Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Flying with a Toddler... while 7 months pregnant

First, I'll start by saying bravo to Ame.rican, because they were so good to us. We called a few weeks before the flight to request bulkhead seats and they were able to put some on hold for us, provided no one else on board needed them for serious medical reasons. We did end up getting those seats and it was so helpful! We were actually at the front of the economy section, which meant we had to only walk a few feet from the door to get to our seats.

They also were so helpful after we landed. All of the assistants were helping other people so one of the pilots grabbed Love Bug's car seat and a flight attendant grabbed a bag, so that I only had to push her in the stroller and carry a few personal items. It was wonderful. Once I got to passport control, they helped me get my bags through and get a cart... once I had a cart for all our bags, it was smooth sailing.

The real trouble was in the beginning, when I was just getting to the plane, before take-off. Most of Europe has special passport readers and people to check your bags before you get to the ticket counter. Fortunately in Paris (as in most airports), they were together, so you could still have family with you until you got your tickets and got to security. But in Rome? No, you do this in a separate front entrance, before moving into the ticketing area in the next space. They first told B that he couldn't come with me. But they also didn't want to try to find anyone to help me. Yes, me and a toddler with a small stroller, carseat, 3 bags, and two small carry-ons, could get there alone according to them. My wonderful husband just argued and finally a security guard agreed that he could come in with me, but had to leave just afterwards... because, oh yes, he loves just sitting by the ticket counter all day.

Once we got inside, again what a great experience with Amer.ican, because they knew according to the manifest, that a pregnant woman was travelling with a toddler. They called us forward and we got taken care of right away. Finally, we said our tearful goodbyes to Daddy and we were on our way! Security was a little daunting, because I had my stroller to fold, a toddler to chase and I had to get my laptop out of my one carry-on. I thought all was well until I tried to get my carseat through and realised that it wouldn't fit (we've never had that happen before and the opening looked small). They proceeded to make me walk with Love Bug, over to the special large x-ray machine. I tried to explain that my purse was sitting there alone with my tickets and passports, since it had already gone through the security line. No, I couldn't go get just my purse, I had to follow them, was their reply. They worked for five minutes at the computer next to the large x-ray and surprise, surprise... it didn't work!

They took me back to the original x-ray and just manually searched the chair and used the wand on it. LB and I got through the x-ray and of course, my bags and purse were sitting unattended as I had feared. I also was searching around for my bungee cords that held the carseat to the rolling carry-on. After I explained, they told me that they had thrown them away because they were a security risk. (The flight attendants who I told this story to later couldn't believe it, since they were the really flimsy plastic ones that they see passangers with all the time in the US.) I can see what they're saying, but of course, this caused me some concern because those cords kept all my stuff together in a way I could manage. I had a carseat, toddler in a stroller, and a few other bags. They told me they couldn't help me, but if I wanted assistance I could go back to the ticket counter. With all this stuff weighing me down, I laughed at this idea, and asked if they could call. The response... no.

By this point I had lost it. I was crying, dragging my bags and carseat behind me with one hand, while pushing LB in the stroller with the other. An American woman who saw me arguing with them took pity on me and carried the car seat. Once we walked around the corner, I saw a shuttle bus instead of gates... what was going on? I found out that this was just a special ticketing area they built due to overcrowding at the main airport, but actual flights don't take off. We had to take a shuttle to the main airport! We got on the shuttle and they dropped us off in front of a door with a huge escalator and elevator in front of it. Once we got to the top, there was another escalator and elevator to take again. Once I got to my gate, got checked in and walked towards the plane, what did I find here? Another escalator and elevator, but down this time. Does this seem ridiculous to anyone else? What idiot designed this place?

