Holiday Travel With a Child is Exhausting (Trip Report)

It’s the holiday season and that means it’s time to travel. While I never liked flying during the holidays anyway, our first attempt with a baby had me even more afraid. Though things went well, it was still an exhausting experience.

On the way out, we chose Southwest because of the good flight time, cheaper price (when factoring in checked bags), and the ability to buy an infant fare for our son to have a seat. We paid $294.60 each with him paying $300.60 for the refundable fare.

We started the morning way too early and headed to LAX. (Oh how I wish there were better flight options to Indy from Long Beach.) We got to Terminal 1 at 545a and saw a long line out the door. I assumed that was security, but it’s a different world these days. That was the crazy long line to check a bag. It moved quickly, but to show you how long it was, it still took us 30 minutes to get through. This was about halfway through.

After shuffling 2 pounds to get under weight on one bag, we had to drag them over to the CTX machine for scanning. Then we headed up through security and went in the short but slow-moving family line.

Security took longer than we would have hoped because there was a backup to hand search the car seat since it wouldn’t fit in the x-ray machine. But we finally got out and went to our gate. It took us an hour from the time we arrived to get this far.

Our airplane was coming in from Phoenix on an early morning flight, and it was a couple minutes late. It was then time to board as the sun rose to create the nice fiery backdrop above.


December 22, 2012
Southwest 480 Lv Los Angeles 715a Arr Phoenix 930a
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 9, Runway 24L, Depart 10m Late
Phoenix (PHX): Gate D5, Runway 7R, Arrive 6m Early
N237WN, Boeing 737-7H4, Canyon Blue, 100% Full
Seat 14E
Flight Time 52m

We hadn’t purchased EarlyBird check-in on purpose. I wanted to see how well the family boarding process worked. When Southwest changed its boarding process, they moved family boarding to between the A and B groups. People were angry that they couldn’t get on first at the time, so I wanted to see for myself.

When I checked in at exactly 24 hours, I got A58 but my wife and son were in the B group. I just decided we would all board together after the A group got on. Sure enough, when our time came, the front rows were full, but there were plenty of open rows behind. It made perfect sense to me. If you want something better, pay for it. But if not, you’ll still be able to sit together on most flights.

We taxied for just a couple minutes and soon launched into the morning air. It was a really short and uneventful flight to Phoenix. We landed and taxied for about 30 seconds into our D gate. The little guy had fallen asleep on the way down, so we hung out until others got off. Then we hopped off and found our connecting flight a couple gates down in the fancy D concourse.


December 22, 2012
Southwest 839 Lv Phoenix 1050a Arr Indianapolis 410p
Phoenix (PHX): Gate D1, Runway 7L, Depart 5m Late
Indianapolis (IND): Gate B4, Runway 23R, Arrive 4m Late
N497WN, Boeing 737-7H4, Bags Fly Free Sticker, 100% Full
Seat 15E
Flight Time 2h47m

We again looked to board with the families on this flight and there were a lot. I later found out there were 6 lap children alone plus a few paid infants (including ours). One flight attendant quipped, “for a second I thought we were coming out of Salt Lake!”

Once I got my boy’s car seat installed, we could finally relax a little. Our captain came on and said it would be a very quick 2h45m flight with great tailwinds. We were thrilled to hear it.

We took off and I had the chance to log on to the internet on Southwest for $5. The Row 44 system worked great. It’s not high speed internet like you get at home, but it was certainly fast enough for me. I tried streaming TV as well for $6, but I had no interest in fiscal cliff talk so that eliminated half the channels. The only sports on was skiing and that left an infomercial on the local NYC Fox station. Pass. But it did work flawlessly.

My favorite part of all this was the flight tracker. Southwest puts a little header on every page that shows the time to destination along with the weather. The captain was quick to announce that the weather in Indy was the same as Phoenix, just subtract 40 degrees.

