There are any number of things that we do that people find crazy. Let me list a few for you now:
- Have four kids
- Travel on Thanksgiving Day
- Fly AirTran
- Fly AirTran on Thanksgiving Day with four kids.
So, yeah, that happened. After these many years of our Turkey Day travel consisting of an early morning drive to Maine, we decided that having a pair of 17-month-olds would be the perfect reason to ramp it up to everything air travel offers up. Further, to make it to our destination in Atlanta in time for that precious first scoop of stuffing, we booked ourselves a 6:44AM departure from Boston.
For those who have read previous posts, you may know that our mornings aren’t exactly run with machine-like precision. You can only imagine how those issues are magnified when that morning kicks off at 4AM. We had mostly packed the night before which was wise enough but still getting four kids and three adults (we were traveling with Amy’s father) out of the house, down the stairs, into the car and on the road was no easy task.
With the flight leaving at 6:44 I engaged in air travel math: 6:44 means be at the airport by 5:44 which, because we were parking in long term, meant getting to the airport at 5:30 which meant leaving the house no later than 5:15 which meant telling everyone else we were leaving at 5AM.
We left at 5:20. So much for trying.
Still, I figured, we could make up the time. I would drop off everyone at the terminal and then park the car myself and make my way back by bus. AirTran, unfortunately, flies out of Terminal E now. The bus stops at Terminal A, Terminal B four times, Terminal C, and then (NO! You’re WRONG! There never really was a Terminal D) Terminal E.
Now we’re running late.
Of course, because bag fees are now ridiculous, we weren’t checking anything. And we were taking full advantage of the “one bag, one personal item” rule. Also, there may or may not have been some gray area in our definition of “personal item”. Mine, for instance, was a wardrobe bag. It was mine, I reasoned, so it’s personal.
You want more math? Five ticketed passengers plus two lap babies meant five roller bags plus one computer bag, one shoulder duffel, one diaper bag, two backpacks, and my aforementioned wardrobe bag. Also, the twins were riding in a double-stroller that we’d be gate checking.
Please take a moment to imagine what this moving circus looked like: seven half-asleep people pushing ten bags and a carriage through an airport in an increasing rush to make it to our plane.
In the back of my head I had these nagging thoughts knowing how many bags we had and how late we were running:
- How were we going to even get on the plane once we lost the stroller? Everyone was already “hands full”.
- Where were all these bags going to go? I had to figure the overheads would already be over-flowing.
Before I could worry about these questions though, there still remained one major obstacle between us and that magical flying machine – the TSA security checkpoint of hell. It was hard enough to keep this trolley going as it was. Once I lost my belt and shoes, it was only going to get harder.
Pressed on, though, we did. We had those little grey bins lined up as far as the belt would allow. Amy’s father went through first and acted as the catcher for Maggie and Henry as they passed through. I wish I had a picture of Amy, shoeless, walking through that metal detector with one hand of each baby as they toddled along side. I, meanwhile, was trying my level best to keep our stuff moving through the machines while also folding up the stroller and NOT paying any attention to the people behind me. While they may have been growing ever more frustrated with their wait, I assure you they were having a better time of it than we were.
As I was the last one through, I was late to a conversation Amy was having with some dainty woman in pink but I can tell you my ears perked up when I heard this phrase:
“You don’t think you’re going to actually make that flight, do you?”
That she had an AirTran ID hanging about her neck made the question just that much more pertinent.
So we’re having this conversation with her while, very literally, trying to get re-dressed, gather our bags, gather our children, and get back moving forward. She, at one point, started to walk away.
Again, I want you to envision this. I am now hunched over with my belt around my neck and dragging two roller bags with one hand while pulling the stroller from the front with the other. I have abandoned the rest of my family because I’m not letting this woman out of my sight. We’re catching the plane dammit!
No we’re not.
Now, before I continue there are a couple things we should get out in the open. First is, our 6:44AM flight has been changed, without notice, to a 6:30AM flight. This means, that by the standard “10 minutes before departure” rule, we need to be at the gate by 6:20 and not the 6:34 I expected.
The second is that we’ve made it, despite the obstacles literal and figurative, at exactly 6:19AM. We’ve made it to the gate just in time. We’ve made it.
Except that, the dainty woman in pink with the quaint but unidentifiable accent tells me, they’ve already closed the door.
At this point, Amy, her father, and the older kids come huffing and puffing down the terminal and collapse in a pile of bags, coats, and other sundry items. I got to deliver the news that the plane we were supposed to be on, the plane that, in fact, was about 50 feet from where we were standing and in full view through a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows, that plane that was being beautifully lit by the rising sun, would soon be leaving without us.
This was not news received well. It was time for the funny-voiced dainty woman in pink and I to have a conversation.
