Category Archives: airports

25.3 kgs

‘Your bag is overweight, I’m not going to charge you this time, but be more careful next time. It’s 25.3 kgs’
The Delta check-in lady using a stern tone.

‘Did ya do a lot of shopping while you were home?’
The assistant checker-in person joined in. The strong Aussie accent dressed in a Delta uniform somehow seemed out of place even though we were standing in Sydney airport. How quickly I have come to expect an American accent.

Tears welled up – I had no control over them.

‘No, its my Mum’s stuff, I came back for her funeral.’

Murmured apology from Team Delta, awkward moment, both suddenly looking closely at the computer screen. I felt I had to let them off.

‘Doesn’t everyone about to spend 13 hours in economy on a plane with no spare seats cry?’

Ha ha – good one, they could look up at me again and we finished our transaction in a more relaxed fashion.

Of course I didn’t come home for her funeral. I came home to do the unthinkable, to say goodbye. A carefully timed trip, cancelled once, designed to allow time with my mum but also not leaving my husband and kids alone too long in a new country with no support system in place.
Clinical, horrifying.

The kid’s anxiety of their mother leaving indefinitely, knowing when she came home it meant their beloved Mumma would no longer be in the same world where they could talk to her on the phone and  run past the computer when she was on Skype. Photos and memories would be it. Thankfully we have just had two months with her, the memories are fresh, I can’t think about six months or a year from now when they are not.

My husband had to juggle full time work and full time carer responsibility for an unknown quantity of time. His work requires up to fifty percent of his time traveling, on hold indefinitely.  A perhaps uniquely expat moment bringing the family unit under pressures it had not previously faced, not knowing how we were all going to get through, it seemed impossible.

We’ve made it so far, my husband was given a 7/10 and an 8/10 by the kids for his efforts. The six year old (7/10) booked herself into after school care because apparently I said she could before I left, that gave the nine year old (8/10) peace after the school bus trip home to do his homework and have his one hour screen time before the whirlwind returned.

It wasn’t a funeral, it was a ‘Celebration of Life’.  I wore a bright blue dress, there were pinks and blues and reds everywhere. The ‘Celebration’  was held at Glennifer Brae, a special location, the school my mum attended, taught at, where we lived in the cottage on the grounds when we were very little, later after the school shut and it became a venue for public functions we were married there.  Then the property passed to the Conservatorium of Music (Wollongong) and it was closed to public functions. There were special envoys to council, special permission had to be granted to hold a function there. For mum there was no other option, it was Glennifer Brae or bust. It was one of the last days and her close friend Cookie raced up the stairs to the bedroom to sit by her bed and tell her the good news, she smiled so hard, for an hour at least.

It was a beautiful afternoon, the sun shone, it was predicted to be cloudy and possible showers, someone must have had a word. There was no celebrant, our Mistress of Ceremonies was a close friend of mum’s with a perfect background and experience to set the tone and engage the crowd. There was a choir that sang a four part version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah and later the Glennifer Brae (SCEGGS Wollongong) school song along with the impressive number of old girls in attendance. My brother and I got through our words without breaking down, my mum’s sister got through her own toast similarly unscathed. We celebrated her life with French champagne, as she wished it to be.

Two days later I was standing at the Delta counter heading back to Atlanta with a suitcase that was 25.3 kgs, 9kgs heavier than when I arrived. The sum total of ‘things’ I bought back that belonged to Mum is 9kgs.

Two nights later I am still awake at 2am trying to work out what actually happened. Today (since it is 2am) is Thanksgiving, our first in the USA, I am thankful to be home again with my family, but it doesn’t feel enough. I am hoping the haziness will pass with the jetlag. We’ll see.

Hotlanta eventually…

We made it!

All the way from the African continent to the one in the north of the Americas. (grimly holding onto the A theme)

It wasn’t without its challenges, traveling solo with my two TCK’s,  expert flyers though they are and truly thrilled with Emirates business class (as was their mother) they are still after all – kids. One of whom has anger management issues, our own little World’s Angriest Five Year Old (WAFYO), still learning to read and so has some justifiable issues operating the media equipment in that case, after all each airline has its own system idiosyncrasies and the last time she flew business class was three years ago, she was two and slept the whole time – for which her mother was very grateful.

The other junior traveller was somewhat anxious – not about flying but about the whole moving countries thing.  He was having his whole world tossed in the air to settle again somewhere he had never been, to make new friends he is not yet sure exist and after a detailed study of American television on offer in South Africa is concerned about whether or not he may get a date for the Prom. Did I mention he is nine years old?

