Hey Look Ma, I Made It!

We made it to Cairo! The travel was not terrible but the jet lag has been tough. The kids are actually doing okay but JR and I are both struggling. Here’s a little recap of our trip.

We left Orrville at 11:30am on Wednesday. Once again we hired Ohio Connection to help transport all of our luggage. With a new family member, we are now allowed ten checked bags. Amazingly that wasn’t enough so we ended up with ELEVEN suitcases and paid out of pocket for the extra one. $200!. Even though we spent two days packing, weighing, and rearranging the bags, I still held my breath as each one went on the scale at the airport. The first two came in at 50.5. When the third went on and showed 51.4, the employee gave me a look and I pleaded with him, “Sir, we are moving to Egypt! Please!”. Thankfully he let it slide and the rest of the bags stayed closer to that 50 pound limit. We also checked two car seats, and had two strollers with us to gate check. Needless to say, we were a sight at the drop off.

In preparing for the trip, I decided that ready-to-feed disposable bottles would be the most convenient. More on that mistake later. At security, they told us they would either need to open each bottle (which basically makes them unusable) or I had to submit to a full pat down. There was no question of course. I told the lady if that was the worst thing to happen to me that day I’d be just fine. She was extremely thorough but it was still the best alternative.

We ate a quick lunch and then waited at the gate. It was a really short flight to DC, and the only problem we had was feeding Jake. It was time for him to eat but he wouldn’t take the bottle. He just kept crying and pushing it away. We had given him one of these bottles in a test run a few days before we left and didn’t have a problem, so I tried not to panic. He slept a little bit and by then we were in DC.

After walking a good distance and taking a shuttle, we found an empty gate to sit for a moment and try feeding him again. The big kids were happily entertained with sticker pads.  I pulled out a new bottle and tried to feed Jake again. And again, he refused. Now I was panicking. It was 5 hours since his last bottle, and he typically eats every 3 hours. We were preparing for a 8 hour flight ahead  and I had a screaming, hungry baby and no way to feed him. A million thoughts were running through my mind. I honestly wondered if he and I would have to stay back in DC for a night to get his regular bottles before we could leave. Knowing it was a long shot, I asked Justin to try to find an employee or store and ask if they sold bottles anywhere at Dulles. Amazingly, he came back a few minutes later with a bottle! Although it wasn’t our regular brand, Jake thankful gulped it down. Such a huge relief. I told him to go back to the store and buy more to get us through the trip. So PSA, Hudson News at Dulles Airport does sell baby bottles. They were only $2.99 each, which I think is kind of a steal because we would have been at their mercy and paid whatever to get them.

On the flight to Frankfurt Abby was in a window seat, JR in the middle, then William in the aisle seat. I sat across from him in a middle section of four seats with Jake beside me. He cried on and off the first hour, and I worried we were in for a rough flight. But after that he fell asleep and seriously didn’t make a peep until it was almost time to land.

Abby and William were excited to use the in-flight entertainment, but we couldn’t get their headphones to work with it. I asked a flight attendant who told me, quite pleased with herself, this was because they have weird sets that require headphones with two prongs. This is illogical. They are basically requiring you to use their cheapy headphones that they pass out at the beginning of each flight, individually wrapped in plastic. I’m no environmentalist usually but come on! Doesn’t it make more sense to allow people who have their own headphones (so, basically everyone) to use those? Rather than a system that prohibits it? Also annoying because their headphones didn’t fit the kids’ head very well. Okay end of rant.

The iPads worked for a while and we ate the food we packed. We have completely abandoned plane food. Someone please let me know if it improves some day. We packed an insulated lunch bag with yogurt, string cheese, pepperoni, grapes and apples. I also had some bread and Jif To Go and made sandwiches for us.

It wasn’t easy getting the kids to fall asleep. They couldn’t get comfortable, even with our 1st Class Kids Pillow, which inflates like a footrest to extend the seat so a kid can stretch out more. I wound up holding Abby as she fell asleep. JR moved William to the window seat and let him stretch across the middle. When he finally fell asleep, JR asked the woman behind us if he could sit in the empty seat beside her and she graciously agreed. We laid Abby down by William and managed a little sleep ourselves.

In Frankfurt we barely had time to grab some pretzels and croissants, play in a small play area and then change diapers before boarding again for our third flight. The flight was full, and the best seats they could offer were four across in the middle and one single seat on the aisle in the next row back. I started out there, putting JR with all the kids. I immediately fell asleep and that hour was pretty much the highlight of my day. I woke up when Abby needed help trying to watch a movie and the headphone jack didn’t work well, so I switched seats with her. That little rockstar was perfectly content the rest of the flight sitting in a row by herself, watching a movie and enjoying some of the snacks I passed to her. William snuggled up in my cardigan and fell asleep again.

