My goal is to become a resource and share tips and tricks I’ve learned from both research, as well as personal experience. In an effort of transparency, I’ve told you I’ll share the tips as well as the major fails….well this was a little bit of a major fail 🙂
I flew to Rio de Janeiro Brazil, alone with 3 kids from Bozeman, Montana in December. My way there, I followed my top tips for surviving travel with kids that you can read more about here, and it honestly went really well. So well, that I joked with a friend that the travel gods must have felt so sorry for me, that they helped me not to encounter any major issues while flying such as delays or canceled flights. I should have kept my mouth shut 😉
Well, the way back….that’s a little bit of a different story. I think I was a little over confident, exhausted from vacation (anyone else feel like they always need a vacation after vacation to recover?!? :), and I only followed a few of my own tips.
Hopefully you can learn from my return “adventures”, find a little humor in it like I can now, months later, as well as remember, things will happen when you travel. Best advice I can share is be as prepared as you can through planning and organization and then, roll with the punches that will likely come. Of course, remembering that there is a glass of wine with your name on it waiting for you when you finally make it 🙂 In my case, it was a bottle chilling in the fridge, with a bubble bath while hubby took over the kiddos 😉
So here we go…..buckle up. It was a crazy ride 🙂
Our return flight leaving Rio de Janeiro was supposed to depart at almost 11 pm. My
They did ok going through security and getting to the gate. There were some moments….but with a fresh pão-de-queijo snack, and a fresh juice, we did ok. Now ok, because they rode in the wagon the ENTIRE TIME. It was over a mile walk from security to our gate. Can you imagine a tired, cranky kid having to walk that? Yup. Not happening.
This is when it got good. We boarded on time, everything was going well. Since we were always the first to board with young children, as soon as we got to our seats, I started setting the kids up. Now call me superstitious, but I never unpack, or get settled until the plane is moving and I know for sure we are taking off. But this time I didn’t heed my own advice. I knew that I needed to get them ready to sleep so they could crash as soon as the plane took off because my 4 year old was almost loosing it she was so exhausted.
Anticipating the late night, I had them arrive to the airport in their pjs so it was one lest thing to do on the plane. So instead, I got their inflatable cushions, blankets, pillows, sleeping masks, pillows….everything set up and ready to go. By this point my 4 year old is fussy, starting to cry about the tv show and wanting her headphones which are packed away in her backpack and I refuse to get since I want her to sleep, and the next second she passes out. Because you aren’t given the bassinet until you reach cruising altitude, baby was still in the ergo.
So after some milk, she was out. Ok, so two down, one to go. By this point, Sophia (my 6 year old) is starting to complain she is hungry…..um whoops. I didn’t pack snack bags, because I had figured that we would eat on the plane and with a 7 hr layover in Texas, there would be ample time to stock up on food. Plus to be honest, I was trying to cut back on the amount of stuff I had to lug around. Big mistake. Because now….now we officially are delayed.
Not sure exactly what the issue was because it was something that impacted the speaker system, and so we couldn’t hear what they were telling us. But basically there was an issue, and we were waiting to hear from a mechanic whether it could be resolved. Crap. Two sleeping kids, and one is complaining about how hungry she is and how she can’t fall asleep until she eats. Great. Praying this plane takes off.
An hour goes by. Sophia is still hungry and awake. Thankfully, the other two are still sleeping. We get another “update” informing us that they have someone taking a look, and takeoff will be delayed another hour….around 1 am. Double crap.
“Your flight has been canceled. “
Then comes the dreaded announcement that you never want to hear. “The flight has been canceled. Please grab your belongings and exit the aircraft.” There are no appropriate words that I can repeat that went through my head when that announcement came. A cancelled flight traveling by yourself or with another adult….an annoyance. Traveling with a child/children with another adult….difficult but doable. A cancelled flight, traveling alone with 3 young children…..impossible, a nightmare and any other word along those lines.
My friend who came down to Brazil to spend a week with us had awful connections getting there along with delayed and cancelled flights. We had joked that the plane gods must have felt so sorry for me traveling alone, that they wouldn’t put me through a cancelled flight. Whoops, I spoke way too soon. Jokes on me.
Cancelled flight. My head was racing, I had been trying to text my parents to have them book me on another flight. *But a flight that had a bulkhead seat and a bassinet….because flying alone, being able to free my arms for most the flight and let baby sleep, meant that I got to sleep. I was exhausted, and last thing I wanted to do was after planning everything to be as simple as it possibly could, end up returning home on the overnight flight without the bassinet. Would it have been the end of the world…no. But at the time it sure felt like it. * But being that we were in Brazil, I didn’t have cell service. I was relying on the Wi-fi from the airport. Well have you ever noticed that the Wi-fi doesn’t work well once you are in the plane. Yup, so that was a mess since I couldn’t do it myself and was trying to relay to my parents and husband what I needed them to do for me.
In retrospect, I should have printed off our itineraries for both my parents and husband. Along with information for all flying passengers such as full names, birth dates, social security numbers etc. That way all I would have needed to do was ask them to get me re-booked. Instead I was scrambling to get off the plane as well as try and get documents and info texted.