Finally, we got on the plane, called Daddy before turning off our phone, and sat in our seats. We were finally loaded and I had buckled LB in her carseat, per their request. This is when the captain came on and said that since we were not finished loading our bags until 2 minutes after they had planned, they gave away our take-off spot. We were now scheduled to be an hour later. You could hear the pilot's aggrevation with the air traffic control and could tell when he said, "I'm working to get this changed", that he meant he WOULD get it changed. He did and we finally took off a half hour late.

The flight itself was pretty difficult, since LB didn't want to sit in her seat for most of it. So I held her and chased her and got out every toy we had, and even resorted to a few things that weren't toys. Meals were especially difficult since I HAD TO eat and so did LB; being pregnant and being a toddler require lots of nourishment over a 10 hour flight. She hated eating in her carseat, and I hated balancing both meals on my tray. We did make it, but I think I almost started crying in frustration about 48 times. The rest of the passangers were sweet and played with her and gave her treats and so did the flight attendants, and I'm convinced that these kind, wonderful people were the only reason I made it in one piece.

Not to sound insensitive, but if you're worried about flying as a family (meaning your spouse will be with you too)... I have no pity for you! ;-) We've done it many times as a family and having another adult to take turns with is a lifesaver. If you will be alone (especially pregnant or not feeling well in any way), you have my complete pity! But either way, here is my advice:

1. Make friends with the flight attendants, by being an easy passenger in every way except having a toddler with you.
2. Pack favorite toys, books, one drink, some small snacks, and a few diapers/wipes all in one smallish bag. It's easier to kick around (and pass back and forth with your spouse) than a big bag. Put the change of clothes, baby tylen.ol, and other non-essentials in the larger bag in the overhead bin.
3. Buy another seat if you can afford it or get a discount. Having a seat for Love Bug, even though she only used it about half the time, was so helpful for meals and naps. It's also much safer in the event of major turbulence or a rough landing.
4. If you're alone, get assistance in anyway you can. Ask when you purchase your flight, ask the ticket agent, ask the flight attendants, and even ask other passangers. I even had the wonderful US passport officer finding someone to bring me a cart.
5. Be creative- find other ways to entertain your child... anything you can find. We got a styrofoam cup from a flight attendant and it so much fun for about a half hour.
6. Bring regular, over the head earphones if you can find some or buy some cheaply. LB didn't like the ear buds they provided on the place, but I had regular earphones since my iP.od ear buds broke a few months ago. She was able to watch the movie. I usually don't let her watch TV so this was a real treat!
7. Walk the aisles every hour if the seat belt sign is off. It's good for the kids to walk and it's good to prevent blood clots in adults too. (I had my lovely compression stockings on and was looking just bee-uuu-tiful!)

Oh, and since I have to tease a little... here are my other two pieces of advice:

8. Don't fly with a toddler.
9. Don't fly through or from Rome.

If I think of anything else, I'll let you know. Good luck to everyone travelling, even if your spouse will be with you. It's stressful and hard no matter what. I wish you no delays, little turbulance, and a nice long nap for everyone!


Sarah said...

Wow! What an ordeal, I am so glad you were able to make it all in one piece.

Cheri said...

You gotta love Italy - the land of less than helpful people! It's amazing, isn't it!

Your husband will be able to help you return to Italy won't he? I hope so!

Now relax and enjoy your family!

Danielle said...

Yikes! You truly do need a "Haven" don't you!

I'd need to drink an extra large cup of iced coffee, or maybe, eat a whole pan of brownies to get over that stress.

To be honest, I was chuckling at your adventure home. It is comical if it isn't you!

*carrie* said...

Just reading this made my stomach hurt. Sorry it was so stressful, but glad there were *some* helpful folks along the way!

Kathleen said...

Thank goodness you made it ok! I was thinking about you and your toddler. I have such a new respect for people flying with kids now that I have a 4 month old. Not that I ever glared at parents and kids on airplanes in the past, but it makes me think of the stress that many of the parents are flying under.

Jacquie said...

Oh my goodnees! You're my hero for tackling all that and surviving to tell the story.