 

Three hours later we landed in Cairo! The airport was a flurry of activity and kind of a blur. I was just telling JR that one weird thing about this life is that you meet new people (in this case the employees who helped us at the airport as well as our social sponsor/my future coworker) when you would rather not be meeting anyone for the first time. After almost a full day of travel with 3 kids, I did not feel or look my best. So of course immediately after landing a man introduced himself to us and we realized he’s my new supervisor. Great to meet you sir, I promise I usually look a little less disheveled.

My big takeaways from this trip:

1. I pack too many toys/activities. William’s backpack was stuffed. Really, they only need iPads, headphones, and a few small new toys to occupy them. They both loved this Melissa and Doug sticker pad, as well as their Water Wow! books. For Abby, my mom sent her a surprise to open on the plane – a small Baby Born doll. William’s surprise was a $3 pack of plastic dinosaurs. That’s all they took out of their bags! I had also packed small play doh containers, crayons and coloring books, books, a magnetic block set, and other crap no one cared to touch.

Enjoying their surprise items.

2. A two hour layover sounds great but it is just barely enough time for us if we have to change gates and move through a big airport.

3. We took two strollers this time. I know my five year old should be able to walk and even carry or roll a bag at this point, but life is just easier when we can load everything on our stroller and push them. Jake and Abby were in the double and William was in my new favorite travel stroller, the Zoe XL1. It’s super lightweight, folds with one hand, pushes easily with one hand, great canopy and almost fully reclines.

Proof the kids carried their bags for a minute.

So we made it and we live in Egypt now. More to come!

 

Balkan Road Trip, Part I

JR and I had been talking about taking a long road trip ever since we arrived in Kosovo.  We are fortunate to have U.S. and local holidays off from work, and last week gave us a great opportunity for an extended trip that only used a few annual leave days.   We were considering a few options – one that included Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia; one that included those countries as well as Hungary; and one that took us in the opposite direction to tour Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia and Italy.   Ultimately, we decided on the first option.  We didn’t want to be overly ambitious with our driving plans because of the baby, and we felt that we would probably still get to Italy and Slovenia in the future, but we weren’t as sure about the other countries, so we didn’t want to miss out on this chance.

Keri, a friend who used to live here, sent me a copy of the itinerary she and her husband used for their trip and I followed it pretty closely.   I spent more time researching hotels than I care to remember.  I’m a big planner, and a worrier, and I wanted to make sure we had rooms with plenty of space for the baby.   Although we enjoyed our trip to Lake Ohrid, neither of us wanted to spend our evenings whispering with Abby sleeping at the foot of our bed, so we wanted suites and we needed parking for our car.  We also aimed to spend no more than 6 hours in the car per day for Abby’s sake and for our sanity.

map

 

Day 1:  Sofia, Bulgaria

We were up early Saturday morning and on the road to Sofia by 8am.  We used a combination of our GPS – which doesn’t always get it right and is easily confused, some printed maps, and my phone when I could get it to work – to help us get to our hotel.   Abby was pretty easy going about the drive.  After babbling to herself in the backseat for about 45 minutes, she took a nice, long nap.  When she woke up, we found a place to stop to feed her and change her.  JR walked into the restaurant first and I said “check the bathrooms for changing tables.”  Um, I’m not sure what fantasy world I was living in that made me ask that question, because I don’t recall ever seeing a changing table anywhere in the Balkans.  At this particular stop, we were able to find a nice area to change her, but overall, when we were on the road we changed most of her diapers on our laps in the backseat.  Which I don’t really recommend.

We made it to our hotel, Grand Hotel Sofia around 2pm.  Parking and check-in were super easy, and they helped us with all of our bags (it was kind of embarrassing how much stuff we had, especially since I had planned to pack lightly).   Although we were all ready for a nap, we decided to walk around instead, so we explored the area near our hotel and went in a few stores.  It was a pretty day to be out and about, and we went to a German restaurant for dinner (really we went there because JR wanted to try the beer).   It was a nice, short visit to Sofia but we enjoyed it!

sofia 1

Day 2:  Bucharest, Romania

It felt like a really lonnnnng drive to Bucharest.  Although we got an early start from Sofia, somehow we (okay, this may fall on my shoulders) didn’t realize that our directions had us crossing a river by ferry to get to Romania.  When we pulled up at the border crossing/ferry platform around 10:45 a.m., we were informed it didn’t open until noon.  Not ideal, but we didn’t really have any other options because no one spoke English well enough to help us figure out if there was another crossing that did not involve a ferry.  You know, like a bridge.  We found a small cafe and ordered lunch (thank you, sweet waitress who at least understood the word chicken) and waited it out.  We returned to the border crossing closer to 12, and we almost missed our ferry because they were in no rush to review our passports.  We just barely made the ferry, and decided to let Abby practice her driving skills.

ferry 2 ferry 3

Funny little story about the border crossing on the other side.  That guy was also taking his sweet old time with our passports so I was already a bit agitated when he came up to the window and said “Excuse me, but I am wondering why does your daughter have a different surname than you?”

