We made it to Ireland! It took way longer than expected and the traveling aspect was a disaster, but the good news is that the crazy stress did not cause Daniel and I to divorce, and baby James proved his worth in gold. So I’m keeping them both! But here is my recommendation for how to travel internationally with a 19 month old. Mostly, it involves not relying on the airlines.
Over the past few years, I have flown back and forth (inside and out of) over 20 countries. During that time, though I’ve always waited with bated breath as the suitcases came round the moving baggage belt, not a piece of my luggage was lost. I’ve never been rerouted 5 times and transferred to 4 different airlines during a single trip, I’ve never had to run like crazy to two different gates only to be told that the doors had just closed, I’ve never had an airline refuse to issue me a ticket (even though I’d already booked a seat), and I’ve never sat in the last row of the plane with a shoddy tray table and had coca cola pour into my lap every time the plane moved slightly. But just last week, the first time we took our baby son on an international flight, all of those things happened. In one day.
Now, the coca cola in my lap was my own fault. I shouldn’t have been drinking that. But the rest was quite unfortunate. A lot of anxiety and preparation went into the weeks leading up to baby James’ first big trip. You hear horror stories of bringing an 19 month old on any flight, let alone three flights…and one being over 9 hours (I know, there are parents who do it alone, with 4 children… but they are gods). Daniel and I had read the blogs, packed the snacks, the milk and the toys, made a game plan, and then went over that game plan over and over again to ease my growing anxiety. By the time we had packed two months of diapers, camera gear, clothes and computers, cleaned our house for our lovely house sitter, bid farewell to our beloved Frankie dog, and were en route to the airport, believe it or not, I felt ready for the trip and the 8 weeks living abroad.
It was when we arrived at the airport that things started to go awry. Our first flight (United) was delayed, which meant we would miss our Dublin flight. I will spare you the gritty details of being rebooked 3 times and running through the airport twice, and instead fast forward to when we finally got on a plane to Chicago through a different airline (Delta). We were told that upon arrival in Chicago, we would transfer to Aer Lingus who would take us to Dublin. Our seats were booked on the next flight, they told us, and we simply needed to retrieve them at the Aer Lingus desk upon arrival in Chicago.
That was, sadly, easier said than done. When we arrived in Chicago, we (along with 10 other people from other connecting flights…including a woman in a wheelchair) were welcomed at the Aer Lingus desk with a sign that said they had already closed 20 minutes earlier and gone home. It was still an hour and five minutes before the flight was scheduled to depart. So we called Aer Lingus customer service. This was an easy fix, we thought. We told the customer service reps that we needed to get our tickets or we would miss our flights. We told them we had a baby, and that there was a woman in a wheelchair. Their response: “Sorry, it’s our policy to close 75 minutes before the flight departure. There is nothing we can do to help you.”
Even though ten people who just arrived from connecting flights were there waiting, even though we were all booked on that Aer Lingus flight to Dublin, even though without their help we were all stranded, Aer Lingus would not do anything. We all missed our flight. It was quite a shocking lack of customer service. Delays and rebooking, I can understand, but what happened there…pretty bad.
We went back to United desk, where the kind woman booked us on a Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt and then another to Dublin. We arrived in Ireland at 5pm only to find that the Dublin airport had no record of our luggage. And could you blame them? After all the juggling from one flight to the next, it would have been shocking if they could keep track of it. This meant that we had very few diapers, baby clothes, toothbrushes…etc to hold us over. This meant that I would be wearing coca cola soaked jeans until the luggage was located. Again, the whole coca cola thing was my own fault. But we’re not here to be mad at me.
But there was a silver lining here: We were in Ireland. The evening we arrived, the hotel Conrad concierge, David, ran out to buy us diapers, diaper rash cream and wipes; Failte Ireland’s Sinead brought James some much needed wellies and toys; and everyone we encountered was quick to offer help in any way we needed — Whether it be to do our laundry at Tankardstown house, or to get us toothbrushes, Ireland showed some serious hospitality.
We just got to our luggage today, and it was a warm reunion. I’ve now been here for 5 days, and I can’t tell you how many people have come up to me saying “I heard you lost your luggage, that’s just awful. And with a baby!”. A farmer today told me he heard about it on twitter;) He also added with a laugh, “not much is kept secret in Ireland”.
We’ve had a lot of luck with airlines over the years, and I guess chickens come home to roost at some point. I also realize that there’s nothing but hard working people at the airlines working at one of the most stressful places on the planet (in any country). I just recommend, Aer Lingus, that you don’t shut down your gate before a bus load of connecting passengers arrive. Because Ireland is an incredible place to visit. And people deserve to get here on time. Thanks.