My goal is to become a resource and share tips and tricks I’ve learned from both my own personal research, advice shared with me, as well as personal experience. In an effort of transparency, I’ve mentioned I’ll share the tips, as well as the major fails….well this was a little bit of a major fail 🙂 Even with all the planning in the world, all it took was one canceled flight, three young kids, a crap ton of baggage and all my plans went out the window; with the exception of one thing 🙂
Flying to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
In December, I flew to Rio de Janeiro Brazil, alone with 3 kids from Bozeman, Montana. 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 in fact, that I joked with a friend that the travel gods must have sympathy for me flying alone with my three girls. And so, they helped me not to encounter any major issues while flying to Rio, such as delays or canceled flights. I should have kept my mouth shut 😉
The return trip
Well, the way back….that’s a little bit of a different story. I think I was a little overconfident, exhausted from vacation (does anyone else feel like they a need a vacation after a vacation to recover?!? 🙂 And, I also made the mistake of not listening to my own advice on flying alone with kids. This time, it bit me in the butt.
Hopefully, you can learn from my return “adventures”, find a little humor in it as I can now, months later, as well as remember, things will happen when you travel. The best advice I can share is to be as prepared as you can through planning and organization. Then, after that, be ready to 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 was supposed to depart Rio de Janeiro at 11 pm. My
They did pretty well considering the time going through security, and getting to the gate. There were some moments….but with a fresh pão-de-queijo , Brazilian cheese bread snack, and a fresh-squeezed juice, we did ok.
Now I say ok because they rode in this 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 wagon saved me so many times during our trip. In fact so much so, that now anytime I have friends traveling, I tell them that this is a necessity to make traveling with kids smoother!
This is when it started to get interesting. We had boarded on time, and everything was going well.
A perk to flying with young children is that you can choose to board first. I took advantage of this and as soon as we got to our seats, I started setting the kids up.
I always wait to unpack and really get settled until the plane is moving and I know for sure we are taking off. Is this a superstition, maybe. But I’ve had enough flights canceled on me, that I never unpack or get settled until the plane starts to move.
However, this time I didn’t heed my own advice. The kids were so tired, and my 4-year-old was starting to have meltdowns. So I knew this time, I needed to get them ready for bed so they would fall asleep during take-off.
One aspect that I did well is that I anticipated the late-night and so I had them arrive at the airport in their pj’s. This way, it was one less thing we needed to do on the plane. Plus, the idea of them changing clothes alone in an airplane bathroom grossed me out 🙂 So to get them ready for bed, I got their inflatable foot cushions (these are a NECESSITY when traveling with kids!), blankets, pillows, sleeping masks….everything ready for them.
Child #1 down
By this point, my 4-year-old was cranky and starting to cry about the tv show she couldn’t hear. She wanted her headphones which were packed away. I was the “bad mama” and wanted them to fall asleep now. After a bit of complaining, she finally gave in and fell asleep.
Child #2 down
At this point, my baby was still in the Ergo carrier. You have to wait for the bassinet until the plane reaches cruising altitude. Thank goodness she wasn’t mobile and could be contained fairly easily.
I gave her some milk, and she was out. Ok, so two down, one to go.
So at this point, I had two kids asleep but my 3rd, Sophia (my 6-year-old) was starting to complain she was hungry…..ummmm whoops.
My biggest mistake-no snacks
This was one of the biggest mistakes I made. I didn’t pack snack bags for this flight, because I had figured that we would eat on the plane and that we would be sleeping most of the ride anyways as we had on the way there.
Plus, with a 7 hr layover in Texas, I figured there would be ample time to stock up on snacks for the remaining flights. And to be honest, I was trying to cut back on the amount of stuff I had to lug around by myself. Big mistake. Because at this point, with two asleep and one starving….we were officially delayed.
I still am not sure exactly what the issue had been because it was something that impacted the speaker system. As a result, 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 was complaining about how hungry she was. To the point that she couldn’t fall asleep until she ate. Great. At this point, I’m was just praying the plane took off.
