I do not have kids. I am an only child. I have a very small family where I haven’t really been around a lot of kids. By no means do I dislike strangers’ kids, but I am also not one to go out of my way to interact with them. But I do have to say that I love my friend’s kids. But how much?
I was recently invited to head down to San Juan, Puerto Rico from Seattle (with a short layover in Philly) with one of my best friends and his family: his amazing wife, three kids (ranging from 4-11), and his mother. Most of my traveling is done solo or in a small group of adults. How would flying with kids go?
I have seen others do it, I have even read a few stories on it, but I figured that the hands-on experience would be a bit different. I ended up with quite a few (good and bad) surprises.
Before I continue, I want to put the disclaimer out there that I know that interacting with my friend’s kids during travel is much different than actually having your own. When things got real, it was time to hand them over to the parents. Even after this experience, I know that traveling with your own kids would be very different, but I thought it was an interesting perspective.
I also want to say that my friends are not frequent fliers, but are awesome parents and it seems that typically when you are a good parent on the ground, those skills transfer into the air.
A bit more of a rundown on the cast of this story: Temo (best friend, great planner, and smartest “space cadet” that I know); his wife Angelica (beautiful and feisty); his mom Ana (a kind woman who can connect with almost anyone); their 11-year-old Litxuli (smart kid going on 15); their 7-year-old Lilu (creative and enjoys the beat of her own drum); and 4-year-old, Phoenix (aka the “turd that does what he wants” – Temo’s words, not mine). It was going to be a party.
The day of the flight started with my alarm going off at 4:00am, heading off to the airport shortly thereafter. Normally, once in the airport, I have a mission. Check in, go through security, find my gate, and then I will wander. Not really sure why, but I always want to know that my gate is there, it is the correct one, get to know the turf before burning time with food, shopping, or people-spotting. I quickly learned that my normal operational procedure wasn’t going to work with kids. That was okay. I was all about going with the flow, so by no means was I trying to put any pressure on moving quickly… I was trying to be an interactive observer.
After quickly checking in two bags, we were off to security. Not so fast – first a bathroom break.
Then we had to match all the kids’ IDs with tickets, verify we had all our stuff, and then make it into the TSA line. Keeping the kids in order, so they wouldn’t wander up ahead in the line or lag behind was a full-time effort.
While waiting in the TSA security line, I ended up getting separated from the rest of the herd (I promise, that was not done on purpose). From my viewpoint, I saw them struggle to show all the tickets and IDs with the kids, but they managed to get through.
Their oldest child, Litxuli, was actually pretty nervous, but luckily the TSA handled her with a smile and kid gloves to make her experience positive and friendly (not sure why that can’t happen with adults too).
Once past security, it was time to get food. This normally entails standing in line, order food, pay for food, and eat it. Turns out with kids that doesn’t work so smoothly.
The first step is to scout out a table, claim it with all your crap, decide on who is staying with the kids, and then send foragers to get food. It would be easier if everyone wanted the same thing, but that doesn’t really happen. Luckily, it was narrowed to Wendy’s and Starbucks, and we were off.
I thought it might have been a bit more chaotic, but it was obvious that Temo and Angelica have had some practice. After filling my belly and learning more about the movie Frozen than I ever wanted to know, we were off to the gate — yay! Just when I thought we were making good progress — it happened…
Damn you Sea-Tac for putting in a kids play area in between the food court and the gate! Okay, okay, ten minutes.
I have to admit — I was a bit jealous. I kind of wanted to join them in play, but I had to be an “adult” and observe. Soon enough, we were back on the path to the gate: A3 — not very far.
After one more restroom stop (dang, kids have to pee a lot) and an attempt by two of them to go into one of the stores, we made it to the gate. I was a bit excited to be with a family with small children and have the opportunity to pre-board, but that never happened.
Since I do not travel with kids, I hadn’t realized that over the past few years, more and more airlines have eliminated this option or made it scarce. Most say it is to streamline the process, but I suspect it has more to do with encouraging passengers to pay fees or sign up for a credit card to get access to better boarding positions. It might look good on paper, but in reality, it can be sort of a mess.
I emailed the airline and confirmed that their policy is to scan the gate area for those who might need pre-boarding assistance or give it to those who request it. Sounds okay, but not only weren’t we asked, but when we directly requested to pre-board with the kids, we were told that was not a possibility. This happened both in Seattle and Philly. Bummer.
Unfortunately for us, we were in Zone 5 and the last group to board. When our zone was announced, passengers rushed the line and cut our group into two. Since Angelica had all the tickets, the rest of the group had to cut ahead in line (I stayed back with my own ticket). Other passengers groaned and complained, but they were the jerks who broke up the family to begin with.
The gate agent was having some troubles with their tickets and even though we could all see the jetway was backed up and none of us were going anywhere fast, people in the line became more frustrated. My friend, being the gracious guy that he is, apologized to everyone, even though this wasn’t his or his family’s fault.
