Because there's no minute like the last minute, here is my entry for the TravHell contest (ran by Sass Attack, And the Pursuit of Happiness, and The Hotfessional). I don't suppose that any one thing that happened to us was the worst thing that has ever happened to anybody while traveling, but so many individual things went wrong that it certainly makes for a very...long...story. Grab a glass of wine...or a bowl of popcorn...and enjoy.
We told our families a long, long time ago - even before we had children - that if they want to see us for the holidays, they have to come to us. We have seen too many people miserable because they never get to take vacations - they are always spending all of their leave and all of their money (often money they don't even have) going "home" to see their families. We did not want that to be us, so we established The Order of Things early on. We have not been home with our families on Christmas since 2002 - and that was because we got married on December 27th and we were up in the Northeast for the wedding.
Now that we do have a kid, and live much farther away, we are even pickier about when we will go home. And honestly, if you could take an $80 (round trip), 30-minute flight to Kauai, or a flight that's 10 times more expensive and roughly 25 times longer to New Jersey, what would you do? People scrimp and save and wait their whole lives to come to Hawaii, it would be wasteful of us not to enjoy it while we can. Right?
There is a very short list of reasons why we will put a toddler on a trans-Pacific, trans-continental flight, which basically boils down to funerals and two very specific weddings, neither of which look like they're going to occur before we move back to the mainland - THANK GOD. There was one other thing on the list, though: my FIL's Navy retirement. Which happened last June.
Flying out of Hawaii is always easier than flying to Hawaii for one very simple reason: there's a red-eye out of Hawaii, but there isn't one to get here. So Brandon slept the entire flight from Honolulu to Oakland, although we didn't. We flew ATA, because it is cheap, but let me tell you, there is a reason why it is cheap. The planes are old and dirty and pretty much falling apart. The seats are narrow and there is no leg room. Even worse, we were in the last row, where it is loud as hell because you are right over the engine...and the seats don't recline. The seats in front of you recline, though. So you'll have a sleeping stranger in your lap all night. Even after the horrid woman woke up and was actually leaning forward, she still didn't put her seat back into the fully upright and locked position. So needless to say, while Brandon slept the whole flight, we did not.
We ended up stranded in Oakland for five and a half hours. The layover would have been the perfect length, just enough time to eat the sandwiches I had packed (to avoid having to pay airport prices for lunch) and let Brandon run off some energy...but our flight kept on getting delayed...and delayed...and delayed. Brandon ended up sleeping away most of the delay in the Ergo carrier. Which means that he would have slept for the whole second flight, too, had it left on time. But it didn't.
And since we were flying from Honolulu to Philadelphia in June, we were dressed for warm weather. I was wearing full-length yoga pants and a hoodie because I'm always cold, but Brian and Brandon were wearing shorts and t-shirts. And it was absolutely f***ing freezing in that airport. If I'm remembering correctly, I had sweatpants and a jacket for Brandon, and he was snuggled up in the Ergo anyway. But Brian and I were freezing our asses off. (Yes, even in yoga pants and a hoodie, I was cold. You've got to remember, I was dressed for normal air-conditioning, not the Arctic Circle frozen tundra temperatures of the Oakland airport.) We bought $8 coffee from Starbucks purely to try to fend off frostbite in our fingers. I roamed the terminal looking for sweatshirts...any sweatshirt at all. All I could find were child-sized ones; I couldn't believe it. It took at least a half an hour of searching before I found one single newsstand that had adult-sized "San Francisco" sweatshirts for $40. I only bought one, intending for us to trade off, but by that time Brian had a sleeping toddler strapped to him and couldn't exactly put on an extra shirt, so the poor guy had to just suffer. The $40 San Francisco sweatshirt remains my favorite to this day, for sentimental reasons.
Well anyway, we finally got on the plane and managed to keep Brandon relatively quiet and happy with our video iPods and a set of stacking cups. By the end of the flight everybody on the plane was commenting on how well he had done, and they were even more impressed when they learned that, before the 5.5 hour delay, we had been on anotherflight for 6 hours. So overall, by the time we got off the plane in Philly, it had been about 18 hours since we had gotten on the plane in Honolulu.
