The big day finally arrived. We took the little guy on his first airplane trip, and all went well, fortunately. Our chariot of choice was Delta, and for the most part, they did a very good job with a couple glaring exceptions (read on . . .). We paid $461.20 per person roundtrip to vacation with the inlaws, and that was a slight premium over what we could have paid. Paying this amount allowed us to upgrade to First Class for 12,500 miles each way, so we did it. We’re glad we did.
We had prepared well for the big day with a very different packing regimen. For the first time in years, we checked a bag (two on the return). That meant we brought only his necessities along with a computer or two in our carry-ons. Oh, and we brought the car seat and stroller to be checked at the gate. It worked out well.
To make things easier, I decided to try a service recommended to me by my friend Johnny Jet. We drove to LAX Parking Curb Express, and for $14.95 a day, they drove us from their facility to the terminal and dropped us off. It was well worth the price.
We went to the Sky Priority check in area since we were traveling in First Class and a friendly agent got our bags tagged and we were on our way. Security took forever with a baby. We had to pull him out of the stroller and my wife walked through the metal detector with him. The car seat went through the x-ray machine, but the stroller had to be hand-inspected. Then they tested the breast milk. It was pretty cumbersome, but we left plenty of time for that reason. (The TSA agents were far from friendly that day, so I’m glad we weren’t in a hurry.) Then we were off to the gate.
April 21, 2012
Delta 2054 Lv Los Angeles 730a Arr Atlanta 240p
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 51B, Runway 25R, Depart 2m Early
Atlanta (ATL): Gate A19, Runway 9C, Arrive 3m Late
N143DA, Boeing 767-332, Standard Delta colors, 100% Full
Flight Time 3h52m
We pre-boarded and my wife got settled while I dismantled the stroller and car seat to check at the gate. Once onboard, the flight attendants were fantastic. We were on a 767, so the First Class cabin was good-sized, but every flight attendant came over to say hello and offered to help if we needed it. Welcome drinks were offered as another flight attendant announced to the coach passengers that “now is the time during boarding that we like to call creative stuffing” – she encouraged people to find ways to get their bags in.
The little guy was dressed for the occasion, though he had the wrong airline in mind. (Thanks for a US Airways friend for that baby gift.) My wife tried to feed him as we climbed through the shallow marine layer, but he was out like a light before we left the gate. He apparently inherited that from her. He slept the first couple hours while we ate (I had the cereal while my wife had the omelette, which she really liked). We logged on to Gogo wifi and had a movie going in the seatback TV as well. Totally connected.
He woke up a couple hours in and we prepared for the worst. Fortunately, he was in a great mood. We went to change him in the empty area near door L1 (the flight attendants said that was our best bet since that plane had no changing table) and we ended up staying in the galley for about 10 minutes with the flight attendants because they were having fun with him. They even gave him his first wings. (Wing pins are back!) I asked the flight attendant if she could ask the captain for the aircraft registration since I couldn’t see it at LAX, and the first officer actually came out to give it to me. He asked what I did and we started talking a little. He’s one of those guys who thinks that he should have the same contract he had in 2000, but I wasn’t about to argue with him when he had an airplane to fly.
April 21, 2012
Delta Connection 5106 Lv Atlanta 410p Arr Wilmington 533p (operated by ExpressJet)
Atlanta (ATL): Gate C55, Runway 9C, Depart 18m Late
Wilmington (ILM): Gate 5, Runway 17, Arrive 5m Late
N907EV, Bombardier CRJ-200, Standard Delta colors, ~90% Full
Flight Time 49m
Our connection was looking a little tight until they switched the runways around and we unexpectedly landed early. We found an elevator to get us down to the train and made our way to the C gates. Our plane was all the way at the end, but that gave us a chance to stretch our legs (and change him in a restroom along the way). Our corner of the ATL wasn’t having much luck. First a Knoxville-bound flight went mechanical, then another flight was weight-restricted, and finally ours broke too. We were told that a tire needed to be changed, but upon further inspection, they changed their minds. Seriously. I asked after the flight and the first officer told me that they found out the foreign object wasn’t as deep as he first thought.
We boarded to find a CRJ in terrible condition. The bulkhead was threadbare. There were multiple holes in each seatback pocket. The lighting was dirty with stains. The safety placards were all worn down. Delta should have been embarrassed to have ExpressJet flying this airplane under the Delta name. It looks even worse in this photo because of the flash, but it was bad in any kind of lighting. (I tweeted it and Delta responded quickly. They informed maintenance that the airplane needed to be looked at.)
Fortunately, the airplane itself worked just fine. The little guy wasn’t nearly as thrilled with his coach ride on a CRJ. But he did hold his own for most of the flight. The flight attendant was great, introducing herself personally after we boarded in case we needed anything. She did a nice job with service on the sub-1 hour flight. We stayed just north of an imposing storm most of the way and somehow landed without even touching a cloud.
On the ground, it took them some time to get the door opened for us to walk out on the ramp, and the airplane was hot. The little guy had enough and started wailing. At least he made it that far. Everyone on the airplane was very friendly about it and tried to see if they could calm him from their seats. Soon enough, we were off the airplane and in the very tiny Wilmington terminal.
