Monday, August 15, 2011

The Flight Part Two: FRO

Not a whole lot to say about it, really. Compared to my last air adventure, this was a walk in the park.
We were sad to be leaving, but happy to be going back to our own space with our own things once again.

Major difference this time around: I had my husband with me. Four hands. Three seats.  So I had a husband and a stroller in London this time - not sure which I was more thankful for.
E still refused sleep for the most part, but we did manage to stretch her out between us a few times for some power naps. Much better situation over all. It's amazing how much better flying is with two parents and one child. E was out numbered (and happy to have both of us with her, I suspect). My sincere applause to all those reading this that have travelled with more than one child for long distances. It is a tall order with just one. A very tall order.

The only really interesting occurance on the return trip: The Qatari Seat Stealer.

We board our LHR-to-DOH flight in London. Once again a full plane... busting at its seams. We have three seats in the middle. Not too terrible.
A young family with four little boys boards and we see them searching for their seats just in front of us to the right. They were headed to Kenya via Doha. It looks like the mom was supposed to have two boys with her in a row of three, and the dad would have the other two in a row of three with him. Good way to sit for a family of six.
But it seems that someone (actually, two someone's) have sat in two of the dad's three seats. We watch him politely tell the lady that he believes she is sitting in his seat.
We watch her completely ignore him. He looks around nervously and tries again. The woman waves a dismissive hand at him. We see him look at his wife and verify out loud the seat numbers on his tickets. He says a third time "I believe you are sitting in two of our seats".
She says "no" and waves her hand at him again.
So the seatless man signals to a flight attendant, who then strides over and inspects his tickets, looks for his three seats, and yup, two Qatari ladies are sitting in 2/3rd's of them.
She politely explains to the lady in the aisle seat that she and her friend have sat in the wrong seats and asks to see their boarding passes. It looks like their seats should be across the aisle in the the middle area.  She asks the ladies to move to their correct seats and is met with a simple "no" once more. Their faces are covered by their burqas, but their eyes are not meeting the flight attendants. They talk back and forth to each other, but aren't acknowledging the flight attendant. Basically ignoring her.
Now, this puts the flight attendant in an awkward spot. What to do?
She goes and gets her boss - the head hancho flight attendant. This lady looks like she means business. She asks to see everybodys boarding passes. She confirms they are in the wrong seats. She politely asks them to move so the father with two young boys can sit. She is met with a simple "no".
By now, they are drawing attention. Everyone in the plane has been seated and safety announcements have been completed. We are ready to leave.
The person behind me, an Arab man, voluteers to translate for them, thinking possibly that the ladies aren't understanding what is being asked of them. So he gets up and translates everything in Arabic. The two ladies sitting in the wrong seats relpy in Arabic. He translates back to the flight staff.
"She says she likes these seats better and they will not be moving. She says he can have their two seats if he wants them".
The flight attendants clutch onto this possibility - it would be much easier to ask the man and kids to move rather than stand there and fight with these stubborn ladies. But, immediate problem. The man's two sons are maybe two and three years old. One of them would have to sit alone next to the Qatari ladies (a window seat). That isn't going over well with the Kenyan man.
He is starting to get agitated (I would be in a blind rage by this point. Just watching this go down is getting me all boiled up).
More flight attendants seem to gather around, and the Qatari lady has begun snapping Arabic phrases in a high pitched voice at the Kenyan man's wife through the seat opening (the wife and other two kids are seated directly behind them). Who knows what she's saying, but it sounds angry.
The wife starts repeating "Please don't speak to me" to the seat stealer.
By now, the entire economy class section is watching. The head flight attendant speaks with the captain, who was paused on the runway, and she comes back and asks the Arab guy behind me to translate a message: "If they do not move, we will turn the aircraft around and have the police escort them off the plane".
Seat Stealer #1 listens (her side kick is saying nothing), and replies in Arabic. He translates.
"She says she is not moving and that is that. He can have their seats. She asks that you not bother her anymore".
She is calling their bluff. And they do appear to be bluffing. The plane has stopped but you could see by the faces of the airline staff the last thing any of them want to do is to be the one to have this Qatari national escorted from the aircraft. This would surely mean a loss of someone's job in the end.
Meanwhile, I am getting pretty hot around the collar. Ella has started to grumble, and its been half an hour of this sh*t.
The Arab family behind us are talking to each other, saying how ridiculous it all is. You got that right. It's people like these two that give the whole place a bad name.
We stand still on the runway for a few more minutes, then the plane starts to slowly turn around. The Kenyan man is adamant that he only wants the seats he's paid for. I agree.
Then something magical happens. People start to speak up.
Everyone around us starts to shout at these two.
The guy across from us yells "Tell her in Arabic that I am sueing her and her family for missing my next flight".
The British lady up front says "Move your silly ass*s to your own seats".
Somebody with a crying baby shouts "Get on with it, have her arrested then."
A few Arabic phrases were offered up as well. Everyone was ticked.

