Panic! At the Airport.
(Yeah, yeah, it’s a current pop culture reference . . . )
You plan, you purchase, you do everything you can and then in the end it’s in the hands of an airline and Mother Nature.
That’s what happened this weekend for me.
I did my best to get a flight home for my four children that would hopefully give them time to sleep a normal eight hours, let my parents drive them to the airport nearly four hours away, and get them home a little late but not horribly.
That meant a Southwest flight. For those parents doing the whole pay for your kids to travel thing . . . here’s my biggest piece of advice for you: when you purchase your tickets online, call the airline and inform them that yes . . . even though your children’s birthdates are on their tickets, they are, indeed, children!
I bought the tickets online, put their ages on the tickets, but the hiccup was the fact that they were traveling with their 19-year-old sister. That made me feel comfortable with the fact they had a layover in Phoenix. What I hadn’t counted on was the fact that, even though they were landing in a hot, desert climate there might be a weather issue.
Yep . . . a thunderstorm and the hilariously named “haboob” sandstorm hit Phoenix just as my children, perched in their seats on Southwest flight 3421 were attempting to land. My phone rang at about nine in the evening and my oldest daughter informed me she was in Tucson. They had attempted to land the plane twice, bouncing through turbulence, and the captain – rightly – decided it wasn’t safe to land and skirted to the nearest airport. There they sat, waiting for the aforementioned “haboob” to pass and leave.
Here is why I say you need to call the airline and “inform” them that you have actual children on their plane.
As I sat there, just after getting off the phone with my daughter a text alert for their connecting flight announced a delay. That was fine . . . good, in fact, since they were sitting in Tucson. This would allow them to make their connector.
Then came another alert . . . their flight was taking off in ten minutes at 10:10pm. But I’d just heard from my daughter that they hadn’t left Tucson yet. This, by the way, was the last flight leaving Phoenix for our Sacramento home. It wasn’t boding well.
I picked up the phone just then and called Southwest, more than a bit concerned that there was a plane with at least four individuals who needed to go to Sacramento who had no plane.
“That flight has already left” I was informed after sitting on hold for ten minutes.
“I’m aware of that, but I have four kids on that plane in Tucson, two of whom are eleven and they’re totally freaked out!”
They were, by the way. The turbulence had taken my already anxiety-ridden son and twisted his insides into knots. I spent about ten minutes calming him down on the phone.
So there, on the phone with Southwest, I asked why the Sacramento flight couldn’t have waited, I don’t know, the 15 minutes (and that’s literal flight time . . . I asked the Southwest agent) for the plane with connecting passengers to get to Phoenix.
“We didn’t know they were kids on the plane, with a 19-year-old it’s assumed they’re with an adult.”
“She’s 19, not necessarily equipped to handle 3 kids at an airport for nine more hours waiting for your next plane.”
The agent said something about the inability to control the weather and I informed them I understood that . . . but it didn’t allay the fears and anxieties of my four children sitting on their plane about to land in Phoenix with no way to get home for another 9 hours.
“Well I don’t know what to say,” says the agent, “the plane they are on is the last plane out. It’s going to San Francisco.”
The light bulb went off above my head as the agent asked “are you close to there?”
“Close enough,” I informed her. Until she said the flight was sold out.
“Well so was the damn plane you didn’t hold for my kids!”
It’s here she tells me . . . “if we had known they were traveling with just their 19-year-old sister we would have held the plane.” I was incredulous. “It wasn’t on their tickets.”
“I could have gone all night without you telling me that,” I said through grinding teeth.
“Oh…sorry about that,” she says.
“Let me check and see if we can get them on the flight. But bear in mind they’re on the plane.”
“So you don’t have a way to inform them when they land to stay on the plane?!”
“Well . . . yes, we can do that.”
So I get the flight arranged. They tell me the bags won’t be in San Francisco, as if I cared. I’d pick them up in Sacramento the next day.
After all is arranged I’m attempting to text my daughter and tell her to stay on the plane when I get a text myself . . . from her . . . angry because they’ve missed the connecting flight and she doesn’t know how they’ll spend the next nine hours without killing each other.
The phone rings . . . it’s the Phoenix airport asking why I want to keep my kids on the flight. “Because you sent their connector out without them!” I inform the gate agent.
I had thanked the customer service rep, but the gate agent was trying my patience. I told them yes . . . I’m verifying I want them to stay on the plane . . . and immediately called my daughter and told her not to leave the freaking plane no matter what.
I jumped in the car and drove the two hours from my house to SFO. My daughter was almost crying she was so happy it was fixed.
I was just relieved.
It was a lesson . . . a lesson for me that you should always, always call the airline and make sure they know these are kids on the plane.
Most, though . . . this was a lesson for my kids: even when I’m not there with them, I’ll do everything I can to make sure they are home . . . safe.