The night before we left he had been bought home from a sleepover by his South African bff’s mother after he decided he was too anxious to stay, only to have the babysitter who was minding the other kids while their parents were at a lunchtime braai that was heading to a very late finish, not to hear the door, so a 10pm round trip return to the sleepover. Not my finest parenting moment – although I picked up the call at 10.15pm after all was resolved and well.

So it was with a slight sense of guilt and not at all thinking about the twenty three flying hours ahead that I allowed the kids to purchase some kind of giant chocolate bars at the airport in Durban after it took forty-five minutes to check in while they were playing trolley wars with several other juniors who had come to bid them farewell.

Note to self – don’t do that again.

Another item to note about Mr Nine is his absolute conviction that he doesn’t eat or drink at all while inside a flying device that takes you from one destination to another. This includes water, although after this trip we’re in negotiation for new guidelines on aircraft travel and won’t be boarding again until we have at least a water truce.

Anyway no points for guessing what happened next, apart from WAFYO watching Up six times in the next nine hours. There was also a crying baby in business class and the guy sitting between that and the vomiting nine year old must be wishing he’d missed that particular flight.

There was a vomiting lull in Dubai – as well as three hours to kill in transit so stupidly again I allowed eating and some drinking.  I should have focussed on less eating and more sensible hydration. Call me distracted, exhausted or just trying to get there.

The next leg to New York was fourteen hours. The vomiting started after ten or so and by hour thirteen the poor kid was practically passed out refusing water from his desperate mother.

We limped through the JFK wheelchair line with an almost passed out, definitely dehydrated, paler than paper kid whose father asked as he greeted us ‘Was he just a bit tired?’

Yes sure, they give out wheelchairs to all parents who suggest their kids are a bit tired and wouldn’t like to walk from the plane.

Happily as we were out of the aircraft and away from customs liquids were now an option and fifteen hours later after a few litres of the stuff and a good night’s sleep No 1 son was ready for a day of adventure in Central Park and at the Museum of Natural History – where the first exhibit in the Large African Mammals room was a Tiger, but I am sure there is a perfectly good explanation for that.

Three child tourism oriented days in New York and memories of the horror flight had faded somewhat, the Atlanta hop was only three hours and blissfully vomit free, even if we were in economy.

We landed in ‘Hotlanta’ as they call it on the steamiest weekend of the year so far, the day before the hottest day ever recorded in the history of the city 42 degrees celsius or around 106 degrees in the new terminology we will be learning – it was here that WAFYO picked up the mantle and produced one of the world’s biggest vomits  on the trip from the airport to the apartment in her father’s two week old car.

To use an American expression – Awesome!

Travellers – what type are you?

Airports are brilliant spots for people watching – which lets face it, everyone loves. Well, I love it, and from time to time I have the luxury of undertaking it solo – without having to worry where three other family members are at any given moment, giving me the time to properly evaluate my fellow travellers and their ‘type’.

People watching is also a great sport if you are ever slightly, just a tiny bit judgmental and love to type people who you have never met and are most likely never going to based on what they look like, what they are wearing, carrying, doing or smell like. Obviously the total opposite of what I am like in real life…..

If you are lucky enough to have lived in other countries, or travel quite frequently, it can add an extra layer to the already pre-defined view you may have of a general population of citizens – something I mentioned when I wrote about the Inevitabilities of International Travel - a while ago.

Last week I returned from a relatively self indulgent ten day, three continent tour of birthday parties.  The first was my brother’s 40th held in Sydney – but he (and a surprisingly increasing number of my family on both sides live in the Bris-Vegas, Gold Coast area) so after a weekend in Sydney, I flew up that way to inspect their new abodes. Three days later to return via a 6am flight to the International terminal in Sydney to jet off to HK for a long weekend to celebrate what was labeled the ‘Festival of Lynette’ for another fabulous friend’s 40th. This leg of the trip was justified to the husband by way of – traveling on Frequent Flyer points which were about to expire anyway and going Cathay so a weekend in Hong Kong  just made perfect sense.

Anyway – the point is, with those flights plus my Durban – Joburg legs both ways I took eight flights in ten days and spent a lot of time in airports and on planes conducting the sport of ‘people watching’.

Despite my husband and I having enough combined points for me to have flown business class, I was in economy – which I suppose I should thank him for because it is by far the superior people watching arena.  Those in business class glide from the airline lounges onto the plane (via the short queue) and then disappear into their pods never to be seen again. In the cattle class waiting area and down the back on the plane is where all the action is.

