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This week under the tent at the beach, the topic turned to nightmare airline stories. Everybody had plenty to share—we’re all international travelers, after all, and we’ve all done our fair share of traveling.

I relived the day-long trip to Hawaii to meet the grandparents when the twins were 4 months old and Elliot nearly 2, and how the airline attendant told me I couldn’t put the twins down for their naps in the bulkhead area, even in their car seats, because he “often ran around the airplane and he might trip over them.” I’m not making this up—he told me that he “ran” around the airplane. That was when I realized that if you don’t pay for a ticket for your under-2 children, they put a little star by your name and do all they can to make your flight hellish. I knew this because the couple next to us had paid for their 2 year-old, and the airline attendant smiled fondly at her as she spread out all her toys in the prime race-through area, and spilled watercolour paints on the carpet.

I remembered my silent cold fury last summer at how American Airlines charged me $2 each for crummy little faux food Otis Spunkmeyer muffins on a flight leaving at 5:30 a.m. and arriving at 11 a.m. when I was traveling with 3 children, thereby proving that they’re not cutting costs, they’re raising money—you can’t tell me that’s their cost.

But I also remembered my absolutely favorite travel experience—one that was fun for me but nightmarish for my fellow-travelers.

Elliot was nearly 3 and a very cute little boy—he had brown curls, big brown eyes, and he was excessively verbal. He would chatter on to anyone, which made even grocery store trips extra long and involved. The twins had just turned one, and were still cuddly and needing to be carried most places. We had to fly from Portland to Arizona, and we were a little late boarding. The woman at the check-in counter apologized that she couldn’t seat us together but told us not to worry—just ask people and they’ll move, she assured us. You’d think with her experience she’d have had a more realistic view of the American traveling public.

We’d paid for 3 seats and none were next to each other. The plane had 2 rows of 3 seats each going down each side. Donn took Abel and went off to his seat on the right side of the plane. Holding Ilsa in one arm and Elliot by the hand, we found our seats. Both were center, one right in front of the other. I looked at the 4 adults comfortably ensconced in their requested aisle or window seats, and queried politely, “Would anyone be willing to move so that I can sit next to my toddler?”

No one would even look at me. 4 pairs of eyes stared straight ahead. “Anyone?” I said, desperately. No one responded.

“Right,” I said briskly. In my opinion, they were on their own from there on out. I settled Elliot into the seat behind mine. I put his purple backpack containing toys and games and books under his seat, leaned over Ms. Aisleseat to do up his seatbelt, and sat down in front with Ilsa on my lap.

Elliot immediately did what he could to make his seat-mates feel at home and all cozy-like. He decided to tell them about the time he’d had the flu several months earlier. Only, with a toddler’s grasp of time, it came out a bit differently. “I frew up last night!” he announced at the top of his lungs.

I heard a gasp of horror and a crinkling of a paper bag. “If you think you’re going to be sick, do it in here,” said Ms. Aisleseat, a distinct note of panic in her voice. Elliot had fun playing with the bag and telling her in detail about how often he’d thrown up, etc. Finally I took pity on her and explained this was months ago. She narrowed her eyes at me skeptically but I didn’t care.

Mr. Windowseat, obviously a businessman, had gotten out his laptop. Elliot was thrilled. He loved Reader Rabbit Toddler. He spent quite a while telling the man how to play Reader Rabbit Toddler, describing the games, and asking again and again if he could play with the man’s computer.

He spilled his apple juice. He demanded help with crayons. He crumbled cookies. And he talked and talked and talked. He was perfect! He wasn’t bratty or out of control, but he was obnoxious. Normally, I would have run interference and kept him from bothering them, but in this case, they literally asked for it.

I have a feeling that this little flight was educational, though, and that even now, 9 years later, those 2 are still a little more willing to accommodate young mothers, even those who didn’t buy an extra seat for their baby.

 

 

Travel is on my mind because Donn and I leave on Wednesday for nearly 3 weeks. I haven’t figured out how to do automatic posting, but I’m hoping to get online occasionally. We’ll spend our first 8 days touring Morocco (yes that’s where we’re hoping to move next) and looking at business and school options in four different cities. Then we’re going to a conference in the US. Should be a busy time, so don’t be surprised if I don’t post for a while. On the other hand, we’ll be in countries with decent internet connections…

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