For Christmas I decided to take the toddlers on a trip to visit aunts and uncles and cousins in another state. Since the trip was a distance of about 500 miles, more or less, I debated on the relative merits of driving or flying.
You may recall that I asked your opinion when we were making our travel plans and several of you advised us to fly (I’m not holding it against you) with one mention of taking the train (I wish I had followed your advice).
Our travel plans were to leave on Christmas Day and return the day after New Year’s Day. But a major winter storm hit on Christmas Day and, as we were about to find out when we reached the airport, flights were cancelled all over the United States, including ours!
It seemed like it was one disaster after another as we attempted to take the toddlers on their first trip on an airplane.
So our holiday travel plans ended up being the Christmas vacation that wasn’t!
In fact, our Christmas vacation debacle could have been taken from the script of one of National Lampoon’s vacation movies with the Griswold family!
As mishap after mishap occurred, I began to feel like Clark Griswold in Christmas Vacation when everything went wrong as the Griswold family tried celebrate an old-fashioned Christmas at home with family and friends. Completely exasperated, Clark (Chevy Chase) finally exclaimed to his wife: “Worse? How could things get any worse? Take a look around here, Ellen. We’re at the threshold of hell!”
My exasperation seemed to reach the same level when I got trapped in a major airport on Christmas Day with two toddlers, four suitcases, a backpack and a lot of other stranded and frustrated travelers!
And it seemed as though there was no escape from our predicament!
So here’s what happened (I’m telling this story in two parts to give me a chance to regain my composure as I recount our misadventure):
I knew we might be in for some travel problems when the week before our planned trip the National Weather Service issued a winter storm advisory. But, plans were made and airline tickets purchased.
We planned to open Christmas presents with the toddlers on Christmas morning and then later in the day drive to the airport (about 100 miles away) and catch a late afternoon flight to our destination.
About 11:00 am on a rainy Christmas morning, the rain began turning to sleet, so I knew it was time to leave for the airport. Since we were traveling south, I thought I might drive out of the sleet. But we never seemed to get ahead of it and drove on wet and icy roads all the way to the airport.
It was snowing by the time we reached the airport, but it was a light wet snow and I didn’t feel like it would impede any flights. (But what do I know about air traffic control!)
Since we were going to be gone for a week, I had packed seven changes of clothing for the toddlers and myself, as well as our heavy coats so we wouldn’t have to carry them on the plane. So I was concerned about navigating the toddlers around the airport with four heavy suitcases and backpack and hoped to check baggage as quickly as possible.
When we arrived at the airport and pulled into long-term parking, the lot was full and I had to park in the covered parking which was almost as expensive as the parking near the terminals.
But I couldn’t search for other parking in the snow and took what I could get no matter what the cost, just desperate to get the toddlers and the luggage into the airport with a minimal amount of difficulty (and sooner or later desperation decision-making produces some bad decisions, as you shall see)!
We boarded the shuttle and I planned to check luggage outside the terminal when we got off the shuttle. When the shuttle pulled up to the terminal, there was no outside baggage checking to be seen anywhere. When I inquired, the shuttle driver said we could check it just inside the entrance to the terminal.
He failed to mention that we would need to ride a long escalator to the upper level.
There was no way I could move four large and well-packed suitcases up the escalator and the toddlers had never even seen an escalator, much less ridden on one.
I located an elevator in a corner of the terminal and somehow maneuvered the toddlers and luggage to the elevator, got on, and rode to the upper level. I then maneuvered the baggage and the toddlers over to the check-in area and got in line.
When it was our turn to check-in, I moved us all up to the counter and reached down to grab the flight information that I had placed in a small, convenient pocket of my backpack. I noticed that the pocket was unzipped and there was nothing in it that should have been there including my cell phone and car keys.
Thinking I had forgotten to zip the pocket of the backpack and the items had fallen out in all my shuffling around, I reasoned that they had fallen out on the shuttle. But I had no way to call the shuttle and I panicked (something I never do).
Here we were at the airport with toddlers and baggage and seemingly no way of escape! We couldn’t board the plane and we couldn’t leave the airport. What could I do?
I grabbed one of the carts the baggage handlers use and put our luggage and the toddlers on it and retraced our steps down the elevator and out of the terminal to the shuttle drop-off point, but to no avail. Cell phone, keys, and boarding passes were nowhere to be found.
I went back into the terminal and back up the elevator to the check-in area. No one would help us until the panicked look on my face (plus the fact that I had one of the airline’s baggage carts with the toddlers riding on it) caught the attention of one of the agents.
The agent took us over to a counter where no one was checking in and I told him my story and he began to check on our flight information. Being more clear-headed than I was at that point, he suggested that I call my cell phone to see if someone found it. He handed me his cell phone and I dialed my phone number and the next thing I heard was the subdued sound of the ringtone from my cell phone coming from somewhere inside the backpack.
As I began to fumble with the backpack, I discovered there were actually two small, convenient pockets on the backpack right beside each other and my cell phone, keys, and flight information were all safely zipped up in the other pocket!
To say I was greatly relieved was an understatement. Nevertheless, my joy was short-lived when the helpful agent told me our flight had been cancelled!
It was the thing I feared most–being stuck in the airport with the toddlers. Well, it was actually the thing I feared the second-most. The thing I feared most was being stuck on an airplane with the toddlers!
The agent said there was another flight in a few hours but it was full but he could put us on stand-by. Trying to decide what to do, I asked myself, what if less than three seats opened up, who would we leave behind? I decided if one seat opened up, I would go and leave both toddlers and if two opened up I would take Kenzie she was the youngest and leave Kaleb since! Just kidding, but that scenario may have crossed my mind at this point!
Not having any other options, I took the stand-by and he asked me if we wanted to check the luggage. He explained that if we checked the luggage, it would go whether we got on the plane or not.
This was going to be another one of those desperation decisions. I reasoned that if I could eliminate as much luggage as possible, it would be easier to handle the toddlers during our long wait in the airport. Even if the luggage arrived at our destination before we did, the airline would store it for us and we would have family there to help us recover it when we arrived at our destination.
So I checked three of our four suitcases!
We made it through the security check relatively easily and found some seats in the airport and began our wait. After waiting about an hour and a half, I received a notification from the airline that the next flight was cancelled and I would have to re-book it for another time.
Sitting there in the terminal with the toddlers, it was impossible for me to spend the time on the phone with the airline necessary to book another flight. And besides, Kaleb was starting to get sick and I couldn’t leave him sitting in a chair in the terminal all night running a fever.
There were a couple of hotels on the airport. I decided I better call and make a reservation as soon as possible so I could get the toddlers in bed and then sit there in a hotel room and negotiate our travel plans with the airline.
I called the hotel and, of course, the only rooms available were rooms on the executive floor that were more expensive than regular rooms. Again, in desperation I said “Whatever,” and at that point was glad to get a room booked no matter what the cost.
So, now the plans was through the airport to a connecting terminal and cut across the parking lot and we would be at the hotel. There’s a rail service connecting all the terminals in the airport so we needed to make our way up to an entry point and catch a train to another terminal and get the toddlers in a nice warm bed. Then after they fell asleep, I could book us on a flight the following morning.
But remember Clark Griswold’s outcry comparing their Christmas holiday celebration to being at the threshold of hell.
It seems like our Christmas vacation was taking place at that same location! Absolutely nothing is going right!
Maybe this Christmas vacation just got off to a bad start. It couldn’t get worse. Could it?
I’ll tell you the rest of my tragic tale in the next post!