* M-day: Mobilization day
UPDATE to previous post/Our last full day in Texas…We were so busy on Wednesday, the day before we flew out, that I didn’t get a chance to send my last post which was still in my phone until earlier today. David and the boys were up a bit earlier than we girls. I’ve discovered that the 1st hour or so of silence is David’s personal time and I TRY to respect it. That’s his time with a cup of coffee, regardless if it’s from our home Keurig or hotel lobby coffee, and his private thoughts. Since we’d arrived so late the night before, we let Bella sleep a little longer. So, basically, our last full day in the US started late but we completed what needed to be done, like make copies of our pet travel poster for the boys’ crate. (Thanks to this awesome site with surprisingly still useful info, even for being a couple of years old!)
mis-ADVENTURES IN PET TRAVEL…Yesterday, we started getting ready in the morning, with a goal to get checked out of our hotel by 1100. That was delayed about another 45 minutes and we didn’t get to the airport until about 2.5 hours from take off. That wouldn’t be so bad except that (1) flying with pets internationally requires about 30-45 minutes of additional paperwork and (2) we had a serious obstacle to overcome…we needed a 2nd pet carrier. Although DH had called American Airlines several times over the past month to confirm and reconfirm that the 2 dogs could fly in the same carrier, we were told by the nice woman at check-in that we needed a 2nd carrier. We didn’t have a problem with paying for a 2nd carrier but Rusty and Charlie have been sharing a crate for a long time (we kept a large crate in the house for them to use when they needed to get away). They are brothers and both our vet (Tita Mickie) and their trainer (Miguel) thought it would be good if they could travel together as they got along famously. (Rusty’s so anxious at times that clipping his nails is a major event.) So, how on earth were we going to get a 2nd crate with less than 2.5 hours left until takeoff?
AMERICAN AIRLINES ANGELS Sara, our agent who had to tell us the bad news, is a fabulous customer-service professional. She called superiors to confirm that the boys could/couldn’t travel together and provided us with detailed directions to the nearest Walmart and even described to a T where David should park so he could go in and out in a jiffy. All this happened while all 3 agents were covering a sometimes busy period compounded with a couple of at-the-desk, more than just a few minutes to check in, challenges. (1) We had a ton of bags and a serious pet transportation problem. (2) The family next to us was going to Mexico City and the father, who’d exchanged his miles for the tickets for his family of 4, was balking for nearly an hour about paying $17 more per ticket. Really? You can afford designer duds and fly enough to bank miles for your family’s international flight and yet, you can’t afford another $68? Wow. I guess he was arguing for principles, not finances. To each his own. I just thought it an interesting dilemma. His school-age son was really interested in what Bella was watching on my Ipod Touch (Cars 2) while we were going through our lengthy check-in process. Anyway, we were conscious of the fact that we were tying up our FANTASTIC agent so we wanted to get to a solution ASAP, especially since our 12 bags had already been checked in and were on their way to the flightline. ‘Twouldn’t look good if all our luggage showed up in Frankfurt but we didn’t. Oh, and it was apparent that the 3 agents were trying to efficiently help each other out and also cover the self-service machines, even when it went down to 2 agents at one point. We thought they all had great attitudes about their jobs and the service provided, even though you could tell that they were short-handed; at least, I could (I’ve flown enough with American Airlines this past year to tell that they could have used a 4th agent to man the self-service machines).
So while David rushed off with our rented minivan, which had been parked at the curb this whole time, Bella, the boys and I sat down in a corner of the waiting area, within eyesight of Sara, who checked in with us periodically. She was getting worried after about 40 minutes, especially when I couldn’t get a hold of David, but it turned out that yet another angel, this one unseen, was working the sands of time. Our flight was delayed at least an hour! So, when David got there with supposedly 30 minutes to spare before our original takeoff time, we were able to take care of the additional paperwork, set up the 2nd crate with labels, walk the dogs a bit before re-crating them, reweigh them, check them into TSA and then run over to security ourselves. The TSA process for the dogs alone took an additional 20 minutes and then we had to get ourselves through security…which also had a delay.
