Apparently Travel With Kids Gets Worse Before It Gets Better (Trip Report)

Words cannot explain how much I was dreading this trip. I’ve had trouble with my son on airplanes before, but with him approaching 3 years old and my youngest one just about one and a half, I knew it would be time for double trouble. On the way out, I was pleasantly surprised, but the return? That wasn’t fun.

We bought our tickets for $594.70 each right after Labor Day. That sounds expensive, but considering fares were in the $750 range before, I was downright thrilled. We picked the non-stop going out but took a connection on the return because the times were better. As usual, there was a schedule change and American canceled the non-stop heading east that day. That sucked, so, at the suggestion of the agency support agent, we just shifted the entire trip one day earlier. Problem solved.

I checked in the night before only to find that you apparently still can’t prepay for bags on American. That’s ridiculous.

LAX Terminal 4 Madness

We left home a couple hours before departure and parked the car. I used QuikPark as usual but prices have doubled. Good revenue management for the holiday season I suppose. We took the shuttle over and the airport roadways were jammed. Just a bit over an hour before departure, we found the kiosks for bag checking and they were mobbed. There were no lines so people were just scattered around waiting for a machine to open. We finally made it up front and the kiosk was painfully slow. I didn’t want any stupid offers. I just wanted to pay for bags. Once finally checked in, it reprinted our boarding passes for no good reason. What a mess.

Security was surprisingly delightful. The best part about holiday travel is that you have a lot of infrequent travelers who do not have Pre Check. The other lines were crazy, but Pre Check had two people in it. Sweet. We were through quickly. At the rotunda toward the end, American had a big Christmas tree with a model train circling a ledge on ceiling. That may sound nice but it, combined with cramped quarters and upbeat holiday music, sort of added madness to the already frenetic travel season.

American Holiday Train

Our airplane was running about 20 minutes late from SFO (which counts as on time as far as that airport is concerned). But with a mass of children and 10 lap infants, there was zero chance we’d leave on time. Even with the gate agents madly forcing people to gate check bags in advance, it was no use. We were going to be late.

December 22, 2014
American 1314 Lv Los Angeles 1125a Arr Indianapolis 625p
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 47B, Runway 25R, Depart 22m Late
Indianapolis (IND): Gate B9, Runway 5L, Arrive 18m Late
N939AN, Boeing 737-823, Silver Eagle colors, ~99% Full (+ 10 lap kids)
Seat 25B, Coach
Flight Time 3h37m

There was no sky interior on this 737 but it did at least have the new drop down screens over the seats instead of the bulky ones in the aisles. My son was in a good mood, singing jingle bells as we boarded. And once we were airborne, he even fell asleep. My daughter fidgeted a bit but then did the same. Surprisingly, the 50 other kids on the flight mostly seemed well-behaved.

My son didn’t sleep long and when he woke up, he had to go to the bathroom. I took him back to the lav and he freaked out. I guess it just felt small to him, but he refused to do anything in there. In fact, he clung to me like his life depended on it. Hmm. Good thing he’s still in diapers, but that won’t last much longer. We’re going to need to tackle this fear (or only take really short flights).

We went back to the seat and his attention quickly turned to the overhead screen which had Planes: Fire and Rescue on. He was excited by this but he got bored quickly and then said, “Dad, can you turn this off?” I told him that we couldn’t change it, and he just looked at me, puzzled. Finally he gave up and pulled out the iPad. That didn’t last long either, and eventually he decided to decorate the airplane with stickers. (These were easily removed, fortunately.)

Sticker Time

The flight attendants came through often and were very nice. The seatbelt sign was on over the Rockies but it wasn’t bumpy, and we had plenty of time with the sign off so the kids could burn some energy.

About 45 minutes out, my son was getting restless. The sun was down, and he wanted out. I bribed him with M&Ms, and that coaxed him back into his seat. We came down through the clouds with just a few bumps and were finally on the ground. The experience in Indianapolis couldn’t have been more different than LAX. The big terminal with high ceilings didn’t feel crowded at all. And the soft, jazzy Christmas music was a much more calming influence.

Down at baggage claim, however, it was quite the scene. Thanks to the aggressive gate-checking, there were a TON of bags coming down the belt. It took a long time before they got all the bags out and naturally ours were some of the last ones off.

After nearly a week of fun and various illnesses, I was ready to be home. But I wasn’t ready for the trip required to actually get there.

Things started fine. We arrived an hour before departure, checked our bags (with those slow kiosks again), and had no line at security. Once on the other side, I snapped this great shot of my kids plane-watching. I love this photo.

Plane Watching Indianapolis

At the gate, it was crowded but boarding was orderly. Unfortunately, I was having trouble folding the stroller and it eventually gave way, smashing my fingers. One index finger swelled up immediately while the other was pinched and bleeding a fair amount. What a great way to start the flight.

