Another post about traveling with a baby

We arrived back in Kosovo last week, and we’ve spent our time dealing with a sick baby and getting over jet lag.  It seems like we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel now because we all slept great last night.

Our return trip was mostly uneventful.  Even though we mentioned to our families – more than once – that we had limited space in our luggage and apartment for toys, we were still left with an alarming pile of stuff.  We managed to cram this pile of toys

toy pile

into one of our suitcases, and we only had to mail back one good sized box full of books and puzzles.   I finally realized that one of my biggest stressors when traveling (spell check tells me this is not a word, but I’m leaving it) is having so much stuff to lug around the airport, and on and off each airplane.  It’s overwhelming.  Funny that it took me this long to figure it out, but I think it was partly because previously I flew solo with just one small carry-on earlier in the month.  After we checked in, I put Abby in my Beco (baby carrier/baby wearing, whatever) and we put my purse, JR’s shoulder bag, the diaper bag, and my carry-on bag on top of the stroller/car seat combo, and I started pushing that while JR managed the two bigger carry-ons.  That’s 6 bags, plus a stroller and car seat, plus a baby to carry through several security checks, planes, and airports.  It’s a lot.

We connected in Newark, and had to take a shuttle bus to Terminal B.  When we exited the bus at the door to Terminal B, the employee said “Didn’t they tell y’all that there isn’t an elevator here?”bored employee

Um, no, no they did not.  If they had, probably we would have found another route.  The bus had just pulled away, and we are standing there with all of our things piled on our stroller, as she continued to stare at us.  JR said, well what would you suggest we do?   Her response involved waiting for some other shuttle option to pick us back up, take us back to where we started, and we could find an alternate route ourselves.  Helpful, that one.   I loaded as many bags as I could on my shoulders, JR did the same, and then while I had the baby he picked up the stroller and car seat and we hoofed it up the two flights.  Not ideal, but we managed.

Regardless of the troubles we had, Abby made herself comfy on the plane.  Here she is hanging out, and playing peek-a-boo with some kids behind us.

abby plane 1abby plane 2

When we finally landed in Kosovo, only 1 of our 4 checked suitcases came out at baggage claim.  I was kind of over it at that point and just wanted to go home, but we had to wait over an hour to make a claim for the bags.  I figured there wasn’t anything in those bags that we couldn’t live without, and hopefully they’d show up soon.  At that point I didn’t realize that my winter coat, hair dryer, the baby’s thermometer, and various other necessities were in fact in those bags.  Thankfully, they were delivered to our house the next day without any other issues.

Of course, with so much stuff and such a long trip, we expect a few problems but this trip was pretty decent.  I wrote out a long post several months ago that had tips for flying with a newborn and I never published it.  You can find it here.  Now that Abby is older, the focus is on less stuff overall but more toys and food.  Also, a tip if you use a stroller bag for gate checking.  In our experience the stroller in a bag is just confusing, and the employees are more likely to lose it or place it with regular checked luggage since they can’t tell that it’s a stroller within the bag.  From now on we’re going to skip the bag and just collapse the stroller right before we board the plane. We gate-checked our stroller but it was nowhere to be found on the tarmac when we departed the plane in Vienna.  After realizing that the stroller must be with the other baggage, JR quickly ran to the tail of the plane to wait for the baggage coming on the conveyor belt.  Thankfully, he recognized it and was able to grab it from the baggage guys.

Surely one day we’ll get the hang of it.  Right?

Traveling with an infant

Note:  I wrote this back in the summer after our first experience flying with the baby.  Not sure why I never published it, but here it is.

I was very nervous about traveling with Abby.  When we left Ohio she was not quite 7 weeks old – which is very little to be going on such a big adventure.  Three flights, a 24 hour delay, and two days later, we made it home and she didn’t show the slightest bit of stress.  Adjusting her to local time was an entirely different issue.

I spent a lot of time online reading up on suggestions and tips for traveling with a baby.  I found it very helpful, and I think our preparation helped keep me calm (okay, by the end nothing about me was calm, but that wasn’t because of the baby) and made the trip much easier.

My packing list for the baby:

1. Stroller.  We have the City Mini GT.  It’s a bigger stroller, but we love it and felt it was necessary for the uneven pavement and roads here in Kosovo.  Many people recommend taking an umbrella stroller for airport travel, but Abby is still too little for one of those.  It was really helpful for moving through the airport, especially because we had Abby’s infant car seat with us and that beast is heavy.   We also have a Stroller Bag – so just before we boarded each plane, we collapsed the stroller and gate checked it.  (As you may recall, that didn’t turn out so well for us on Turkish Airlines, but I digress).

