If you’re short on time today, I’ll sum up our flights for you in one sentence:
Delta Airlines, we cannot be friends anymore, not even Facebook friends.
To start at the very beginning and be perfectly honest, I made so many blunders in planning this trip, it’s beyond ridiculous. And here’s my disclaimer in case I haven’t said it before: I’m not the Perfect Travel Mama, just the Thrifty one. I often find I cannot have perfect and thrifty together. And, hello, if I didn’t make mistakes, this blog wouldn’t be very interesting to read, now would it?
First up, I picked Stuttgart as my departure, an airport I thought would be a good alternative to busy, crazy Frankfurt. Dead wrong. I can get to Frankfurt from my city occasionally without any train changes. At most, I would have one change. I thought this was also the case for Stuttgart. And, it is. But not for Stuttgart Airport. Grrrr.
Changing trains twice might not sound so bad to you. But that’s because you don’t have to take a train to even get to the main train station in the city. And you are probably not moving from place to place and therefore do not have as much junk to haul around.
In the end, our lovely friend volunteered to go with us on the three trains to help with children and our from-the-sticks baggage getup. Two prams (strollers to you US folk), two car seats (one with a bag), two 50-lb bags, two backpacks, one carry-on suitcase, a diaper bag and a toddler backpack. Shoot me now. We were a sight to behold. And yes, Germans do stare.
I think long-haul flights going west are always better than the ones going east. Why? Because you’re not fighting the clock, nor are you using the airplane as a crowded group sleep hotel. Unfortunately, it’s harder to get kids to nap on a flight that does not dim the lights. Our solution? Eyemasks.
But I’ll get to that in a minute.
Let me mention a word (or thirty) about flying with an infant. In the US, it is almost always free to fly with a child up to the age of two on your lap. Internationally, it is not free. But, it is significantly cheaper than purchasing a seat. Because I had Doc Sci with me, I chose the lap child route.
This turned out to be a total nightmare with Delta. They do not allow online ticketing for international infants. I must have talked to a handful of agents in customer service, none of whom knew the correct answer to my dilemma. The infant ticket with Delta is PAPER (when was the last time you saw one of those??) and can ONLY be sent to the billing address of the cardholder purchasing the ticket. Lovely. My billing address is in the US, I live in Germany, and I need the paper ticket in hand to fly. After way too much go-around for my taste, we finally agreed upon a solution: I would purchase the ticket at the desk in STR when I checked in.
When we got to the airport in STR, a huge line had formed at Delta. They clearly did not have enough people working the desk. I had to check in with one agent, go to another desk to purchase Screech’s ticket, and then return to the middle of the first line to check bags. By the time we got through this whole shebang, the check-in operation was shutting down. We literally had to RUN to the gate. And we had arrived at the airport two hours prior to our flight. I would have done three hours, but that would have meant leaving the house at 4am instead of 5am.
On the plane, things went from stressful and annoying to hair pulling and eye bugging. I love history, but flying on a jet that belongs in a museum is not my idea of a good time. Ashtrays, anyone? Earphones with a double jack? Single screens spaced every fifth row or so with whacked out colors? No kids programming? What is this 1983?
I usually wait until after the main meal is served to coax my kids to sleep. I went out on a limb and ordered a child’s meal for T-Rex. Barf-o. This kid eats just about everything and he was not about to touch those chicken nuggets or mashed potatoes flecked with mystery bits. Ewww-ee. My chicken was slathered in mushroom sauce (I’m allergic), and Screech ate my sandwich (always bring backup food!).
What a fan-stinkin’-tastic ten and a half hours this was going to be…
After the food fiasco and missing half of the only movie schedule to be shown that I was even half interested in (due to T-Rex asking me to fix his never-going-to-work-anyway headphones every three minutes), we hatched a plan to turn our three seats into four and maybe, just maybe, get some relief.
We own a Sunshine Kids car seat, which Doc Sci picked out for two reasons: it’s narrow so you can fit three bambinos across in a normal car’s backseat, and it’s highly rated in safety. (But, between you and me, a little FYI, the thing’s a beast to carry because it’s made of steel.)
Because said car seat is skinny in the bum-width factor, we raised all arm rests, scooched the Superman seat up next to Doc Sci’s ribs, and then T-Rex and I shared the remaining 1 1/2 seats using just my seat belt. I’m sure that’s totally against airline regulations. But I wanted a round of naps for everyone, me included. And, if you really think about it, it’s probably safer than holding a very large, very squirmy 18 month-old in your arms.