Our little one was in no mood to sit still, so we had our hands full the entire flight. He wasn’t crying or screaming… unless we weren’t playing with him.

As we got toward the end of the flight, I finally had enough time to evaluate the new Evolve seating. This is Southwest’s plan to use thinner seats and add a row to each airplane. For me, the legroom was just fine. But after a couple hours, my hamstrings were feeling sore. I’m not sure if the cushion was too hard or just shaped oddly, but it wasn’t too comfy.

Soon enough, we were descending. My son fell asleep again on descent (apparently we need to find a flight that will descend shortly after takeoff to get him to sleep) but he woke up screaming half way. Clearly his ears were hurting. Once on the ground, he was better. Unfortunately, there was a delayed airplane at our gate which meant we had to sit around for awhile. That’s why we ended up arriving late. Overall, Southwest did a great job and we were happy.


For our return, we were originally flying Southwest back from Indy, but then my brother-in-law got engaged. The wedding was in Chicago, so we had to change course. Fortunately, American had failed to put any blackout dates on a Southwest sale so we picked a prime flight home for only $129.60 a ticket for my wife and kid. Mine was $148.80. Wow. And even better, we could just pocket the Southwest credit for a future flight with no change fee.

So we left downtown Chicago early on Sunday since having worked here, we knew that there’s always a chance of traffic on the Kennedy. This time, there was none and we got there with plenty of time to spare.

We used the kiosks to check our bags and then sat in a fairly short security line before heading toward our gate. It feels weird flying American out of Chicago having worked for United, and American’s terminal is definitely inferior. The corridors are long and narrow so it takes a long time to walk to your gate.

Once at our gate, we grabbed a seat and waited. It was a beautiful sunny day – the first time we’d seen the sun in nearly a week.


December 30, 2012
American 1063 Lv Chicago/O’Hare 9a Arr Los Angeles 1130a
Chicago/O’Hare (ORD): Gate K13, Runway 32L, Depart 14m Late
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 42A, Runway 24R, Arrive 19m Late
N963AN, Boeing 737-823, Silver, 100% Full
Seat 27E
Flight Time 4h10m

Boarding was something of a mess. We waited to hear a pre-boarding call, but there wasn’t one. First they called up elites and that was probably half the airplane right there. Then when they called group 1, I went up to the gate agent to ask if there was any pre-boarding for families. She looked annoyed and said that there was no family boarding. Then she went back to checking people in. It was just her and she was making everyone test their carry-on to see if it fit in the size-wise container. Those that didn’t, she tagged and had to hold up the line while she did. The whole thing seemed to frustrate people and looked really inefficient.

By the time we boarded, there were a ton of people on board. So we tried to get down the aisle toward our seat in the next to last row without knocking too many people with the car seat. Clearly people were annoyed with us despite our best efforts. We set up the car seat to face backwards as you’re supposed to do at this age and the flight attendant came and told us we had to face forward because we couldn’t block the recline of the person in front. That is not American’s policy, but fortunately we didn’t have to argue. The person in front of us was our friend and said there were no issues with her reclining so the flight attendant walked away.

I was hoping for an airplane with the new Boeing Sky Interior but it wasn’t to be. Our airplane was over 10 years old and had the old interior with bulky monitors in the aisle. One of the monitors had a flicker to it and too much red tint. They came by with free headsets. I took one but I never used it.

We were ready to go when the captain came on and told us that our nose gear strut needed more nitrogen. He said it would take 30 minutes, but they worked faster and we were less than 15 minutes late. After taxiing around the airport to get to our runway, we were in the air and on our way home.

There was one flight attendant on our flight who was strange, to say the least. He brought the cart down the aisle and when he got to us, simply barked “beverage” – I assumed it was a question.

