Saturday, December 16, 2017

Solo Parent Flight to Texas with 4 Kids = 1 terrified parent

Kids ages:
C - 9
S - 7
V - 5
E - 2 (just 2 weeks shy of 3)

The trip was originally planned for the entire family to travel together.  I based it off school dates from 2016 before I was made aware that the 2017/18 school schedule was one week less over Christmas due to Maryland governors plan to move the start date of school until after Labor Day.  Then my husband started a new job, although that could have been worked around, then he was asked to support several programs in church and finally it seemed the only solution was to move his flight to a week later.  

A trip from Maryland to Texas is about 7 hours total in flight time, counting separate flights and layover time, not counting 1.5 hour travel time to the airport and pre-flight time of about 1.5 - 2 hours so all together it's more like a 10 hour day until we land and reach family who can help with the little darlings.

I planned as thoroughly as possible with meals packed, iPod per child with 2 back up batteries each and new content.

We had everyone sleep in comfortable day clothes so they wouldn't have to change in the morning.

The flight was at 7:50 so we had to leave the house at 5am and drive 1.5 hours to Baltimore.  Our luggage check in was easy, we had brought an empty duffel for winter coats.  Security was easy due to my TSA-pre status (will work with all kids until the oldest turns 12).  Finding our gate was easy, boarding was well executed and done during the family boarding on Southwest after the A group is boarded.  The first flight went exceptionally well, kids watched their movies, I could have pulled out my laptop and worked if I'd wanted to!  

We landed in Detroit, MI.  Yes, we had to go UP before we could go DOWN.  I've heard that for our destination it's either there or Tennessee but I'd rather the latter, sometimes there's no other option when ordering 6 months in advance.  We sat for only 30 minutes while picking up new passengers.  I changed the little one's diaper, went to the bathroom and then committed my first serious error of the day.  I asked the kids if they needed to use the bathroom, they all said no, and I didn't make them go.  Cue horror music.

Just as the plane started to move my 3rd announces the need to use the bathroom.  I told her she had to wait until we were in the clouds.  We then had to stop for 15 minutes to de-ice the plane.  Teeth gritted, I watch them spray down the plane in green stuff.  We finally take off and due to weather turbulence they don't let us up for almost 30 minutes, so she held it for 45 minutes!  During that time oldest wanted to go.  Then I made my 2nd major error of the day.  I passed out food before they went to the bathroom and then had to move it all for them to get out and back in!  What's wrong with me?  I only fly like 6-8 times a year for business!  Egads.  I thought maybe the oldest would be adept enough to move her drink but she came back and promptly lifted the tray table with a full drink on it, knocking it to the floor while I'm practically shouting "grab your drink" as I see it all happen in slow motion and try to grab it as the lunchable on my lap hits the ground, crackers everywhere.  

As a personal reminder, zip lock bags are a great way to consolidate trash which seems to build up in large quantities with four kids.  They each need their own because they were handing me stuff left and right.  

About half way through the 2nd flight, youngest is in urgent need of a nap and gets really mad that she's stuck in her seat with more turbulence and thus in her seat belt.  I misunderstand the pilot and think he's landing in 15 minutes but he said we were getting in 15 minutes early and then suddenly tiny tot falls asleep with massive turbulence so I spend the remainder of the hour flight holding her head so she's not whipping back and forth on the chair.  Fortunately the others settled down and tiny tot remained asleep until we land upon which she's angry at being stuck in a small place.  I look at my boarding pass and note we have 35 minutes before our next flight and my anxiety goes into overdrive.  Maybe the pilot had earlier said 15 minutes later?  

I had already pre-packed my side before the nap so I hoped the 2 sitting across from me were capable of finding all their stuff.  People were between us as passengers tend to fill the aisle, no way to double check their side.  When space opened up I sent them out in a line while grabbing our over head trolley and followed, piled down with bags.  The flight attendants were awesome, they held all kids at the front until I stumbled out.

We went in immediate search for a flight tracker sign, the airport was jam packed with people, fortunately my crew stayed close.  The first sign confusingly did not show our flight.  I took this news surprisingly well considering earlier anxieties and started looking for the Southwest customer service.  We then came across another sign that showed our flight and it was across the hall from where we had come in AND it was scheduled to leave an hour later.  Great!  So we had time for bathroom breaks, reorganize bags, Starbucks, and 15 minutes play time before boarding the next flight.

Here is where I made my 3rd major error of the day.  Our tickets had boarding in the A group, so I thought that might be easier then waiting for family boarding.  I was wrong.  After giving our tickets to the ticket guy and following the kids down the jet bridge my bags started to fall apart.  The girl behind me simply walked past as I frantically grabbed at bags, then the next guy sauntered by, then the next.  I was separated from my kids by at least 3 people.  As I boarded the plane the flight attendant looked worried as she'd just seen 4 kids board without an adult, the lady behind them had not laid claim so they were confused.  I said yes they're mine, explained the bags and she then called over the loud speaker to explain there were 4 unattended kids with parent coming.  This completely unnerved me.  In hindsight it doesn't sound as bad as it felt at the time, I guess all prior stress had added up.  Next time, I'll just wait for family boarding because I'm pretty sure other families would not charge past me.  Fortunately this flight was uneventful and only 45 minutes long.  

In hindsight, we over packed which led to me being bogged down with bags at different points.  Each kid had a backpack, they had crammed some bulky toys in at the last minute that I wish I'd put into checked luggage because they got heavy and kids didn't want to hold them when we got to Dallas.  I had a food bag, computer bag, diaper bag and trolley which was annoying at keeping all bags intact and they kept swinging around and throwing us off-balance.  Need to work on that set up and on the return plan to not have diaper bag, I think we can live with 3 diapers, wipes and changing mat stuffed into my computer bag.  Oh, we also had two neck pillows that ended up on the floor and everywhere.  Those are going into checked luggage for the return.  

Overall, it really wasn't too bad.  I can't anticipate every potential issue and the kids did their best.  I'm just really glad it's all over.  We want to travel to Texas every other Christmas so the next will be 2019 and youngest will be 4 about to turn 5 so it will be a completely different situation then.  

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