Saturday, April 1, 2017
PART 2 – DESPAIR TO RELIEF
How the Trip Was Saved, but Child Was Unexpectedly Separated From Parent
‘What am I supposed to do now?’ I wonder to myself. ‘Try to call Mary back to the airport to pick us up and take us home? Stay overnight, and find a way back to the airport tomorrow to get on the midday flight? Only to miss our only day at NASA? No. Not acceptable. Go home and try to find another flight on the computer? Oh, I can’t call Mary, she’s at her appointment now,’ I realize. ‘Call my Dad to come get us? Nope, forgot, he left the state earlier than us this morning. Besides, I have to find another flight here, while we are at the airport.’
I start at one end of the terminal: Spirit airlines. Even though I said it earlier, and I know there won’t be any flights to Orlando that still have seats today, the first day of Spring vacation here in Michigan, I hope SOMEONE has two seats for us. And if so, I am going to find them. The other terminal pretty much only has Delta airlines in it. This one has seven other airlines besides Frontier. I am going to start at one end and work my way to the other until I find one. Spirit seems the most likely to me to be the airline to rescue us, I don’t know why. Maybe this is just the end of the terminal that is closest.
At the same time I am furiously texting with my brother, who just now after 40 minutes finally responds to my original text while my girls and I were back at the gate that they weren’t letting us on the plane. He is also on his way to Orlando, from Boston not Detroit, with my sister-in-law and my niece, as this is to be a family vacation. He’s telling me his plane is late taking off. I’m trying to tell him we aren’t on a plane at all. My sister-in-law thinks it’s an April Fool’s joke, and I want to SCREAM at the phone “THIS ISN’T AN APRIL FOOLS JOKE!” But I hold it all in for now, having an outburst while moving from airline counter to airline counter trying to get tickets isn’t going to help me.
During the text exchange, I walk up to the “out” part of the check-in / baggage check area for Spirit. I wait briefly for one of the three attendants to become available while waiting for an answer from my brother. “Excuse me,” I call out when one of the attendants walks over to talk to another one of the three. “Do you have any seats left on any flights to Orlando today?” The male checks on the computer quickly, and tells me they don’t. “Thank you,” I reply hastily as I turn to United airlines at the next counter over. There aren’t any attendants here.
I look back and forth quickly, then the woman from the two Spirit attendants at the one computer calls out to me, “They don’t sell tickets at the airport.”
I look back at her. “Oh. Thank you,” I reply again, I hope gratefully but I think I came across disappointed. I hike up the car seat again, give the stroller a mighty push, and drive us sternly with long strides past all the United counters and then all the Frontier counters, without even looking or breaking my pace.
I skip Air Canada airlines and Alaska airlines, the next two sets of counters, assuming they do not fly direct from Detroit to Orlando.
jetBlue is next. I walk almost past, then turn and pull up behind the kiosks to the end of the counters. “Do you have any seats left on any flights to Orlando today?” I practically beg. They do not.
I turn around, to the American Airlines counters. But my brother texts that Delta still has two flights left to Orlando today. I immediately ignore him and call Delta reservations. While waiting in virtual phone line, I ask the American Airlines attendants if they have any flights to Orlando with any seats left today. Unsurprisingly, the answer is no.
I across right in front of all the American Airlines counters to get to Southwest. Just then I get through the wait on the phone for Delta and a representative answers. I stop in my tracks. She gives the standard pleasant greeting, asking how she can help.
“Do you have any seats left on any flights to Orlando today?” I ask in an uneven voice.
“From where?” she asks calmly.
“Oh right,” I nearly laugh at myself out of nervousness and irony, “you’re not here at the airport with me. Detroit,” I explain before answering her.
I can hear computer key tapping from her end of the phone while she looks up flights. “There is one seat left on the 5:55pm flight from Detroit to Orlando, and one seat left on the 8:15pm flight,” she finally tells me. “There are also 6 seats left on our 8 (something) am flight tomorrow morning,” she finishes.
“What were those times again, for today?” I ask, having not quite processed time details after hearing that there is only one seat left to Orlando today – twice. It took me a second to put together that meant there ARE two seats today! Only on separate planes.
She repeats the information for me.
“How much are they?” I ask.
She tells me One thousand, One hundred, Fifty some odd dollars. Each. Then she asks, “Would you like to book them?”