I asked for a ginger ale and he just repeated four or five times “ale of ginger, ale of ginger….” Weird. Then it was time to focus on the task of entertaining the munchkin. About halfway through, we had gone through some light chop but the seatbelt sign stayed off. Then around Denver the sign went on and it immediately smoothed out. Go figure. The captain left the sign on for the duration of the flight.

During the second beverage pass, when the same flight attendant got to our row, he threw down napkins. My wife didn’t have her tray down so he threw one on her leg. I had my computer open and he just threw it on the keyboard. We didn’t even want any more drinks, so he moved on. When he went to pick up trash, he came through saying “CO” over and over. That, apparently, stands for “cans only.” Then he came by again with “ABC” which is “anything but cans.” So weird.

The only other thing of note on this trip was that I was able to put Gogo wifi to great use. The family behind us had a scheduled 35 minute connection from American to American Eagle. That alone should be illegal since you have to take a shuttle bus to the Eagle gates, but with us arriving nearly 20 minutes late, there was no chance. I whipped out my computer and started doing a little concierge work. I found them a good option in case they couldn’t make their original flight. Once we landed, however, they were paged by the agent on the ground to come to the front. American held the airplane.

Overall, it was a good trip. Southwest did a great job except for the long bag check line and the somewhat uncomfortable Evolve seat. American was just tired and not impressive. I know some airplanes at least look better on the inside. Some day I’ll see it.

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69 Comments on "Holiday Travel With a Child is Exhausting (Trip Report)"

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Jared Hanner
Member
I had the chance to fly on one of the new 737-800’s last month. It was a short flight from LAX to SFO, but I was able to nab one of the Main Cabin Extra seats and I have to say, it was pretty AAwesome. (Sorry, had to do it.). I could literally cross my legs without hitting the seat in front of me and I am 6-1. Unfortunately, there’s a huge difference between the new and old ones. All airlines need to remove CRT monitors. The make everything look so dated and i cant think it is overly expensive.… Read more »
Frank
Guest
There was one flight attendant on our flight who was strange, to say the least. He brought the cart down the aisle and when he got to us, simply barked ?beverage? ? I assumed it was a question. I asked for a ginger ale and he just repeated four or five times ?ale of ginger, ale of ginger?.? Weird. ===================================================== So, some guy is standing in front of you, with a napkin in hand, ON THE BEVERAGE CART and says, “Beverage??????” LOL, he’s NOT there to sale auto’s! Most f/a’s repeat the passengers orders to CONFIRM what they want. Observe… Read more »
Kyle
Guest
“During the second beverage pass, when the same flight attendant got to our row, he threw down napkins. My wife didn?t have her tray down so he threw one on her leg. I had my computer open and he just threw it on the keyboard. We didn?t even want any more drinks, so he moved on.” *************************************************************************** You make it sound like the flight attendant assaulted you with napkins. About 90% of the time people DO want a second beverage, yet they’re too busy with their heads buried into a screen, newspaper, book, etc. to pay attention to what’s going… Read more »
Frank
Guest

exactly! Kyle.

LT_DT
Guest
I don’t understand why most airlines no longer seem to pre-board families. Despite our best efforts to get on the plane quickly with two small kids, we inevitably end up holding up the line while the kids get situated. I’m pretty sure that Delta still pre-boards families with small children, and I think Alaska does too. And sometimes, you can find a sympathetic gate agent who’ll let you board early anyway, although never with American or United in Chicago. I guess that given the extent to which airlines now “sell” the ability to board early, either via status, fare upcharge,… Read more »
David SF eastbay
Member
“””””First they called up elites and that was probably half the airplane right there.””””” That’s why they did not do early family boarding. Most of these ‘special’ people think no one should do anything before them so would have a cow if a peon family with kids went on before them. But there must be a ‘family pre boarding’ fee the airlines charge or will charge once they read this…..lol You mentioned about the direction the infant seat was put and the F/A saying to face it the other way. I was wondering (for anyone to answer), if you are… Read more »
Nick Barnard
Member

I’ve never printed the airlines policy out and handed it to them, but I have done that with our local transit agency had a tense discussion with the driver, but he seemed reasonable about it. (To the driver’s credit its an obscure policy..)

