I considered a few different titles for this post, and almost named it “The time United tried to ruin my life.” But that seemed a tad dramatic.
On Friday afternoon my mom dropped us off at the Cleveland airport. We took a few photos of our huge pile of luggage since we so proud of our packing skills and then we were off (or so we thought).
We grabbed a bite to eat in the terminal before reaching our gate and because we were seated at a bar top up against a wall, I thought it was a good opportunity to let Abby stretch her legs. And then of course I took a picture because she is kind of passed out at a bar. For a hot minute I wanted to post on Facebook that Abby was passed out at the bar. Mom of the year right here.
Since we had a tight connection in DC (only 55 minutes!), JR asked the gate agent if they could have a United employee meet us in DC to help us make it to the next flight. We had 3 carry on bags, 2 diaper bags, the stroller, car seat, base, and the oh-so-critical Boppy, which made it difficult to move quickly. We also inquired about preboarding – we thought it would make more sense for us and for other passengers so we weren’t in their way as we tried to collapse and bag up our stroller right before getting on the plane, and while we installed our car seat and base in Abby’s seat on the plane. Getting the car seat in a car is hard enough, but we knew with the tight space on a plane it was going to be tricky. Apparently, United (and most other US carriers) no longer offer preboarding for families with small children. Who knew?
The plane had some kind of issue so we were delayed leaving, and I kept glancing at my watch knowing we were losing valuable time to make our connection. Abby was wide awake and staring out the window for most of the flight from Cleveland to DC.
By the time we landed and made our way off the plane, it was 9:30pm. According to our tickets, boarding for our next flight began at 9:15 pm and closed at 9:45pm. I quickly asked the first few United employees that I saw if there was a luggage cart waiting for us, or even one of those oversized golf carts to drive us to Terminal C, which was a very long walk and a tram ride away. I showed them the printed slip from the gate agent in Cleveland that allegedly made the request prior to our arrival. Everyone I approached looked at me like they didn’t understand what I was talking about, and then told me “we don’t have carts here. We don’t do that here.” Oh. Okay then.
JR waited for our gate checked items and we started hauling through the airport as fast as we could. We didn’t even stop to put the stroller together, because we were in such a rush. But it made it that much harder to move quickly because we were carrying so much stuff. Car seat + base + baby = 26lbs in one hand. We were still in Terminal A at 9:45pm, and as we passed a United service desk with no line, we figured we may as well make a quick stop and ask about our options since we clearly weren’t making our flight. The man we spoke to was unable to comprehend what we were asking (seriously, do they teach the blank stare to all employees? Is it in the handbook?!)
When we explained a second time he looked at our tickets, at the clock, at ALL OF OUR CRAP, and told us we’d surely make our flight since it was a “2 minute walk.” Okay then.
We rushed. We sweated. We cursed (at least I did.) We walked up to our gate about ten minutes past 10pm, and even though we knew the answer we still asked if we could board our flight. Nope. So we took our pile ‘o stuff and walked a few more gates down to a customer service area and got in line for rebooking. The guy there told us we may as well take a seat because it would probably take 30 minutes or longer. And so we sat. When he finally came over to us, he informed us that the earliest we could get out would be Sunday at 6pm on a Lufthansa flight. No guarantees we’d be seated together (all 3 tickets were purchased separately by JR’s work, so although it’s highly unlikely it would actually happen, technically Abby could have been seated by herself) and we would most likely not have the bassinet seat we’d been banking on for the long flight. He said United would cover our hotel and offer meal vouchers for the time we were stuck, but due to their policy, he could only offer us one night worth of vouchers. In the morning, we would need to check out of our hotel and return to Dulles to collect vouchers for the second night, because they also couldn’t guarantee the same room or even same hotel for us.
I wish you could have seen our faces. But there wasn’t much we could do. We were very worried that our luggage made the connecting flight but he assured us that if we didn’t make the flight, then our bags wouldn’t be put on the plans. He then asked if we wanted our checked baggage with us, or sent ahead to our destination. Since we were looking at an extended delay we asked to pick up all of our bags. After he put in that request, he gave us instructions on where to claim the bags, where we might find an open place to eat (it was probably 11:15ish at that point) and how to get to the hotel shuttle. We made our way to baggage claim pretty slowly, because he said it would probably be an hour and a half before our bags were delivered. The deli he referenced had some pre-made cold sandwiches for $7.99 each. Note, our United food vouchers were for $7 per person. So I’m assuming they meant they would cover a few vending machine purchases, because you can’ t really have a meal for $7. JR was not pleased and we are still confused as to why they’re called “meal” vouchers.
We purchased what we wanted, minus the $7 voucher from the cafe and settled in for awhile at baggage claim. JR paid for two luggage carts so we could transport our 5 checked bags to the shuttle, and we waited. It seemed like there were a lot of people around us having problems and the employees were coming by occasionally to provide information, but never to us. After an hour or so, I decided to wait in the line to talk to one of the United employees working in the baggage area. Very politely and apologetically, she said our bags were on their way to Frankfurt. I’ll never understand how they made the flight and we didn’t, but I digress. I asked her to check again, because just an hour earlier the man upstairs said he ordered our bags for us, and they’d be sent down here. No amount of double checking changed the answer, the bags weren’t coming. She did check to see if any new flight options had opened up, and due to a cancellation she offered us a chance to leave DC on Saturday at 5pm, fly to Munich, and then to Pristina. The catch was an 8+ hour layover in Munich. JR and I talked it over and thought that would be pretty miserable with the baby coming off an overseas flight. I felt confident if I could get on the phone with someone I could find us a better route, so we told her no thanks and made our way to the hotel shuttle. We left our empty luggage carts sitting there.
The wait for the shuttle was probably only 20 minutes or so, but we were so burnt out at that point. Abby had – amazingly – been asleep since we got off the plane. But she was finally starting to fuss, poor girl was hungry and needed changed. Of course we are outside and I don’t want to do anything to cause us to miss this shuttle and get to our hotel even later. I held her while JR changed her. Thank goodness it was only a wet diaper. We made it to the hotel around 1:30 am, got our room, fed the baby, and after a long phone call with United, I had us booked to leave Saturday at 11 pm. It had been such a long day and we all crashed for the night around 3 am.
So that was our first day of travel. If you are still reading this, I’m impressed. To be continued…
SPOILER ALERT – we eventually made it to Pristina safe and sound, but cranky.