The whole plane had to get involved to finally get a reaction out of these two. They get up and move to their own (and in my opinion, equally crappy) seats.
The entire place starts to applaud. The Kenyan man just looks disgusted. Fourty five minutes later, the two women move the few across the aisle to correct seats.
Who knows why she wanted those two seats. Better view of the toilets? their legs got tired a few steps short of their own seats? A few inches more space in the overhead bins? First dibs on the snank mix? One can only guess.

I tell Colin (who has been threatening me not to get involved this whole time) that I am going to write a letter to the airline. Oh, if he had a nickle for every time I wanted to write a complaint letter.
I begin composing it in my mind. These two fools have added an hour to my flight. It's already been a long day.
Of course, I haven't written my letter. But I am venting to you, well, because it makes for a good read if nothing else.
I believe that any other airline would probably have acted with less patience and more determination. Qatar is a funny place that way. Bending to the 'wants' of its people is commonplace here, and very unlike what we are accustomed to in North America.
There was something strangely refreshing about the whole plane rallying together to get those two ladies iin their own seats. Certainly gives new meaning to the term 'in-flight entertainment'.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Flights Part One: TO

My flight alone with our 20 month old, from Qatar to Nova Scotia...

July 10, 11pm - Finally finish packing and double checking all bags. Positive I have everything I may need in my carry on, and think I have adequately packed us for the 'weather' back home. Satisfied. Good to go.

July 10, 11:45pm - Finally get to bed after failing to check us in online (C tried all day). Some goofy website error message over and over again.

July 11, 1:15am - Had to fight for those last 15 mins (C wanted me up at 1). Wake up, get ready to head to airport. Thinking how stupid I was to stay up so late.

July 11, 1:30am - On way to airport. Amazed how perky E is after finding herself  in her car seat in the middle of the night.

July 11, 2am - C helps get us checked in and whatnot. We have a teary goodbye (I am not used to being the one going away anymore, sad to say). Flight is overbooked and our seats have been changed, but check-in-lady assures me we have two good seats together.

July 11, 2:30am - Make it through security and find gate. Feeling excited to be heading home.

July 11, 2:45am - Get into heated debate with check in staff over my umbrella stroller. I was told repeatedly (phone call to airline and at check in desk just down stairs from where I was standing) that I could gate check said stroller (which is why I brought the crappy small one along). Apparently not. I could feel panic welling up inside me as I tried to reason with the wretched woman trying to take my stroller away. It basically came down to 'if you want to get on the plane, you have to check the stroller and retrieve it at your final destination'. So we carried on without our wheels. 32lb pajama-clad child on hip with two bags on arm. Grrr.

July 11, 3:15am - Standing up, holding overhead strap on shuttle bus while glaring at the 11 men and three women (I counted) sitting in all the bus seats. None look to be pregnant, travelling with children, disabled or geriatric to me. E starting to feel a tad heavy now. Nothing I can't handle though.

July 11, 3:30am - Horrified to learn that our "good seats" are the middle two in a row of four. This can't be happening? Please let us have good seat-mates.

July 11, 3:35am - Two big older men take their seats on either side of E and I. First big old man presses his button for the flight attendant.

July 11, 3:36am - Big Old Man says to flight attendant "Can you find me a seat that is not next to a baby?". He actually said that. He must have been part pyschic as he could obviously see what was about to unfold. I still didn't see it coming. Flight attendant tells Big Old Man that flight is overbooked and he will be staying put.
Side note: She also secretly jostles our overhead bags around, as later, when I need a diaper, I eventually find my bag over seat 28D... I was in 32E. Randomly checking all of the overhead bins in the middle of the night wasn't a pain in the a** at all (while carrying my 32 pounder).

July 11, 4am - Start down the run way, into the night sky, just as my sweet E starts to wail repeatedly that she wants "out" of her seat belt "now".

July 11, 4:01am to 9amUK - A mixture of stories, hushes, songs and soothing words all night as I tried to make E happy and comfortable. Who knew that when the person in front of you reclines their seat, your 20 month old is then at the exact perfect kicking length if she simply straightens her legs. Boy, was this a thrill for her to discover.  Why oh why, Lord, won't she sleep?

July 11 - some time after 9amUK - Land at Heathrow Airport to an overcast, drizzly day. Try to gather us up. Not one minute of sleep has passed between us. Ella refused to eat her tray of food (therefore I didn't eat mine either), but somehow managed to spill lots of both trays on her jammies and my pants. I am guessing we look a bit frazzled.

Still after 9am (who knows how much time has passed) - Find out we need to switch terminals via bus again. Walk what seems to be 10 miles carrying E, who despite not eating anything, feels suddenly 10 lbs heavier. Stop several times to shift her to other hip. This is getting ridiculous.