Yes, 18 hours. Because it wasn't enough that the flight had been delayed from taking off in Oakland. Oh, no. We also had to wait for almost an hour after landing, before we got to a gate. You see, this was the day that the air traffic control computer went down. That was what had caused the delay, and things were so backed up in Philly that they had almost sent us to another airport instead. The captain, bless his soul, fought for us and said ABSOLUTELY NOT, these people have been through enough already. The people in the seat in front of us actually complained about this. "We could have taken a train!" they said. Riiiiiight. Because flying into Newark, and taking the shuttle from the airport to the train station, then a train from Newark to Philly, would be SO MUCH EASIER AND QUICKER than waiting on the tarmac for an hour. I wanted to smack the sh*t out of them for even suggesting it.
More than one person said that we deserved to be sainted for spending 18 hours in transit with an 18-month old. Luckily he was an angel (mostly) the whole time. But we were all freaking exhausted and absolutely starving.
Do you think I'm done? Oh, no, not even close. I still have the return trip to cover.
Poor Brian only got to stay in Philly for the weekend, then he had to go right back to Hawaii to be at work on Tuesday morning. (Not only did he have to be at work, he was on a gig.) He flew out on Monday morning.
When Brian arrived at the Philadelphia airport, he got in a check-in line that was labeled "First Class and Active Duty Military". It wasn't until he had finally gotten to the front of the line that anybody bothered to mention that by "Active Duty Military", they meant in uniform. The problem with that, however, is that it is against regulations to travel in uniform (except when you are leaving basic training). Brian informed them of this and told them that anyone who was traveling in uniform was breaking military law, and they replied, basically "too bad, that's our regulation." Eventually they checked him in.
When he arrived at the gate, the flight (to Las Vegas) had already been delayed. Apparently they had to run the air conditioners on the plane for a while longer because it was too hot in the cabin to allow boarding. Twenty minutes past the time that the flight was supposed to have taken off, an announcement was made that the flight would be making an unscheduled stop in Nashville for refueling. Of course the plane hadn't taken off yet, but apparently there was some new regulation that had been enacted since the flight was scheduled that they weren't allowed to take off with a full tank. Sounds kind of like bullsh*t to me but oh well, there you go. Of course everybody who was changing planes in Vegas knew that they would be missing their connecting flights.
When Brian got to Vegas, he had missed his plane by almost an hour. He waited on line at customer service for American (the airline that he had flown from Philly to Vegas) and was told when he reached the desk that he had to go to ATA (the airline he was supposed to fly from Vegas to Honolulu). The problem with that, was that the flight he had missed was the last flight of the day and everyone from ATA had gone home. Nobody at customer service, nobody at the ticket desk. Just an automated hotline that was no help at all. (It turns out that they had booked him on a flight for the next morning, but there was nobody there to tell him that.)
Brian went back to the American ticket desk (he was now outside of security and had no boarding pass to get back to the terminals) and said, "We are not going to have an argument, because you are going to help me. I am Active Duty, and under orders. You made me late, and you are going to fix it." The next flight from Vegas directly to Honolulu left in 10 hours, which was not an option. He had to be at work the next morning. There was one ticket agent who had spent four years in the Army and understood how important it was that Brian get a flight IMMEDIATELY, and he worked his ass off to get him on a flight in time. After some running around on the part of the ticket agent, Brian was given a boarding pass for a Southwest flight to Los Angeles, leaving in 30 minutes. He ran to security, where he was searched (of course), and made it to the gate on time (barely).
When he arrived at LAX, he again had 30 minutes until his flight's scheduled departure time. As he looked at the screen, he couldn't find his flight...he couldn't find any flights to Honolulu at all. He asked an airport employee to help him find his flight (Continental, he thinks it was) and was told that he was in the wrong terminal - he had to go to terminal A. How was he to get there? Leave the airport, take a city bus to the A terminal, go through security again...really? Are you f***ing kidding me? This guy must have been f***ing with him. He asked an LAPD officer. Yup, have to take the A bus.
Brian went outside to wait for the bus. Three C buses came and went. Then a B bus. Finally an A bus came and Brian got on. The driver was talkative and annoying and at one point, actually stopped the bus alongside another bus, got off, and kissed the other driver. Apparently it was his girlfriend.
When Brian finally got to A terminal he was running as fast as he could (and he can run fast), "pushing old people out of my way", and got stuck behind slowpokes on the escalator. He saw his flight up on the screen - leaving in 10 minutes, on time. Security had a crazy-ass line but by some stroke of good fortune, they opened a second line and he was let right through...but flagged to be searched again. "They'll rebook you," the security officer told him, "we all work for the government." Riiiiight, because it's really the same thing, I'll tell that to the Captain when I'm explaining why I was AWOL.
