it will keep him safe and let him run off his energy so he’ll sleep on the plane….

Julie
Guest
Julie

I wore the baby in a bjorn and didn’t have to take him off to go through security, since there wasn’t any metal on the carrier. I think every airport is different in how they enforce the rules. There’s usually a security lane for families, too. Don’t worry about what other people are thinking, take your time and don’t feel rushed. Kids sense our anxiety. You’ll be fine! If the baby uses a pacifier, get a clip to attach it to the shirt. You don’t want to be picking that up off the plane’s floor.

Megan
Guest
Megan

I flown with my chunk of a baby/kid several times last year (alone as well), including 4 international flights on military planes. I realize that I’m only talking about one child, which is NOT two children and therefore much much easier, BUT I would hate to think of anyone being surprised while traveling with babies. At the suggestion of this very website/blog I bought the generic strappy thing…and it did not work with my luggage. While I can see the benefit entirely (and would have reaped said benefit if I had sturdier luggage), it just did not work with my… Read more »

Cathy
Guest
Cathy

So much good advice…I’ve done it with two, about these ages, solo. I checked the infant seat. Biggest things I have to add: I did have someone come with me to help me check in (my hubby was at the destination). Little known fact, you can get someone a pass to come through security with you and assist you. My dad came all the way through and waited with me until boarding.  I wore my daughter in a Bjorn, and I used the GoGo baby thing (so worth the money, and I’m sure I’ll be able to sell it down… Read more »

Brooke
Guest
Brooke

I wanted to add another shout out for the CARES harness! I have been putting my two-yr old in that since she was 20 months and it works like a dream. BUT ONLY IF you get your destination family to get a carseat of their own. Which is an extremely reasonable thing to request – don’t be shy! You can even offer to pay for it, if they object – Craig’s List is available everywhere. It is worth it, many times over. So, when I travel with my two (2 1/2 and 6 months) I bring a stroller and use… Read more »

Michele
Guest
Michele

Not much to add to the OPs…everyone has great advice. I just flew with 11 month old twins. We had both carseats, a side-by-side stroller, and my hubby and I. Yes, felt like a sherpa, but we gate checked all of the equipment and kept the girls on our laps. Two things to clarify from what OPs have said- the rules for children are only one LAP child per row. Also, in terms of bringing a stroller, check your airlines- a bunch of airlines just put a 21 lb restriction on gate checked strollers. Anything bigger must be checked at… Read more »

Angela
Guest

if going for purchasing a carseat (and you don’t have issues with the evil W) I have to share the seats we got! We have twins, and I was so stressed about the cost of upgrading from their infant seats. But we found the Cosco – Scenera 5-Point Convertible Car Seat at Walmart for only 39$ each! And they have excellent reviews. They’ve worked perfectly for us, and the price was awesome.

Good luck on your trip!

J
Guest
J

I flew recently with my 6 month old and nearly 3 year old. My husband helped me get everything to the ticket counter where I checked both car seats and 2 suitcases. I went through security solo with a single stroller for the toddler, wore the baby and had a backpack and diaper bag. I gate checked the stroller. My toddler does fine in the seat but for safety, I’m thinking about the CARES restraint for our next flight (in 2 weeks!). Security rules have changed and even if the carrier that you use to wear your child doesn’t have… Read more »

annabelvita
Guest

Would being able to carry a car seat on your back help? Here’s one http://www.amazon.com/SafeFit-Car-Seat-Travel-Tote/dp/B001DF7LGW (not a recommendation, have never used one, but has links to other ones underneath it).

Lots of help here: http://www.flyingwithchildren.blogspot.com/

Amy
Guest
Amy

My best advice isn’t about navigating the airport but the planning. I highly recommend going to a site like http://www.flightstats.com to see the on-time / delay stats on the flight you are taking. It can give you a heads up on what you can expect. Planes take the same routes everyday, hitting the same cities and same snags. On domestic flights the same plane can be used for 5 or more flights a day and a problem on an earlier flight can domino and make your flight late / delayed. All of this reminded me that I didn’t check our… Read more »

mamasport3
Guest

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I have found the airline staff to be extremely helpful.

Susan
Guest
Susan

We just flew DEN-LAX-LIH with a 2.5 yo and a 7.5 mo, so I feel ya (I had husband and grandparents with us, but they were no help when the TSA agents in LIH sent me through security first with both kids and then kept the other three adults for additional scanning and patting down – certainly an unexpected nightmare!). Here’s what I would do: 1. Buy the Toddler Traveling Accessory, but MAKE SURE your suitcase wheels can support the weight of the stuff in the case, the toddler carseat, and the toddler. The wheels on ours bowed out scarily… Read more »

Autumn
Guest
Autumn

I know this is an older post, but just FYI:   Some TSA lines will let you wear your baby in the carrier through the metal detector.  I had my kid in the ergo, and I would have but my cross body strapped purse was under it (security!) so I had to take it off anyways.  But it could be one less thing to deal with.   And most major airports have a family security line.  Many tend to be the special needs security line, so the agents are a little more used to the not average traveler.  The one… Read more »

Lauren
Guest
Lauren

So this is an old post and I’m probably going to be at the bottom of the list, but here goes! YOU CAN TRAVEL WITH 2 CARSEATS and luggage.  It’s not the easiest thing, but it could happen.  This is what I do…there might be similar combos in other brands, so you might have to research if you are starting with other brands: 1.  For the babe, get a Chicco KeyFit 30 2.  For the stroller, get the Chicco Liteway Plus (the Keyfit will click into the stroller. 3.  Use a soft carrier…I use the Ergo 360. 4.  Roller bag… Read more »

CL
Guest
CL

Now if anyone has a great article on flying with five by myself from Brussels to SC with a connection in Newark… please, send me the link. I’m terrified. Especially since four of the five are five years old and under. YIKES! 

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