Saturday, August 31, 2013

Grandma goes to the airport

My 13-year-old twin granddaughters Mary and Malayne went to YMCA camp again this year. Last week my ex-husband drove from his home in southern Oregon to Spokane, where the girls now live, to pick them up and bring them to Seattle. The back of his car was full of their camp gear. Mary brought a smallish suitcase, a largish backpack and a pillow. Malayne brought a large suitcase, a small backpack, a pillow, and a stuffed animal named Ravioli. There was plenty of room in the car.

However, the girls were flying home the day after camp ended. I picked them up from the camp bus. Their things were not so neatly packed by this time. Their stuff filled the back of my car and half of the back seat. We went to my house where Grandma did the laundry - it looked like each girl had packed nine outfits for the five days of camp -  and Grandpa fixed dinner. The two girls shucked corn and chattered about their experience at camp. Eventually the talk wound down, two girls grew cranky and tired, and the time came to repack suitcases for the next day's plane trip.

It turned out that Grandpa had to pack Mary's smallish suitcase inside a larger one of ours, then stuff her remaining gear into the spaces around the interior suitcase. Grandma sighed as she accepted the fact that each twin would need to check one bag at the airport. That would be $40.

The flight was scheduled to depart at 1 pm. We left for the airport at 10:30. With no traffic the trip takes 35 minutes. At midday it took about 50. Not too bad.

I decided to take my chances with public parking. I always decide this, and I nearly always regret it. We drove around on two floors of the structure, finding no empty spaces, and then I climbed to the sixth floor where I knew I'd have success. I should have done that in the first place.

Alaska Airlines requires children 12 or under traveling alone to have airline escorts for both boarding and deplaning. From ages 13 to 17 escorts are optional. It had been decided - at $25 a child - that they could travel alone. I confirmed I could get a gate pass to accompany them this first time, just to make sure they could navigate the Seattle airport, from checking in, to checking luggage, to getting through security, to finding their gate.  Mary and Malayne have flown several times with an airline escort. "Grandma, we know how to do this," they said. They rolled their eyes.

Not so much, as it turns out.

We stood in line at the "Other Business" counter behind parents handing over a child traveling alone, a couple traveling with a small dog, and a man who had missed his flight. The twins started arguing while in line. I kept my eyes on the prize of an open representative at the counter, got their tickets and my gate pass, and checked two largish suitcases.

No, the twins could not get their bags checked for free, even though I am an MVP with Alaska and get two bags free for each of my flights. "The MVP follows just you, ma'am." I handed the agent my credit card.

On to security. A longish line, but moving at a decent speed. The girls took off their shoes and put their bags on the conveyor belt. I did the same. We all made it through the metal detector. On the other side, Mary's bag needed to be checked by a TSA person. "It looks like a large tube of toothpaste." It was. "Toss it," said Grandma. Malayne's water bottle was full of Gatorade. "Toss it," said Grandma again. Then, to the twins, "Remember the rule about liquids and gels?" They had forgotten. Grandma said, "This is how we learn, isn't it?"

Malayne told me she was thirsty, and Mary said she was starving. I found this out before I'd put my shoes back on.

The girls did know how to read the flight board. "Look, Grandma. Our flight has been cancelled." They were right.

I still hadn't risen from the bench where I put on my shoes. I texted Dan, their stepdad. "Flight has been cancelled. Stay tuned."

Mary and Malayne both had to go to the restroom. I waited outside. They came out ten minutes later. My phone rang. Dan said, "I called the airlines. All the 1 pm passengers have been rebooked for the 9 pm flight..." My heart sank as I visualized seven more hours in this terminal. He continued. "I got them on the 2 pm." I sent a silent blessing his way.

"Okay, girls. Let's go get your new tickets."

"I'm starving, Grandma." Two girls were close to tears. We went to Wendy's. All the tables in the food court had someone sitting at them. A pleasant looking man sat alone at a table with four empty chairs. I asked if we could share and he smiled yes. In the meantime, the twins had found an empty table. I thanked the man and moved away. "Someone else got the table." We waited three more minutes until another table emptied. The girls ate their Wendy's nuggets and drank their enormous Dr. Peppers.

On the way to the gate to get the new tickets, both girls had to go to the restroom again. Malayne came out of her stall in about four minutes and spent the next five looking at her face in one of the mirrors. Mary was not out yet. I finally sent Malayne over to check on her progress. She came back. "She's reading in there. I told her to hurry up."

In all my travels, I have never read in a restroom stall - though I admit I once sent a text.

We found the gate. We got the new tickets. "When you get to Spokane, look for Dan at the gate. If he isn't there, follow the signs to the baggage place. He will be waiting for you." We waited in the boarding line. Malayne said, "I'm sorry I was cranky. I was just hungry and I'm tired." I thanked her for her apology. The girls gave me a hug. "Turn left at the second door. Get on the plane from the front stairs. Your seats are in row 8." They nodded and were gone.