I’m not sure want to. While the check from Frontier is only a little short of covering that, doing so means separating my family across flights. But not doing so might mean losing the last two seats to Orlando today. “I think I’m going to take them,” I respond after a moment. “But I need to make sure. Let me call you back.” The lady acknowledges me, I say “Thank you”, we exchange “Have a nice day”s, and hang up.
I look up from my phone to the people behind the Southwest counter. My last ditch hope. I hastily ask the same question I’ve asked the other airlines. I get the same answer: no, sorry.
Not too far in front of the American Airlines counters, which has no customers in front of them, I park the stroller and squat down next to it. I look at my oldest child sitting the in front of the double long stroller, six and a half years old, and calmly ask if she will fly alone to Florida. I already know the answer. My oldest does NOT handle surprises nor change well. She needs warnings or heads up about nearly everything that diverts from routine. Without it, she either fights or melts down. She can’t handle sudden intense situations, she freezes in them, sometimes while crying sometimes mute. She needs time, time to process and time to think. Time we don’t have right now.
“No!” she calls out much louder than necessary, as expected.
I quietly explain to her that there are only two flights left to Florida, and only one seat left on each. That if we are going to make it to Florida today, she will have to fly by herself. If she doesn’t, we won’t be able to go to NASA tomorrow.
“No, Mama,” she whines and begs at the same time, “I don’t want to!” Of course she doesn’t. She’s never flown by herself before. And this is very unplanned.
I sigh, and sit down on the floor, defeated.
I resume my text conversation with my brother, telling him there’s only one seat left on each of the flights he found. He says he’ll pay the price difference and tells me to put my oldest child on the earlier flight and he will pick her up from the airport. I respond I’m trying, but she doesn’t want to. He says his flight is about to take off, he’s going to lose service. I tell him I’ll let him know what ends up happening.
While trying to determine my next move, I wonder what type of a sight we are right now. But I don’t have time or brain power to spare for that. Despair is setting in.
I lay my head in my oldest child’s lap. “Please, Angel,” I beseech her. “I want to go to NASA.” Ask anyone who knows me, I’ve been obsessed with NASA since I was a child. “Please. I’ll give you anything you want,” I offer her, knowing this might be a dangerous bargain.
There’s a silent pause as she thinks it over.
“I want to watch The Little Mermaid,” she replies in a is-this-really-true testing type tone.
My head pops off her lap as I turn it to look at her. “And you’ll fly by yourself? If you can watch The Little Mermaid on the flight?”
“Yes,” she agrees.
I jump up. “Deal!” I exclaim, knowing I can make this happen because I brought The Little Mermaid on DVD with us in my carryon, knowing it’s her favorite movie right now. It means I have to give her my computer to take on the airplane with her to play it, but I can make do without a computer on a plane flight. “Yes! Thank you, Angel!” I reply deeply gratefully to her that it’s this easy.
I quickly head us off to find the shuttle to the other terminal. Not an easy task. But we find it’s stop and wait. We get on it, very awkwardly with the stroller, car seat, diaper bag, and carry ons.
When we get in to McNamara terminal, I try to figure out where to go to get the tickets. I see a sign for a line near us that says “Minors flying alone | Gate passes”. Figuring that Angel’s flight is first, and it’d be better to get her situated first as there’s more time to get the baby and I situated, I get in that line. One of the two women attending this line (even though there are 6 or 8 counters spanning this line, and there are no other lines at this part of the terminal) calls out loud enough for me to hear “This line is only for minors flying unattended!”
I respond, “I know!” I point down at my oldest in the stroller. “She’s going to be flying alone.”
We get to the front, and the same woman calls us up. I turn the stroller as we get to the counter so that I am closest to it. I say I would like to buy the last ticket on the 5:55pm flight to Orlando for my daughter. The woman says she can’t fly alone, she’s too young.
I’m confused for a moment. “She’s six and a half,” I then assert with confusion, thinking to myself that that should be old enough.
“She’s six?” the woman asks incredulously, looking at the baby in the back seat of the stroller.
“No, her,” I reply, pointing over the back to the stroller’s front seat.
The woman leans forward. “Oh!” she responds with a mix of surprise and relief. “I didn’t see another child there!” The woman looks up the flight, and says there are no more seats available on that flight.
