July 21, 2008

DT's First Class Advice For Flying

So Saturday we flew out from Washington, DC to Utah for a couple of weeks to see various grandparents--and the Spiral Jetty, of course, but that won't be until next week. No matter how many times we do it, flying with kids and without major embarrassment always feels like a major accomplishment. Some takeaways from yesterday's trip:

  • Waking the kids up to go to the airport = we left too early. We've done it before, with the kid wearing her pajamas to the airport, but this time, we woke both the kid and K2 up at 6AM, 1.5-2 hours early for them, and they never seemed to recover. Between the travel, the time change, and the over-excitement on arrival, they were both exhausted, over-stimulated wrecks. If a kid has a sleep schedule, you tamper with it at your own peril.

  • The Bugaboo with car seat is still a winner. It's been four years now, and I still can't get over how convenient the Bugaboo+Maxi-Cosi car seat combo is for plane travel. It's just an easy way to carry a car seat, and if you fly with a lap baby, having the car seat up until the last minute lets you take advantage of any open seats. It was pouring rain in Chicago, and, all the other gatechecked strollers were soaked; ours, I just plopped our dry car seat on the wet aluminum base, no sweat. But even if we're not using it, we just wrap the seat in one of those giant plastic bags from the baggage check-in counter. Pick one up on your way.

  • Despite the verbena-scented handtowels, first class was a waste. Through a combination of purchases, status, and upgrades, we decided to to this trip first class with K2 on our lap rather than deal with a crowded summer trip in coach. What a bust. K2 loved the warm handtowel. It was really cute; she'd bring it repeatedly to her nose. But on one leg, we had literally the worst first class service I've ever had in my million-plus miles of flying. [And not just because United gave away the empty adjacent seat at the last minute to some beancounting schmo from SkyWest, forcing us to scramble and gatecheck the car seat. Even though there were plenty of empty seats in coach. The food was atrocious; they didn't bring the kid's special meal, which is right there in her Premier profile; and they took their sweet time serving it, even when we asked for it sooner because the kid was starving, they waited until coach got all their drinks.] On the other leg, we actually did better by taking four coach seats instead of three first class. K2 took a good nap--the only one of the entire day that lasted longer than 30 minutes--in her own seat.

  • The element of surprise never fails. One of my wife's most genius travel strategies is to produce some kind of surprise for the kid on the plane: sometimes it's a new book, a new box of crayons and some stickers. Once it was a little thing of modeling clay [which ended up leaving greasy dye streaks on the tray table. Oops.] This trip, it was some kind of dipping stick snack, somewhere between a Lik-m-Aid and a Pocky. When the kid got a little antsy, out it came to change the mood.

  • Another surprise: reading the prefab architecture book was a hit. The kid's always asking why this and how'd they do that. all. the. time. So I broke out my new copy of the awesome prefab house project catalogue I'd just gotten Friday and read it to her. She ate it up. It's Loblolly House, a getaway on Chesapeake Bay by KieranTimberlake which is made out of off-the-shelf industrial aluminum scaffolding. We'd watched the architects working on their house next to MoMA the last few weeks, but the added familiarity was less important than the detailed story of a house being built. We read it three times for an hour. On the other hand, my idea of drawing pictures of things we read about in Henry David Thoreau's Walden was rejected. I swear, kids these days.

  • 14 Comments

    6AM is too early? You bastard. How about no later than 5:30 every day? 4:30 isn't unheard of... birds...country...

    I recommend bringing your own bag for the car seat if you're going to check it. Many airlines no longer have heavy-duty plastic bags available, and others will charge for them if you want one. Here are my recent experiences:

    NWA: nothing available
    Continental: heavy-duty bag available for free
    Delta: bag available but charged $5
    JetBlue: no bags available, but offered a flimsy garbage bag for free

    After a few trips, we ended up buying a $25 carrying bag for our car seat and have been happy with it. It's a little bulky for carrying on, but if you're checking in, it's a lot heavier-duty than those plastic bags and the backpack straps make it far easier to schlep to/from the car. Plus you can shove some other stuff in it, too (we put our Britax Roundabout in and usually shove in our toy bag as well).

    But even if we're not using it, we just wrap the seat in one of those giant plastic bags from the baggage check-in counter.

    You must not fly American Airlines. They look at you like you're crazy when you ask for the giant plastic bags. Got a source to buy your own?

    wow, $5 for a plastic bag. We fly Delta or United [this trip] and so far haven't had a problem. If you're a committed car seat checker, a cover/bag would be useful. There was a family on our plane with a Mia Moda Cielo stroller--first I've seen--that comes with its own little carrying case. It looked like a lawyer's brief case. All the other strollers in O'Hare were soaked, it was really ridiculous/hilarious.

    We haven't had our stroller soaked (yet), and this past week it sustained the first airline-related damage (15th flight - 14 without incident), but once we couldn't get our gate-checked stroller at the gate (after a 9 hour flight) because the hatch had frozen shut. That was a *very* long walk through the airport and customs with a sleepy baby, a full complement of carry-ons for three, plus a Marathon.

    the other time the gatecheck doesn't work is if you have a tight connection, and the stroller doesn't appear very quickly.

    we flew emirates from auckland to Brisbane with a 16mo old and they lost our mcclaren volo. After the flight, customs, waiting forever at the 'special baggage' section we just skipped the line with all the other frazzled parents waiting to file claims and managed to talk someone into giving us an identical mcclaren from the pile they had in the lost stroller closet.