Ella, answering her banana,
four hours into our second flight
 Probably around 10am - Take another bus ride to our new terminal. I must be on some comedy show involving a hidden camera. Again, no seat on bus. Desperately hanging on to overhead rope-y thing as English bus driver proceeds full tilt on what I deem to be the 'wrong' side of the road. Where did all of these people come from? Bus is jammed. E is whining. I can smell poop. Great time for a poop, E.

10ish am - Make it to terminal. Gate hasn't been announced. Sign says gate will be announced @ 11:30am. Find bathroom, clean E & I up, call C and sob that I have made a terrible mistake. Where the f*ck is my stroller.

10:30am - Find pub that sells breakfast for obscene airport prices. Yes they have child seats. But E has had enough. Over-over-tired and hungry, she pitches a fit with a temper she could have only gotten from me.  Good thing is that we appear to have cleared out our section of the restaurant with all the noise. We nibble on our food in silence (why do Brits eat beans and fried tomatoes for breakfast??).

11:15am - Find a seat in a crowded common area by the big flight announcement sign. Arms too weak to carry E anywhere. Must sit and wait the last 15mins till gate is announced. I can't believe how heavy she seems.

11:30am -  Sign says that gate will now be announced at 11:45am.

11:45am - Sign says that gate will now be announced at 12pm. Mother of God, I give up. E is flipping her lid and I have had two hours sleep in the last 24. E is trying to run away from me. Not even looking back. I try to bribe her back to our seats. This is torture.

12:00pm - YOU HAVE GOT TO BE JOKING. Sign says gate will be announced at 12:15. I am living my life in 15 minute increments of pure hell.  E makes another escape attempt (almost succeeds).

12:13pm or so (still July 11) - I must make note of this occurence as it was a first in our mother-daughter relationship. E had had it. She was done with waiting. She didn't want cheerios or juice or any toy in my bags. She didn't want an iPod loaded with Mickey or Dora, and she didn't want anymore of this waiting. I had a pony tail in my hair. Without warning, E looked right in my eyes, pulls her face close to mine (I thought for a kiss, perhaps?), swiftly takes her hands, one on either side of my head, and grabs fistfuls of my hair, yanking it out of my pony tail and holding it in her hands as tight as she could. We just stared at each other, locked in place. She didn't have the words to vent her frustration, but she let me know. Enough of this sh*t, Mom. Get us out of here.  Everyone around us stared as I gathered my hair, my bags, my daughter, and my dignity, just as the sign flicked: LONDON TO HALIFAX - GATE 43.

12:25pm - E is falling all over the place when she tries to walk. Thats no sleep for ya, kiddo. I have to carry her. Where the hell are those little golf carts? Can't somebody see that my arms are about to come loose from my shoulders and fall on the floor. I have never lifted anything heavier in my life. E now feels like a full grown, soaking wet, water buffalo in my arms. I am at Gate 12 and I want to give up.
I develop a pattern: walk ten or twelve feet. Stop. Set water buffalo on metal hand rail that lines the wall.  Rest. Repeat. Thank God for that hand rail. We were a sight.

Some time around 1pm, but really, who gives a sh*t what time it is at this point - Finally made it to our gate. Arms shaking and eyes blurry. We wait some more.

2pm-ish - We board. A new airline. Air Canada. Now, in the past I have critized this airline. But not today. I take it all back today. No, today the two seats (window and aisle) waiting for us were a thing of beauty. The French and English passenger announcements were sweet music to my ears. Every person walking by our seats to find their own looked familiar. A neighbour or an old teacher, or someone I once worked with, perhaps? My ears were picking up accents I knew. E seemed to suddenly get a second wind. Thank you Jesus, Thank you.

The rest of our flight - E slept, but only for an hour. Poor little thing just couldn't get comfortable. But, we made friends. The lady in front of us was from Gander, Newfoundland, and was travelling with her two teenaged kids. The lady behind us was Lebanese-Canadian, travelling with her daughter back to their home in Halifax. They were wonderful people. Changed my day around. The young girls played with E over the seats and my new Newfie friend helped us right till the end. Her son carried our bags till we parted ways in Halifax. I forget their names now, but I will never forget how great they were. I love Canadians.

When we got to the customs line, I realized I had to clean us up a bit to see C's mom on the other side. So into the bathroom we went to change. When we came out, half of Southeast Asia had arrived at Customs. There were now at least 200 people in line... ten minutes ago there were 40. Sh*t.
My last hour without a stroller (and without my NL friends) proved to be the breaking point for us. E kept running away, under the security pully gate things. It is damn near impossible to catch a wild, sleep deprived child who has run under the maze of those things, determined to escape her mother. She weaved like a pro through a sea of Asian tourists. She screamed when I made her stay in line. I screamed inwardly as my left arm threatened once again to fall off and abandon my body once and for all.

But, we made it. The Canadian Customs Officer was more than sympathetic and said: "I heard her crying in the line this whole time, and you are all by yourself? Next time that happens, go over to the Airline Staff Only line and we'll get you right through". Ha ha! Next time? Not me, my friend, not me.