One of our most recent Cloud Surfing Adventures flying standby was full of challenges. Many times I was on the verge of tears and many times I thought “I must be crazy to be doing this!”
Read on and at the end, tell me: am I crazy? Was it worth it? Would you go through this?
Although I am used to flying alone with the kids (Ella and John, ages 6 and 16 months at the time of this trip), the events of this particular trip nearly did me in! Although it could have been worse (things can always be worse), the events of the day kept me on my toes. As a flight attendant, I’ve learned to become flexible when traveling. It’s a good thing I know how to go with the flow or I might have had a meltdown. Here’s what happened:
I needed to get to Texas for some additional training for work as a flight attendant. The company would give me a confirmed seat to get there and back, but since my husband was also away for work I needed to bring the kids. My parents live in Texas so it was a great time to bring the kids down for a visit. Since I work for the airline, my family and I can fly standby for free. This is known in the airline industry as “non-rev” (for non-revenue seats). That is a great benefit, but these days it is really difficult to find a flight with empty seats! When I looked up the flights to Texas I discovered that the direct flights were oversold for 3 days solid! With a little creative thinking I found that it looked like we could fly through Nashville. My sister lives in Nashville and we have been wanting to visit, so I planned to leave 3 days early, stop in Nashville overnight, then fly to Texas for my training.
Easier said then done…
My in-laws drive us to the airport which takes about 90 minutes. Curbside service…Couldn’t be any easier.
Just before we left the house I checked the flight loads once more. The flights had changed from “good chance of getting on” to “good luck: maybe you can get ONE seat”. Not a good way to start out when you have two little ones in tow.
I panicked, started looking for other options, and tried to get in touch with my “non-rev gut feelings”. I called my older sister, who has really good standby-flying-intuition. She was also stumped on this one.
-Drive to JFK, where it looks like we can get on the flight, but if not, there is no back-up and we would have to take a cab to LGA to hope to get out on oversold flights?
-Go ahead to LGA and cross our fingers that we don’t have to wait all afternoon through 3 oversold flights. Then if we can’t get on a flight have someone come pick us up?
-Try to find another city to fly to from NY just to get closer to Texas in hope of getting there within 3 days so I can make it to my training class?
There was no easy solution.
I finally decided to go ahead for the oversold flight to Nashville out of La Guardia in hopes that if we couldn’t get on that one, maybe one of the next two flights that evening would miraculously have seats. I decided to drive instead of having my in-laws take us so that if we couldn’t get on a flight that day we would have a car to return home.
On our way, crossing our fingers and toes for seats on the flight.
When I travel with the kids I check bags. I pack for all three of us in a 26-inch rolling duffel bag and I also check the Baby Bjorn Travel Crib for John. To avoid the hassle of getting from the car to the airport with the bags, I drove up to curbside check-in and checked the bags before parking the car. That saved a lot of hassle. Now for parking.
Since I was headed to company training, I was allowed to park in the employee lot. Sounds easy, right?
Although I was allowed to park in the Employee Lot, I was not allowed to bring the kids on the shuttle to the terminal. For insurance reasons, only employees are permitted on the shuttle.
After I parked my car in the lot, the kids and I walked about 3/4 mile to the public airport terminal shuttle where we could get a ride to the terminal. Thank goodness for GoGoBabyz TravelMate, which straps onto the car seat to transform it into a stroller! I strapped the food cooler onto the TravelMate, put my backpack on my back, and pushed John in his car seat/stroller. Ella pulled her rolling backpack alongside me and we made the trek to the shuttle. It took us about 15 minutes.
Ella was tired after the walk.
Ella entertaining herself while waiting for the bus.
We waited about 15 minutes for the shuttle.
Luckily the bus had a low entry point. I was able to lift John in his wheeled car seat over the small step and into the bus.
Ella was nervous about having no seatbelt on the bus.
Ella yelled to the driver to slow down. She isn’t used to being in a vehicle without safety restraints!
Next Step: The Airport
Once we finally made it to the terminal and through security, they were already boarding the aircraft. We ran up to the gate to let the agent know we were there, then we waited. Standby seats are usually given out at the last minute, once the agents are sure all ticketed passengers have arrived. Minutes before departure, miracle of miracles, we were given seats on the flight!
Two seats were together but one was several rows away. Even though Ella is six and theoretically would be fine sitting alone, she has some sensory issues that at times set her off. There have been a few times when she completely freaked out because the seat she was in made her slide forward. When she gets upset like this she cannot even verbalize what is wrong until she calms down. Because of incidents like this I really do need to be sitting by her.
The flight attendant was kind enough to ask the lady across from me if she would be willing to swap with Ella. This lady was sitting with her husband and did not want to move. Luckily the two behind them were willing to swap so we did a 3 way seat swap and Ella was able to sit across the aisle from me. Whew! Time for departure…
In the Air
John had been battling a cold and allergies all week and was still congested. (Read here for my tips on what to pack for kids flying with colds.) He was also tired and really wanted to take a nap. Unfortunately he is just like Ella and will not sleep unless he is in his bed. This made for a rough flight for him. He was pretty good, just a little fussy and whiney. I held him for most of the flight and he watched videos on my iPhone. I did have to resort to feeding him M&Ms at one point, even though we do not give him candy yet. Exceptions have to be made sometimes to keep a baby happy in flight! (Really it was more about keeping me from having a complete meltdown in this very stressful day.)
