Monday, March 31, 2008

The American Way

In what now seems like another life, I was a college recruiter and later, a corporate recruiter. Each fall, I'd spend roughly 12 weeks traveling from Sunday through Friday. While my Hendrix colleagues spent most of their time driving around Arkansas, I spent mine in major cities in Texas, Georgia, Kansas and the like, holding a map across the steering wheel of a rental car, rotating it so that the road was facing the direction that it appeared in front of me, hoping to somehow find the next high school. That, and I spent my time sitting in airports.

Obviously, then, I am a person accustomed to the inevitable drudgery that is air travel, right? Well, let's put it this way: I have trouble doing anything for more than a couple of hours at a time. I don't even watch 3-hour movies. And unfortunately, waiting in the airport alone or with other adults has proven to be vastly different from waiting in the airport with young children. Last summer, we watched a woman, who apparently had never had a child, realize that she'd become so caught up in her book that she'd actually missed her flight. Ah, I remember those days, when my only issue in getting on the plane was figuring out how to carry my magazine, my purse, and my 20 oz. drink at the same time. It's a hard life.

So, I try to keep my family's airport waiting time to a minimum. Arriving an hour before a flight takes off seems to me to be a terribly responsible adult thing to do, so when we were scheduled to depart Little Rock at 8:55 a.m. on a recent Saturday, we found ourselves standing dutifully in the American Airlines line at 8ish.

Now, if you haven't traveled by air recently, you may not be aware that, like their Kroger counterparts, the airline powers-that-be would prefer that you self-check. Unlike Kroger's, however, their process is not streamlined--it's inefficient and counterintuitive. We were able to check in only Tim, since he was the only member of our little family carrying a credit card with his name on it; Emily, Jackson and I were left to stand in The Line. From the moment we queued up, the situation began to deteriorate.

8:10 a.m.* Line does not seem to be moving. At all. Man in front of us looks like one who has slept in the airport. Possibly in The Line.

8:15 a.m. Children restless, begin habitual hanging from my pants. Chose not to wear belt, so as not to get stopped by security; as a consequence, several passengers have now seen my underwear.

8:20 a.m. That's not the only underwear they'll see of mine--Jackson is bored and tired and begging to nurse. I put down the four bags I'm carrying to hoist him up.

8:25 a.m. Wait a minute, doesn't our plane leave in half an hour? Vague panicky feeling sets in.

8:28 a.m. The Line hasn't moved. Apparently, American Airlines personnel only help those who help the self-check lane. They have yet to call a single person from our line. Run out to curbside and beg the man to check us in. Too's now less than 30 minutes until our flight, and I hear the popular phrase of the day for the first time: "There's nothing I can do" (not to be confused with another very overused saying at American, "It's not my problem").

8:33 a.m. Momentarily distracted from our predicament: What is that under Jackson's fingernails?

8:37 a.m. Begin pacing frantically around check-in area. Politely coax passengers ahead of us to allow us to skip ahead, but Line still has not moved. Approach woman at desk out-of-turn, only to be told it's too late, "We've already given your seats away," and, without a hint of irony, "You didn't check in in time."

8:41 a.m. Pack up scattered luggage, deciding vacation is over, it's easier to go home. But wait, a factor we didn't take into account: We have a 5-year-old! Who was promised a Sea World/zoo/Disneyland vacation! The crying begins, and Emily and Jackson join in.

9:48 p.m. (the same day!) We're in San Diego, having luckily encountered American Airlines' single competent employee, who routed us through Chicago, where we (get ready for this) spent nearly 6 hours waiting in the airport!
*times are approximate: my watch is broken.

The remainder of our big travel day passed without incident. By midday, the children were happy and fed and even I was managing to sit through the long flights without too much restlessness. I admittedly kind of enjoyed the uninterrupted lap time (complete with 19 inches of leg room) with my two babies. At one point, I asked Jackson, "How are you today?" He thought about the question for a moment, then looked at me and grinned. "Twenty-one months," he replied. It was just the reminder I needed.


megan said...

Oh, I just get that terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach thinking about y'all stuck in that line. I was delighted to see the Disneyland pictures, though. :o). Looks like the trip was good despite the ridiculous airline incompetence. We miss y'all! Love, Megan

Joy said...

Jackson is the most genius baby I've ever known! I was so stressed for you when I read this. Kind of reminds me of my 4 hours in the airport birthday, but without the children. My day wasn't too bad. I read. :)

JoEllyn said...

Hey Jenny! Melissa told me you had a blog. LOVED your airport story, you are an awesome writer! Too funny. What a crazy day. I have yet to travel with the boys by plane.
I walked by your house today and saw Tim. Your house is SO pretty!