Tuesday, January 20, 2015

How Traveling with Three Restored my Faith in Humanity

The beginning of what would become a very long day
When we labored up to our gate at O'Hare overburdened with babies and associated gear (strollers, diaper backpacks, purses, toys, baby carriers., carry on bags..etc) I could literally feel the collective groan from the fellow passengers. "There goes the neighborhood" their sidelong glances and polite-yet-worried smiles seemed to say. I mean, let's be honest; babies are like ticking time bombs on planes, and sitting next to one is enough to make anyone nervous. But sharing a vicinity with infant twins and a toddler who is in the thick of the "terrible two's" for a four hour plane flight? There are very few souls who'd willingly sign up for that.

The morning started off easily enough. We were packed, we were ready, we woke up the girls, loaded up the car and headed to the airport. Checking in was a breeze. Security was an effort and a bonafide three ring circus but nothing that a little time and energy couldn't help (note to those traveling with multiple children: time is your friend - get to the airport early!) We got to our gate, and because we had two lap children - we were told to wait for our seat assignments, as they had to do some shuffling. We waited. And waited. And waited. They boarded the first group. Then the second. Then came the announcement that the plane was over-sold and would anyone like to give up their seats in return for $500 in vouchers? Skeeert. It became painfully obvious who would be getting bumped if no one volunteered. We stood at the counter like deer caught in headlights and desperately panned the thinning crowd. The passengers continued past us, one by one into the plane. Some avoided our eyes completely, others gave us sympathetic smiles with the subtext: "We're so sorry...but we're not giving up our seats for you." The gate agent upped the ante and made another offer - $1000 in vouchers - to anyone willing to give up their seats on what appeared to be an over-sold flight. We were now ten minutes from take off and there were only a handful of people left in the gate area. It was not looking good for us. Our motley crew of three adults and three children stood at the ticket counter looking rather pathetic and desperate when a man came over to me and asked, "Are you the ones who need volunteers?" "Well," I started, "as it stands right now we are the ones without seat assignments." Without a beat, this kind man and his beautiful wife, walked up to the agent and announced "We'll give up our seats." He waived their boarding passes like one might wave a white flag and smiled at us. I was so touched by the kindness of these two strangers that I literally started crying and gave each of them the biggest hug I could. Even a gate agent got teary witnessing the exchange. "Thank you, thank you, thank you" I repeated to each of them, "You have no idea how much this means to us." I swear that one day I will pay this kindness forward. Ladies and gentlemen, if you see a young family traveling with multiple children, any gesture you can offer them - from helping fold up a stroller to giving up your seat - will mean the world to them. Please remember this next time you fly or travel.

We were the absolute last passengers to board the plane mere minutes from our take-off time (which was a blessing in disguise), and our new friends' good karma was cashed in immediately when two no-shows opened up enough seats for them as well. Happy days. Off we went.

Seen as how this was the first flight for the twins, we really weren't sure how it would go or how they would behave. Both Scott and I had a lap child, and Isla had her own seat (any child age two and up must pay full fare for a seat). My mom was in business class (travel agent perks + miles + unlimited checked bags made this decision easy) while the rest of us were in coach. Because there are not enough oxygen masks for five people in a row, Scott and I had to sit on opposite sides of the aisle meaning there were three people directly subjected to our family shenanigans, not to mention the other folks in front of and behind us. I am happy to report that all three kids were absolute angels for the entire flight, and minus some shuffling about and handing babies back and forth across the aisles so I could nurse them, the trip went off without a hitch . This was due largely in part to the great "team" surrounding us. We could not have been luckier with the people we shared our rows with.  I joked on our Facebook Page that "if it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a whole plane to fly with them" and it is really true. We are so grateful to have been surrounded by such generous, understanding and patient people. The fact that they all seemed to love our kids was icing on the cake.

When we landed in San Juan, however, our luck changed.

"What do you mean we are not in the system?" I overheard my mom frantically ask the gate agent as Isla and I walked up. It was time to board. "I mean," she quipped, "you do not have a reservation. You are not on this plane." This did not bode well for us since, according to our records, we did have a reservation which became very clear when they confirmed that our bags had been loaded on the plane. "Yes" the gate agent told us when we inquired about this, "you were *supposed* to be on this flight, but something happened and now you are not." This was the only explanation we were given for the mishap which obviously made zero sense. There was some back and forth to try and get to the bottom of the situation but Scott and I have learned that getting demanding and huffy with Caribbean folk does nothing for one's cause in these parts and, after some failed attempts to get us on the plane, we watched our flight take off with out us.

We were re-assigned to a later flight on a different airline at 8pm (adding three more hours to our two hour layover), which, when we arrived at the gate, we learned had been cancelled, subsequently bumping us on to an even later flight at 9:45pm. This was very bad news to us considering we had three small children who had been traveling for over twelve hours and were in dire need of sleep, not to mention the three exhausted adults who hadn't had a decent meal in hours and were in dire need of a team of chiropractors (baby wearing is great, but after a full day of it, it can get...tiring). It didn't end there either, apparently due to all the shuffling of passengers from two earlier cancelled flights, the plane - we were told - no longer had a seat for my mom.  It looked like Grandma would have to stay back in San Juan and be on the first flight out at 8am. Not the end of the world, of course, but rather annoying considering if we had been on our original flight the three of us would have been sipping painkillers while the kids slumbered in their beds.