She seemed to think that putting us on the 8:30 flight was sufficient enough and that I should be happy with that. Why, I’m not sure. As far as I was concerned, we bought tickets for a 6:44 flight that turned into a 6:30 flight that was in the process of backing away from the gate at this very moment.
“Dis flayt his ulwees beane aht sis dirty,” she told me.
My brain was able to translate this to mean she was telling me there never was a 6:44 flight. I hollered for Amy to provide me with the printed out e-mail confirmations she had that clearly showed our 6:44 departure time.
“You must have booked through a third party,” she said in that accent that I’ll no longer annoy you by writing in.
“The e-mail is from firstname.lastname@example.org. Does that sound like a third party to you ma’am?” I asked as politely as I could.
This back and forth continued for a while when she finally said there was no more information she could provide and I should call the 1-800 number.
It was about 6:45 in the morning and the 1-800 number, it turns out, doesn’t open for business until nine. Also, as I may have mentioned, IT WAS THANKSGIVING DAY! I didn’t bother with that number again for a few days.
The one good thing that did come out of this snafu on this particular morning was that the 8:30 flight was so full, the dainty, accenty, pinky woman was left with no choice but to upgrade us to business class and, even then, we made her do that twice so we were all sitting across from each other, just as in our orginal reservations, rather than in two separate rows.
Once on the plane, admittedly, the staff was wonderful. They helped us with the babies while we loaded up our luggage and immediately offered us refreshments. During the flight they were as sweet as could be and, once in Atlanta, again helped with our egress.
Our time in Atlanta was lovely. There was the juiciest turkey we’d ever eaten and some wonderful homemade stuffing. There was plenty more too, but all I eat for Thanksgiving is turkey and stuffing. (Except that I am now just remembering that there was a plate of bacon too. FANTASTIC! I think this should become a new staple.) I was anointed the godfather to my youngest nephew Charlie and went to an all-you-can-eat Brazilian steakhouse. All you can eat steak is as enjoyable as it is dangerous.
The day before we were to leave again, I called up the 1-800 number to get to the bottom of how 6:44 became 6:30 and how ten minutes before departure became twelve.
The woman at customer service listened to my story and asked for some information. She got down my specifics and brought up the record. Then things got ugly.
First she informed me, the “ten minute” rule actually doesn’t exist. According to her, as soon as everyone is checked in, WAY back on the other side of security mind you, that, if they have permission from the tower, they can leave. How, I asked is this possible?
“We just can,” was the answer offered without much in the way of explanation.
Okay, then, how did they expect a party of seven to make their way from the terminal, through security, and to their gate in no time at all?
“We are not responsible for delays with the TSA.”
“But you said you had all of these children and babies. That’s why you were late.”
“I wasn’t late. I got the gate eleven minutes before your departure time which was twenty-five minutes before OUR departure time.”
This is when she informed me that we weren’t notified of the change because the airline deemed it, in her words, insignificant.
As you can imagine, our discourse continued to ramp up in energy until she offered me this:
“Sir, what happened, happened. Tell me what it is I can do for you now.”
“You can give me any indication whatsoever that you care about your customers and stop telling me this was all my fault.”
“I said that?” she said angrily, “I used the words ‘your fault’?”
It was at this point she took a moment to put me on hold and, after about a twenty-second cooling down period, came back on the phone with an entirely different tone.
I know not what transpired during those twenty seconds. I don’t know if there was a supervisor that gave her some what for or she just found her own version of the customer service Jesus, but within a matter of minutes she had upgraded us all to business class for the return flight as well. Additionally, she refunded the fifty dollars we’d paid for seat assignments for the trip and used the word “sorry” five times in a single sentence.
At the end of the conversation she asked if she’d taken care of all of my concerns. I told her that we had had our rough patch but we were now friends again. If it were possible to hug it out over the phone, we would have done that. It turned out better for me than some others.
The return trip got even easier when a counter agent, seeing our caravan of bags, helpfully offered that, by virtue of our now being business class customers, we were entitled to check two bags apiece for free. Also, there was a special security line for business class passengers that we were encouraged to use.
I’m left wondering in the end, with two very comfortable (or as comfortable as you can be with a baby alternating between squirming, crying, eating, and sleeping on your lap for two hours) flights and two very nice flight crews in our rear view mirror if it wasn’t best for us in the end that we missed that first flight.
I think it probably was.
But, as a final “how do you do” from the airline once we were back in Boston, as easy as it was to check those five bags in, it wasn’t so easy to get them all back. Amy’s roller went on a still unexplained extra day of travel. We eventually got the sucker back, and still don’t know where it went, but it makes one wonder: now that you actually have to pay to check bags, wouldn’t it make sense that they wouldn’t lose them as much? Meh. I’ll leave that to someone else to write about.