An hour went by. Sophia was still hungry and awake. Thankfully, the other two were still sleeping and hadn’t woken up. We got another “update” informing us that they had someone taking a look, and takeoff would be delayed another hour….around 1 am. Double crap. How would I keep a hungry child that is almost 5 hours past dinner from getting too antsy?
“Your flight has been canceled. “
Then came the dreaded announcement that you never want to hear when traveling. “This flight has been canceled. Please grab your belongings and exit the aircraft.”
There are no appropriate words that I can repeat here that started going through my head when that announcement came. A canceled flight traveling by yourself or with another adult….an annoyance. Traveling with a child/children with another adult….difficult but doable. A canceled flight, traveling alone with 3 young children…..impossible, a nightmare and any other word along those lines. For the first time during my entire 6 weeks traveling overseas with the girls, I started to panic.
Jokes on me
I had a friend that traveled down to Brazil to spend a week with us. The night before, we had been joking about her horrible trip down. She had numerous delayed and canceled flights, and she flew alone. Then there was me; a mama traveling alone with 3 young kids. My flight from Bozeman, MT to Brazil over a month earlier was pretty much perfect ;). We joked that the plane gods must have felt so sorry for me traveling alone with kids. Which is why they wouldn’t put me through a canceled flight. Whoops, I spoke way too soon. The joke was on me.
Canceled flight. By this point, I could barely think. My head was racing. While everyone else around me was trying to grab their things and exit the aircraft, I sat there in my bulkhead seat, with two kids sleeping, all my crap everywhere, completely paralyzed.
Book another flight out of Rio
I sat there frantically texting my parents to see if they could book me on another flight out of Rio. Being that we were inside the plane, and still overseas, my wifi usability was pretty sparse. (Have you ever noticed that the airport wifi quality seems to go in the toilet as soon as you board the plane?) They could get me on another flight, with one minor (but in my head at the time major) change. I would lose the bulkhead seats that I had booked months in advance.
To me, that bulkhead space was my sanity. It not only gave us a little extra room, but it had the baby bassinet. Flying alone, for 24 hours of travel time, that bassinet meant that for those 8 hrs, I got to free my arms. My baby slept well in the bassinet, which meant I could sleep. I needed that sleep. I am not a person that even remotely functions on little sleep. Especially with three littles relying 100% on me.
I was exhausted and after doing everything “right” and planning ahead so it was a smooth trip, I was not looking forward to flying home without this bassinet. Would it have been the end of the world…no. But at the time it sure felt like it.
What I would do differently next time
I had all my flight info and had emailed it to my husband but that was it. So I was inside a plane with no real way to get new flights myself. I don’t like asking for help, and trying to explain to my parents and husband over spotty connection what I needed, flight numbers, card numbers, and trying to figure out the situation around me, it was a disaster.
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, by this point, I was scrambling to get off the plane as well as try and get documents and info emailed to them.
Deplaning at 2 A.M. = chaos
At 2 AM, everything around me on the plane was chaos. Everyone was pushing and shoving trying to grab their items and get off the plane. At this point, everyone needed to de-plane, retrieve their checked bags, go back through customs and find a cab and hotel. All of this at 2 AM.
I was in the middle of it all, standing up, in shock, just watching everyone. As I watched everyone grab their carryons, neck pillows, purses and head towards the exit, all I could do was watch. Because surrounding me was pure chaos. The floor in front of us was full off all the kid’s gear. The seats were full of pillows, blankets, jackets, and animals. Then I had four carryon bags in the overhead bin in both aisles on either side of us. The only reason I had been able to get on and off the planes up until this point was with the help of my oldest two daughters. This time it was on me to carry everything plus get kids out.
I was almost in tears by this point. I caught the attention of a flight attendant walking the aisles helping. I’m not sure what I thought she could do, but what I did know is that I couldn’t do this alone, and no one around me would help.
