Saturday, August 04, 2012

World Wanderings....With Kids

In my various world wanderings, I dealt with travel glitches, delays, and the like by telling myself “It’s just all part of the adventure.”

Travelling with two kids, that becomes a little harder. Amazingly, though, the kids dealt with it all better than I. And what did they deal with? A simple 15ish hour trip (including time to the airport, actual flights and layovers) became a 45 hour ordeal.

Day 1
10:00AM – leave home for our 11:55AM flight
11:00AM – attendant announces flight is delayed “but not to worry, no one will miss connections.” (our connection in DC is ~1hr 40 minutes

12:00PM – airplane arrives. Phew. If we board now, we’ll make it. In all my years of travelling, usually when there’s been a delay, the attendants work like crazy to board and move the plane fast to make up lost time.  Nope.  12:30PM and still no sign of movement.

12:40PM – FINALLY we board. Only, the attendant hadn’t a care in the world, as she took FOREVER to board. At least 1 minute for each passenger just scanning the boarding pass. Lucky there weren’t that many passengers or we’d have still been there when the bomb threat was called in and the airport closed. Lucky us, we missed that.

1:00PM – we take off. As Lenaic says “woo-hah!!!”

5:40PM (DC time) – we arrive, gate D10. Phew, our plane leaves at 5:55PM, and it’s at D5. We can make it.  In all my years of international flying, there have been many many times when they’ve held the flight – last flight out for the night, know they have a handful of passengers who will arrive with only minutes to transfer, it’s generally in everyone’s best interest to hold the plane 5-10 minutes to allow them to board.

5:42PM – arrive at gate D5 for our Geneva bound flight. Plane is still there. They’re loading luggage. Passenger doors are closed, no gate agent in sight. Finally find someone who says “Too bad. You missed your flight. You have to go to gate C20 to find another.” We try to argue that the plane is still there. They are still loading luggage!!!! Nope.

So we trudge down to C20, stand in line with about 100 other people in the same boat (multiple missed flights, not all Geneva-bound).  Lenaic  finds a kiosk to run under, playing “keep away” from me.  Thankfully, I was not travelling alone with these two.   Finally talk to someone, after 10 more minutes of searching [by now, it’s about 6:30PM) she says “oh, maybe the plane is still there and I can get them to open the doors.” Too little, too late. Of course it’s gone.  All remaining flights to Europe are full, except a 10PM flight to Manchester, England, which would require 2 stops on the continent and an arrival at 6PM the next day. Or we can wait 24 hours and take our same flight the next day. Kids are tired and grouchy – parents are tired and grouchy.  I tried to tell Angelina about my “adventure” theory. She wasn’t buying it, but to be fair, she didn’t complain much.

After much debate – and a promise from United of hotel and food vouchers, we decide to stay overnight.

On the plus side, our friends Neil and Jen live in DC, we haven’t seen them in awhile, and maybe they’re home.  Hooray, they’re free! So we trudge to our hotel, drink some wine (well, I drink some wine), get some food, and try to enjoy a nice comfy bed. 

Day 2

Met Jen and Neil the next day for lunch and spent some time at the Air and Space Museum. See, we can make lemons out of lemonade.

 3:15PM – make our way back to Dulles Airport for our 5:55PM flight. We had already been there in the morning to check in. Now, the problem with getting moved around on flights: seats. We weren’t seated together. Yes, like anyone is really going to want to sit next to my toddler… Agents could do nothing. So, we head to our gate.