What we all dream about when we get into the plane an empty economy section -but there's always 'the other travellers'

Here are some of my most spotted types on the trip

- the happy traveller, who knew but they really do exist, smiley and courteous at all points

- the grump – usually contented with looking unhappy but can also turn to their neighbour and unload their reason for unhappiness (which may or may not include a life story – but will definitely include commentary about why they didn’t get their preferred seating on the flight)

- the tracksuit wearing traveller

- the couple who are dressed to match (these can overlap with the tracksuit wearers, see above)

- the Family, which of course has extensive sub groups. Can be with one or two parents, the special sub type will depend on number of and age of children and if they have the dad that pops them all in their seats and then glides off to his business class pod never to be seen again until disembarking when he will have been first in the immigration line and gone ahead to ‘collect the baggage’. Special shout out here to the first time travelling family, an easy spot.

- the fashion conscious traveller, the one who boards looking perfect, has a perfect change of clothes for flight and then can somehow layer themselves again at the end of the flight to depart looking a million dollars

- the long distance, many flights, lack of access to shower facilities travellers

- the stressed traveller, always worrying about where their passports are, how do they complete question 4 iv) e on the immigration card, whether they will catch or miss  their connecting flight etc etc etc

- the relaxed traveller (quite an overlap with the happy traveller)

- the full make up traveller – no idea how its done, usually crosses over with the fashion conscious traveller, both types being a total mystery to me

- the person or people you saw at check-in and hoped you weren’t going to be seated near – who are in fact in your row if not immediately beside you

- the tour group traveller (a personal fave) wearing stickers and following flags

- experienced traveller, has made all the necessary pre-flight arrangements, looks quiet and comfortable, always drinking water

- the know-it-all (or the experienced traveller with irritating personality) gleefully sharing extensive knowledge across the tarmac and the plane

- the late arriver – you know the ones that turn up after the announcement ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, we are sorry for the delay – we are just waiting for a couple of passengers to arrive’ and then they do.

and last (but by no means least)

- the sleeper! Anywhere, anytime, any seat – eyes shut, dozes off immediately.

Of course there are many many more – what’s your favourite one here or which are the best ones I have missed?

My MacGuyver parenting moment

About a year ago I wrote a post about international plane travel – mostly from the point of view of the traveler who has kids but was not traveling with them at the time.

The trauma from a recent trip to Australia from South Africa that included my precious little ones (gee it’s a REALLY long way you know) prevents me from updating that post immediately to include 453 456 new items – however I have one tip to share and I think it’s a must for those that travel with small and demanding children. It’s also my only MacGuyver parenting moment of note that I can recall in the nearly 8 years I have had children so I am sharing it.

BUT, it is a wee (urine) story so opt out now if you are rolling your eyes and thinking – Why must parents always talk about their children’s bathroom habits in such detail?

Right – anyone left here goes.

It was a dark and stormy afternoon December afternoon in Sydney – really stormy and the flight from Joburg that was bringing my husband to assist on this month long living out of a suitcase ‘holiday’ and in particular to meet the flight we were about to board to Adelaide was diverted to Melbourne. Did I care that he was on a 15-hour trip that had just had a diversion and would now make it a 20+ hours? Did I care he was going through terrible turbulence and diverting to Melbourne put him tantalizingly close to Adelaide but he would just have to wait in the plane on the tarmac until he flew onto Sydney and then back to Adelaide? NO NO NO!

All I cared about was the fact that I was at the airport waiting for a delayed, full flight to Adelaide (they seem to give his seat away quick smart) and I was going to have to once again do it with my two children by myself.

Don’t get me wrong my kids are great travelers the good little TCK’s they are. TCK’s – Third Culture Kids a cool new term they can be referred to as because after all don’t we all want another label? Wikipedia says a TCK is – someone who, as a child, has spent a significant period of time in one or more culture(s) other than his or her own, thus integrating elements of those cultures and their own birth culture, into a third culture. So lets say so far their third culture highlights are they know what Chinese New Year is all about (receiving red packets) and they can sing Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, (which lets be honest not even every South African knows all the words to) AND can discuss both of these while eating a vegemite sandwich, that’s cultural integration for you. They both have spent more than their fair share of time on planes, both belong to frequent flyer programs and are any moment about to share their points with their mother for a return trip to an exotic overseas destination – just for her – to pay me back for all the trips from hell I have taken them on over the years.

So for a hardened traveling mother such as myself what is a little flight from Sydney to Adelaide – less than two hours long – with Master 7 and Miss 4? A walk in the park, right? Things to know about Miss 4 – she has the world’s smallest bladder and a burning desire to see the inside of every public bathroom facility in the known Universe.

Delayed flight, full flight, harassed flight attendants, storm, ‘where is daddy?’ Am I setting the scene?