2. Car Seat and Base.  Our car seat is the Britax B-Safe.  Abby had her own ticket for each flight (per the travel orders from JR’s work) so we knew we would be taking her car seat on the plane with us.   However, I did not know what to do with the base of the car seat.  We had used it constantly in Ohio, because we were always on the go, in and out of the car.  I didn’t want to buy a separate base and ship it to Kosovo becasue those things are pricey.  I also didn’t want to try to pack it in one of our bags.  We had 5 checked bags, our maximum allowance, and each bag was stuffed to the brim and weighed 49 pounds (50lbs is the max).   So, when we boarded the plane, I had Abby in my K’Tan and we carried the car seat attached to the base – so basically to anyone else, it looked like just one piece.  We quickly realized it would be next to impossible to get the seat belt around the car seat when it was attached, so we took the base off and placed in an overhead bin.  I’ve heard that you can gate check the base without charge, but I wasn’t sure if that would work.  Ideally, we won’t have to fly with the base again because it was just one more item to carry around, but we had to get it home with us somehow.

3.  Baby carrier.  We have two carriers – the K’Tan and the Beco Gemini.  I love them both for different reasons, and the K’Tan is the one we used while traveling.  It’s similar to a Moby Wrap but far less complicated.  There were several advantages to wearing Abby through the airport.  I did not have to take her out or do anything special when we went through security, but they did have me use a metal detector instead of the body scanner.  Oh, and they ran a wand over my hands and checked the results of that, but no one touched the baby, and I didn’t have to fuss with getting her in and out of her stroller.  And of course, it allowed my hands to be free to carry other things, and eat when we stopped.

4.  Boppy pillow.  I was a little torn on bringing this.  On the one hand, it was just one more thing to carry, and we seriously had SO.MUCH.STUFF.  On the other hand, it gives your arms a nice break when you are holding the baby or feeding her.  We didn’t know how much time Abby would spend in her car seat and how often she would want to be held.  Luckily for us, she really did sleep most of the time in her seat.

5.  Diaper Bags.  Yes, that’s plural, because we have a bit of a war on the homefront over who has the better diaper bag.  I used mine primarily as a purse and also I had back ups in it, and we used JR’s for all the necessities.   We packed about 20 diapers (which at first seemed like overkill, but when we were stuck in DC and doing a count of our remaining diapers, unsure of when we’d actually arrive in Kosovo, I wound up going on a last minute diaper run just to be safe).   We also had several bibs, burp cloths, multiple changes of clothes for Abby, and a change of clothes for each of us (that was in case she spit up or pooed on us, but turned out to be handy when we had to overnight in DC anyway).   Extra ziplock baggies for dirty clothes, and small trash bags for dirty diapers.  We also had a few small toys. Oh and we packed at least ten pacificers, just in case we lost 9 of them.

We debated on the best way to take Abby’s formula and bottles with us.  We bought Similac Ready-to-Feed bottles.  They are a bit pricey, but it was very convenient (although each pack of bottles only comes with one nipple and they don’t tell you that on the box.  Luckily we had extras at home from the hospital).   We also had a few extra bottles and formula on hand just in case, but this meant we didn’t have to measure out and mix bottles on the flights.   One security guard commented to me that the bottles were just under the size allowable, but honestly I thought you were permitted to take any amount of formula/food for the baby, so his comment surprised me.

I also carried the most recent medical records for me and Abby, as a precaution.

Misc. Tips

– It’s a good idea to feed the baby or give the baby a pacififer during take off and landing to help their ears.

– When you need to change a diaper on the plane, try to take just the necessities to the bathroom (changing pad, wipes, fresh diaper and trash bag) because it’s SO TIGHT in there and there really isn’t room for a big diaper bag, nor is there any place you’d want to put that down.  Because gross.

– It’s not a bad idea to become a master at changing your baby while holding her.  That came in handy more than once.

– 55 minutes is probably not enough time to make a connection in Dulles, especially if you are carrying around all of the items mentioned above.

– Hope for the best, plan for the worst.  And whenever possible, drink a margarita.  🙂

 

 

The long trip home: Part 2

So where were we…

We woke up Saturday morning still tired and wondering what the day would bring.  JR went to the airport to see what we needed to do regarding our bags, and to collect our vouchers.  We hoped we’d be able to stay in the hotel again that night since our flight wasn’t until 11 pm.  It took him over two hours, and during that time he learned that although he and Abby had tickets that night, I didn’t,  that our bags were most likely in DC or Frankfurt, and United would not give us a voucher for the hotel that day.   However, they were generous enough to give us each another $7 food voucher!  Instead of checking out at 11 am and spending the day in the airport we decided to go ahead and book the hotel room for another day anyway, and just pay for it ourselves.

