Friday, September 16, 2011

Six Weeks in the USA

It is 1:30 AM and my kids have been up since 11:30 PM AGAIN!  I am cranky and wishing they would get their acts together and figure out we have changed time zones.  I will use this time to complain about my latest travels.  Our vacation was great, just the getting to and from had issues.  Thank you to all of the people in the world who are kind and patient to those who are travelling with small children. I hope that I can remember what it is like and be helpful to others when my monsters are a bit older.

We were all really looking forward to our vacation in the States.  The boys and I had made a countdown chain more than a month in advance.  It seemed to take forever for it to be time to go and then suddenly the day had arrived!

Since we didn't leave until the afternoon, I kept busy doing all the laundry, vacuuming, and doing whatever else needed to be done so that when we returned our home would be clean.  Obviously there would be dust and stuff, but it would be orderly upon our return.

The airport in Namibia is incredibly small.  If it weren't for the required security measures it would remind me more of a bus depot or small train station from some made for TV movie.  The size has its pros and cons.  Not a lot of services available, but you certainly aren't going to get lost or have trouble getting where you need to be. 

Last year we had trouble at check in because we were going from Namibia to South Africa to Atlanta to Seattle to Spokane.  For some bizarre reason they can only put 3 locations on baggage tags, so our bags could only be checked through to Seattle.  This year we were going from Namibia to Frankfurt to Chicago to Spokane.  Yay!  Our bags could be checked all the way to our final destination from the start.  The check in agent did not know the airport code for Chicago.  Seriously?  Are we the first people to be going to Chicago?  Isn't it in the computer or a book or something?  The woman was totally clueless as how to check our bags.  We told her the code for Chicago and also Spokane.  I still found it very, very strange.  Still, bags checked and boarding passes to Frankfurt were in hand.  Of course Air Namibia doesn't work with any other airline so we would have to get the rest of our boarding passes later.

We had our exit papers all filled out ahead of time.  At the immigration counter we handed over our passports and completed papers.  The woman wanted to go through them one at a time rather than look at us as a family.  Okay, but should she really start with the children?  A two year old should not be separated from his parents, should he?  I had visions of him running past the counter once he was cleared and going heaven only knows where.  Security was pretty much of a non issue except for the big old car seat we had for Ryan.  Ugh.  No one ever knows how to get that thing to fit through the x-ray machine the first time.

Normal waiting to board.  No pre-board or anything for people with young children, so we wait.  We gate check our stroller, leaving us with four carry-ons (two of which were backpacks) and the car seat.  We walk out to our plane and up the stairs, dragging the bags and kids with us.  Back through the plane with all of our stuff we settle in.

Ryan is ticked that he has a car seat and Justin doesn't.  We aren't too thrilled with it either.  Justin didn't need a car seat for the plane when he was two, but Ryan is a bit more active.  Who wants to  be forcing a child to keep his belt buckled for a ten hour flight?  For an overnight flight it made sense anyway since Ryan sleeps well in his car seat.  Once situated, the flight attendants actually have little bags of goodies for the kids.  That made their days.  Not a lot of airlines do that anymore, so a real bonus.  We wait and wait and then it is FINALLY time to take off.

The little safety spiel is done and Justin is still reviewing the safety card from his seatback pocket.  A flight attendant comes up to us and tells us that the airline does not allow car seats to be used on the plane.  What?  Is that the most bizarre thing you ever heard or what?  We have to get Ryan out and buckled up.  I wanted to smack the woman in the head with the car seat and tell her what I thought of her, but arguing with a flight attendant is not the best way to start out a trip.  I would probably be arrested and never get to go on my trip.  The woman was a complete idiot, but what could I do?  We got the seat out and, along with the other passengers, got to listen to Ryan cry about having his seat taken away.  He did NOT sleep through the flight as we had anticipated.

I know airline food is not looked upon as great to begin with, but somehow the Namibian touch made me really want to gag.  Thank goodness that I packed plenty of snacks. :)  The entertainment was the movie "Like Water For Elephants" shown on a screen up at the front of the cabin and a couple of pull down monitors.  Reminded me of traveling long ago except the headsets were marginally better and didn't cost five bucks.  I kind of wanted to see the movie, but with kids that wasn't an option.

We get to Frankfurt and are among the very last off of the plane because we have to wait for the flight attendant to get our car seat for us.  We walk down the stairs and our stroller is not there.  It is, we are told, on the baggage carousel.  Maybe I am missing something here, but why would I gate check something if I wanted it on the baggage carousel?  We get on the bus to get to the terminal.  I am sure that the other passengers hate us.  I can't really blame them.  They wait on us to get our kid out of the car seat.  Our kid screams on the plane because he doesn't have his car seat.  Now we are the last people off of the plane and the bus is waiting for us while we try to locate our stroller.  I kind of hate us too, but I don't think it is our fault.

Inside the airport we have to get clear across the airport to another terminal, go through security again, and get boarding passes for our other two flights.  We have enough time to do this. What we do NOT have enough time to do is go to baggage claim and wait for our stroller, go through customs, find the United counter to get our boarding passes (rather than getting them at the gate if we don't exit to baggage claim), go through ticket control, passport control, and security.  We opt to abandon the stroller.

Once on United, things went better.  We were allowed to use the car seat.  Imagine that.  In seat personal entertainment systems keep the kids happy.  Somehow even though I called in to request our kids have children's meals we only ended up with one.  It worked out okay.  They shared that and a regular meal.  They enjoyed controlling what they wanted to watch.  Ryan watched the same segment of "Rio" over and over.  His system finally crashed as we were landing in Chicago.  I guess it can only show a segment a thousand times before it goes berserk.  Another flight of about ten hours, but this one was not as bad.