When the plane left the gate I texted Dan and told him their status. I texted my husband to let him know I was on my way. I walked to the parking garage and put my parking ticket and credit card in the machine. "Your credit card is not valid," the voice told me. I had just used that credit card to pay for the checked luggage. I tried it again. "Your credit card is not valid," the voice told me. I took out another credit card. This one met with the machine's approval. I owed $9 for parking for two hours.

I found my car, wound down the exit ramp and headed for the gate. I put my validated ticket in the slot. "Your ticket is not valid," a voice told me. I backed up and drove up to a live person. She informed me my parking ticket had gotten unmagnetized. I didn't say anything. She opened the exit gate and I escaped from the airport.

My drive home took 45 minutes. I stopped for gas near my house. As I pulled into the driveway I got a text from Dan. "Met up with the girls at baggage claim." They had gotten to Spokane before I got home from the airport.

I haven't decided yet whether next time I'll just hand the twins over to a paid escort or whether we'll do another training session on "getting through the airport." I didn't need to decide that today. But I did need to take a nap.


DJan said...

This sounds like hell to me. All the delays, all the horrible people and technology not working. I'm so glad you are done with it, and all I have to say is that there MUST be a better way! :-)

Chris Loehmer Kincaid said...

I have had days at the airport just like that. Good thing you are a seasoned traveler and knew just what to do about every issue that popped up. Now you just have to look forward to the granddaughters' next trip!

Barb said...

Good for you. I'm not at all sure that thirteen is the best age for the proverbial cut off...In my experience when my kids wer eyoung I would have been more comfy with say, fifteen. My son flew from Frankfurt Germany to Grand Cayman alone at sixteen (with two plane changes). He was fine. I was a nervous wreck.

The Odd Essay said...

My 2 granddaughters were Army brats and traveled alone (or escorted) often. I think it made them more confident in themselves - they are both in their late 20's now and have no qualms about traveling... or doing lots of other things in life. Traveling alone might well boost your granddaughter's maturity as well.

Linda Reeder said...

Oh my. I am laughing at your misery. I'm not sure what was more outrageous, the credit card not working, the cancelled flight, the parking ticket invalidation, or the reading in the bathroom stall.
thank god they got to Spokane, and before you got home!!

Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

Oh, my! Navigating a busy airport with two 13-year olds sounds more than a little trying. Thank goodness you were with them all the way through it -- and that they made it home before you did! You deserve a medal for courage and patience!

Kellie @ Delightfully Ludicrous said...

I giggled when I read about her reading in the toilet cubicle. It sounds like something I would have done at her age.

Perpetua said...

Linda, you made a marvellous tale out of what sounds like a nightmarish experience. Well done. Thankfully we can drive our grandsons home ourselves after their visits to us.

Madeline Hill said...

Teenagers! You get a medal for navigating an airport with TWO!! Also--I admire your blog and your adventures.. the title of your blog doesn't sound like you at all--"bag lady??" I wonder if you have considered having a blog title that describes all your incredible qualities!?? After all, you have navigated retirement..something my spouse and I are struggling with..

Olga said...

Linda, I knew plane travel could be exhausting, but I always thought just for the one actually making the trip! I am having a weekend "therapy" session after ten days of being alone--my two grand kids are here. Sure does help with that sleeping through the night thing!

Deb Shucka said...

OMG, Linda! This was so funny and so exhausting to read all at the same time. I can so see you in these words. Lucky girls to have these adults who want to spend time (and lots of money) with them. I'll bet if you did send them alone, they would have figured things out, or found adults to help. And maybe at their age(s) that would be a gift. Of course you might have to come back to the airport and get them because they missed the flight because someone was reading in the bathroom, but wouldn't that make a great story? :-)

Arkansas Patti said...

Somehow after hearing your tale, 25 bucks a head sounds very reasonable.
Such stories are always much funnier in retrospect. I too got a giggle out of her reading the bathroom walls.
It really was sweet of her to apologize for being cranky.
I can only say,"better thee than me."

Tom said...

Like Madeline, I think you deserve a medal!

Sally Wessely said...

Oh my goodness, this sounds like a nightmare. It also sound familiar. I had not as bad of an experience, but one that was nearly as stressful trying to get a grandson flown home. He had chosen to buy a golf club while he was here. Try to get that home with you on a plane. I also had to pay the fee because he was not old enough to fly alone. His mother had assured me that would not be necessary. Then, I could NOT find the car. At least you found the car.

Are you sure you want to pick me up at the airport???

Out on the prairie said...

I'm happy to see you survived. I have only had a few long term stops.

Friko said...

O my giddy aunt.
I’d’ve lost patience not even a third of the way through.

Two cranky teenagers, a lot of unhelpful machinery, delayed flights,.......

You are clearly a saint.

Galen Pearl said...

Loved the deadpan details. Good grief, though, what an ordeal. This is why I don't fly anymore.

Dee said...

Dear Linda, I'm sitting here exhausted and I only read your posted story, I didn't have to live it. Wow and double wow. I hope your nap helped. Peace.

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

I think your granddaughters learned just from being with you, e.g., stay calm, pay attention to details, toss away a banned item rather than try to justify it, etc. And I love that you got an apology. Sounds like an exhausting but worthwhile day!