Our return started very early – at 1215a Pacific Time when we woke up to make the trek to the airport. It was supposed to be a beautiful sunny day, but apparently a surprise storm showed up and it was overcast with rain in the area. We were dropped in front of the sleepy, North Carolina-inspired terminal and went to check in. There was an earlier connecting flight in Atlanta and we hoped we could do same day confirmed for $50 to get on it. We went into the Sky Priority line and a woman at the counter shouted a question whether we had checked in at the kiosk. We told her no, because we wanted to see if we could make this change. She told us that we had to get in the other line to do that. I asked what the point of Sky Priority was, and she said something about how they don’t really do that. They just worked one line. Right.
Clearly this woman had no idea what to do because the other guy behind the counter told her to do it. She said she didn’t know how. He told her to call someone. She didn’t, and he finally dismissed her and said he’d just deal with it. So we had to wait for him to finish helping someone. Finally, he told us that it’s impossible to do same day confirmed unless we’re changing the first flight. I found out when I was in Atlanta that wasn’t true, but it meant we wasted about 20 minutes that we didn’t need to waste.
We went through security and it was an odd experience. They pulled me aside for a random check, which meant swabbing my shoes and that was it. No pat down, no bag search, nothing else. Then they made my wife hold the little guy for awhile because they wanted to swab the stroller but they didn’t have anyone to help right then. That was a lot of fun.
April 25, 2012
Delta Connection 5305 Lv Wilmington 6a Arr Atlanta 727a (operated by ExpressJet)
Wilmington (ILM): Gate 5, Runway 24, Depart 3m Early
Atlanta (ATL): Gate D44, Runway 27C, Arrive 8m Early
N681BR, Bombardier CRJ-200, Standard Delta colors, ~90% Full
Flight Time 1h8m
Having left plenty of time we made it into the gate area before boarding began and we were ready to go when it was time to pre-board. This ex-Atlantic Coast/Independence Air aircraft was built around the same time as the aircraft that brought us to Wilmington, but its interior was in MUCH better shape. We took our same seats as on the way out and soon we were on our way to Atlanta.
We were in the clouds and it was pretty bumpy for the first 20 minutes or so. Turbulence on those CRJs always feels worse, I guess. We finally got out of it and landed in a nice, clear Atlanta day. Since we had checked bags, there was no way to change to an earlier connection even if we could have, so we had a couple hours to kill. We wandered around, my wife got coffee, and I stared at airplanes.
April 25, 2012
Delta 1655 Lv Atlanta 940a Arr Los Angeles 1151a
Atlanta (ATL): Gate A18, Runway 26L, Depart 2m Early
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 58A, Runway 25L, Arrive 15m Late
N126DL, Boeing 767-332, Standard Delta colors, ~90% Full
Flight Time 4h16m
We pre-boarded once again, and I was definitely used to the stroller/car seat routine. The first officer was coming up from his walkaround and he stopped to say hi to the little guy. I asked how the ride was looking, and he said it was bumpy on the way in from Jacksonville and “it’s always bumpy over the Rockies.” Ok. (We never even got near the Rockies, passing over El Paso.) This wasn’t the last oddity to come from the cockpit.
On the airplane, the flight attendants were once again very friendly and eager to visit with the baby. He, however, was exhausted and after fussing a little at the gate, conked out for a couple hours. Despite their best efforts, the flight attendants couldn’t get the inflight entertainment system working, so it was all up to Gogo to carry the load (and it carried it well).
We took off to the west and that’s when the seatbelt follies began. First, the captain came on and told us that it was going to be bumpy so he was going to turn the sign on. But he had never turned it off, so he actually flipped it off when he meant to turn it on. I mentioned it to the flight attendant but the captain didn’t fix it. Later, he did the reverse, eventually correcting it when the flight attendant told him that time. There could have been a serious liability issue if we hit severe turbulence and the sign was mistakenly off.
But we didn’t hit anything severe, though there was light chop much of the way. I held the little guy for a lot of the flight, and I didn’t end up eating. My wife had a different kind of omelette than on the way out that she really liked. The little guy decided to wake up and scream briefly, and we got nervous that we were bugging those around us. We went up front and changed him, and soon he was back asleep again. Whew.
We sat in the clouds of a late season storm for much of the last hour or so, but we landed very early. Ah, the curse of landing early. We slowly taxied out to the very end of a taxiway and sat there. The captain came on to tell us that an airplane was in our gate and it would be about 10 minutes. About 15 minutes later, he came on and said that the airplane was just doing some last minute catering and then we’d be there in 5 minutes. We started moving, but we stopped again. Meanwhile, we had a diaper breach and had to change him. But we couldn’t get upon an active taxiway, so we had to do in the seat.
Finally, more than 45 minutes after we landed, we were at the gate. The captain’s inaccurate and sporadic updates were frustrating.
Once we pulled in, our stroller car seat came back up, but the stroller was damaged. A mud flap was gone and the foam handle was broken. We were told to file a report, so we did. When we finished up, I had called LAX Parking Curb Express to come pick us up. They showed up quickly, we checked out the car, and we were on our way. They send another car to pick up the driver so we didn’t have to take him back.
Overall, it was a very successful first trip with the baby. The flight attendants absolutely stood out on all these flights for doing some great work.