Ella was great on this flight. Her seatmate was very kind and engaged her in conversation for a while. Then Ella pulled out her backpack filled with toys and activities. I had bought her a new Lalaloopsy doll with a comb and she played with that for much of the flight. She also worked on a sticker mural. She brought out the iPod touch just 20 minutes before landing. This was the first time she didn’t go through 5 toys an hour during the flight. I always pack a lot of toys and activities but keep them small in size. Some kids are happy with just a couple of toys, but Ella often moves quickly from one activity to another.
Even if your kids are fine with just one or two toys to play with, it’s a good idea to pack extra in case of delays or cancellations that cause you to be on the airplane or in the airport for an extended amount of time.
One cool thing that happened was that as we walked away from our inbound gate, I spotted my younger sister walking up the hallway! She had just been visiting our other sister in Nashville and was flying out just as we were flying in! It was great to have her help walk John around the terminal a little bit. I even got to go to the restroom by myself!
When we got to Nashville, it was our plan to meet my brother-in-law, who was to flying in on another airline and scheduled to arrive shortly after us. We planned to connect with him and he and he would drive us to their house. He would have a booster seat in the car for Ella since we didn’t bring hers. Simple.
His flight was delayed.
No problem, the flight would be here in about 40 minutes. We’ll just take our time, use the restroom, and by the time we get our bags he should be here.
New message from my brother-in-law, Pete: flight is delayed 2 hours. At this point we had been traveling about 8 hours. John was exhausted and hyper, I was hungry, and Ella was bored.
-I could rent a car and drive ourselves, Since I didn’t bring a car seat for Ella I would need to rent one.
– I could wait the two hours, with two exhausted kids.
I felt overwhelmed at the idea of renting the car and driving to my sister’s house on my own. Plus I was hungry. So I decided wait to enjoy some good food and music at Tootsie’s while we waited for Pete to arrive.
These nachos at Tootsie’s were so delicious and a nice indulgence in this stressful day.
As we sat eating, Ella, in an urgent voice, stated she had to use the bathroom. All of our stuff was spread out around the dining table, John was in the high chair, it would be a huge hassle to gather everything up. What to do? Although at six years old Ella is certainly capable to going to the restroom alone, I am not really comfortable with her out of my sight in an airport full of strangers.
The restrooms were right across the hall so I let Ella go by herself, watching her from the restaurant entrance to make sure she made it into the right door.
Luckily my brother-in-law showed up just moments after Ella left and I was able to leave John and our bags with him while I went to check on Ella. Good thing I did because she couldn’t get the bathroom stall door open! A custodian was trying to help her but without success. As soon as I arrived, though, Ella managed to get it unlocked. She told me, “I thought I was going to be in there forever!”
After finishing my delicious nachos from Tootsies and paying the bill, we headed out toward baggage claim with my brother-in-law, Pete.
Are you ready for this? ANOTHER PROBLEM!
Pete dug in his bag for his car keys and suddenly realized that he left them in Texas! Oh boy! Now we would need to rent a car after all. So we head to the car rental desk and inquire on a price. It’s $40 more than the online price I had found on Priceline just over an hour ago. The agent couldn’t get me that earlier price but said I could try to obtain it again online…BUT, it wouldn’t go through right away—we would have to wait for it to show up in their computer.
I decided it couldn’t hurt to book it and see if it showed up in their system sooner than the one hour time frame expected. So I made the reservation and it did show up on their end within minutes (whew!).
I dug into my purse to get my license and credit card for the rental and my license was nowhere to be found!(I later discovered that it had dropped out of my purse into my car in New York. At least it wasn’t lost, but now I was without a license for a week and was unable to drive.)
I rebooked the reservation in Pete’s name so he could be the driver.
Since we didn’t have a car seat for Ella I decide to ask the baggage claim service center and asked if they had one I could borrow for a day. They did!!! So at least I saved having to pay for one with the car rental.
During this time obtaining a rental car, Pete, my brother-in-law, got bad news that a longtime friend had passed away. So in the middle of renting the car and arranging for a car seat he had to make calls to friends to share the bad news. Now the challenges of the day were put into perspective. Everything was difficult, but we were together, we were safe, we were alive. Everything was going to be okay.
Hanging in there! Waiting for the car: Ella was tired, but not too tired to “fly” with this moth mosaic.
So we made it through the day, in bed before midnight, and ready for a relaxed morning and another standby flight the next evening. Hoping and praying that the next day flying to Texas would be easier.
Was it worth it all? Well, the kids got to play with their cousin who they hadn’t seen in almost a year and we were one step closer to getting me to training and the kids to Grandma and Granddad’s house. Yeah, it was worth it. I’d definitely do it again. What do you think? Am I crazy?