Until this moment, 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 to be done. Well, this situation was humbling. Even now, a year later, I realize that there is no chance I would have been able to get off that plane at 2 AM without the help of two incredible United Airlines employees.
My guardian angel- A United Airlines employee
I must have looked as panicked as I felt because when the flight attendant made eye contact with me, she immediately stopped what she was doing and took control of my chaos.
This flight attendant asked for the location of my bags and grabbed the two bags from the overheads across the aisle from me. She then grabbed the backpacks and started packing all the kid’s stuff back in the bags. Socks, shoes, eye masks, blankets, animals, etc.
Throughout this, she was on her radio talking to someone to make sure that my wagon was right outside the plane door waiting for me. (I’m telling you, if you are flying with kids, you want this wagon!) To give you an idea, if I hadn’t had her help to get the wagon upon deplaning, I would have had to get all my gear and the three kids to walk a mile to baggage claim, at 2 AM. In my eyes, she performed a miracle.
The kids at 2 AM
Through all of this, Sophia was just looking at me with a deer in a headlight stare, the baby was starting to fuss because of all the noise and commotion and so she wanted to eat again. Then there was my 4-year-old, Mariana. She was still sound asleep.
I tried everything to wake her up, and I mean everything. From bribery to crying, to begging to threatening her (not my proudest moment). 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 packed away enough to get off the plane. Sophia went ahead with the flight attendant (who was carrying several bags), 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 somehow made it down those narrow aisles and off that plane. I walked out the door and my second guardian angel was waiting. A second United employee was waiting for me with my wagon!!!
This was all the help I could have hoped for. I just needed help getting it all off the plane and my wagon. From there, as tired as I was, I knew I could get through the rest alone. Also, I knew how many other passengers there were that needed help. I figured this was all the help they could dedicate to a single person. But they both surprised me.
I didn’t think it could get any worse
I had expected to be on my own with the wagon, kids, and baggage. Instead, this gentleman took one look at the hot mess we were and helped me open the wagon and load it.
What had happened up until this point, I thought was hard. I had no idea it could get any worse. Ohhhhh, but it did; a lot worse. Now I can laugh. Then, I didn’t know whether to yell at my kids or just cry.
As soon as the wagon was opened, I shoved the duffel and backpack in. I wanted to get the soft bags in and then the girls could sit on top like they had done the other times. Instead, Mariana immediately climbed in on top of the two bags and passed out, sprawled over the entire wagon.
That still left two bags, a suitcase, two blanket/pillows, and two kids. Sophia had held it together until this point. But as soon as she saw her sister sprawl over the whole wagon, she started crying. She was hungry, exhausted and had nowhere to sit.
The wagon fight
Now, this wagon is amazing, if you are planning on flying any time soon with kids, you would be crazy to not get one! It fit all my bags plus both girls. BUT, only when girls were awake enough to be aware of their body space.
That awareness and flexibility went out of the window this time. I tried everything to convince Sophia to walk….it wasn’t going to happen. So trying to resolve the problem myself, I moved Mariana’s legs just enough so Sophia could squeeze next to her. That failed.
As soon as Sophia sat in the wagon, Mariana immediately moved back to her original stretched out position…..aka legs on top of Sophia. Sophia wanted nothing to do with that. And then, this is where the hitting, punching, and kicking started.
It was a bad scene from the movies
This whole time, the amazing flight attendant was 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 had decided to stay and continue to help me as well.
So he started pulling my wagon with both fighting girls so I could carry the baby and a backpack. All civilness between my kids went out of the window. They were fighting over space. Mariana wanted to sleep and Sophia was 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 was 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 made it up the ramp back to the terminal. Bless these employees’ hearts….they had an airport golf cart waiting with seats saved for us. Most of the seats were already taken, but the last row was open. Even though the two employees were there trying to get us settled, there were still other plane passengers arguing with these employees for “my seats.” I’m so lucky the flight attendant informed them, that those seats were mine and they would need to wait. #THANKFUL.
