Saturday, April 16, 2011

Traveling with kids & dealing with the unexpected

Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy Movie Poster Don't Panic 24x36
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy had it exactly right: "Don't Panic" is an excellent motto when traveling the galaxy, or traveling with kids. Of course, in Hitchhiker's Guide, you were supposed to always bring a towel, but when traveling with kids, you should always, always bring snacks..

Anything can happen when you're flying. Just ask the people who got stuck in various locations across the world last year, at about this time, because a volcano erupted in Iceland! Nothing that dramatic happened to my family on our latest vacation to the Canary Island, but there were still a few reminders of how it's always good to be prepared for all (or some) eventualities when traveling with kids.

What would you do for 600 euros?
First of all, when we checked in at Vancouver International Airport for our flight to Frankfurt, the Lufthansa-lady at the desk told us that the flight was oversold. We were offered 600 euros (830 Canadian dollars!) to delay our departure until the next day. Quite the sweet deal. And if my husband and I had been traveling by ourselves, without the kids, and if we hadn't had connecting flights with another airline (which we also did on this trip), we might even have gone for it. Stayed in a nice hotel, had a nice dinner...

However, the prospect of taking two travel-hyped-up children back home again for 24 hours, after spending months talking about the trip, about a week preparing the kids for the long flights involved, all day packing, and saying goodbye to the house and cat... No. I couldn't face it. 6000 euros might have been closer to covering the pain and suffering involved, but even then I might have turned it down. I'm not even sure I would have been physically able to remove my kids from the airport, and gone back to our car in the long term parking lot if I had tried.

Now, the reason for the flight being "oversold" was actually that the available plane was too small. Because of the earthquake in Japan, some Lufthansa planes had gotten "stuck" in Japan, and apparently this meant that our flight was serviced by another plane type than originally planned.

Once on board, we discovered that even though the lady at check-in had told us we were all sitting on the same row, my husband's seat was actually on the row in front of us. So we had three of the four center seats, instead of all four. This was quickly remedied however, since the nice young man who did have that fourth seat happily switched with my husband. I guess the prospect of sitting next to a mom and two small children didn't look all that appealing for some reason! (I can't imagine why...) 

I hope my name is not on that list
On our way home from the Canary Islands, we ran into more plane drama. First, we hustled our butts off in Frankfurt airport, after arriving from Madrid, in order to get to the flight to Vancouver. We made it with some time to spare, and then boarding began. All seemed fine, until we got to the plane itself (boarding passes in hand): we were then turned away by the crew who told us that the inspection of the plane was actually not yet finished.

We got to go all the way back to the gate, had our boarding passes re-scanned to "cancel" our boarding and then we waited. And waited. Yeah, not good. To quote Star Wars "I have a bad feeling about this".

The kids were going a little gaga at this point, but the snacks I brought (mainly lots and lots of pretzels) helped. (Snacks and sticker books were good helpers on this family trip for sure.) My daughter drank a gigantic (0.5 liter) container of milk from the small convenience store, we visited the bathroom multiple times, and my son kept asking every 5 seconds if we were boarding yet, but all in all it wasn't too bad.

When the word finally came from the airline, we found out that the plane had a hydraulic problem and had to be replaced. In a way this was good news, because at least "replaced" meant "flight not canceled". However, there was another problem: the only available plane was not as big as the broken plane.

This meant that a large number of people were rather unceremoniously kicked off the flight. Their names were read off a list, and then they had to wait to fly out until the next day. They were given assistance in the form of hotel accommodation if they needed it, but that was pretty harsh to watch. It seemed that Lufthansa mainly picked people who were German to kick off the flight, maybe because they were more likely to be able to just "go home" and wait.

Of course, I was glad that the problem with the plane was found before departure, and that we ended up on another, safer plane. But sitting there with my kids, I was very, very, very glad that our names were not on that list, and I hope not to experience that kind of situation very often again.

We eventually left Frankfurt about two hours behind schedule: quite nicely done by Lufthansa I have to say. I guess we were lucky that this happened in Frankfurt where the airline has a lot of airplanes.

The kids were quite tired of the gate area by the time we boarded the plane, but they did pretty good handling such a long, unexpected delay. I was just glad that it happened on our last flight, and when we were on our way home: I would have been a lot more stressed out if it had happened when we were heading to the Canary Islands!

So what did I learn on this trip about plane travel with kids? Three things:
  • Prepare your kids before you travel, explain to them what's going on while you are traveling, and try to keep as calm as possible when unexpected things happen, so as not to make them worry more.
  • Always bring snacks.
  • Never assume you're going anywhere until you're actually in your seat, on the plane. And it's in the air.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Deluxe 25th Anniversary Edition

I'm also set to re-read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

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