MURPHY RULES TSA… One of my carryons had to be rerun through security, which added a few more minutes to our now-really-tight timeline for our already-delayed-once-flight. The minute I saw the bag it dawned on me that once again, I’d forgotten one of my multi-tools in a carryon. This time, it was my little mini-Leatherman tool that I usually kept in my wallet. I mentioned it to the blue-gloved TSA agent…actually it came out as “OMG, I forgot my Leatherman again!” As he pulled out everything, I pointed out the wallet and he took out the Leatherman. BINGO! My bag went through fine the 2nd time around. And David wasn’t happy. I lose multi-tools as much as I lose expensive sunglasses. This is the 4th multi-tool I’ve lost since I left Kandahar…(1) my favorite Leatherman I wore while on the KITTYHAWK was taken by the Moroccan agent at the 3rd security checkpoint at Kuwait International Airport on my way home…it was deep in a side pocket on my rucksack and it took him about 15 minutes of digging to find it; (2) the mini-Leatherman I used in Kandahar was lost at San Antonio City Hall before I reported for jury duty in fall 2010; (3) the replacement Gerber I bought at the Ft. Sam Houston PX I found in my carryon before going to security and handed it to an airman in uniform who hadn’t checked in his luggage yet (David wasn’t pleased that I couldn’t readily find a soldier instead…)…
The minute I got my bags together after clearing security, I heard what no traveler wants to hear at the airport: all our names followed by “please report to gate 23 for immediate departure”. Thankfully our gate was near the security checkpoint and there was an agent standing in the middle of the aisle on the lookout for the frantic family of 3 whose 12 bags and 2 dogs were already on the plane. What else could possibly go wrong at this point? Maybe we could get some much needed sleep on the flight…but probably not!
HAVE BAGS, WILL TRAVEL… So we were in a completely full plane with a mix of German-speaking travelers and Americans, some in uniform and some not. I have noticed that the Air Force likes to fly in uniforms and on this particular flight, in flightsuits. My Army spouse psshaws at this habit, preferring to blend into the global traveling group and not draw attention to himself or his family (that’s part of our annual military training for overseas travel) . He already has the short haircut so that’s an easy guess. However, we don’t travel in uniform if we can help it, regardless of the auto-upgrade to biz class (which should be given to the junior guy, not the officer!), and don’t carry ACU/ABU patterned rucks or MOLLE strapped bags onboard, especially on international flights. We both came in when wearing a uniform for any flights, continental US or international, was a definite no-no. just a personal observation… Having lived overseas in the last few years, we are also ever-cognizant that America is not the most beloved country outside of our borders and some people simply don’t like us, regardless of your good intentions as a person or as an American citizen. Onzen daichi/Safety first! Now back to our bags…Okay, I confess, we USUALLY carry Karrimor bags as our daypacks and carryons (1) because we like them and (2) you can’t readily buy them in the US. Prestige? Not really. I just like being able to find my stuff in a sea of similar looking stuff. In London, Karrimor is a common brand found in any of their sporting goods stores. But you can’t find it in a US store (you can sometimes find it on ebay). Common US brands with great styles and warranties that also signal to taxidrivers and bad guys that “you’re not from ’round here”: Jansport, North Face, Osprey, Eagle Creek, Patagonia… you get the picture, don’t you? We do prefer these companies for our larger rucks that we use for longer travel, especially North Face, Osprey, Eagle Creek, Montbell. Those companies really do know how to make an excellent wheeled ruck with all the necessary pockets and safety features needed. BRAND SHOUTOUT: my preferred ruck is my trusty Montbell Zeropoint SHOWER CLIMB PACK 50 (No. #1223413), purchased at the Montbell store at Grandberry Mall, Machida, Japan. It would have been perfect for this trip if I didn’t have to pack for a few weeks at a time but I realized too late that I should have pulled it aside on moving day since this time, I did have to borrow a loud RED one from my mom. The plan is to send it back with her when she comes for a visit, hopefully later this year when it’s not a holiday and it’s warmer.
