Saturday, June 25, 2011

Traveling with Kids

If you read my last post, you know we just returned from a convention, and Paul went with us as he has every year for the past three years.  The trip has always required air travel and specifically travel from Europe to the U.S.  I’ve bragged on my son a bit on Twitter (you can follow my parenting feed on Twitter @Somebodys_Dad) since the trip over and back this time were his 10th and 11th trans-Atlantic crossings by air.  When we move back to the U.S. later this month, he will have crossed the Atlantic Ocean 12 times during his four years of life.  All this ocean crossing began when we moved from the U.S. to Germany three years ago.

The travel this time was overall uneventful for us.  No doubt a good bit of the reason for this is Steph, Paul and I are veterans at this point.  What did catch my attention on the return trip to Germany was an incredible number of folks I can only call “rookie” travelers (and one incredibly incompetent steward--more on that fellow in a minute).  Of the rookies, there was a family directly in front of us who verged on incompetent.
Three years ago we made the move to Germany; our son was only a year and a half old.  In some ways that made it easy.  He wasn’t really mobile.  Other things made it difficult.  He traveled in a car seat.  There was nothing easy about two adults lugging our small son and the seat through the airport, getting the seat onto the plane with the push of all the other cattle down the narrow isles, etc.  But the complexity and pain was reduced through some prudent planning.  We did our homework and found creative and informed ways to make the journey easier.  We learned from other people’s mistakes and successes.
We were also polite even though we knew we were stressing.  This was our first long airline trip with our son (one and a half years old at the time) and even though we were armed with knowledge, it was the first time we were putting it into practice--knowledge certainly doesn’t replace experience.  Steph and I made a conscious decision not to get mad at each other; we were on the same team and would share in the joy of what worked, and frustration in what didn’t.  Also, we knew our son would sense our moods, driving us to be cautious about our collective demeanor.
At this point I have to admit I’m finishing this post as I sit in the airport with Steph and Paul.  We’re waiting for our flight from Stuttgart through Atlanta to Las Vegas; we’re moving.  I’ll post more on that later.  But I hope this flight goes as smoothly with our son as the previous eleven did.  Otherwise, a less than gentle reader might suggest I’ve jinxed myself...
Back to our last flight back to Stuttgart.  A couple with two kids, began occupying (by brute force) the row of three seats in front of us.  They were clearly unorganized, had not thought about allowing time to move through the airport at the speed of a child, or given real thought to how they planned on moving their own carry-on bags, two kids, and a car seat through the airport once they cleared security: in a world where no luggage carts dare roll.  By the way, you read what I wrote earlier correctly we’re watching a couple with two kids--four people.  Granted one was an infant, but the parents brought a car seat onboard for the little one rather than working the ticketing with an “infant in arms.”  The car seat obviously takes a seat, but somehow it escaped the parents.  Add a seat for mom and dad and the other child (probably about four years old) and it was clear there weren’t enough seats for butts.  Already visibly angry and frustrated when they entered the aircraft, now at their seats angry fidgeting ensued as the car seat was strapped into an airline seat, dad put the older child into another seat, and...the lightbulb came on.  You could literally see it in the dad’s face:  he booked three seats for four people.  Quiet but audible cussing ensued.  He barked at two different flight attendants for reasons that weren’t clear, then made an angry comment that the flight crew wouldn’t help them with “all of this stuff.”  Of course, I have to believe the flight crew assumed this angry adult was doing what he meant to do.  After all, he booked the flight and brought “all of this stuff” with him.
His wife finally showed up; apparently previously lost somewhere forward of us on the jet.  This was awkward.  The dad loved her enough to spawn to kids with her, but clearly she was a part of his problem, and an enemy, rather than a companion.  She suggested they check the car seat; he thought this was dumb and couldn’t be done.  Then he decided they should check the car seat and it was pure brilliance.  He angrily got the attention of the flight attendant; one of the same ones he earlier accused of not helping him.  Did I mention he never asked for help?  “I need to check this,” came out of his mouth, with a tone that made it clear it was the attendant’s fault that it somehow ended up on the plane.  At this point the flight attendant, while professional, had enough of this guy and told him, “I don’t check luggage.  Please take it to the front of the plane and see if they’ll let you gate check it.”  I know from my own travels that flight attendants always seem to offer to take bags that won’t fit to the front to have it checked.  I suspect this airline employee decided to live up to what he was openly accused of:  not being helpful.  The dad literally pulled the child out of the car seat, tossed the same child into the next seat, accompanied by crying since he caused one of the not-completely-unfastened straps to give a friction burn, followed by the child literally bouncing on the seat.  The dad disappeared with the car seat, leaving the two kids unattended.  Mom was once again nowhere in sight.
Both parents returned and began to settle into their seats, with the smallest child on mom’s lap.  An attendant came by again and having noticed the now absent car seat asked if either parent had re-ticketed themselves to show they were traveling with an infant in arms.  Of course not and you bet this added to the couple’s bad attitudes.  The attendant helped with this though.
In an effort to add some calm for the couple I finally spoke up and told them we were sympathetic to the difficulties of traveling with a little one, pointing out we were in a very similar position three years ago when we moved to Germany with our son in a car seat.  Guess what--he was angry with us too and snapped back, “well we’re moving and have to carry all this stuff.”  My wife pointed out a particularly useful contraption () that made moving through the airport with a car seat easy, allowing you to keep the child in it and roll it like a stroller.  On the plane, the device folds behind the stroller and stayed attached even when you strap it into the airline seat.  Perhaps this would be helpful for them to make a future flight easier.  They weren’t interested in any help from other parents.  That’s fine.  I guess he missed that we mentioned we had been moving too.  I decided sympathy wouldn’t help and politely told him to enjoy his trip.
Okay, this story’s gone on long enough to make the point.  One final point though:  we decided to book a seat for our son (rather than do the infant-in-arms thing) for two reasons:  our own comfort, and since it was a long flight, we didn’t have to worry about falling asleep with him in our arms and unintentionally dropping him on the floor.  Somewhere about six hours into the flight with both parents sleeping, mom dropped the baby on the floor.  The sound of the child hitting the floor woke me up.  If it didn’t, the baby’s screaming would have.  Dad appeared angry at mom for interrupting his sleep and didn’t seem to be concerned at all as to whether his infant child was hurt or not.  Nice.  With the dropping of the child as the capstone event, the rest of the flight was thankfully uneventful.
So what’s the point?  Doing your homework matters.  It doesn’t always mean everything goes smoothly, but it definitely eliminates some of the complications that otherwise accompany something as difficult as moving through airports with little-ones.  Even if it doesn’t, knowing about the difficulties you’ll face will be reduce the stress, and that makes for calmer and happier child...and parents.
Addendum:  I’m posting this after our journey is complete.  The trip went as well as all the previous trips with Paul.  I hope our experience helps someone else who might be traveling with a child on an aircraft for the first time, and that the trip is an adventure and not a burden.
It’s great to be a dad!

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