Sanjeev M
Guest

Wow I didn’t realize PHX D gates were that nice. I remember them as really old and tired.

Is the flight tracker on Southwest, southwest.com and flightaware.com free on Row44 like it is on GoGo?

Jared Hanner
Member

The flight tracker on Southwest is free. When you connect to wifi, you can visit southwest.com or the tracker on the little homepage/splash screen that pops up. It isn’t as good as flightaware, but it gets the job done.

A
Guest
So thankful I avoid holiday travel. The week before X-mas I was at YUL and have never seen so many kids. Didn’t know what was going on until I remembered the upcoming holiday. Kudos for actually buying a seat for your infant. Lap babies just seems crazy unsafe to me, I’m surprised it’s still allowed after all these years. I’ve been in some turbulence that came up unexpected that would easily send a kid flying if not belted in. Never understand how a parent can put a price on their childs safety when it comes to a plane ticket, yet… Read more »
Ron
Guest
Long Beach to Indy — yeah, my wife is making this trip in a couple of months but couldn’t find any reasonable options out of LGB. I think Delta still has a single (ex-NW) nonstop from LAX but not every day, and she couldn’t take that either because it wasn’t available or the time wasn’t right (it’s a red-eye on the outbound). Ended up going with Frontier because of schedule, they had the latest departure on the return which saves her a night away from home. Frontier also happened to be the cheapest to the tune of $100 (in addition… Read more »
Ron
Guest

Ack! Just did a search on my wife’s flight and the price dropped considerably! Oh we’ll, you win some and you lose some. The schedule is still the best, and that’s what counts (on this trip). The new amazing price (well under $300 r/t) is matched by most airlines, so it looks like there’s a current fare war on LAX–IND. better book your next in-laws trip now, Cranky.

Kyle
Guest

The new seats on Southwest are terrible. We flew PHX>MCI>IND the weekend before Christmas and then DFW>HOU>PHX on New Year’s Day. My tailbone started to hurt about 30 minutes into the first leg on each flight and ended up hurting for many hours after I got off the flight. When I reached down to feel the seat, it felt like it was an inch of foam over a wood board. Don’t know what they were thinking with those seats.

judynagy
Guest
In defense of flight attendants barking and flinging napkins, I’ve observed that people don’t pay any attention to the FAs as they make their way down the aisle. It must get really old after awhile. Especially by the 35th row, I would assume they get tired of repeating the same words over and over again, so add a little spice with an acknowledgement such as “ale of ginger”. Passengers could pay attention when the FA comes down the aisle, it won’t kill anyone to look up and smile and wait until the FA offers whatever, then respond and say thanks.… Read more »
al_9000
Member
“It was just her and she was making everyone test their carry-on to see if it fit in the size-wise container. Those that didn?t, she tagged and had to hold up the line while she did.” It’s unfortunate that American wasn’t able to provide additional staff at the gate, but all in all, this is a very good thing. I was on an American HNL-LAX flight in mid-December where they not only didn’t check bag sizes, but allowed several people to board with more than one carry-on. So the bottleneck occurred in the plane instead of at the gate as… Read more »
Nick Barnard
Member

Its sad to see how demoralized the AA employees are. Hopefully a year with US will help improve their spirits.

I’m interested in how Row44 manages the TV broadcasts from a technical perspective. I figure they’re sending one stream per airplane if not one stream for all the airplanes to deliver it over WiFi…

DS
Guest

“Its sad to see how demoralized the AA employees are. Hopefully a year with US will help improve their spirits.” BWAHAHAHAHA… good one Nick…

havac?l?k
Guest

I love flight tracker. It makes passengers aware of the situation. I can watch it for hours, it really helps to fasten the flight.