‘Lets board the families with small children first’ comes the announcement – always a tough choice – do you want the kids to have space to move around in for as long as possible which is found in the departure lounge more readily than in the economy class section of an airplane or do you want to get them in their seats – and get your 25kg of ‘hand luggage’ stowed away before everyone else gets on the plane and takes all the space so you spend the whole flight with your knees under your chin due to baggage placement issues (yes I am the traveler everyone can’t believe got through with that much hand luggage)? It was here that my years of experience and in fact all reason seemed to abandon me, I was so sick of fielding the ‘when are we getting on the plane?’ questions that I opted to join the early boarders.

‘I’m going to vomit’ screamed Miss 4 as we stepped from the walkway onto the plane – cue flight attendant shoving us both into the business class toilet at the front of the plane while Master 7 went on ahead to choose a seat that suited him 2B – um no.

Five minutes and many vomit bags being passed to us later – the crisis was apparently averted as Miss 4 announced she was satisfied with the bathroom facilities should she need to use them later and we could now proceed to our seats – leaving us in the middle of the boarding process with everyone else now blocking the way of my impatient children and Master 7 having a serious discussion with the boarding pass holder of seat 2B about whose seat it really was.

Ensconced in our seats with at least half of our ‘hand luggage’ stored away and children settling into some electronic entertainment – boarding was completed – seatbelts fastened – taxi to runway, correction, taxi to queue of eight planes near runway – announcement from Captain –

‘Thanks for your patience we are number eight in the queue, at least 30 mins until take off please remain in your seats with your seatbelt fastened.’

‘I need to do a wee’ screamed Miss 4.

‘Can you wait?’ Desperate mother asks.

‘No – I need to do it Now Now’ (more TCK evidence, use of South African conversational terminology not evident 18 months ago when we moved here)

‘Please just wait til we take off and the seatbelt sign goes off’

Escalating voice ‘No, I need to do a wee NOW NOW’

Same conversation happens for next few minutes.

At this point all the other passengers are staring – as they do – if you are a mother you are used to it and generally immune – one gentlemen says ‘If I were you I’d just take her – see how you go’.

I thought it’s got to be better than this. ‘Get up, lets go’.

‘Stop, sit down’ scream the strapped in flight attendants – goodness knows how they can see us from so far away up the front. I am now the person that everyone looks at when they do the follow up announcement

‘Ladies and Gentlemen, I know it is a long wait but please DO NOT remove your seatbelts or get out of your seats’

The Captain has just told us we are going to be here for at least 20 more minutes lady – are you serious!?!?! If only we were on a domestic flight in China where everyone just gets up and walks around when they want to, my bathroom problem would be solved.

Miss 4 – screaming escalating – Master 7 pleading with me to do something to get her to be quiet. Amid all the drama I have my MacGuyver moment.
I look at the many sick bags I have stored in the seat back in front of me and pull two of them out and perform the ‘double bag’ manoeuvre and then direct Miss 4 to take her seatbelt off and stand up and drop her pants. Can you see where this is going? Master 7 – who was sitting in the seat between us could see and he was NOT happy.

‘Gross! You can’t make her wee in the bag, its going to go every where and it might get me’ Hands go over ears and eyes shut (few sensory issues going on there but this one isn’t about him ;)

Miss 4 was interested enough that I might have the solution to her problems that she calmed down long enough to stop squealing and actually follow my instructions – can I tell you – she really needed to go, that bag was pretty full by the time she was done and so I added an extra layer to ensure no leakage would be occurring. I scrounged around for some wet wipes in one of the bags we had to keep with us due to overhead locker overcrowding and Voila! Not a drop spilled anywhere – equal credit to Miss 4 and myself for that one. Not bad I say.

Happy 4yo, happy passengers and lets face it Qantas should also be happy with me because I surely saved them from a wet seat and complaining passengers. As soon as we took off and the seatbelt sign went off I made a beeline for the bathroom to dispose of my triple bagged package and two people in front of me said

‘Oh you go ahead doesn’t your little girl need to use the bathroom?’

‘All over’ I say holding up the bag, proud of my MacGuyver moment.

The moral of the story is – when traveling with small kids stockpile the sick bags, they have more than one use.

What is your MacGuyver moment? I know there’s got to be plenty that can top that one – but this one was mine and I remain proud.

Inevitabilities of international travel

When you are me you are likely to travel internationally two ways  – in economy  (goes without saying) – with children or without.  I should mention the ‘with children’ category can be broken down further into sub-categories ‘with children and husband’ or ‘with children no other adult’ – but those stories are for another time.