    "we had literally the worst first class service I've ever had in my million-plus miles of flying"

    Couldn't agree more. Last trip from Frankfurt was a nightmare in Business Class on Northwest. I don't think they like it when you show up in business class with kids.

    Are all New Yorkers this pompous? I really thought you must be kidding, but it's so NOT funny, that you can only really mean it. Egads!

    And why should the bean-counting schmo sit in coach when he paid for (or scrambled for, because of his status) a first class ticket?

    And with the treats that your wife packs, she didn't stow a granola bar for the kid? Are you serious that you rely on the airline to keep your toddler's stomach full?

    I'd stop reading this, but it's kinda fun to watch someone make such a jerk out of themselves by "publishing" this sort of embarrassing fodder.

    And I quote:

    [And not just because United gave away the empty adjacent seat at the last minute to some beancounting schmo from SkyWest, forcing us to scramble and gatecheck the car seat. Even though there were plenty of empty seats in coach. The food was atrocious; they didn't bring the kid's special meal, which is right there in her Premier profile; and they took their sweet time serving it, even when we asked for it sooner because the kid was starving, they waited until coach got all their drinks.]

    To answer your first question, no. What you'll notice is missing from this story: any indication that we acted like pompous assholes when this was all taking place. Or I, since my wife is constitutionally incapable of being rude or pompous and has the good sense to not even blog about this kind of superfluous stuff. In fact, as it was happening, we joked about how unfortunate it was that there was no way to blog about it--because complaining about the people in coach getting served first is balls out, one of the most jackass things in the world.

    [Note how you didn't hear me complain about the people in coach coming up to use the first class lavatory, or the couple who came up front instead of going to the back to change their kid's diaper on the floor. Right at our feet. But what the hell, why not double down?]

    As for the beancounter, he wasn't paying for jack; he was some other airline's employee, hitching a ride. There were at least 6 employees of other airlines on our United flight, the most I'd ever seen.

    Airline employees just should not travel when Daddytype needs that first class seat that he didn't pay for!?

    You go on long flights and bring no food for your children other than candy sticks? Quote: [genius travel strategies]

    Looks like I picked the wrong week to give up flying coach.

    There was other food for the kid, obviously. It happened to be in the overhead bin because we were in row 1, no "under the seat in front of you." Also, the flight attendant was in the middle of serving breakfast, surely she would bring us food. Surely she wouldn't serve the entire coach cabin drinks--one at a time, from the galley, not from a cart or anything--before she served the eight people in first. Surely she would bring the kids' meals when we asked for them, not "in just a minute," which turned out to be thirty.

    And I have no idea of the protocols of flying competitor airlines' accountants, but giving them the first class seat you'd told your own paying customers--all of whom, have premier or premier executive status, kid included--that you'd keep open when there's at least 15 or 20 open seats in coach, which seemed fine for the pilots from American, the other SkyWest crew, and the unidentified, non-United crew-type guy, seemed annoying.

    As for the genius strategies, the point of writing about any of this was not to make myself look like a total tool--though that's apparently how it's working out. The point was that when you're traveling with a kid, flying first class with a lap baby may not be better than flying coach with an extra seat.

    thanks for putting your tips out there :) any suggestions for overseas flights?

    We just got back from Denmark, and can report that the Copenhagen airport is rather funny about gate-checked strollers -- they don't give them back to you at the gate, but rather, at the baggage claim, so you have to lug your wriggling grumpy kids across the airport to get your strollers back (we had 2 kids, and tons of carry-on). They provide tiny high grocery-like carts as a trade, but the zinger is that it takes forever to get your stroller back (25 minutes AFTER the rest of your luggage -- a special parent-tax it seemed).

    On the flight back home, SAS wouldn't get-check our bugaboo -- mclarens only, so we had to send it off in a bag, and this time, were not allowed to use the mini grocery-carts. When we landed, I had to go up to the cargo guys and ask them to find it -- again, we were the last passengers by 25 minutes. Some nice but clueless groundsperson told me that the flight attendant said there wasn't a gate-checked stroller (how would she know?), and then after wandering around on the tarmac in the dark for a while (all the other passengers having long since departed) she directed us inside -- right down a flight of stairs, saying there was no elevator (funny, they found one for the woman on our flight in a wheelchair).


    Then, we hailed a cab, only to be told that we were not allowed in a cab without an approved car seat in the city of Geneva -- and we have to provide it. So bear that in mind if you plan on taking a cab with a child in Geneva -- plan on lugging a car seat wherever you go in town. (no problem if they are still babies, but when they graduate to stage 2 or 3, it is impossible to carry all of that if you have more than 1 child!).

    Okay, so it seems I am still grumpy about this trip (next time, no way are we flying from Geneva to Copenhagen).

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