[Long] My holiday travel experience
My story of Holiday travel starts somewhere in September 2004. We've purposely not flown with our son (20 months), as he's a notoriously bad traveler. However, a family agreement to alternate Thanksgiving and Christmas with each family (me and my wife's) precluded us from keeping him at home. Therefore, we started searching for plane ticket to Phoenix in September.
Our criteria was the shortest flight times possible, avoid the larger airports (Dallas, Detroit), departure and arrival times that wouldn't interfere too much with my son's sleep schedule, and buy a seat for him so we could haul is car seat. We found a Northwest flight(s) that fit the bill. It left around lunch time, went to Memphis and they even offered the seats for children at a reduced rate.
Sometime in November I received an email stating Northwest had changed the flight time. Now, we were leaving around dinner time. This would leave us only about 20 min to change planes in Memphis, not enough time if you're hauling the necessary support materials to keep a toddler happy. So, we then had to change our Memphis outbound flight with a layover of, now, two hours. We opted to do it despite arriving in Phoenix at nearly 11pm.
Flight Day arrived. We got to the airport and... our flight was canceled. This is a smaller airport, there are not a lot of options if your flight is canceled. However, we arrived early enough to get three seats on an American flight with a layover in Dallas, but now our flight didn't arrive into Phoenix until almost midnight, local time. This would be 1am for us, since there is a one hour time difference. This all took standing in, first, the Northwest line. Then, the American Airlines ticket counter line.
While doing this, my wife was with the TSA people as they inspected our bags. Turns out a bag my wife used to use years ago when she lived in Key West had traces of TNT on it. We hadn't used the bag since we got married, it's been in storage. So I'm at the ticket counter, she's with my son, alarms going off and demanding me where she is with the TSA folks. So, we swapped positions and she got the tickets, I filled out the paperwork for the bag (yes, you do get to keep it) and that was that. I'm sure I'm on some watch list now.
We go to security and we're selected "randomly" for a more thorough security check. Fantastic as my son is already squirming to get down and run all over. He wants nothing to do with being held. So, all three of us were fondled, manhandled and groped all while my son is screaming his head off. People are looking at us like, "I hope they're not on our flight". By the time we're done being molested, we have to then go through our bags, which consist mostly of toys, diapers and food. We finally get through that and...
The power is now out at the terminal. We have no seat assignments since our tickets were so hastily administered. The flight is, naturally overbooked and there is no gate agent. There is a huge crowd of people around and exit door, I'm assuming that's what we want. By now I had removed my long sleeve shirt since I was sweating it. Under that shirt I had on a Chicago Police T-Shirt my police academy roommate gave me, he moved to AZ from Chicago PD. Out of nowhere a Huntsville PD cop picks me out of the this huge crowd in a dimly lit terminal. He helps us out, takes us to the gate and all the way up to the front of the line. I was worried about preboarding since I'd never installed a car seat in a plane before. This cop was the shining light in this horrendous situation, and I can only attribute his willingness to assist because of my shirt? Regardless, we were first on and just picked three seats. The jet way wasn't working because of the power outage so we had to walk across the tarmac.
When we arrived at Phoenix, it was about midnight. Our luggage was nowhere to be found, as I worried would happen. It went around and around, nothing. Finally the carousel stopped. I then told my wife and mom to take our son back to the house, I'd sort out the luggage situation and take a cab home. Everyone needed sleep, and it wasn't fair to my son who hadn't slept at all. So, they go get the car.
Turns out our luggage arrived well before us on a different flight. All three pieces were sitting amongst a mountain of luggage that met the same fate. So, I grabbed it and made a quick call to have everyone turn around and get me. We finally made it home and in bed by 1:30 am AZ time, 2:30am OUR time.
Our return had to be better right? It was, actually, until Memphis. Except for the bitchy gate agent who told us that they no longer preboard families with children, it was good. She tried to explain it took longer if we preboarded. Whatever. I pushed my way up and she said she'd do it "this time"; uh huh. Off to Memphis.
We get there, no problem. We wait our two hours, again, and get to our gate. They make an announcement about 15 minutes before departure time that we're ready to go except they don't have a flight attendant for our flight. The weather had kept many attendants in other cities. We heard the same announcement for a Shreveport and Mobile flight. Somehow, we got the one attendant they found. So, we actually left on time. We taxi out just short of the runway and sit there... and sit there. The pilot, who looks like he's about 20, comes on and tells us our "numbers" are off and we have to go back to the gate. In an effort to catch up on the lost luggage situation, they overloaded our plane.
We get back to the gate, they unload bags. We then taxi out to the runway again. We wait and wait. The pilot then comes on and says we've been taxiing so long, we now need fuel. So, we taxi back to the gate again and get more fuel.
We then taxi out to the runway a third time. We were about #5 for takeoff, so we sat there a good time. By the time we took off and the gear was up, we had spent THREE HOURS on that little commuter jet that only seats 44 people. The flight home was only 32 minutes once we were airborne.
We get home and go to baggage. It's now past my son's bedtime, again. The carousel goes around and around, I'm thinking "This is familiar". I see one bag, there is hope! Then, it stops. Once more, I decide my family needs to get home first and I'd deal with the luggage. I ran up five flights of stairs in the parking structure, got the car, circled the airport back to the curb where they were standing. I loaded up and they were off. I then went to the Northwest counter to figure out where my other two bags were.
Apparently they were removed in Memphis when it was determined our "numbers" were too heavy. That was the first taxi back to the gate. I file a claim and take a taxi home. I check online (Northwest has a service to do this) and they have no idea where my bags are. The next morning I call and they call me back. They found my bags and will deliver them, but there are so many it will take a day. I said, forget that and drive back to the airport to get them.
To make a long story long, I don't know I'll ever travel this time of year again. My son was a trooper, he did not act up one time. I am in awe of him. I don't know what came over him, but that was the one thing that saved me and my wife's sanity. My wife was a trooper too. She gets nauseous on planes, and put her own issues aside to keep my son occupied. When he wanted to be held, she was the only one that was good enough. It was a horrible experience, but we all made it through.