My heart nearly seizes in my chest. “What about the 8:15pm flight?” I ask.
“There are no more seats to Orlando today,” she replies.
“But,” I check my watch, “half an hour ago the rep on the phone said there was one seat left on each flight!” I protest in surprise.
“Sorry, there are no more,” she reiterates.
I push the stroller off to the side / end of the line, so we are out of the way. Then I call the Delta reservation line back.
‘Please, please, please…’ I beg in my head. Dread sets in while I navigate the menu to get to a live representative. Did I really lose the seats? Did I blow it?!?
A man answers after not too long, asking how he can help.
“Half an hour ago I called about flights from Detroit to Orlando today, and the woman I spoke to said there was one seat left on the 5:55pm flight and one seat left on the 8:15pm flight. Now I’m at the counter, I tried to buy the 5:55pm flight seat, and they say the seats are gone. Are they?” I gush out at him in one long breath.
He types and checks. “There is one seat left on each of those flights,” he tells me.
Alleluia! “I want them, please,” I tell him quickly.
Without getting into nitty specific details, this gentleman is an extraordinary help. He tells me the prices, I agree. He tells me these are first class seats. Ah! I thought the high price was simple day of and last available pricing. He books Angel first, which I’m grateful for, as I’m still concerned about getting these seats in time, as well as being able to get her to the flight on time. I give him Angel’s information, and when we get to age, he tells me there’s a $150 additional fee for minors flying alone. Argh and sigh. Oh well, in for a penny, in for a pound. We’ve come this far, I’ll have to find the extra money somehow. I agree to the fee. The man gets Angel booked easily and relatively quickly. He tells me her seat number, and I write it down. Then on to the 8:55 flight for me and the baby. Something about this poses problems. He never tells me what, just keeps putting me on hold for 3 to 5 minutes as he tries various things and eventually tries getting managerial help. He stays on the phone with me for over 45 minutes to get the flights booked and arranged just right. He assures me, at least twice, during that time that both tickets are bought, that we have seats on the flights, he just needs to get the baby in correctly too.
While this is going on, my oldest starts getting cranky from hunger. I have to say that both children have been AMAZINGLY good thus far. No yelling, no crying, no whining (except that one time that I expected), no trying to run away. No demanding my attention while I’m trying to get things figure out and worked out. From back while the whole thing was going down with Frontier to now. They both sat quietly in the stroller or happily looking out of the windows while on the shuttle, the whole time. I check my watch, and realize it is mid-afternoon snack time. But as I was expecting to be on a plane now, I don’t have much. Definitely not enough to get us through two snacks and dinner. I give them each a little fruit snack pack, to tide them over while I’m on the phone.
Then my youngest starts asking “Au. Au,” which is how she says “out.” I take her out of the stroller, and follow her as she toddles the open space at this end of the terminal. She doesn’t go far before she lays down on the floor. I try to figure out what she’s doing. She doesn’t push herself along or start throwing a fit. Instead she just kind of rolls over on to her hand. Oh my poor child! She’s tired! It’s now I realize that we are 2 hours past nap time. I had completely forgotten about nap. But I’m still on the phone and we’re not yet in any position yet to be staying still for an extended period of time.
Finally, finally, the gentleman on the phone says we are all set. I have him tell me the flight numbers and seat number again, to check I’ve written them down correctly. He assures me we will be on these flights, that we have seats assigned and we’re all checked in. I thank him profusely. After hanging up, I re-enter the minor flying alone line.
The other woman from behind the counters calls us up this time. Things go pretty well from here on out. I have to fill out forms identifying Angel and what she is wearing right now, who will be picking her up at the other airport and what his phone number is, and agreeing to all sorts of stuff. Angel gets a ribbon secured around her wrist with a special red dongle on it. I get Angel’s boarding pass and a gate pass for myself to take her in. Of course, turns out I am getting a boarding pass for myself and the baby from the kiosk next too, and that would have got me through security!
As we leave the counter area, my oldest starts to complain about being hungry again. The woman behind the counter offers her food from a basket they have on the end counter. This food is beautiful. The basket contains REAL fruit, fresh and ripe, as well as full sized healthy and unhealthy snacks. The woman says “Here, you’re in first class, you can one of these.” Angel happily picks out an apple. My youngest and I must have looked pitiful staring at that wonderful food, because the woman said, “you can each have one.” We take a banana and cheese-it crackers. I sincerely thank her.
