Thursday, November 17, 2011

Have Children Will Travel

In the beginning of our lives together my husband and I decided that we were going to maintain our jetsetting lifestyle no matter the extra baggage of an infant. Our child was going to be better behaved because she would be magnificently cultured. Guess what? Cultured babies barf and cry too.

Lyra took her first flight when she was three-months old and I learned my first dire lesson of flying with an infant. Bring an extra set of clothes for yourself.

We were going to New Orleans with my dad for his reunion at Tulane. I was struggling with breast feeding so most of my milk was being pumped and stored. I had to tote a fridge pack for the milk that held me up at every security check.

On this trip after having all the special searches performed on the bottles of milk that I had previously pumped, I had to manually pump more while on the plane because Lyra hurled all over us as soon as the plane took off. However, she wasn’t a loud baby, just a pukey baby.

We quickly change planes in Atlanta on the return flight. I will never take a flight with a stop in Atlanta again. The flight was late and when we finally got off the plane there was an announcement for our party to go to the nearest airline representative. The problem was there were no representatives, just crowds of people who were in need of a representative.

Lyra took this moment to projectile hurl all over me. We had ten minutes until our flight left. I held the baby against the puke splatter, then threw our carry-on items on the stroller and ran through the crowd dripping curdled milk droppings as I went. When we got to the gate as the plane was boarding I ran to the front of the line not caring who I was pissing off. I was covered in puke, damn it! I was ready to start throwing the vile stuff at someone because the entire packed airport seemed not to care about a mom and an old man struggling to get to the other side of the planet to catch another flight.

“Mam, we have been calling your name on the intercom,” the ticketing agent said.

“Yes, well you didn’t have a representative available for us to talk to and we had ten minutes to make it from the other side of the airport. Don’t you tell me we lost our seats on the flight?”

“No, it’s that your family has been calling the airline and airport. They found a donor for your dad. You were instructed to take the next flight home.”

“Well, isn’t it this one?”

We were able to board stinking like the aftermath of a bulimic episode. We were not able to sit beside each other which made the rest of the trip hard because I had to balance all the accessories that come with the baby and I stunk.
In the end the hospital donor committee didn’t chose my dad as a kidney donor recipient. It would take almost a year for him to finally be chosen.

The next year, Patrick and I traveled to Europe and little Lyra puked her way across Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Romania. For six hundred dollars we got the bulk head seats with a bassinet attached in front of our seats for Lyra. She used the entire flight to Munich to stand up in the bassinet and flirt with the rest of the plane.

We had given her Benedryl in hopes it would make her pass out faster. Ha! Our ‘cultured’ baby was too resilient. She didn’t pass out until the last hour of the eight hour flight. She then had to wake up for landing. It was murder. All I wanted to do was sleep but when we got to the Sofitel hotel in historic Munich we had to wait around in the lobby because the room wasn’t ready.

I have gotten in the habit of warning hotel representatives that my baby will cry and disrupt the lobby if they don’t get a room open before nap time. I always call ahead and tell the hotel I need an early check-in and sometimes it helps. However, there are too many times like the time in Miami that the Gansevoort gave us a room with a filthy tub. I had to call numerous times the first two days to finally get the manager to come up and clean the tub himself.

When my son came along 23 months after my daughter he turned our family of three into four. His first air trip was to Los Angeles for a trip that ended up the coast in San Fran. That took place last summer when we took three airline trips over the course of three months. The experience was so grueling we have not traveled on a plane with the children since. It isn’t so much the children as the hassles that have been created by understaffed and inhospitable rules created by the airlines.

The biggest problem is fighting with ticket agents to get seats together and pre-boarding privileges (I will never fly Delta again who refused to pre-board us on numerous occasions). I was bumped off of a three Delta flights and stranded in Cincinnati pregnant, and alone with a toddler trying to get to Louisville (only 1.5 hours away to drive). My mom drove up to Cincy after I was stuck in Cincy for six hours because I was bumped off of every flight that left every hour to Kentucky. I cried a lot on that excursion trying to convince anyone that stranding me overnight with a toddler for being bumped off a half hour flight was close to criminal.

Lyra was still a lap child then. I recently read a segment written by a flight attendant who stated that lap children should be illegal because they are not safely secured in even minor plane mishaps. The FAA published report in 2005 stating that more families are choosing to drive over flying in recent years which is putting them at significant risk since it is more likely to get in a car wreck than a plan wreck. It called to allow for airlines to offer seat straps or seats so parents did not have to travel with bulky car seats. Funny how that report didn’t translate to the airlines because none of that happened.

Recently the New York Times published a great story for families traveling with children. Many airlines have started charging for the little amenities that made traveling with kids a little easier. It’s truly horrible that while we pay through the nose to travel with children there is no mercy or hospitality that can make everyone’s life better. For example, seating families at bulkhead seats allows the kids to have extra room to get up, stretch their legs, or play games on the floor. These seats cost extra money and are not guaranteed to be seated together.
Here is a cheat sheet from the article:

1)American Airlines
Pre-Boarding: No, Families must pay $10 a person
Seating: Bulkhead seats are only sold 24 hours before flight for fee
Stroller Gate Check: Only for collapsible strollers under 20 lbs.

Pre-Boarding: Yes, children under 2 years or with boarding fee
Seating: Bulkhead seats reserved for passengers with disabilities & then sold for $10-65
Stroller Gate Check: Yes

Pre-Boarding: Yes, children up to 4 years after pre-boarding privileged groups
Seating: No seat assignments, families must find open seats upon boarding
Stroller Gate Check: Yes

Pre-Boarding: Yes, children up to 4 years after pre-boarding privileged groups
Seating: Bulkhead seats reserved for elite passengers or sold for fee
Stroller Gate Check: Yes, but only small collapsible types

5)US Airways
Pre-Boarding: Yes, children up to 4 years or with boarding fee
Seating: Reserved for passengers with disabilities and at the discretion of gate agent
Stroller Gate Check: Yes, except non-collapsible types

6)Virgin America
Pre-Boarding: Yes, for “small children” or with boarding fee or privilege class
Seating: Bulkhead are reserved for fee when booking or 24 hours before flight
Stroller Gate Check: Yes

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