Short time in Chicago and on to Spokane.  33 or so hours of travel, but we made it there alive.  Only the Air Namibia flight sucked.  I mean, not like it is enjoyable to travel that long with kids, but Air Namibia was the only bad part.  The kids behaved well, considering.  They were cranky at times, but that is a long trip.

Guess what?  Our stroller showed up in Spokane a couple of days after we arrived.  There was a big piece of paper with a note on it asking for someone in America to call us. :)

While in the US we flew from Spokane to Portland, Oregon and Burbank, California.  Those flights were uneventful.  Yay!

We dreaded returning.  After much deliberation, we decided not to take the car seat on the planes.  We knew it would be helpful for the trip from San Francisco to Frankfurt, but didn't want to have to haul it through the airport at Frankfurt for five hours and not know if we would be able to use it on Air Namibia or not. 

Things went smoothly from Spokane to San Fransisco and on to Frankfurt.  Once in Frankfurt we were anxious to get our boarding passes for our last flight to Namibia.  Air Namibia is not a major airline and our gate was not posted nor was the counter opened.  We spent quite a bit of time wandering around the airport.  We eventually found a check-in kiosk and were able to print our passes.  Rob was confused when he was required to scan our passports face down for the machine to read them when the machine specifically said (and had a picture to match) to have them face up to scan.  He asked me if he was just too tired.  Nope.  The instructions were incorrect.  Yay Air Namibia.

We spent more than two hours at McDonald's and its playland.  Thank you, McDonald's!  The boys got out a lot of energy before the flight.  Without the car seat to deal with, getting onto our flight and situated was not so bad.  I knew it was going to be a loooooong flight with "Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2" our source of entertainment.  Probably just as well that it wasn't something that the boys would want to watch because they couldn't see the screen.  The boys did pretty well.  I wish they had slept more.

I had very low expectations for Air Namibia and they didn't disappoint.  They claim to be the spirit of Namibia or some such thing.  I think the country should sue the airlines for slander unless the spirit of the country is supposed to be inconsistency, incompetence, and indifference.

When we landed, of course our gate checked stroller wasn't at the gate, but we didn't care.  We had to get our bags anyway.  We were pleased that the diplomatic line was open so we didn't have to wait in the long line to get through immigration.  There were only a few people in front of us.  When it was our turn, we had our forms filled out.  The line next to us for SADC (South African Development Community countries) was able to process 23 people in the time it took the woman to process our family of four.  Our forms were completed.  We had the diplomatic passports with appropriate visas.  The information was virtually the same.  Why, why, why would it take so long to get four people through?  I think Air Namibia and immigration must get their employees from the same employment pool.

I shouldn't have been so cranky, because our bags were not out when we got through.  Half an hour after the flight had landed the crews bags got through.  Our bags started showing up fifty minutes after we had landed.  Remember, it isn't a big airport.  Their are two baggage carousels and you can stand in the middle of the two and watch both.  I'm wondering if they made some poor soul hand carry our luggage from the plane rather than transport it on the baggage cars.  Our bags (including stroller) all made it. :)

If you aren't declaring any goods they randomly screen bags.  The woman who was choosing who to screen choose the next two people in line, but her idiotic co-worker misunderstood and starting having everyone go through.  There wasn't room for people to wait as the bags went through the x-ray.  I continued on through with the kids and the carry-ons (I decided not to have those screened and no one seemed to care) while Rob stayed with the luggage.  Our bags were filled with goodies like 15 pounds of salsa, 9 pounds of peanut butter, and other things we wanted to have with us here.   They had him go to have the bags examined.  Rob takes the bags over to the woman at the goods to declare side and she asks Rob what she is supposed to be examining.  Uh, how is he supposed to know?  If you were hiding something would you really tell her anyway?  

Our shuttle driver was waiting for us.  We made it home safely.  The house was clean. :)  I guess I shouldn't complain, but I am.  Now comes of the question of what I will do next time if I have the option.  Will I choose the horrible Air Namibia or will I opt to go through crime ridden Johannesburg, additional security screening and pat down, and deal with four flights rather than three?  I don't know.  I do know that I am glad Ryan will be done with the car seat and stroller.  I am also glad that I won't need to carry bulky diapers with me.  That's something.

Now I realize that I should be happy that I am not the housewife who got hauled off the plane and searched and interviewed.  If I were in her place I would be really really upset.  I don't know the whole story though, and am guessing that she probably got pulled because of the people she was sitting with.  People who saw the men by the restroom probably got nervous and I would suspect the flight attendants got multiple comments by other passengers.  Justified?  Perhaps not, but I think that probably things played out as they needed to be played out.  I understand being upset, but I think that people were probably doing their job based upon the information they were given.

With the exception of Seattle, I have always been treated respectfully going through security.  Employees have been kind to my children (currently 4 and 2, but we have travelled with them younger too) and been polite and patient carrying out their duties.  Yes, they have patted down Ryan's rear end.  I know that upsets some people and they say that babies aren't security threats.  I think that a poopy diaper would be a great place to try to sneak things through.  Do you really think the employees enjoy having to search kids and the elderly or infirm?  Seattle, on more than one occasion, has ticked me off.  The people there were, in my opinion, very rude and disrespectful to me and others in the line.  I think a lot of the security measures are strange.  I think there has got to be a better way.  In the meantime, if employees are just doing their jobs,I try to be patient with them.  I can save my frustration for the idiots of Air Namibia.  I guess we all have our own little issues, don't we. :)

Oh, and in case you haven't guessed, I hate Air Namibia.