There are times when flying with my family that I end up feeling that airlines intentionally make it more difficult for families to travel in order to discourage them from doing so. Our family’s trip last week to Florida and home was definitely one of those times.
We made it to the airport two hours before our scheduled flight. We were flying on a domestic flight, so this early arrival should have provided plenty of time to check in, make it through security, and have time to at least buy food to take on the plane with us. Neither my husband or I had the opportunity to eat breakfast before we left. We were counting on being able to eat at the airport. Does that seem like un unrealistic expectation? I didn’t think so.
For this particular trip we were planning on using public transportation that did not require car seats. We were ecstatic! For anyone who has gone through the process of lugging car seats and/or booster seats (especially 4 of them) through the airport and then gone through the lengthy process of checking them in, covering them plastic, and getting them on their way to baggage knows the joy of being able to skip this ordeal. We were able to get all of our children, luggage and ourselves from the parking lot to the ticketing area in record time. We thought again, that we would have plenty of time to take care of everything and make it to our plane. We did not anticipate the rather lengthy and slow moving line at ticketing. It was a Sunday morning, so we expected a little bit of a line, but nothing like what awaited us.
Upon approaching the line, trying to figure out exactly where we needed to go next, we were pointed to the self automated kiosks to check in for our flight. This filled us with a little bit of trepidation. The line was long and there are two scenarios where checking in at a kiosk has never, never, did I say never?!? worked. The first is when checking in car seats, which thankfully we did not have to do this time. The second is when flying with an infant in lap, which we were doing. Despite our protests that it would not work, the airline workers shunted us into the very long, seemingly never-ending line. Why did we not insist on speaking with an agent? I’m not sure, but we should have. Sometimes trying to be polite, accommodating travelers works against us.
As we neared the end of the long check-in line, almost an hour and one bathroom emergency later, the agent informed us that they wanted to check our stroller with our luggage. Apparently, even though for years strollers have been gate checked with no problems, now carrying strollers up and down the stairs is resulting in injuries to the workers, and so they are changing their policy for any stroller weighing over 20 pounds. Our double stroller is one of the lighter ones out there, and I think it is under 20 pounds, but since I had a baby carrier with me, and I wanted to hurry along the process as much as possible, I agreed to check our stroller with our luggage. I also want to be a good and helpful traveler. I think this might be the wrong track to take when dealing with airline check-in, as it only seems to backfire. I don’t like to be impolite, even in stressful situations. It might work better to be politely assertive. I am going to have to work on this balance.
We finally reached the kiosks! The moment of truth had arrived. Would we be successful in checking in? Would we finally receive our boarding passes? (FYI – if you thinking checking in online works with an infant in lap ticket, it doesn’t. We’ve tried that, too). After trying to check in using our name, flight number, frequent flier number and credit card, we still had no boarding passes. After some valiant effort on our part trying to get the attention of one of the airline workers, we were finally escorted to a new line with an actual ticket agent at the end of it. When our turn came, we tried to politely explain the situation. Now, I understand that it would probably be emotionally tiring to be empathic with all of the passengers you check in during the course of a work day. However, you could at least be efficient at your job! Even though all members of our family were standing right in front of her (minus our baby who was in his baby carrier, but still visible to the ticket agent), and despite the fact that she had all of our i.d.’s in front of her, it took her something like six tries to even count the number of boarding passes we required to get on the airplane. Then it took several more tries to make sure she had all of them printed out. This would have just been a minor convenience, except for the fact that we had maybe half an hour by this time to get through security and make our plane. Remember how we were at the airport two hours early?
Well, she finally printed our boarding passes. It took her a few more minutes to check our bag, which thankfully went smoothly. Then, it came time to check our stroller. Having just checked our bag, you would think this would go smoothly. No, not really. As we were walking away, having been assured everything was ready to go, we hear our check-in woman saying, “Did I check that stroller, through to Seattle?” Seattle is the opposite direction of our actual destination. The other gate agent said something like, “I don’t know. Where is it supposed to go?” You would think at this point that one of them would go to actually check where the stroller was tagged to. But they just stood there, looking at each other with a blank look on their faces, as the stroller moved farther and farther down the conveyor belt into the black hole from which we hoped it would eventually emerge unscathed at our destination. They kept asking each other about the stroller, but neither could be bothered to make sure it was going to the correct place. It was like a bad skit on Saturday Night Live. The kind where you know that the outcome is not going to be a good one for the owner of said stroller. My husband and I looked at each other horrified, as we literally ran to security. If there had been time, we would have stopped and sorted out the destiny of our red double stroller before heading to the gate. But alas, there was no time. We commented to each other that it did not look good for our stroller. But having to choose between making our flight and addressing the stroller issue, we chose making our flight.
Our family raced to security, which thankfully was efficient, pleasant, and not crowded at all. If it had been otherwise, we would have missed our flight. As we passed a restaurant I looked longingly at the food that we did not have time to buy. As a nursing mom, I am more hungry than I was when I was pregnant. Missing breakfast was not a good idea. Plus, not eating makes me less patient and more grumpy. This is not a good combination for traveling, especially when trying to help my hungry children be more patient and less grumpy. Our flight had almost finished boarding when we reached the gate. We hurried to our seats and got settled just minutes before the door was closed. Thankfully, we made the flight.
For over four hours, as we soared above the land to our destination, we pondered the fate of our stroller. Was it on the plane, deep in the belly where all checked luggage journeys with us? Was it on a different plane to a different destination? Would we ever see our stroller again?
At our destination, we hurried to baggage claim. Our checked luggage came through the ordeal without any difficulty. Our stroller…..we waited and waited. We checked the oversize luggage area. We checked a different oversize luggage area. Finally we realized that our stroller was gone, never to be found again.
We spoke with the baggage claims department. They at least were polite and tried to be helpful while we were at the airport. They submitted a claim for us, but since we were never given a luggage tag at our departure point, they had nothing to go on but the description of our stroller. We never heard from them again. And we never saw our stroller again.
At this point, we did not put our blind faith in the efficiency of U.S. Airways to find our stroller and get it to us. Amazon.com made it possible to order a new stroller, which arrived at our hotel in less than 48 hours. We were able to use my baby carrier and the generosity of grandparents willing to carry small children from place to place to transport all our children during our site seeing until the new stroller arrived. Thank goodness for helpful grandparents! We don’t always have them with us in our travels.
Upon check in on our return journey, the ticket agent asked us to check our stroller with our luggage. I just said, “No, we’re not doing that” in a very firm tone. They didn’t argue with me. My husband says I can be scary sometimes. I think this is rather funny since I am 5’4″ and not a very large person. Apparently it was helpful in this situation. Thank goodness we did gate check our stroller this time. When we got off the plane, our 5 year old was fast asleep. Our baby had to go in the stroller because our baby carrier was covered in apple juice. Riding in a wet carrier would surely have elicited screaming from our very tired, but not yet sleeping baby. Our 2 year old was too tired to walk and insisted on being carried. I am grateful on trips like these that our 7 year old is a night owl, and can generally be counted on to move under her own power through the airport even late at night. But even with our stroller, it was not comfortable to transport all our children and belongings back to the car. Without our stroller? It would have been a scene of screaming, crying, cacophonous sounds that would have made everyone’s travels terrible, including our own.
U.S. Airways is the least family friendly airline we have experienced. Their policies and corporate culture penalize families for traveling, and do nothing to make it a pleasant experience. We will go out of our way to avoid them in the future. Thank goodness we are flying British Airways when we travel to Spain.