Monday, August 14, 2000

We're back

I report back to you from the land of airplane travel that yes, it is still possible to go to an airport, get on a plane, and arrive at your destination in a reasonable period of time. This is news because on every channel, in every paper, you'll read about people who have not had such luck. Everywhere are reports about delays, canceled flights, people trapped in terminals, people trapped on runways, disgruntled pilots, deceptive airline personnel, dejected passengers. And yet my little family managed to sneak through without incident.

Of course, most of the bad reports have been about United, and we were flying American. This was just dumb luck, because I wasn't thinking about pilot strikes and mechanic strikes when I made the reservations. American's crews are apparently happy campers, and not prone to leaving customers stranded and steaming, and for that I thank them. Now, on the return flight, they did arrive at the airport late enough to bump our departure time by a half-hour, but arrive they did, and the pilot politely made up most of that time in the air. No complaint from me; hey, I'm late to work all the time.

It may also have helped that we were on non-stop flights between Newark and Los Angeles, with no time whatsoever in Chicago. The Windy City appears to be the root of all airline evil these days. People speak of it in hushed tones. "If it's bad in Chicago, it's bad everywhere," a steward told a passenger, shaking his head in rueful amazement. Things must have been happy at O'Hare the last two Saturdays, because badness did not trickle down.

Well, there was a little badness, but it wasn't schedule-related. It was seat-assignment related, and it was just stupid. Why, do you suppose, would they scatter a party of four, with two children, all around the cabin? We gave the children's ages when we made the reservation; doesn't that information reside somewhere? On our flight out to L.A., we were assigned two seats together, another seat seven rows away, and the last seat seven rows farther still. On the way back, we had three seats together--but one was across the aisle from the other two. Now, I have one highly hyperactive seven-year-old who requires constant supervision, and one quiet 10-year-old who will throw up if she doesn't have her head in my lap for most of the flight. Which of my unaccompanied children would you like to sit next to?

In both cases, the nice lady at the gate was able to switch things around to at least give us two-and-two. Going out, those two-and-two were many rows apart, giving me a long peaceful ride with my mostly sleeping (and mercifully not vomiting) daughter and my husband a long lively ride with my mostly not sleeping son. Going back, we had the best arrangement possible: Two-and-two, with my son and husband directly behind my daughter and I. Or, more specific, my son right behind me, so that we did not have to yell at him for five hours to STOP KICKING THE SEAT. It is impossible to get him to stop kicking the seat in front of him because his feet don't reach the ground, and his knees don't reach the end of the seat to bend, and in the super-spacious coach section the seat in front of him is about an inch away, and his feet have to be somewhere. It is impossible, but people expect you to try. The best I can usually do is take his shoes off so it's at least a softer kick.

My advice, then, for people traveling with children, is to sit short kicking kids behind one of their parents, or at least behind a stranger who is a parent and knows that there are much worse things a kid could be doing. Arrive at the airport two hours early so that your children can actually be seated with you (I know you are thinking that being seated away from your children would make for a much nicer flight, but think of your legal liability toward the other passengers). And most important of all: Stay the heck away from Chicago.

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