Of course the flight to Honolulu was at the last gate at the far end of the terminal. Brian ran as fast as his legs would carry him, with one shoe on, untied. Right as he got there, the announcement was made that the flight was delayed 30 minutes. As all of the other passengers groaned and sat back down, Brian yelled, "OHHHHH, YES!!! YESSSS, THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!!!" People laughed because they thought he was being sarcastic, but he went up to the lady who had made the announcement and shook her hand. "I couldn't miss this flight...I didn't miss this flight! Please check me in before I start hallucinating. This is the right gate, right? Check my ticket. This is the right flight, right?"
It was then that Brian realized that he hadn't eaten since that morning. He got dinner at Burger King and sat down at the gate. "I knew I was going to be on that plane. It was the coolest moment."
The flight from LA to Honolulu was "uncomfortable". He was sandwiched between two teenagers who fought him for arm and leg room the whole time, but "I fought back, because I didn't care. That was my plane, dammit."
After dealing with rude people in Philadelphia ("my hometown"), and in Vegas, and in LA ("a bunch of a**holes"), Brian finally arrived back in Honolulu, the one place he didn't want to be, and was greeted with smiling faces, welcome, and courtesy. Of course he had no idea where his luggage was, but everyone was extremely helpful and nothing but nice. (The luggage came in the next day - it had been in Arizona, apparently.)
Brian paid $14 for a cab ride home (even though home is so close to the airport that he could have walked). It was almost midnight (Hawaii time) by now and he just wanted to get home and get some sleep before having to wake up at the asscrack of dawn the next morning to go to work. The cab driver actually fought with the dispatcher. "I will not take someone to Salt Lake. It is too damn close. There's no money in it." He did not get a tip.
Brandon and I stayed on the East Coast for two weeks, going back and forth between the IL's in Philly and my parents in New York.
When we flew out from Hawaii, I had juice-box-type containers of soymilk for Brandon, because I was so sure that we wouldn't be able to find any in the terminal. Once we had gotten through security, though, I felt like a complete moron when I saw all of the coffee shops. DUH, of course you can get soymilk at Starbucks! So when we flew back home, I didn't bother to bring any with me. I didn't know where to get the little single-serve boxes of it where I was visiting, anyway.
So what do you think happened? I ended up in THE ONE SINGLE AIRPORT TERMINAL IN THE WORLD WITHOUT A COFFEE SHOP. I asked every single employee I saw where I could get some soymilk. They all directed me to a gourmet food stand where they had organic cow's milk galore, but were completely out of soymilk. I asked the people at the Southwest desk if they could try to get some soymilk on the plane. I was basically told, "uh, no" and looked at like a freaking alien for expecting any kind of customer service, or sympathy, or human decency. I asked several different airport employees if somebody could zip over to a different terminal and get me some. No dice. I am about to get on a 10-hour flight with a lactose intolerant 18-month old, and I have no milk for him, and nobody cares! I was crying. I was bordering on hysterical. An older couple gave Brandon a baggie of pretzels and I appreciated it immensely, but pretzels aren't milk. He could see his empty milk cup sticking out of the bottle pocket on the side of my diaper bag, and he wanted it. He was crying. He wanted milk. There wasn't any, and wouldn't be for more than 10 hours.
He had been crying for his milk since we were waiting on line at security. Ah, yes, I forgot to describe that debacle. Long ass line, cranky toddler, all by myself with no help. I had forgotten to put Brandon's fruit cups in a ziploc baggie and put them aside, so of course my lunch bag had to be hand-searched. "Is there liquid in here?" "Just some fruit for the baby." "Is it just for him or for you, too?" "Just for him." The guy pulled out the Dole fruit cups. "This ain't no baby food!" "He's a toddler." What, did they expect me to feed my 18-month-old stage 1 Gerber peas or something? The guard got all defensive and told me to calm down, talking about how I was getting upset. Um...no. I was not getting upset or belligerent. He copped an attitude with me and all I did was point out the obvious.
We got to Vegas. I had to check in at the gate because when you fly Southwest/ATA, even though the airlines are partnered up, they don't check you in for your connecting flight when you check in for the first one. Despite the fact that my plane landed over half an hour early, they did not have a seat for me. I was told to wait, they would call me when they had seats for us. I went to the coffee shop and bought some soymilk; in fact I had them make it chocolate because my poor baby deserved a treat. I waited. Pre-boarding started. I went up to the counter. Surely there was some mistake, they had to have a seat for me by now, they just forgot to call me. I was supposed to be pre-boarding; I was flying with a young child. They started to get snippy; I just had to wait. I was being treated like a stand-by passenger. Apparently it was a problem that I expected to get two seats next to each other for myself and my baby. The nerve! How dare I? "I will not go sit down," I told them, "I am going to stand right here until you give us our boarding passes." Regular boarding had started by now.