December 28, 2014
American 376 Lv Indianapolis 1125a Arr Dallas/Ft Worth 1255p
Indianapolis (IND): Gate B9, Runway 5L, Depart 2m Early
Dallas/Ft Worth (DFW): Gate D34, Runway 35C, Arrive 18m Late
N456AA, Douglas DC-9-82, Silver Eagle colors, ~99% Full
Seat 23B, Coach
Flight Time 2h27m

It was a gray day in Indy but it wasn’t long before our silver-bellied MD-80 pushed through the low overcast into several more layers of clouds for what the captain said would be a 2 hour and 5 minute flight to Dallas. We basically rode the backside of a front all the way down to Dallas, as you can see via this Flightaware screenshot.

American 376 IND DFW 28DEC via FlightAware

The flight was mostly smooth during cruise but we sat in the clouds so there wasn’t much to see. The flight attendants came through with drinks (I introduced my son to ginger ale) and it didn’t take long before my son was getting fidgety. This didn’t bode well for the rest of the day.

The flight seemed to take forever and that’s because it did. I’m not sure why, but our announced flight time ended up being more than 20 minutes shorter than reality. I’m guessing the hefty headwinds were wildly underestimated. According to Flightaware, our groundspeed topped out at a puny 338 knots. The captain came on and said it would be bumpy so he got the cabin prepared for arrival before we started to descend. Once we finally started descending, my son fell asleep (as is so often the case).

It wasn’t horribly bumpy, but it got challenging when right above a layer of clouds he pulled the spoilers out and we sank through them quickly. At this point, my son woke up and started screaming. His ears clearly hurt and he wouldn’t do anything to try to help himself (suck his thumb, drink something, etc). To make matters worse, he pooped and needed to be changed (he doesn’t like to wait). Not happening. He just screamed pretty much the rest of the way down, at least 20 minutes straight.

After landing we taxied for 15 minutes all around the airport at a slow speed. After all that, the ground crew wasn’t there, but a couple minutes later, we had finally made it. Fortunately, our connecting gate was right next door.

This was my first time in Terminal D in Dallas and it’s really nice. The only problem is that my wife said there was no changing table in the restroom near our gate. (Sorry to those of you around gate D33 who had to stare at my son’s bare butt.)

DFW Terminal D

We were a little late boarding because they had trouble cleaning the airplane, and boarding itself wasn’t fun. We were in group 2 but all these jerks in group 3 were standing around blocking the entrance to the boarding lane. You couldn’t tell whether they were in line or not.

I asked the people in front and they said they weren’t in our group, but they didn’t bother moving either. So I took my stroller, carry on bags, and car seat and pushed by them, curtly excusing myself. In the jet bridge, I paused to fold the stroller (without further injury, though one finger was throbbing) and set it aside when the group 3 jerks pushed by us, angrily (and insincerely) saying “excuse me,” as if we had done something wrong.

December 28, 2014
American 2449 Lv Dallas/Ft Worth 2p Arr Los Angeles 320p
Dallas/Ft Worth (DFW): Gate D33, Runway 36R, Depart 16m Late
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 42B, Runway 25L, Arrive 23m Late
N688AA, Boeing 757-223, Silver Eagle colors, ~99% Full
Seat 30B, Coach
Flight Time 2h59m

On the airplane, I was balancing the car seat, a carry-on, and my laptop. My son was being loud and my daughter was screaming. I could just feel the looks from people hoping we weren’t in their row. We were “those people.”

Finally at our seats, we recomposed ourselves and settled in, utterly exhausted. My exhaustion was so bad, I completely forgot to strap my son in. (He actually reminded me on our takeoff roll at which point I hastily buckled him.) Once in the air, my son calmed down and watched the iPad but my daughter kept fussing with my wife behind us. I figured I might get a little break, so I pulled out my phone to flip on wifi, but doh! This was one of the 757s without it.

I shouldn’t be mad since it wouldn’t have gotten much use. My son was tired, but he wouldn’t sleep. Nothing could hold his attention either. He alternated between happiness and screaming, but he kept peppering me with questions over and over and he’d get frustrated when my answers were the same. I bribed him with a cookie but that didn’t last long. What’s worse? Even though the captain said it would be a smooth ride once at altitude, he didn’t turn the seatbelt sign off. I take that back. He turned it off for a couple minutes but then we had a small jolt and he put it back on for the duration of the smooth flight. But they might as well have painted this on the overhead:

Broken Seatbelt Sign

I tried to keep my son seated, but there was no way. He just kept trying to kick the back of the seat in front of me. Every time I stopped him, he’d pout and inevitably start fussing. I finally just let him take his seatbelt off and he climbed over the seat behind us to hang out with his sister. Then she wanted to come over to me, so kids were flying around. We basically were doing anything we could to keep them quiet and not bother the other passengers.

In the end, I think we succeeded in keeping disruption to others at a minimum, but it was entirely at our own expense (as it should be). When we landed, I wanted nothing more than to get off that airplane and grab a scotch. But of course, we had to wait for traffic to clear in the alleyway. Then we had to be towed into our gate. Then it took a whopping 28 minutes from parking until the first bag even came off the belt. (Everyone on that flight would have been compensated were this Alaska Airlines.)

With bags in hand, I was done. We found our car and drove home, hoping that next time it would be easier. Mark your calendars for July, our next planned family trip.

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