Friday, December 4, 2015

The Joys of International Travel with an Infant

You'll all be happy to know that BabyTK and I have returned safely to the Big Manti* with MamaTK in tow. (Mr. ATK returned a couple weeks before we did.) Actually, we've been back for more than a month. Time really flies.

Anyways, we had quite the adventure--Chicago to Frankfurt to Istanbul to Bishkek. Of course, you could just do Chicago to Istanbul to Bishkek and cut out the Frankfurt part all together but then I wouldn't get the joy of taking a United flight (*grumble*stupidFlyAmericaAct*grumble.*)  This one was a United flight operated by Lufthansa, so perhaps it was slightly better than an actual United flight. I don't know.

Anyways, I would like to break this experience down into the various legs.

1.) Pre-Departure
So in order to travel internationally, one must have a passport. Even little babies. So prior to the birth of BabyTK, I was pretty concerned about getting the passport in time to get BabyTK's ticket purchased without having to rearrange the plane tickets MamaTK and I already had. And of course BabyTK needed a diplomatic passport so that's a whole extra layer of bureaucracy to deal with. So basically as soon as the little guy popped out, Mr. ATK was filling out the paperwork in order to get everything set. And might I add, trying to take a passport photo of a five day old baby with his eyes open, is quite the challenge. Anyways, we had our paperwork on point. Got a birth certificate like, three days after the baby was born, and submitted all the appropriate paperwork, expedited I might add, within two week after birth. I mean, BabyTK was born on August 18 and we sent our stuff in, again EXPEDITED!, before the end of the month. So weeks go by. September starts winding down and no passport. I keep bugging Mr ATK who was like, "I'm sure it's coming. We have time." Mr. ATK receives a thing saying "the passport has been processed" so I'm like, "Great it should be coming. More weeks go by, no passport. September ends and Mr. ATK heads back to Bishkek and no passport. We were scheduled to fly October 16 and recall, BabyTK doesn't get a ticket without a passport, so he not only doesn't have a passport, he has no plane ticket. Finally, I check in with a facebook group to be like, is this long of a wait normal? (I mean we were supposed to fly in two weeks.) And then I got to hear all sorts of horror stories of passports left on a pile in DC or sent to Post instead of to the home address in the U.S. So I get the number and call and sure enough, BabyTK's passport is in a pile in DC waiting for us to pick it up and has been for, like, 3 weeks. Sigh. I have no idea why it wasn't shipped to the address we requested it be sent to, but it must happen often enough that they were super helpful and shipped it out that day. I got it the next day and luckily got BabyTK's ticket purchased in time. Still, it was a little too close for comfort for me.

Our first leg of the journey was also the longest. Chicago O'Hare to Frankfurt. That's about a nine hour flight and I was pretty concerned about how my fellow passengers would react to BabyTK. I mean, let's be honest here. How many of you out there get that scowl as soon as you see a baby or other small children on your flight, especially when it's a long one? I know I've felt that sense of dread, though I like to think I never gave anyone the evil eye or did that obvious disappointed sigh right by the parents. I was worried he would cry the whole time and everyone on the airplane would hate me. But then again, he is a baby and babies cry so get over it, you know? And BabyTK was an awesome flyer. On this flight we were in the bulkhead seats which had a bassinet, which was really nice since BabyTK likes to stretch out. He was getting a little cranky in his car seat after awhile, but once I laid him in the bassinet he was good to go.

The downside to the bulkhead is you can't have luggage at your feet during take off and landing which is annoying and worst of all, the armrests don't go up so you are, like, wedged into these tiny seats. I mean, I usually don't have a problem with the width of airplane seats (even after packing on the pounds gestating a human like inside of me) but these were tight.  

So we get to Frankfurt and, I haven't yet mentioned one big downside of traveling with an infant which is that they get their own luggage and carry on (as a ticketed passenger) but, uh, are not very helpful in helping to transport the extra baggage. In fact, they themselves are a little bit like extra baggage as pushing his stroller took away precious luggage hauling/cart pushing hands. MamaTK and I were juggling our luggage and carry-ons and his. In Chicago, we hired a guy to cart the luggage to the ticket counter, and so we just ended up with the carry-ons. But still, that left us with 6 carry-ons (excuse me, three carry-ons and three personal items) plus a baby in a stroller. It was quite the sight watching us try to get down the airplane aisle with everything and the car seat. Thankfully, on our Chicago trip other passengers helped us maneuver the luggage and put it in the overhead bins. Maybe they were being nice or maybe they were annoyed with how slowly we were plodding up the aisle. Either way, they helped. A big thank you to them.