WELCOME ABOARD, NOW GET SEATED NOW BECAUSE YOU’RE LATE! When we came into her view, about 20 feet away, the gate agent shouted, “Are you going to Germany? Ok, hurry, we’re waiting for you!” She wasn’t being mean…she was getting the word to her teammates at the gate that we were on the way and “oh, there’s a stroller to gate check!”. Man, I felt so bad… and even worse a couple minutes later, upon boarding, because I felt like all eyes were upon us, all 30+ rows, because they had probably been sitting there for a while. It wasn’t like we were relaxing because we’d been at the airport for a few hours by then and oh, I hadn’t had a bathroom break since we left the hotel that morning. And Bella hadn’t had a diaper change either. Oh, the horror and realization that she had a full diaper set in right at the same moment as the pilot’s welcome announcement. More on the diaper in a bit…Remember how I said she’s a super trooper? She handled a new safety harness like a champ (she never did like her airplane Sit ‘n’ Stroll seat…so worth the money and hassle, until Daddy got tired for carrying 45+ lbs down skinny itty bitty airplane aisles). She loved the take off as she happily munched away on mini-pretzels and within 15 minutes, was sound asleep. Oh no! The full diaper just became a possible leakage on a cloth seat! On a 9.5 hour flight! Yikes… David gave me the “don’t worry, it’ll be okay” look along with saying “and I’m not planning to wake her up either”. So, I wiped the pool of sweat from my brow, practiced my ABCs, breathed and sat back to enjoy the flight, sneaking a peek over my right shoulder at her every so often. We were seated across the aisle from each other with Bella at the window. Presumably this was a good idea because it would give one of us a little break to enjoy the Kindle (David) or watch a movie on the Ipod (me). NATCH… didn’t happen at least not for longer than an hour or so.
OUT OF THE MOUTHS OF BABES: ARE WE THERE YET?…I DON’T WANT YOU! I WANT MAPA… Bella woke up from her 1st nap right after the 1st meal, supper, was delivered. Surprisingly, the cheese tortellini meal was tasty. Could’ve been because I was famished (no lunch break either since we’d had a late breakfast at the hotel). However, I was a bit concerned that Bella was not hungry. She did like the hard crackers served with the meal and later the brownie that Daddy saved for her, but that was all she had from that meal, and some milk that the patient and gracious flight attendant brought over well before drinks were served. (I’d mentioned to one of our flight attendants why we were so delayed …adventures in pet travel…and that we hadn’t even had a chance to grab some bottled water before boarding…and oh, could we get some water in her sippy cup, please?) She was overall a good traveler, with the occasional “grumpicita” moment, especially as she valiantly fought sleep. Our flight left late in the afternoon so once she awoke from her initial nap, she wanted to stay up. Even as the cabin lights dimmed, the hint to entice the Sandman, our Bella could be heard asking “Are we there yet” (ME “no, go to sleep”); “Why is everyone asleep?” (ME “Because it’s night time in Germany. Go to sleep.”) and a couple of HOURS later, noting a little boy across the aisle who’d slept for a few hours after the 1st meal, “THAT little boy’s awake!” (ME AGAIN: “Because he already slept a long time and it’s time for him to wake up. Go to sleep.”) When her frustration with one parent arose, she’d loudly protest “I DON’T WANT YOU! I WANT MAMA/PAPA”…in an effort not to be more of a headache to our fellow passengers who were trying to sleep, we’d swap seats. If we weren’t already so tired, I would have found it funny…imagine seeing 2 parents, fumbling in the dark to untangle headphones, lapbelts, blankets, and stumble across the aisle. At least we didn’t have the little crier in the left side rear of the plane who didn’t like ascending or descending at all. Little angel finally fell back to sleep about 2.5 hours before landing. So did her Papa, who by luck, not planning, had the takeoff and landing shifts. She didn’t wake up until we started descending and miraculously, did not wake up hollering “I DON’T WANT YOU! I WANT (insert something only a 3 yr old can understand)“.
WE HAVE ARRIVED! Since we had our bags in different locations on the plane, we waited a bit to deplane. In the rush of getting off, I left a favorite big, red BCBG pashmina behind. I’d rolled it up and had it on my seat, but darn my luck, at a glance, it looks a lot like an American Airlines blanket. We each toted 2-3 bags off the plane and tried not to step on our own daughter as she toddled off the plane ahead of us. We picked up our stroller and headed to customs and baggage claim.