Luckily for us, there was a Chili’s restaurant just a two minute walk from our hotel.  We love Chili’s (we have very sophisticated palettes). After we ate, JR took the baby back to eat while I hopped in a taxi and asked to go to the nearest grocery store so I could buy more diapers.  The driver took me to Whole Foods, and I honestly wasn’t sure if they sold diapers there, but turns out they do!   When I arrived back at the hotel we all took a long nap before making our way to the airport later that night.

We went straight to baggage claim to try and determine the exact location of our luggage.   In an interesting twist, they forwarded all 5 bags to Munich because they mistakenly believed we had booked the Munich flight – even though we never did.  We went upstairs to wait in line at the Turkish counter since it opened at 7:30 pm, feeling antsy about getting seats together and hoping we might still get the bassinet row (which we had reserved for our original Frankfurt flight).  They look like this:

bassinets

We wanted Abby to have a spot to stretch out during the long flight. Unfortunately, those rows were booked but they were able to put us all together, and that was the most important part.  Our flight to Istanbul was pretty uneventful. Abby slept most of it and hardly ever cried. She didn’t seem stressed at all by our troubles up to that point.

abby plane 1 abby plane 2 abby plane 3

Abby really likes to stretch.

We landed in Istanbul on time (shocker!) and walked down the steps to collect our stroller on the tarmac, which we had checked at the gate JUST before boarding the plane in DC, alongside several other strollers. We see all of these families putting their strollers together and strapping their kids in, but our stroller is no where to be found. I asked one of the employees if they were still unloading, and tried to explain that our stroller should be with this pile, but he didn’t really understand English.  A nice lady attempted to translate for us and she gathered that our stroller was either in DC or lost, because it wasn’t on the plane.  The employee kept on saying that if we gate-checked our stroller then it would be here.  We obviously agreed with him, but that didn’t answer the question of where did it go?  How in the world did they lose a large GATE CHECKED ITEM?!  At this point I was like “WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO MEEEEE”?

it isn't fair

JR made his way to a Turkish counter and asked about the stroller. They told him it could be in Pristina or DC, and we could wait and see when we got there, or he could exit through customs, find their Lost and Found, file a report, then come back through security and make the next flight. I told him I thought that was ridiculous and we’d deal with it at home, surely something would go our way and the stroller would be waiting for us in Pristina. The only highlight of this stop was running into our friends Shawn and Amy, returning from a weekend trip to Istanbul and on the same short flight to Pristina. It was nice to see some friendly faces and introduce them to Abby!

Although we were scheduled to land in Pristina at 7:45pm, of course we were almost an hour late. The good news was that ALL of our checked bags from our original flight were there waiting for us! The bad news was that our stroller was not. They told us to file a claim with Turkish when we got home. Sigh. Our friends were nice enough to wait for us and help us load up our bags in the van, and we were FINALLY headed home. Hooray!

You know that feeling when you think nothing else could possibly go wrong? And then you realize you were so, so very wrong. In early April we sent two shipments – a layette with baby items like a Pack n Play, swing, etc., and a consumables shipment with food, diapers and wipes. The guys who handled that packout said that the crib, mattress, and rug should go in my consumables shipment to help with packaging and it allowed me more weight/space in my layette shipment (which has a limit of 250lbs – that adds up really quickly). We were under the impression BOTH shipments would be waiting in our apartment for us. Why would we assume this?  Because they said that our shipments had arrived and were waiting for us in our apartment.  Not so fast. Only the layette was there. Okay fine, at least we have her pack n play and swing, we can survive on that for a while.

Then I realize our internet wasn’t working. Since we were away for so long, it appeared our contract with the internet company had expired. And then there was a small flood in our bathroom so there was standing water all over. So yeah, I had a major minor meltdown.  Not my finest moment but I had definitely reached my limit.

So that was Sunday and now it’s Friday. Maintenance fixed the leak first thing Monday which was great, although we then realized we had an ant problem as a result, but we’re getting that resolved too. JR had our internet fixed right away on Monday, and we’ve been in contact with the shipping company about the rest of our things.  Consumables are currently in Antwerp, Belgium and should be delivered in about 2 weeks.  And best of all, after many calls and emails with Turkish Airlines, we received our stroller yesterday!

Things could have turned out much worse and we’re thankful that we received all our lost luggage, and that we all made it here safely and together.  But – I’m going to need a lot of booze before I make a trek like that again.

will and grace

drink on plane

 

 

The long trip home

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).

bags

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.

at the bar

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.

abby first plane

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?!)

ice cube blank stare

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.