Two hours passed killing time in the terminal and just as we were about to board we discovered that Cape Air did, in fact, have a seat for my mom. Hooray! (Lesson here: when flying a Caribbean airline it's not over until the plane takes off without you.) We were moved to a holding area for our eight passenger puddle jumper where we were loaded on and off the plane not once, but twice due to "weight issues." Back to the gate we went, where we were told to wait for another twenty minutes while they "sorted it out". This does not sound like a big deal, but when you are shuffling three children, strollers and diaper bags, the simple act of moving from A to B is quite exhausting, especially if that move is a very long walk across an airport. Again, the kids were incredible and taking it all in stride, and everyone kept complimenting us on how well-behaved everyone was. I thanked them, but gently reminded them that our luck could change a the drop of a pin. Such is life with three under three. But I will admit I was very proud of our girls.

At 9:45pm we were finally en-route to Tortola and flying through and inky black sky with five of our new best friends.

We landed on the runway and upon exiting the plane I was enveloped by the all too familiar sticky-sweet Caribbean air. It felt amazing. "Smell that, Isla?" I whispered in her ear as I took a deep breath in, "that's the smell of the ocean." I can't really describe the feeling other than taking in that breath felt like coming home. It felt right and it became apparent that the crazy journey to get here was totally worth it. We entered the tiny Tortola airport where we were met with all of our luggage (remember that it flew in four hours earlier...) which was another bit of luck - losing luggage is commonplace in these parts. The sound of five passport stamps echoed through the now-empty tiny airport and we were all cleared in.

"Welcome home" the officer said with a toothy grin and handed back our documents.

Welcome home, indeed.

Driving along in our taxi, the Caribbean night unfolded along the roadside. The skunky smell of marijuana wafted in and out of our taxi windows and palm trees silhouetted by the moonlight made up the tableau on the horizon as we buzzed past the slumbering markets and homes. It was good to be back and, at that moment, felt like no time has passed.

By 11:30pm, we were in our condo. We immediately put the kids to bed after enjoying a couple glasses of well-deserved wine we all crashed. Hard.

The day was long and exhausting, that is for sure, but even with the many mishaps we encountered we were met with tremendous luck as well. It was confirmation that we were on the right path that every step of the way, luck seemed to be on our side. "Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls." We have a very long and challenging road ahead, and what we are about to do will no be easy - we know that for certain. But if we continue to be met with good fortune like we were met with on this day...if we continue to meet the sort of people who so willingly opened their hands and hearts to us on this first leg, then I think we're going to be just fine.

Asante sana, Universe.

And now, the real work begins...









12 comments:

Carly Zaniboni said...

Bet you ended that day with a truck load of wine!

Kristen Miller said...

In September I flew from FL to VT with my two girls and it was nightmarish. (No one helped to fold the stroller, neither of them slept ALL day, full-blown tantrums in security, etc.) So it was with great trepidation that I boarded the 9hr flight plus 3 hr layover plus 1hr flight to Sweden with them, alone, in December. But I sat next to a burly Norwegian bachelor who massaged my toddler's hands and feet as she fell asleep and picked up her binky every time she dropped it and let me rest/sleep on his massive shoulder.
Yes, he was awesome and made the flight totally do-able. My faith in traveling humanity: restored!

Kristen Miller said...

PS: I'm so excited to live vicariously through you as we stay firmly attached to the dock in FL. have fun! and good luck!

Tillerman said...

The interface between Cape Air's computer systems and their partners (in our case Jet Blue) seems to be a recurring problem. Twice now (also when flying into or out of Tortola) we have been faced with exactly the same "yes you booked this flight and yes you reserved seats but now our computers say you are not on the flight" issue.

Thankfully for us, it all got sorted out after an eternity of sighs and rolled eyes and tapping on keyboards and calls to help desks by the airline agents.

Glad you eventually made it. Looking forward to reading about life on the boat with those three beautiful girls.

Anonymous said...

As someone who gets overwhelmed when taking a plane trip BY MYSELF, I am in awe. You win the Travelympics this week!
~ Patricia

Monika @Mumonthebrink said...

Such a positive outlook after a series of mishaps. I'm in awe
I'm also appalled at the airline which chooses to single out a family with young children as the ones to hold back and not automatically allocate seats to, relying on fellow passengers to give up their seats for you. Which airline was this?

EandL Schwiebert said...

Brit and Scott, it is your attitude that helped make the day. People respond positively to positive people (not to mention cute kids!). We often tell parents traveling with little children not to be upset or embarassed, after all, we have been there and done that. Glad your day turned out so well. ENJOY!

Jessica said...

What a long and exhausting day, but I'm so glad the six of you made it there safe and sound, AND with all of your luggage! Make sure to keep breathing in that island air and I'll see you soon to share a bottle of wine and some stories. :)

Anonymous said...

You definitely had the magic ingredient (besides great planning, good luck, awesome kids, & all that!) and that was grandma!! An adult for each child...brilliant...and grandma was the icing on the cake! Happy sailing!
Grammie Lori in WA

Anonymous said...

That was a great post, thanks for sharing it.

Mark McGuire said...

"the Caribbean night unfolded along the roadside" You captured that magic that can only be felt by someone who has been trapped inside a snow covered house all winter only to be released into the fresh sea breeze. Nice writing Brittany! I'm so glad you guys made it. Mark

Dani McDaniel said...

Holy Smokes, what an adventure that was! I'm so glad you made it back to your boat and everything is well. I'm hoping we'll get to meet up with you on our trip down the islands, although the BVI's is not currently on the list. But as you know, you never know.
Dani

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