TODDLER TRAVEL SUGGESTION: Spend the extra bucks to get a stroller cover for gate checks if your stroller is too big for the overhead (we have a lightweight MacLaren which will always get gatechecked) AND practice taking it down “on the fly”. We haven’t used a stroller for Bella in months so both of us gave each other this look at the security checkpoint at DFW, you know, the “I’ve forgotten what to do with this…do you know???” After a relatively quick customs check (one of the passport agents pulled a couple of families up to his window, which sped us through a few minutes faster), we finally headed to baggage claim to get our dogs and luggage. Our pet crates were sitting with another crate about 75m from our luggage, so we had to get a couple of carts. Unfortunately, this left our boys at an angle for another hour since David had some formal Army checking in to do before we could leave the airport. Thankfully, a couple of guys from his new office (including our wonderful sponsor, Bryan) and the Army liaison team at the airport were awesome at collecting all the folks who were arriving that morning. We were wondering how we were going to get all our luggage through customs when voila, the folks were there waiting to assist not only us, but the other families. However, David did just note that we had the most bags (I’m quick to say, hey, I’m still technically active duty so I used my max allowance of 5 bags too AND oh by the way, we’re saving tax payer dollars because we aren’t using long term storage for the next 3 years, so howzthatferapples?). The pups finally were able to get out of their crates once we arrived at Wiesbaden Army Air Field. They were so happy! I’d imagined the worst cleanup ever and there was only water that had spilled on the crate bottom so I’m so glad that I’d done a lot of research and put the training/chux pads down as a base layer.
We finally checked into our family suite around 1300/1 pm and Bella finally got a nap in the car while David and the 2 guys from his office unloaded all our stuff. Aaahhh/aaagh, home sweet home, at least for now!
BONUS TRAVEL SUGGESTIONS:
TODDLER TRAVEL SUGGESTION:
(1) Variety is the spice of life! What makes your tot immediately stop crying or reach for when she’s bored? needs comforting? a favorite blanket or toy? In Bella’s case, she had her favorite pink sock monkey blanket and baby doll (dressed as a cow and sings the alphabet song). I also have the TV show and Movie Ipod Touch for her use (we share). I have a half dozen episodes of Backyardigans or Yo Gabba Gabba on my Ipod (and tons of additional ones on my computer waiting their turn in Sync mode). I also have a couple of favorite movies for her too… Cars 2, Meet the Robinsons and the Incredibles. I considered also getting the Sound of Music (she calls it “Maria”) but ran out of available memory. David has the “game” Ipod for her and my Nook has a good number of ReadtoMe books just for her. If you’re wondering if she can manipulate the swipescreens, yes, she can. Better than most adults. LOL kidding!
(2) Keep necessary supplies nearby. If your tot isn’t potty trained yet, keep a couple of diapers and wipes in each carryon, just in case you and your bags get separated.
(3) Keep an extra shirt for you in your carry on. Just in case. We never needed it on this flight but have heard other parents’ stories.
TRAVELHUND SUGGESTIONS FOR PET CARRIERS:
(1) Fight dehydration! We provided water via a large spout “hamster bottle” and put a little food bowl below to catch major drips and another food bowl with some kibble inside, just in case there was a major delay at departure and arrival (both of which occurred).
(2) Keep them warm and dry. We lined the bottom with the following: Pet training pads, a towel or little blanket on top, and then another layer or 2 above that. Since it was winter and chilly on both ends of the trip, I’d ordered a couple of terrific burrowsacks for them from etsy seller Bowwowpet. They both had the old BDU camouflage pattern on the outside and a soft, warm blue fleece lining. So snuggly warm! (AFTER ACTION REPORT: There was some water UNDERNEATH the training pads and the front section of the material closest to the cage front was wet (about 1-2″) BUT the rest of their gear (burrow bag, Rusty’s red fleecy blanket and Charlie’s sheepskin rug that lined the back of his carrier) was dry! So the training pads worked for the most part! It didn’t keep the chill away though, but we had them dressed (Charlie wore a little gray half sweater and Rusty had his tight brown muscle shirt…both pretty snug fitting and that wouldn’t try to wriggle out of during the flight) By the way, I’m glad that Rusty did have a burrow bag… his carrier was wet; presumably it had been exposed to the rain during the tarmac transit. So, if he needed to, he could have burrowed!
(3) Make it LOUD! I used neon orange duct tape on the top and sides of both carriers. Since many travel carriers are the same nondescript neutral tan or brown, I wanted to make sure that I could see my carriers from a distance. Yes, a few seconds earlier helps with any anxiety I had (selfish, I know). (This is the same principle used for tagging all my deployment bags) Plus 100 mph tape is pretty hard to separate “by accident”.