After all boys were strapped down, eye masks were applied, and sleep was enforced. Screech was so tired he didn’t fight his eye shade. T-Rex wore his because he wants to be like Screech (shouldn’t it be the other way around?) Amazingly, Screech took three 1 1/2 hour naps on the flight. I think we only managed one of those for T-Rex. But some sleep is better than no sleep.
We arrived on time in Atlanta to make our connection to Orlando. Oh yeah, except that “they” couldn’t get the gate hooked up to the aircraft. “They” tried the front door. “They” tried the middle door. “They” tried the front door again. The middle door again. And finally, after 20+ minutes, the front door won. But we lost, ending up at the back of a long passport control line.
After collecting and re-checking our baggage, we had TWENTY minutes to go through security, travel three terminals, and get on our flight to MCO. Oh yeah. We like things edgy around here.
Just kidding. I hate rushing.
But rush we did, and we arrived five minutes before the scheduled take-off. Did they open the door back up for us? No way, they did not. Unfortunately, my life does not involve being a celebrity, being on the Amazing Race, or being a celebrity on the Amazing Race. We were put on a flight that left two hours later.
Two hours?! This might not seem like much. But, it was dinner time. We had been up since FIVE AM Germany time. And it was not our fault that we had missed it.
As much as I really wanted to, getting mad just wasn’t the best option. It wasn’t going to help anyone. Food, on the other hand, well, that usually takes the edge off.
So I begged. Please oh please oh please won’t you give me some meal vouchers for my starving but adorable young children?
Why, yes, of course we will. Here’s $30 to use at the Chick-fil-A down the terminal from your 7pm flight.
THIRTY DOLLARS?! I think we bought almost everything on the menu. Delicious, fried, spicy, chicken and fries. And fruit of course. Lots of fruit. Who do you think I am?
After twenty-four hours of traveling, both boys gave up and passed out somewhere above Disneyworld. Thank God.
Our return to Germany held much of the same: ancient plane, serious ick-factor food, no extra seats at all on the flight. But, I did do something I had never done before.
The gate agent in ATL took the liberty of assigning us to the bulkhead row in the Economy Comfort section. Now, I have never requested this for the simple reason that you cannot have anything at your feet in a bulkhead row. With kids (and with our life circumstances that usually dictate we travel with a mountain of stuff), this just never seemed like a sane option to me. I specifically asked about the junk around the feet factor and was told that the only time the floor space had to be clear was during takeoff and landing. Fair enough, we’ll give it a shot.
One reason many families request the bulkhead row is because of the bassinet. I also have never used this. It’s a little baby bed that attaches to the bulkhead wall. Why have I never used it? Because I have gigantic babies that are usually waaaaay over the weight limit by the time I find myself in a position to test it out.
But this time, I broke the rules and used it anyway. I know I might get some hate mail for this, but most baby gear is rated lower than the actual capacity of the product for insurance purposes. I was willing to take the risk and if anything happened, it would be my fault. And, our turn-three-seats-into-four plan wouldn’t work in the bulkhead. The armrests contain your tray table and do not move. Booooo!
(And for disclaimer #2 of this post… I am in no way advocating that you use a bassinet when your baby is over the weight limit. I did it once, took full responsibility, but won’t do it again. Don’t say Thrifty Travel Mama made me do it!)
Turns out, Screech hated the bassinet thingie. Who can blame him? It smelled strongly of vinyl and was basically a mesh tupperware with a strappy, clasping lid that you shove the baby in and seal up for the flight. We managed to get him to sleep about 5-6hrs but not without 30 minutes of crying.
Would I do the bulkhead again? Maybe if I had a smaller baby. The extra legroom was nice, but it somehow came with an invitation for other people to walk all over you (literally), even when you were sleeping sprawled out. Alas, by the time we return to the US, most likely Screech will be two years old, and we’ll have to purchase a seat for him.
So, as I said earlier, I won’t be using Delta Airlines internationally again for some time. When you add in the rail tickets and the stress, Lufthansa might actually come out ahead in the thrifty factor. And then, there’s always the draw of better food, better entertainment, better service.
And what about the jet lag? Look for that post coming soon!