Deplaning at 2 A.M. = chaos
Then all around me was chaos. Everyone was pushing and shoving trying to grab their items and get off the plane. Because still waiting for us, were whatever bags we had checked at baggage claim, going through customs again, and trying to get a cab and hotel….at 2 am. I’m in the midst of it all, standing up, in shock just watching everyone. Because down in front of me, is all the gear for 3 kids spread out on the seats and floor, sleeping kids, and more bags in overhead bins over both aisles. How on earth was I supposed to get off that plane with just two hands and kids asleep? I had no idea.
About in tears, I was able to grab the attention of one of the flight attendants and all I could ask her was what was I supposed to do? Until this point, I hadn’t thought it was a big deal to travel alone….I’m independent and stubborn and will do whatever is necessary if it needs done. Well this, this situation was humbling. There is 0 chance I would have been able to get off that plane if it were not for the help of two United airline employees.
This flight attendant, asked me where my bags were, grabbed them from the overhead bin over the opposite aisle, and helped me start packing my stuff back in bags. Throughout this, she is on her radio trying to make sure that my wagon is put aside and waiting outside the plane door for me instead of going to baggage claim. Sophia by this point was just looking at me with the deer in a headlight stare, baby was starting to fuss because of all the noise and commotion and so she wanted to eat. Then there was my 4 year old, Mariana….She was passed out to the world. I tried everything to wake her up. She even ended up half on the seat and half on the floor….still sound asleep. After what seemed like forever, I was able to get everything stuffed away enough to try and get off the plane. Sophia went ahead with the flight attendant, and I don’t even remember how I got Mariana and the rest of my stuff off the plane.
Off the pane and now onto the ramp
We made it off, and thankfully for the flight attendant, our wagon was waiting with another United employee. This gentleman took one look at the hot mess we were, and helped me open the wagon. Here began the mass chaos which is funny because I didn’t know it could get worse ;). Now I can laugh. Then, I didn’t know whether to scream or cry. As soon as the wagon opened, I shoved the duffel and backpack in and Mariana immediately climbed in and passed out, sprawled over the entire wagon. Sophia starts crying because its 2 am, she’s exhausted, still hungry, and Mariana has taken over the whole wagon and left no place for Sophia to sit.
Now this wagon is amazing, and fit all my bags plus both girls. BUT, only when girls were awake enough to be aware of their body space. That, that was gone by this point. I tried everything to convince Sophia to walk….wasn’t going to happen. So I moved Mariana’s legs just enough Sophia could squeeze next to her. That failed. As soon as she was sitting, Mariana immediately moved back to her original stretched out position…..aka legs on top of Sophia.Sophia wanted nothing to do with that. This is where the hitting, punching and kicking started.
This whole time, the amazing flight attendant is waiting for me, carrying my roller suitcase and calling ahead to get one of those airport carts to drive me to customs. This other airport employee has decided to help me as well. So he starts pulling my wagon with both fighting girls so I can carry baby and a backpack. All civilness between my kids is out the window. They are fighting over space. Mariana wants to sleep, Sophia is trying to lay down too. Disaster doesn’t even begin to describe the scenario.
It was like a bad scene from the movies. Bless this man’s heart, he is still pulling my wagon and trying to help the girls calm down. Saying things like “you are sisters, you love each other.” “Oh no don’t hit your sister.” ” You love her:)” It was very sweet….but completely ineffective haha.
Back into the terminal
We finally make it up the ramp back to the terminal. Bless these employees hearts….they had an airport golf cart waiting with room saved for us. Several other passengers with disabilities and older passengers were already seated and waiting for us. The last row was open, and several other passengers were fighting to get on. The flight attendant informed them, that those seats were mine and they would need to wait. #THANKFUL.
Now imagine this. My 4 year old has still not fully woken up. She is sound asleep. My 6 year old is still crying and complaining. Baby is in the ergo crying. With the help of these two angles, we got Sophia out of the wagon and onto the backseat of this car. We put Mariana up next to her and I asked Sophia to hug her so she didn’t fall. I still needed to finish unloading the wagon and then fold it down to load in the front of the cart, next to the driver. Turned around, Mariana had slid right off the seat. Sophia wanted nothing more to do with helping her sister. So I sit down, one kid on each side so they can’t attack the other, backpacks on my lap, and the flight attendant stored the rest of my stuff somewhere else on the cart.
I guess I figured that once I was loaded on this cart, that I was on my own to go through customs and baggage claim. Both employees had hundreds more passengers deplaning behind me, and so I figured they had to go finish helping others. I was thankful for the help I had gotten, but stressing at this point about what to do next. I finally had internet again, and my phone was blowing up with messages from my mom, dad and husband trying to figure out what they needed to do. I needed to be re-booked on flights, needed a special taxi or two Ubers, because I had too much stuff to fit in a normal car. I also needed to figure out whether I was going to try and get a hotel that was closer to the airport or drive the 1 hr + back to my mother in laws house.