I write up an email on my phone to my brother with all the flight details, and steps he needs to do to be able to pick up Angel. The kids play in the big space just in front of the wheelchair storage area.
Now, we have to deal with finding dinner, getting my oldest to her flight, and – I remember as I pack us all back up into the stroller – this blasted Frontier car seat I no longer need. I have to return it. Arrgh. I try to see if one of the Delta baggage handlers can get it delivered back over to Frontier. No. I have to take it myself. Do I try to fly with it to Orlando, and return it to Frontier there? What if that’s not acceptable, and it needs to stay here in Detroit? I don’t want to have to deal with them again!
Sadly, I take the girls back to the shuttle stop and we wait. Get on the shuttle – this time the driver knows how to get the stroller on without folding it up. Everyone and everything can stay in it. What a stress saver! Ride back to North terminal. Go in to Frontier.
There’s no one there. There’s a sign with a number to call if no one is there and you have a baggage / luggage question. So I call it. After 5 minutes of it ringing with no answer (not even an automated service), and another Frontier passenger and I hunting around for an attendant while I was waiting on the ringing phone, I give up. I go behind the counters and put the car seat up on the counter between two computers. I make sure the owned by “Frontier” tag is showing, and we leave. Back to the shuttle stop. Ride back to the other terminal. The round trip cost us an hour of time. UGH. Just not what we needed.
Get through security peacefully. Go off to Chick-fil-A to get Angel one of her favorite meals. I’m in a very giving, pleasing, thank you so much, mood with her. Get the food and head to her gate. I go up to the counter to let them know she’s here. They aren’t ready to board children yet.
Delta makes an announcement that flight is oversold, and they need 8 volunteers to give up their seats in exchange for $600 in travel vouchers, hotel accommodations overnight, and tickets on tomorrow morning’s 8-something am flight.
While Angel’s eating, I show her how to use my computer to play DVDs. I give her my password too. Since she can’t remember it, I write it in the very back of her notebook. I warn her that she has to put the computer on the tray table on the plane in order for it to play the DVD. The laptop is very thin and the DVD player is at the bottom of it under the keyboard. ANY little jostle or bump or uneven surface will keep it from playing. I have her go through the steps to play the DVD, to be sure she knows how. I have to show her twice, as I suddenly remember the DVD player software acts different the second time in a row it sees the same disk.
The flight attendant calls for Angel. I say “here!” and wave my hand. She attendant says she’s ready for my daughter. I look at Angel. “I don’t want to go yet,” she says.
I go up to the counter and tell the attendant, “She’s not ready yet.”
“Okay. Just let us know,” she replies amenably.
Around this time, Delta raises the offer to $700 in vouchers, plus the other stuff.
Angel finishes eating. Then she realizes a problem. “Mama, I’m not going to be there to help you on the plane,” she tells me, her voice full of worry. I have a fear of flying, and one of the things my therapist for this fear was having me work on this flight was getting over the shame I feel about having this fear, by showing my daughters it’s okay to be scared, by asking my oldest to hold my hand when I needed a human touch.
I say something like “I’ll find someone to help me.”
Angel puts her hand on my arm. “It will be okay,” she tells me.
“Will you write me a note that says that?” I ask her. “Then I can have it with me on the plane and look at it when I need to.”
She nods, gets out her notebook, and at the top of the page writes in child handwriting: It will be ok
She has me tear the page out of her notebook. “Okay,” she says, “I’m ready.” She hugs both her sister and I, and I get her packed up. She carries my computer with both her arms. Then I take her up to the counter.
I try very hard to hold back tears, but I still choke as I say goodbye. I watch the flight attendant guide my six and a half year old child away to fly by herself for the first time, unplanned. I think it’s harder on me than her, and not because of my fear of flying. Because I’m her mother, and I should be there. Because I know how hard new things can be for her, and I should be there to help her. Because she’s only 6 ½ years old! And she’s my child! I should be with her!
Once I can no longer see her anymore, and she can’t see me, I turn away and let the tears quietly flow.
I resolve to stay in the waiting area until the plane takes off. Then I will go use the bathroom (I’m an adult, I can hold it), then my youngest and I will go get dinner for the two of us, and go to our gate. I let my youngest roam around, and as expected she mostly wants to look out the windows.