I was immediately hot and ready to be all “Um, you have no idea what you are talking about” but before I could start talking, he showed JR the mistake.  Abby’s tourist passport has her last name spelled wrong by one letter.  First, seriously?!  How did that happen?  And how has no one, in SEVERAL border crossing/flights/checks noticed until now?  Thank you, Mr. Romanian Border Patrol Agent.  Luckily, once we showed him that her diplomatic passport matches our last name, he let us go without any other questions.  But we’ll need to get that fixed ASAP.

We continued on to Bucharest and by the time we arrived, we were completely over being in the car.  Especially Abby.   Luckily, we found our hotel easily and we were quickly impressed by the service at Epoque Hotel.   While we checked in, a bartender brought us glasses of champagne and the bellhop unloaded our car and took our luggage to our room.  My kind of place!  We had a one-bedroom suite with plenty of space for all of us, so we settled in and put Abby down for a nap before venturing out.

The hotel was right beside a huge park that had a small carnival and vendors lined up for Easter celebrations.  We made our way to the Old Town and unfortunately, we weren’t all that impressed.  Instead of old buildings, churches and shops, it was mostly pubs and bars.  And massage parlors.   It was kind of underwhelming and definitely not our scene with the baby in tow.  We found a small burger restaurant that was almost empty and sat down for dinner.  As soon as we ordered, the tables started to fill up and everyone began smoking.  Bleck.  I know it’s just the way things go over here, but I still hate it and we try to avoid it whenever possible.  We moved to a bar table closer to the door and took turns walking around with Abby outside until our food arrived, and then ate our burgers and fries (which were delicious!) quickly before heading in for the night.

bucharest 1 bucharest 2

Day 3:   Bucharest, Romania

We were hoping to do some sightseeing, but when we woke up it was pouring rain and cold outside.  Still, we were in a new city and we thought we should power through so we bundled up, grabbed our umbrellas and went outside.  And then promptly turned back around.  Nope, too cold and gross out.   We were both feeling a bit bummed because it seemed like we’d be stuck in the hotel room all day and that was not what we had in mind.  JR suggested that we order room service (not something we do frequently, and always feels like a treat!) and THEN he said I should go down to the spa for a massage while Abby took her afternoon nap.

I was all

brad pitt working out

as I raced down to the spa for a fantastic body scrub and massage.   It was so relaxing and the perfect way to spend a rainy day!

The “Day of Jenni” (as we later named it) continued with dinner.  I was just in the mood for a classic American meal, complete with a cocktail and dessert.  It took some convincing, but JR agreed to have dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe.  I had a strawberry mojito, bbq pulled pork sandwich, mac n’ cheese, AND a hot fudge brownie sundae.  JR thinks we should experience the local cuisine everywhere we go but sometimes I need a little slice of home.  Fantastic day in my book!

One more quick plug for our hotel there – we picked the room rate that included breakfast, and it was a great choice.  They had a buffet with fresh fruits, breads and croissants and pancakes, and made-to-order omelettes.  Highly recommend!

To be continued.

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.  🙂

 

 

Weekend at Lake Ohrid

Continuing to cross places off of our Balkan Bucket List, last weekend we drove to Ohrid, Macedonia.  So we loaded up the car (and I mean loaded -we still haven’t mastered packing light with Abigail in tow) and drove about 4 hours to Lake Ohrid.  Our inn was located in the old town, which was very neat for walking and sight seeing, not so great for driving and unloading your car.  I nearly cried when the lady at reception told me the parking spot was very, very far away.   Luckily, JR is a great sport and he did all the unloading, and then went to park our car.

In spite of the parking issue, I highly recommend Vila Mal Sveti Kliment for lodging in Ohrid.  The room was small but adequate and very comfortable.  In the future, we’ll try to get rooms that have a separate bedroom/living area, or are a bit larger.  It’s kind of hard to do much when the baby goes to sleep at 8pm, and we are whispering and hanging out in the dark!   The Vila makes their own wine, and had a nicely stocked mini bar.  Unlike the US, I find mini bar prices here to be very reasonable, so we took advantage by drinking wine in bed to the light of our iPhones while Abby snored up a storm.   I’m not cut out for room sharing with that one.

Here are some pictures from our weekend:

ohrid 1 ohrid 2 ohrid 3 ohrid 4 ohrid 5 ohrid 6 ohrid 7

 

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.