My completely out-of-character decision to act like a hardass worked, and I got our boarding passes. Thank God in Heaven I was using the CARES system for Brandon, and not installing a carseat. Still, installing the CARES system involves lowering the tray of the person sitting behind you so that you can slip the strap over the seat back - which is why pre-boarding is a very good thing. I apologized profusely as I asked the lady in the seat behind Brandon to lower her tray for a moment while I installed his harness. She did, I slipped the strap over the seatback, and then she immediately put it back up before I had finished adjusting and tightening it. I had to ask her to lower it again so I could finish up, again, apologizing profusely. "They wouldn't let me pre-board," I explained. "Not my problem," she sighed rudely. Oh, whatever, biznitch.
Brandon was fairly cranky, because that's just how it is: when both parents are there, the kid will be a dream, but when it's just you, they will be a handful. He slept fitfully with his head in my lap. (I thanked God every time I managed to get Brandon to fall asleep on a plane that he was still nursing.) I was so tired I was practically in tears but I couldn't sleep because the bitchy woman behind Brandon, and her two teenage daughters, had portable speakers hooked up to their headphone connection. It wasn't loud enough that I could actually hear the movie, but it was definitely enough to keep me awake.
But wait, there's more!
Somehow had I managed to not pay attention when I was booking our return flight, to the point that I somehow booked an itinerary that involved changing planes in Maui. A minor annoyance, somewhat more major since I was flying alone with a toddler...but WAIT! When you're flying Southwest/ATA and switch to a different airline partway through your itinerary, they don't check your luggage through to your final destination. I had done curbside check-in in Philly because I had so much damn stuff: two suitcases and a damn Britax carseat, for Pete's sake, and then I had my carry-on luggage: an overnight bag, a huge-ass diaper bag, an insulated lunch bag, and BRANDON, in the Ergo carrier. I think I also had a backpack full of toys as well.
So now I had to go claim my luggage and re-check it, by myself, lugging my carry-ons, with Brandon strapped to the front of me (because I never quite got the hang of putting him on my back without help). I got myself a Smart Carte, but if a retired couple hadn't helped me get my stuff off of the carousel, I neverwould have managed to lift it off without falling the f*** over on top of Brandon and being carried away on the belt like some kind of sick Disneyland nightmare.
Then I got to go through security again. Did I mention that I only had a 45-minute layover between flights? Luckily, inter-island flights are like commuter trains, so if I missed my flight I would have to wait an hour at most for the next one - but I was so ready to be done with this whole ordeal that I was not about to let that happen. I ran through the terminal and got to the gate about a minute and a half before boarding started, panting and dehydrated, with nothing to drink because I had just gone through security. They served drinks on board - guava "nectar", meaning water and high fructose corn syrup, with a token 5% juice. Oh for the love of Christ.
The absolute last straw? I called Brian before I got on the plane in Maui. It is a 25-minute flight. We live less than 10 minutes from the Honolulu airport. So, naturally, I expected to see him waiting for us at baggage claim. Was he? Nope. I had to call him again from baggage claim to ask where he was, at which point he told me that he hadn't left home yet. What? So then I got to wait for a half an hour for him to get to the airport, find a parking spot, and make his way to the baggage claim area, while I sat on our pile of luggage like a roosting bird and tried to keep a very tired, very bored toddler from running away from me because I certainly couldn't leave my baggage unattended in order to chase after him. I had warned Brian that Brandon might have a total breakdown and start crying when he saw him, since it had been almost two weeks and he had missed him so much and he would be so relieved to see him. Brandon just smiled and said, "Hi!" I, however, burst into tears and started yelling.
And THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is why we don't go home for "vacation".
I believe that women's lib means I can live however I choose - even if that means staying at home, baking cookies from scratch and knitting baby booties all the livelong day. I believe that discriminating against anyone based on their color is racism - even if they're white. I believe that the bad auditions on American Idol are the end result of twenty years of focusing on self esteem - "you are perfect no matter what" - piled on top of a century of growing up consuming music rather than making it together as a family. I believe the children are our future. I believe in miracles. I don't believe in Beatles, I just believe in me.