Anyways, we arrive at Frankfurt, and as everyone is in a hurry to get off the plane, we wait so as not to clog the aisle with all our crap. This of course means no one is available to help us try and get all the stuff off the plane. I mean, yes there was the entire flight crew but they just watched us struggle and looked annoyed that we were taking so long. I think one of them even asked if we were planning to get off. It's a bit hazy now; I just remember being super annoyed and pretty stressed. I know it is not their job to carry our luggage, but, I mean, we're moving as fast as we can, so either lend a hand  or shut up and wait. (We got all the luggage down, the challenge was getting it down the narrow aisle and out the door.) Oh, and of course the stroller we gate checked was not waiting for us at the exit as we anticipated, but was sent to baggage claim. Why? I have no idea. Kind of defeats the purpose of having a stroller. So now I am carrying a car seat that I anticipated pushing on the stroller frame, plus carrying several carry-ons, as is MamaTK. But now we need to haul ass through the entirety of the Frankfurt airport, go through immigration--where I was asked to present proof that my baby was mine because our last names are different--and down to baggage claim. Again, on the complete other side of the airport. But, there was a light at the end of the tunnel, or so I thought, as I had made arrangements for a bellhop from the airport Sheraton to meet us and handle the baggage. I did this on my trip home when I was a billion weeks pregnant and it worked like gangbusters. Sadly, this time we arrive at baggage claim and there is no one to be found. The baggage carousel is pretty empty as it took us forever to get there, but our luggage still hadn't come out, so it's not like they were all done unloading the bags. Eventually the suitcases come and I go hunt down our stroller, but now we have two FULL luggage carts plus a stroller and only two people to move all this stuff. It was bananas. We work our way through customs and I am fuming about the stupid bell hop the whole time and when we finally get through customs and out into the airport, there is no elevator to be found. I leave MamaTK with the baby and the luggage and searching for an elevator but seriously, there are like, zero in that airport! It's crazy. There are signs explaining how to take the luggage cart on the escalator, so I guess that's what folks do in Germany. I'm pretty sure it would have been a safety hazard with the luggage carts we were sporting.  (Not to mention it seems kinda sketchy to take a stroller on an escalator.)

Anyways, after searching the airport for an elevator and coming up empty, MamaTK was like, "Can you just go to the hotel and get someone to come help?" Since the hotel is attached to the airport, I was like, "I guess so." And so I left MamaTK with piles of crap and a baby to head to the hotel to check-in. I did get someone to help and I got a complementary upgrade to a club suite due to the mix up. (They said there was someone there but left because I never showed up. I would say that guy should at least wait until all the luggage has been unloaded. There were still people at the carousel, for pete's sake!)

So we finally get everything up to the suite and while I had hoped to do a day of sightseeing in Frankfurt, the weather was awful and we were pretty exhausted so we slept and I ventured out to a few grocery stores for food. Plus, with the upgrade, we could access the club level where there is free food during happy hour.  So that was nice. MamaTK got lots of sleep. Me? Not so much as BabyTK decided a series of 15 minute power naps were all the sleep he was willing to do. Unless of course he was sleeping on me. Then he snoozed away. But as soon as I put him down, the wailing began.

This leg of the journey was pretty smooth. The only notable thing that I recall is that for some reason, whenever I put the car seat up on the table by the x-ray conveyor belt in order to take the baby out of it, everyone, security and random passengers around me, kept thinking I was going to put the baby through the x-ray in his car seat. I'm not sure if I give off an "incompetent parent" vibe or what. This happened at O'Hare, too. Anyways, I did not put the baby through the x-ray.

The flight to Istanbul was not full and, in fact, the bulkhead seats in front of us were all empty. We were all set to move when some random guy swooped in and took the aisle seat (there were only three seats in the row.) He promptly reclined his seat (into MamaTK's lap) and then got up and went and sat next to some lady (who may or may not have been a famous German person based on how the flight attendants and some passengers were acting) who was in the two seat section rright across the aisle. (It was a 2-3-2 set up.) It was really annoying.

And, of course, upon arriving in Istanbul, our stroller ended up in the forwarded baggage, sent on to Bishkek. Not sure how on earth you are supposed to get gate checked item upon arrival. Luckily there are mini-baggage carts for carry-ons in Istanbul and BabyTK's car seat fit right in it, so I didn't have to haul him around by hand for the duration of our two hour layover.

Also, the Popeye's in the Istanbul airport was incredibly underwhelming.

Not a lot to report from this leg. Things went pretty smooth. The only thing is that the Turkish air flights always board, like, 30-45 minutes after the say they are  going to, so people are always lined up waiting anxiously at the gate. And of course, it was right around boarding time that BabyTK decided he needed to eat. Well, you know, I didn't really want to start feeding him only to be told to start boarding. But then again, they were taking their sweet time to start the boarding. So I'm bouncing a crying baby much to the delight of all the other passengers, I'm sure. And old babushka, who kept telling me the baby should be wearing a hat (I think that's what she was saying; it was all in Russian) also told me the baby was hungry.

Eventually we got to board, and amusingly since I had a baby I got to go in the early boarding, but there was already a big line of passengers down the jet bridge waiting. The Turkish Airlines guy grabbed the car seat from me and pushes through the crowd with me trying to keep up and MamaTK way behind trying to explain to confused passengers that she was with us. So we get to the front and the guy basically makes them take down the barrier that is across the door and we get in (along with the impatient horde behind us.)

The flight was fine, except BabyTK's carseat took up the whole (tiny) space so the lady in front of him couldn't recline. This lead her travel companion to ask us if there was a problem and I was like, "No." And she gestures to the baby's carseat and is like, "Can you do something about this?" And I was like, "No." And that seemed to be enough for her. Thankfully no one tried to strangle either me or BabyTK. Of course, in what might be a form of passive aggressive retaliation, the companion (who was seated in the middle seat in front of me) promptly reclined her seat into me and then moved into the empty seat in front of MamaTK, reclined her seat and spent the rest of the flight there. But oh well, what can you do? It all worked out.

And so here we are, back in Bishkek. Not sure when our next trip will be, but we'll see how international travel changes as BabyTK becomes ToddlerTK and eventually ChildTK. He was pretty sleepy on all the airplanes. I assume he will continue to be a perfect angel as he travels the world.

*For those of you not in the know, mantis are Kyrgyz dumplings.

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