I think I have finally recovered from the trauma of our Christmas travel enough to report it here for your amusement. Read it, and be happy you are not us.
Plan: Kick off festivities by going to the Nutcracker downtown on Saturday 12/20, followed by viewing of the fireshow/bonfire and dinner out downtown.
Actual: Did make it to Nutcracker, storm started while we were there and streets started closing. Fire show cancelled, went immediately to car and drove slowly home, stopping at a QFC for a jar of tomato sauce and a baguette—pasta for dinner. Did not need to use sleeping bag, shovel, extra sweaters, or chains that we had packed in car.
Plan: Open presents from each other Sunday (12/21) morning, hang around and pack leisurely, leave house around 8:30 for our 11:30 pm flight to Cleveland.
Actual: Did open presents. Snow very heavy. Continental insists flight is on time. We believe them (mistake #1). G shovels driveway and street itself for three hours, while I pack and fret. Continental still insists flight is on time (by this time, the two carriers that represent 50% of traffic through SeaTac had closed) and refuses to change our tickets unless we pay a $150 per ticket fee plus the difference in fares. So, G puts the chains on the Prius and we load into the car at 6:30 and drive to the airport. About 20 minutes in to the drive we see a car that has skidded onto the triangle between the highway and the exit. Next thing we know, we have skidded and spun a bit and are there too. Police come, and we sit in the car waiting for 40 minutes for a tow truck to pull us back on the road (no room for shovel in car once suitcases were in there). $200 fee. Against my advice, G opts to continue to airport (mistake #2). We get there, check in, proceed to gate. There are people lining every wall and in every chair who have been there for hours, or even days—sleeping in makeshift sleeping bags. M, who had slept through the car ride, is now awake, C eventually falls asleep. Continental insists our flight is on time. Around 10:40, Continental cancels all flights except ours and the one to Newark. Around 11:25, Continental cancels our flight. Says “go home, and call to rebook your ticket.” The line at Continental service does appear to be about 200 people long, and we have the kids…so we believe them (mistake #3). Takes over 90 minutes to get our checked bags back, during which I wait on hold with Continental before call gets dropped. Drive very slowly home, again wait on hold for over an hour before call is dropped. Arrive home, figure we can get through in the morning.
Plan: Get new flight on Continental.
Actual: Finally get through to Continental around 9 am, and they have no flights out available until 12/27 redeye. And we would still be returning on 12/31 in the morning. Hmmm. That bites. The other option is to return on 1/6, through Houston, after C starts school and G is supposed to be in Boston for work. Cancel flight.
Plan: So, we’ll do Christmas on our own in Seattle. I mean, we are snowed in, and we have already opened the presents here, and I had the new boots for C and new snowsuit for M sent to Cleveland, but we’ll be fine right?
Actual: Can hear my mom starting to cry on the phone. I then cry off and on for the morning, with “my parents haven’t seen the baby since she was born!” being the most common refrain, “our presents are all in Cleveland” being slightly quieter. G lasts about two hours before he finds new flights on Orbitz.
Plan: Fly to Cleveland on 12/26 through Toronto on United, fly home on 1/2 through Philly on US Airways.
Hold on: Toronto? G’s passport is expired. Call Orbitz, they say it is a domestic flight and we just need regular driver’s licenses. Believe Orbitz, decide all is well (mistake #4).
Interlude: 2 days of playing in the snow, grocery shopping with chains on the car (no food in house due to planned trip). Have friends over for Christmas Eve dinner (Nice thing #1). Christmas day dawns with no presents, but C seems unaware that anything is amiss. Have mentioned that “
AmazonSanta thinks we are in Cleveland”. More snow Christmas day, but able to make it to a kind friends house for Christmas brunch (Nice thing #2).
Plan: Will drive to airport at 5 am on 12/26 to make 8 am flight to Toronto, with my passport, G’s expired passport, our driver’s licenses, and birth certificates for the kids.
Actual: Check airport website on Christmas and there is no airport parking, and no available offsite parking. G heads to neighbor’s to interrupt their Christmas party and finds number of a car service, they will pick us up at 5 am.
Plan: Get picked up by car service (they are driving a Yukon to fit car seats and make it up our hilly street).
