Happy to report that Abby and I landed safe and sound in Cleveland last Friday, following a mostly uneventful journey. She did AWESOME on our flights. We received so many comments and compliments on how quiet and well-behaved she was, which I’m choosing to believe is a direct reflection on our parenting, not the unlimited Kindle Fire and binky time she had while we traveled.
We started out early Friday morning with a 1:30am wake up. I didn’t wake Abby until our driver had arrived, and then I dressed her while JR installed the car seat and helped load the car. She was immediately excited about our travels and talked happily the whole way to the airport. We had two separate ticket reservations – Abby and I were traveling on my med-evac orders, while JR was booked under his own order because he was headed to a training course in DC. An added delight to all this travel nonsense is that we always struggle with being seated together. For the 4 hour flight to Munich, Abby and I had a middle and aisle seat, while he had a middle seat directly behind us.
We asked the man assigned to the window seat in my aisle if he’d be willing to take JR’s middle seat instead so we could be seated together (yes, we cringed while asking and felt terrible. No one wants a middle seat.) To his credit, the man just nodded and switched with us. It actually worked out well as no one else was seated in that row, and he was able to have his window seat and extra space anyway. JR encouraged me to move back as well, where I took an aisle seat and slept almost the entire flight and he hung out with Abby. She fell asleep for about half the flight.
It was around 7am local time when we landed in Munich. We found a small empty play area and hung out there for a while before making our way to a restaurant for breakfast. Our gate was in H, but we knew another play area was set up near G28, and since it was just a floor below us, we walked down there to let Abby play for over an hour. I think our layover was about 4.5 hours, and it really wasn’t bad at all. Our theory was to try and let Abby play and run off any excess energy in Munich so she could get the most sleep on the longer flight.
As soon as we boarded the flight to DC, we set up our 1st Class Kid Travel Pillow. We heard about it through other foreign service folks who are more travel savvy than we are and decided to give it a try. JR inflated it himself (supposedly you can use the vents over your head, but we were still nervous the flight attendants might say we couldn’t use it, so I didn’t want to call attention to it). It only took him a few minutes and then we wedged the pillow on the floor in front of Abby’s seat, filling the gap so she could put her feet up. It was well past her regular nap time, so I encouraged her to put her head on the pillow and try to sleep. She was able to nap for about 2 hours while I watched Me Before You – the movie was fine but I felt like a fool sobbing at the end of it. Maybe better watched in private. For $30, we think the pillow was worth it and helped her to sit and stretch out more comfortably.
Abby really did not complain or cry at all during the long flight. Towards the end she was definitely acting tired and over it, but we all felt that way. I spoke to the flight attendants to ask if we could have anyone help us upon landing. Since JR was staying in DC, I would be on my own with Abby and all of our things, and I was particularly worried about collecting all of our bags (4 bags and one heavy-duty car seat) at baggage claim, along with our stroller and carry-on bags, and making it through customs and security by myself. They said not to worry, there would be porters available at baggage claim who could help. Mm hmm. Sure.
From the moment we got off the plane, it was a rough 2 hours. Almost immediately, a rude United employee was directing JR one way and Abby and I in the opposite direction, and he was very short with us and gave us less than a minute to say goodbye. Abby and I made our way to passport control and the line was crazy long. She was very patient, mostly in an exhausted daze, so she sat quietly in her stroller as we waited in line. I was super hot (my temperature is 10 degrees higher at all times while pregnant), and carrying the backpack and pushing the stroller, all I wanted was to sit down.
At the self-serve kiosk, you scan your passports and pose for a picture. I knew my picture wouldn’t be good, but I really outdid myself. When I handed the printed photo to the customs agent, he laughed and said “Oh that’s a keeper.” I was going to put the picture here but it’s literally too embarrassing to post publicly.
The next part was frustrating – I started asking if anyone could help me collect my bags and push them to the drop off point further down the hall. The employees smiled but looked at me like I was crazy. I walked up to a nice looking gentleman wearing a flourescent vest and asked if he could help me. He totally wanted to say no but I looked just stressed enough that he felt bad and grabbed a luggage cart while I pointed out our 4 bags. He pushed the cart and I pulled our 30lb car seat behind me and pushed the stroller with my one free arm and my stomach. Fun times!
Relieved to have made it through customs in one piece, I was really bummed to see another long line and security checkpoint. Abby had fallen asleep in her stroller and I dreaded having to wake her. I accepted that I would be very slow moving through security. As I bent down to wake her up, the TSA guy reminded me that I needed to collapse the stroller. I knew this, it was just very difficult to manage while holding my toddler. I pushed it up on the conveyor with our other bags and turned to walk through the metal detector. They asked if Abby could walk through by herself, and bless her heart, she was crying and so tired but she did and waited for me to grab her again. She was crying for her stroller, so I hurriedly pulled it off and set it up for her. She nestled in and fell back asleep immediately. I was relieved and grateful that we’d made it through the parts I worried about the most, but at this point I was sweating, starving, and I really need to find a restroom.
Of course our gate was 10 miles away. Okay, maybe closer to a ten minute walk, but it felt like forever. I had about 20 minutes to order some food, eat a burger and fries quickly, use the restroom, and then it was time to board our last flight! There wasn’t a jetway so we walked outside and Abby surprised me by being happy to wake up. A very nice lady held her hand while I put the stroller on the luggage cart and we boarded the flight. She was quiet and sweet and before we knew it, we were landing in Ohio! So many of the passengers had a kind word about her and what a trooper she had been, and one brought our gate checked stroller right to me. A huge thank you to all of those who helped make our day of travel a bit brighter and bit easier just by being nice.
We made our way to baggage claim where my parents were waiting and it was the BEST feeling to see them! Abby slept on the car ride home but woke up ready to play and hang out as soon as we arrived at their house. And I was more than happy to let their reunion continue while I immediately went to bed.