HOW NOT TO BE A VICTIM OF AIRLINE INCOMPETENCE
Jet Blue’s now infamous tarmac fiasco prompted one mom to create these Family Travel Tips to ease the discomfort and frustration when flights are delayed or canceled.
*Have no expectations of your day of travel, either high or low. It could be a flawless day of travel, or it could be an ordeal. Either way, family travel is hectic. Remember that your goal is to reach your destination.
*Expect the unexpected: You'll be flexible and ready to go when and where the airline is. If you're delayed, rerouted, gate-switched, equipment switched, grounded on the tarmac, or your flight is canceled, be ready to go with it.
*Know the rules: Read up on TSA and airline guildelines and know what you can have in your carry-on. Remember, the limit is typically one or two bags per passenger. If you are traveling with two kids, you can have more carry-ons to account for what they're not carrying!
*Anticipate delays, detours, and unexpected layovers. Always pack your carry-on as if you were going to live out of it for 24 hours. Bring snacks for your kids (you never know what will be available in the airport or on the plane), a change of clothes for everyone, medications (adult and children’s Tylenol are an absolute must) toothbrushes, games, toys, and books. If you absolutely need it, carry it with you.
*Have a back-up plan: If the weather looks bad and you fear your flight might be canceled and you must reach your destination, make a rental car reservation -- you can always cancel. For longer distances, call Amtrak and explore that possibility well before your fellow passengers think of it.
*Have off-site help available: mom, husband, travel agent, someone you can reach quickly who will have phone and Internet access. They can look at Amtrak's schedule online for you, then reserve a car while you call Amtrak to see if seats are available.
*Keep the kids informed. Explain to your kids ahead of time all the eventualities. Tell them about changes and what might be coming up. Enlist them to help the group get through the day.
*Keep a low profile. Don't fuss, scream, object, lie, or otherwise make a spectacle of yourself. You are at the mercy of overworked, overtired, often cranky and sometimes downright mean people who work at the airport. You don't want your vacation ruined because of someone like that!
*Know when to bow out - even when it's not your fault. On one trip another passenger insulted my kids, moved our luggage and shouted at my husband. He responded in kind, and even though other passengers around us were siding with my husband, the flight attendant didn't see what had happened and called the captain. At that point I grabbed our carry-ons and the kids and dragged my husband from the plane. We resolved the situation -- and got names and titles of employees as well as names of all passengers sitting near ou family who witnessed the incident, filed all due reports and objections to the airline's handling of the situation -- and the airline rebooked us on another flight. I would have much rather spent the evening that way than in some security office being interrogated by rent-a-cops.
*Find a way to make it fun, even when things get their worst, The flight we were rebooked on had an overnight layover in Dallas. When we landed we booked a room at the airport Hilton, went to the hotel bar, had cocktails and bar appetizers and relaxed until the day's stresses were a faded memory. It was quite novel for our kids to be up that late, to run around an empty bar, to see the planes taking off and landing, and eating fun exotic foods. The next morning we got a fresh start to our trip, which went flawlessly.
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Scotty Reiss, journalist, author, mother of two.