Actual: Car service makes it. Car seats are in, kids are relatively ok given 4 am wake up. But wait…G can’t find his driver’s license. 30 minutes of searching ensues. It is gone. (mistake #5)
Plan: Attempt to board Toronto flight with just the expired passport, since it is a domestic flight.
Actual: Actually, the expired passport went unnoticed by the United ticketing agent, but the lack of passports for the girls turns out to be a deal breaker. We will not be getting on our 8 am Toronto flight.
Plan: United guy is quite sympathetic (perhaps because, for only the second time of this ordeal, I have burst into tears in line?) and rebooks our flight at no charge (Nice thing #3). We are now flying to DC at 1 pm and then catching a connection to Cleveland, landing around 11:30 pm.
Actual: Wait around airport for five hours—get some breakfast, G sleeps in the restaurant, girls and I take three shuttle trains each way just to visit the airport Borders. Boarding time comes and goes. Finally board the plane…and there is mechanical difficulty. Struts need fluid. Sit on plane for 2 hours. Finally take off. We are going to miss our connection by over 2 hours.
Plan: G calls Holiday Inn Dulles before we have even taken off. Will see what United’s plan is once we land.
Actual: United had their act together—three agents dealing with the line of passengers who missed connections, gave us our new tickets for the next morning, a Hilton hotel voucher, and three meal vouchers. They will be keeping our checked luggage. So we are carseat free—can’t take a cab. Can only find a Marriott van shuttle, but it is willing to take us to the Holiday Inn. The holiday inn is willing to take the Hilton voucher (Nice thing #4), and has free tooth brushes and tooth paste. We will be wearing our same clothes however. Into bed at midnight, up at 5 am.
Plan: Catch 6 am shuttle to airport, get breakfast, get our 8:30 flight to Cleveland.
Actual: Got the shuttle, got to airport, go to security (they gave us boarding passes last night right?—mistake #6). Maybe because it is DC, or maybe because the agents here are playing closer attention, they notice that G’s passport is expired. We are all taken over to talk to a supervisor. He makes us sweat, but then lets us through. However, he points out that our boarding passes are for the other flight, for this one we just have an itinerary. So we need to go back out, through United check in, and then back through security. However, he does speak to someone who will let us cut in line at security (nice thing #5).
Plan: Get to Cleveland. Whatever it takes.
Actual: Do manage to check in and get through security. Get breakfast at Five Guys. Give other two vouchers to other families with young kids (we need all the good karma we can get). Get on plane. It is mostly on time. Get to Cleveland. It is about 10 am on 12/27.
Aftermath: Given short stay plus weekend days plus holiday on 1/1, cannot figure out a way to get G a new license or passport before we had to fly back out on 1/2. He was questioned carefully again by security in Cleveland, but we all made it on the flight to Philly, and then the flight from Philly (after two gate changes, and leaving about an hour late) made it to Seattle—six hours of sitting on a plane with a sleeping M on my lap. Over an hour to get baggage (thanks for putting out the car seats last guys!) and met by car service and we were home, sweet home around 2 am on 1/3. G got up right at 7 and managed to get a temporary replacement driver’s license that day, as he was flying out on 1/4 to Boston.
Remember, we did all this in the company of a five year old and a 8.5 month old. And to be honest—they were completely awesome. C sat in the airport and did mazes or practiced her writing for hours. When we got to the hotel in DC, she said “I am going to unpack my backpack and start playing!” There were no tears even with the time change, crazy hours, and long stretches of boredom. M slept on just about every flight, happily crawled around in the airport, and except for one stealth pee all over her outfit shortly before the DC flight boarded, she was a very low maintenance baby.
1. Always plan on taking car service to and from the airport.
2. If all the flights are getting cancelled…your flight is going to get cancelled too. Rebook early, while there are still flights available. Even if there is a fee, it will probably be cheaper than, say, buying new tickets + paying a tow fee when you go off the road in the snow.
3. Consider packing clean underwear and socks if you have a tight, late night connection in your carryon luggage.
4. Check for your license the night before your flight.
5. Don’t believe the Orbitz phone answering person about major issues such as whether you need a passport or not.
6. Next year, we stay here—and people can fly to us instead.