The airport cart
Now imagine this. My 4-year-old had still not fully woken up. She was sound asleep. My 6-year-old was then crying and complaining and the baby was crying too while contained in the ergo carrier.
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 sister 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.
I turned around, and Mariana had slid right off the seat of the cart. Sophia wanted nothing more to do with helping her sister. So I sat down, one kid on each side so they couldn’t attack the other, backpacks werre on my lap, and the flight attendant stored the rest of my stuff somewhere else on the cart.
With each new stage of getting out of the airport, I figured that I would be on my own. Understandably, the two employees would need to get back to their own jobs. Especially seeing how the gentleman worked with the baggage under the plane.
So I guess I assumed 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 assumed they had to go finish helping others. Their help saved me, and I was so thankful. But I still had to make it through customs and figure out how to get out of the hotel because my gear wouldn’t fit in a standard size taxi. And at this time of night, there wouldn’t be many options on that front.
The Internet was finally back!
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. Flights still needed to be re-booked, I needed a special taxi or two Ubers because I had too much stuff to fit in a normal-sized 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-law’s house.
Well, the cart got us most of the way. We got off, and I loaded all our stuff back in the wagon and started walking. Kids were still crying and kicking/ hitting each other. Except at this point… 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 out.
Then, out of nowhere, the same two United employees showed up. Their timing couldn’t have been more impeccable because I was at my last straw with the kids. The flight attendant grabbed my roller bag and duffle bag so the girls could have more room, the gentleman grabbed my wagon and right away started trying to reason with the girls. That left me with just the baby and a backpack.
Customs at 2 A.M is a new experience
We got to customs….and the line was HUGE. With all the complications, we were the last people there. Everyone had passed us with all the times we had to stop.
Again, I could feel the tears about to come. How on earth was I going to wait in a line with my kids like this for the next hour?
Then the flight attendant pulled another trick out of her bag….she walked to the side, moved a barrier, and walked me straight up to a customs window. I bypassed the entire line.
Had I not been at the end of my rope, I would have been mortified at all the glares I was getting:) It still ended up taking forever to get through because I was entering on an American passport with a tourist visa, and the 3 girls were entering on Brazilian passports. So they had to get authorization from supervisors to allow me through, double-check I had the authorization to enter without the kid’s dad…etc etc.
“Back” in Brazil
Finally, we made it “back into Brazil.” The kids were still crying and fighting. However the baby was sleeping again, and I still had help from the two amazing United employees.
We made it to the 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 vouchers from the airline. The flight attendant once again pulled out another trick. She walked me to the very front, got me a voucher for a taxi, and we bypassed the entire line. Finally, we are almost at the end of this ordeal. All I had to do was make it to the taxi.
Again, I don’t know what I would have done without them and all their help. On top of all the luggage, I had on the plane and had been lugging around, I still had two huge suitcases at the full weight limit checked. Plus I had a car seat bag that I still had to retrieve.
The flight attendant grabbed my bags and they both loaded all three on top of a luggage cart. Just imagine a 5 ft gal pushing a luggage cart so tall that I couldn’t even see over it. The gentleman had my wagon and kids and their gear, and the woman had my roller bag and duffel.
Take me home, taxi
We winded our way through duty-free. We finally made it to the airport exit. By then it was almost 3 AM. In the back of my mind through all of this, I was stressing about how to get back because I knew I had too much stuff for the size of the taxi.
Apparently I worried for nothing because the flight attendant again walked to the front of the taxi line and got me the biggest taxi available. I can’t even describe the relief at this news. With the amount of baggage I had, and the 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 a 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 to Barra, 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 let alone touch another one of them. 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.
Home in Barra
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. (Especially because the previous day had been spent frantically trying to pack and organize everything from the last 5 weeks into bags. Simultaneously 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.
Finding the silver lining
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 canceled planes, I am grateful for companies that make 100% sure that we are safe to fly and don’t do so until it is.
I am grateful that they put our safety first, even if it meant 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 of. 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. I am grateful for the awesome story that I have to share:) I am thankful 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.