There were the days when international for me did mean business class lounges and turning left when you got on the plane, but that’s when I was working and the other end of the trip usually posed 15 hour days and travel to and from the airports under the cover of darkness (not that I don’t miss it, just a tiny little bit – not least because it falls under the ‘without children’ category).

Last week I traveled to Australia for the first time from Durban (and return) under category two – without children.  It was a very long trip, including three flights each way and lengthy transit stops in Singapore both times (17 hours and 8 hours respectively) but that’s what you get when you book a next day ticket using the ‘airlines I would travel on versus possible cost considerations’ method. The length of time it took to get there and back gave me an opportunity to reflect on some of the things I thought might be exciting about traveling without children, but as usual its not always quite what you think it will be.

Below are some of my observations – collected over the course of the six flights.

-       The best and worst of each country’s citizens will be on display at all times, but you will likely only notice / remember the bad, weird and wacky ones. In particular your own countrymen and those of the countries you have lived in before – which is lucky because it is likely you will refer to them in years to come as a way to validate your generalisations about people from ‘that’ country.  It is of course also possible to easily spot appalling behaviour from citizens from a country you have never lived in – but you usually have to be able to sneak a look at their passport to confirm.

-       There appears to be an alarming trend in wearing travel neck cushions as a fashion accessory in airports

-       You will be seated near a baby / small child and it will cry – but for mothers traveling without their own children, this sound will fade into background noise and if you do notice it – you will only reflect with relief that it is not your own

-       The plane will always be full (this is more common post GFC when airlines have cut flights – fair enough). If the plane is not full – any spare seats will NOT be next to you.  If the plane is relatively empty (rare but does happen still) you will still have someone seated beside you and they will not understand the etiquette – that they should be the one to get up and go SOMEWHERE ELSE as soon as the seatbelt sign goes off, if not before – as you can’t as you are trapped in your row by them!! (In the end I just climbed out over him and went to claim four seats and slept from Adelaide to Singapore on the way home – but COME ON – he should have known)

-       The person beside you will slurp their drink, which may be a cultural way of them showing enjoyment – but it will still annoy the hell out of you. Possibly not as much as the other bodily functions they may also unleash while still sitting within 10 cms of you.

AND / OR

-       The person sitting beside you will have spent an hour before the flight in the smoking lounge and will carry that aroma with them for the duration of the flight.

AND / OR

-       The person sitting beside you will fall asleep and lean on you with some part of their body for the rest of the trip.

-       This one more as an FYI to the check in chick in Johannesburg who issued my Singapore to Adelaide boarding pass – 62K on a Singapore Airlines airbus is the back row of the plane – window seat, NOT a forward aisle seat as she struggled to make me believe at the time.

-       It has been my experience on the airlines I have traveled in and out of Africa on (Cathay and Singapore) that they do not put their newest and prettiest planes on this route. An example of this was the size of the tv on the Joburg – Singapore flight being less than a quarter of the size of the economy class tv I had for the Singapore – Adelaide flight.  I would add at this point – if you want to fly economy (or don’t have a choice) Singapore Airlines is the way to go – the new planes are da bomb.  Huge tv screens, on demand everything, ipod / iphone charger ports, in seat international power sockets (particularly fabulous for parents traveling with electronic equipment requiring charging – don’t despair – it will NEVER run out of batteries)

-       Magazines seem to cost about six times their actual price at airports and are generally the only thing you want to buy – or can concentrate long enough on so you are suckered, and they have so many of them – its like being dazzled by the choice, you just can’t stop at one.

-       If you spend long enough at airports you will run into someone you know – I ended up seeing three people I knew in my first stretch in Singapore airport, fair enough if was a Friday afternoon and everyone was going home for the weekend – but just sayin.

-       You will sit directly behind the person that immediately reclines their seat to the full extent immediately after take off and behind you will be the tallest person in economy so you don’t feel you can just whack your own seat back equally to make up for the space you no longer have. Result is tight squeeze and bad angle on tv screen so that you have to move your neck around to weird angles to view.

-       When you travel alone – the luxury of watching full television shows or movies in one sitting is available. It is likely you will use this opportunity to watch something that will make you cry and everyone walking past will look at you strangely as you sob with your headphones on.

-       Australia is a big country – just because you sight land on the flight info thingy – hold the excitement, there is usually a long way to go until you will actually be landing (like hours)

-       If you are truly tired you will be able to sleep easily in the airport transit hotels not thinking at all about how they are hired out in six hour lots and wondering who the cleaning staff are.

-       There will always be people who undo their seatbelt and open the overhead lockers during landing – that’s just the way it is.

Who’s got something else to add?  I know there must be at least six hundred other things I haven’t included – and maybe next week after my next trip by myself I will have some more.