To find that our 5:55PM flight is now delayed until 8pm. Why could it not be delayed the day before?
For a couple of hours, Lenaic runs wild in the airport. Fortunately the terminal is relatively empty.  Not sure if anyone was too bothered, many many people laughed and commented on how cute/funny he was, so we let him. … Of course Angelina has not been sitting still either, but she wasn’t squealing with loud laughter like he was.  I see all the other kids waiting patiently and wonder if they will rub off on Lenaic. Nope. Other way around, soon the other kids waiting join the fray.  (No pictures of this, since we were more focused on chasing them down)
For a short time, we tried to distract them with a movie
Movie didn't last for long before he was ready to run again

7PM – “our” plane arrives. Phew. That means we’ll leave. Nope. Announcement: “All on flight to Geneva, this is not your plane. Your gate has been changed to C4. We do not know when it will leave. We’ll know more at 7:30 or 8:00PM.”  (Interestingly, the Munich bound flight that was at gate C4 was moved to our gate – D7, and it DID leave. For whatever reason, United decided the Munich flight was more important – maybe it had more connecting passengers).

Oh, and our seat assignments were still screwy – we managed to get 2 sets of seats together, so no kid would be left alone, but still far apart. They claimed the  plane was full.

8:00PM – no word.
8:30PM – Announcement: “Still not sure when we’re leaving, they will tell us in 40 minutes.” At this point, it was looking doubtful if we’d fly at all. Problem was, there were other flights to Europe, last one leaving at 10PM. If they don’t tell us until 9:15PM that our flight is cancelled, we ALL (300+passengers) have to walk over to one customer service counter in a different area to get help with reassignments. Yeah, not making any 10pm flight…. At this point, we’re already a day delayed, are we going to be 2 days? Do we spend another day in DC? I had about 24 hours supply of diapers, fortunately a change of clothes for kids and I and my toothbrush. I’d been frugal on diaper changes and thankfully no diaper blowouts. 

Meanwhile, about 20 kids (ages 2 up to about 8) were running wild. Ours were not even the wildest. In my childfree days, I’d have sat in the wine bar with my book and just ordered another glass. Not an option with the kiddos (and Lenaic never had a nap that day…).  Fortunately, most people were understanding – happy laughing kids running wild was much preferred to tired, cranky, screaming kids forced to sit still (after a 4+ hour wait).

9:10PM – We can board. The cheer rocked the airport. We board quickly – tons of free seats (I presume some passengers who would have missed connections had already been rebooked elsewhere). Lucky us, we manage to find 4 seats together without much effort.  People happy to oblige.

10:00PM – plane doors closed. Eventually we taxi. Plane starts its rumbling as we speed up….for 2 seconds, then stop. Yup. Stop. Now, since I’d rather not die in  a plane crash, I won’t begrudge them holding back for maintenance issues. But really, the number of maintenance issues on United flights lately has been more than I’d ever seen. We weren’t the only ones delayed – at least 25% of the flights out of DC that night were delayed due to “maintenance issues.” (We were never told why our original San Antonio flight was delayed).  The pilot does a U-turn. We’re convinced we’re going back to the terminal to de-plane.

10:15PM, pilot lets us know it’s a minor issue. It’ll be fixed. “5 more minutes.”

10:55PM – we take off. All is well, and since I’m writing this the maintenance issues were resolved and we didn’t crash.

Day 3 - 12:30PM – we arrive (our scheduled arrival had been 7:40AM the day before)
 Just 45 hours after we started.

I understand flights get delayed, glitches happen. But UA, an airline with which we travel frequently and have never had any significant problems, was a mess. We have flown all major US carriers and many foreign ones. All have their issues, but overall, UA had been pretty good. Not so since their merger.

 *Staff was rude, with the exception of one person. I know they work hard and deal with a lot of stressed out passengers, but it’s their job.

 *Multiple delayed flights, some with explanation, others not.

 *Poor planning – while I know there’s often a narrow window for flights to depart, holding a plane for 5 minutes for passengers they KNOW will be late due to a late connecting flight makes more sense than rerouting people. At least, that’s what they all used to do.

 *And just general suckiness All in all, though, thanks in large part to the kindness of other passengers and the friendliness of their kids while waiting, Angelina and Lenaic managed it all very well. And we made it to Geneva safely, if late and tired.

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