Well the cart got us most of the way. We went to get off, I got my stuff and kids loaded back in the wagon and started walking. Kids are still crying and kicking/ hitting each other. Except now….now they also started throwing backpacks out of the wagon because they wanted more space. It was a mess. I would make it 10 ft, and then have to stop to help or grab bags that had been thrown overboard. Out of nowhere, these two same angels show up. Right as I’m at my last straw. The flight attendant grabs my roller bag and duffle bag so the girls have more room, the gentleman grabs my wagon and right away starts trying to reason with the girls. I’m left with just the baby and a backpack.
Customs at 2 A.M is a new experience
We get to customs….and the line is HUGE. We are some of the last people there. All I want to do is cry. How on earth am I going to wait in a line with my kids like this for the next hour. Then the flight attendant pulls another trick out of her bag….she walks to the side, moves a barrier, and walks me straight up to a customs window. I bypassed the entire line. We still ended up taking forever to get through because I’m entering on an American passport with a tourist visa, and the 3 girls are entering on Brazilian passports. So they have to get authorization from supervisors to allow me through, double check I have the authorization to enter without the kids dad…etc etc.
Finally, we make it “back into Brazil.”Kids are still crying and fighting, baby is sleeping again at this point, and I still had the help of the two angles that saved me. We made it to baggage claim. Again, all I wanted to do was sit down and cry. There was a huge line, and I was at the back again. They were all waiting to speak to a representative to get a taxi and hotel from the airline. The flight attendant, once again pulls out another trick, and walked me to the very front, got me a voucher for a taxi, bypassing the entire line. We get to baggage claim.
Again, I don’t know what I would have done without them and all their help. I had two huge suitcases at the full weight limit checked, plus a car seat bag that I had to get. The flight attendant grabbed my bags and they both loaded all three on top of a luggage cart. So I am pushing this cart of baggage that is so tall that I can’t even see over. The gentleman has my wagon and kids, and the woman has my roller bag and duffel.
Take me home, taxi
We wind our way through duty free. We finally make it to the airport exit. Its almost 3 am by this point. The flight attendant again walks to the front of the taxi line, and gets me the biggest taxi available. I can’t even describe the relief at this news. With the amount of baggage I had, and number of people I needed to fit into the car, along with the size of most Brazilian cars, I would have needed 2 taxis to get back home. Which meant I was trusting that my bags would hopefully show up at the house since the kids and I would be in a separate car. So the fact that she got me a car big enough for it all…..a blessing.
Again they took over. With the help of the taxi driver, they began loading my bags while I dealt with the chaos of my children. My 4 year old was still sound asleep. So imagine having a baby in front of you in an ergo carrier while trying to lift the dead weight of a sleeping child into a car and buckle them. Interesting to say the least. Sophia was past all hopes of reasoning with and at this point was laying on the sidewalk outside the airport crying saying she wouldn’t get in the car. It was full on meltdown for her. Baby still in front of me, I had to try and get her in the taxi. I’d half get her in and she would have her legs locked and shoved against the door frame of the car preventing me from loading her. I’d try and adjust, and she would end up back on to the ground. Finally I was able to get her in on the floor of the taxi and we put the child lock on the door. Because yes, she was at the point of opening the door the second I would shut it and walk around to get in.
Finally we were all loaded. Two huge suitcases, a huge car seat bag, a roller carry on suitcase, a duffel bag,two backpacks, two pillows, a wagon, 3 kids and 1 adult. The one upside of all this…..it was so late that there was zero traffic to get back to Barra. So what had taken us 1.5 hrs to get to the airport, only took 45 minutes to return. Even better, all three kids slept the entire way back.
Finish line…..at least in my head 🙂
That overwhelming feeling of relief as soon as we were all loaded in the taxi driving back, I can’t even describe. Because as soon as I arrived at the house, the security guard from the front gate met me at the taxi and unloaded everything and took it all up the elevator to the house. I didn’t even have to think about my mountain of bags. My mother in law was also there waiting to help me with the girls. Thankfully, they were all still sound asleep and didn’t wake back up again.
Now, a little over a month later….I can write this laughing at the memories. I can look back and see the silver lining. How lucky were we, that we got one extra full day with family. We got one more day to spend and create memories. Because the previous day had been spent frantically trying to pack and organize everything from the last 5 weeks into bags. The entire time making sure that no bags went overweight. So this last day, started with coffee on the deck, sunshine, looking at the ocean while kiddos played. We got an entire extra day to sit and relax with our family. That….that is priceless.
As chaotic and stressful as the night before had been….I can’t help but feel grateful and blessed. I was in an impossible situation. One that in a million years, I would have never expected to happen. It did, but because of two very special United employees……I made it. As much as we gripe and complain over delayed and cancelled planes, I am grateful for companies that make 100% sure that we are safe to fly and don’t do so until it is.
Grateful that they put our safety first, even if it means dealing with hundreds of angry passengers. They didn’t make our plane not take off. But these two individuals certainly did make sure that I was taken care off. They went far above and beyond to make sure I made it from my seat to a mile away curbside taxi pickup.
United…..Thank you. Thank you for the awesome story that I have to share:) Thank you for such amazing employees that would notice me and go out of their way to help. Thank you for making the best out of a difficult circumstance. Most of all, thank you for watching out for us and keeping us all safe.