None of that would have been a problem if we were allowed to pre-board… just saying.
One of the most exciting parts of this trip was that Phoenix had never flown before. Although I was willing to give him the window (it takes a lot for me to give that up), he was happy in the middle, with Temo in the aisle.
The look on his face, when we actually took off, is exactly how I feel on the inside almost every time I fly. I think that so many have lost that awe and wonder of commercial flight and take it for granted, but you can often find it in the face of someone experiencing it for the first time. Right after we lifted off, he asked his dad if they could buy a plane. With a laugh, he was told, “no.”
His awe and wonder lasted less than a minute and he was back to playing a video game – kids these days!
Temo and I discussed if Phoenix would even be able to reach the seat in front of him. We agreed that his legs were too short and this would luckily be something we wouldn’t have to worry about. But sure enough — about 15 minutes later, somehow that kid was able to reach and started to kick the seat. He has skills, but he was quickly stopped.
It wasn’t another five minute before he paused his game to ask how much longer until we were there. Heh. I was figuring it would be at least an hour in before that question was asked, but I replied, “Only about 11 hours… we are almost there.” Good thing he doesn’t really have much of a grasp on time.
Soon, I had whipped out my laptop and went to connect to the GoGo WiFi. Hot damn, $15.95 for five hours of internet? Seemed a bit steep, but since there were no in-seat, nor even ceiling-mounted in-flight entertainment on the plane, it quickly started to look like a good deal.
The flight attendants announced that they would soon be offering food-for-purchase; even though the kids seemed uninterested at first, once they saw the cart full of goodies go by (Chex Mix, M&M’s Pringles, etc.) their tone quickly changed.
Temo’s Angelica’s Wallet: 0. Nicely played, US Airways.
Usually when I am working on a story, I keep track of things in my notebook. It became a joke that every time I starting writing, one of the parents would ask me what one of the kids did now. Heh.
To alleviate their fears, I showed them that not all my notes were kid related: “plane was hot; hate that person reclined in front of me; waiting for lav stinks (make this a joke somehow); PHX [yes I used the airport code in my notes for Phoenix] keeps whining for more OJ when he already has some, why?” Oh wait… that last one WAS about their kid. But in reality, they did awesome (almost wish they misbehaved more for better content).
As we made your approach into PHL, I had Litxuli sitting next to me (the kids loved swapping out seats throughout the flight). She wouldn’t really admit it, but I could tell that she was a bit of a nervous flyer and wasn’t looking forward to the landing.
It was kind of cool to explain how the plane’s engines will slow down, we will start to decend. Then the flaps will extend and the gear will drop, making some odd noises. Finally, when we touch down, the engines will get very loud to help us stop. It was endearing that as each of these things happened, she checked in with me to make sure everything was normal.
“Have you done this before, Uncle David?” Just once or twice.
As we got off the plane in PHL, it was pretty obvious that the kids (heck, even the adults) were a bit worn out. We had gotten up early, just had a long flight, and had another six hours until we would reach our destination. We gathered our things and Phoenix was draped over Temo’s shoulder, asleep, as we walked through the airport on the hunt once again for food and another bathroom (I was getting the hang of this by now).
We soon made it to the food court between concourse B and C and I agreed to hold down the fort, which included two tables, lots of chairs, and some bags.
Initially everyone agreed on Asian, but that didn’t last long. After looking at the options, out of the seven of us, we ended up with food from four different places. I let them do their thing, gather the food, re-settle and then I went to get my food: Philly Cheesesteak, of course!
When I got back, I had realized that Temo didn’t get anything for himself, “I don’t need it,” he said. Turns out that I mis-interpreted this statement.
I figured he was saying that he wasn’t hungry; it was odd that he reluctantly took part of my sandwich. It wasn’t until that the kids were “done” that I became aware of what his earlier statement meant.
As we all got our stuff to head to the gate, Temo was gathering the plates; I figured to throw them away. Instead, he started finishing all the food that the kids had left, including a bit of ice cream. I said that we can wait and he can eat, but nope, this was standard and he was the “closer” on the kids’ food. Interesting.
The second leg was much easier. There was still no pre-boarding option, but the Boeing 757 (with American livery, yet US Airways interior) was only about a third filled, making getting settled a snap.
The kids (especially Phoenix) were a bit more restless and squirmy at first. But shortly after take off, they all fell asleep. I have to say, kids are really darn easy to maintain when they are sleeping.
Things that I learned from this experience: situational awareness is key. A background in herding cats is a plus. Be able to give firm directions, non-stop, that sometimes contradict each other is vital: “stop, go, left, right, don’t touch your sister, help your sister, etc.” Everything takes way longer — waaaay longer. Anything can (and will) be a distraction “shiny object” for a kid.
But really, no matter if you are flying with your own kids, someone else’s kids, or just on a plane with kids… kids are going to be kids. We have all been there. Take a deep breath, smile, and fly!