Don
Guest
Aha traveling with the kids! Fun fun fun (sarcasm). We definitely pay more to fly the airlines that seem to help with kids and family boarding. AA is at the bottom of the barrel of that list. But every now and then when we get some great surprises when the gate agent (one time secretly let us board after the elites) and very surprised with the flight attendant actually helping us. Just wish it wouldn’t have to be a surprise because people don’t realize that sometimes traveling with the kids is tiring even with the best behaved children.
Marty S
Guest

Cranky, does Southwest not have skycap service at LGB? I would have gladly paid the few bucks per bag to skip that indoor horror show check in.

Southwest’s PHX gate areas are very nice, but the food options are not as nice as some of the other gate areas in that terminal building.

Glad to see the AA agent checking carry on sizes….more airlines need to do this, even though people game the system with oversize bags knowing that even if they get gate checked, they avoid the fee and get their bags faster than checked luggage.

Steve
Guest
Looks like you got a full dose of delightful holiday flying. Unfortunately I had to work and deal with these full flights and bad weather. For me, Delta would not allow reservations changes in the face of a massive snow storm in Iowa until it was TOO LATE then of course nothing was available, so I went ahead a paid the $150 hated fee plus fare change to get out early to my vacation. After a lot of kvetching I got the $150 back. I am sorry your child experienced severe eustachian tube dysfunction. They scream because they are in… Read more »
pilotaaron1
Guest

I can vouch for at least Southwest and US Airways that they check birth certificates to make sure they are under 2. I think it is a federal requirement but I’m not positive. However, I don’t think I’ll be doing a lap child anymore either. I’m not very comfortable with it.

phllax
Guest
Having flown US, VX, UA and SW multiple times with an infant in a paid seat or as a lap child, I too can confirm that only US and SW checked the birth certificate. He’s now 19 months and we started purchasing a seat for him shortly after he started to walk at 13 months. I think Southwest’s child fare is the best – you can cancel it up to departure if there’s an open seat. We even had a situation where we were flying BUR-PHL via PHX on a direct flight. The BUR-PHX was wide open, but the PHX-PHL… Read more »
Rob
Guest

It’s a real pain when they leave the seat-belt sign on even as your kid needs changing. But take heart; our daughter is now 2 1/2 and likes looking at airplanes, and I have no doubt your son will too.

jaybru
Member
Holiday flying, plus weather, waiting to be de-iced, re-booking, often from one legacy to another, diverted flights, flights into airports where an airline’s total service is by a regional, crany rez systems, airports with power sporatically going out…air travel in 21st century America. Me, one person, no family members, one destination, no absolutely, positively must get there/return by ____, I can feel for the masses. Wouldn’t things improve: (1) if every person working the check-in, the gate, the flight was required to hold a certificate indicating that they had recently taken and received a passing grade in effective company/customer service… Read more »
phllax
Guest
We set up the car seat to face backwards as you?re supposed to do at this age and the flight attendant came and told us we had to face forward because we couldn?t block the recline of the person in front. That is not American?s policy, but fortunately we didn?t have to argue. ============================================================ We had an issue recently on VX with a rear facing car seat. The IFTL (lead F/A) insisted we turn it forward facing because that’s what their manual says. We told him it’s rear facing only and even showed him the FAA stamp on the carseat… Read more »
judynagy
Guest

Now boys and girls, listen carefully. There is no reason to be rude, if you don’t agree with someone’s viewpoint, you can certainly state your opinion. There is no reason to be rude.

If you don’t know the difference between stating your opinion and being rude, don’t respond until you get someone to help you. There is no reason to be rude. Are you listening? Do you promise to be better boys and girls?

And Frank, I think Brett is hawking credit cards, not hocking them. That would be quite a trick.

longtimeobserver
Member

Ever figure out what ailed the “ale of ginger, ale of ginger”, “CO, CO”, “ABC, ABC” guy?

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