Tag Archives: International Travel with Infants

Can airlines really deliver good experiences? Listen up Iberia Customer Experience!

Iberia, I know here in Spain you actually have a Customer Experience director (not a common job title in this country), so, read on…

Let’s face it – most airlines are pretty similar. Unless you’re taking advantage of frequent flier miles, the reason you pick one over the other is price, plain and simple. In my case, the only reason I might pick Iberia is because they have direct flights to Boston from Madrid, not because the service is great – or even that good. I think we’ve just resigned ourselves to the fact that flying is what it is – a means to get from one place to another and something that you have to put up with. (maybe you’ve seen one of my earlier airline experience posts).

So, is it possible to create a good experience?

Yes! I think it is possible to break old thinking and barriers and create something new with flying. Take a look at this article about a design consultancy’s idea “Poppi” for reinventing the airline experience:

http://edition.cnn.com/2015/10/07/design/airline-future-uber-airbnb/index.html

For example, instead of having customers be upset and complain for being stuck in a bad middle seat, why not let those who want a free gift choose  to go with that seat? Why not make the luggage experience more hassle-free? Why not think of ways to make the waiting time at the gate be better?  Poppi might not be a reality yet, but I hope it follows in Uber’s footsteps to shake things up.

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International travel alone with an infant, a layover, and a broken stroller (Part II – Delta/KLM)

Unfortunately, similar to the trip with my infant at 4 months, I had a negative experience on the trip back home to Spain that marked the entire trip.

The plane ride from Boston-Amsterdam went more or less smoothly after securing the baby bassinet. (Note: I was told at check-in in Boston that they couldn’t assign me the seat with the baby bassinet. Apparently the only way to do this was to go to the counter at the gate and request it. I still don’t understand why this was not possible as I was given the baby bassinet on the way going…) Tip: make sure to get to the gate early to be the first to request the bassinet. I was the first in line and was able to get my seat switched, but if I hadn’t been lucky… Also, note that the bassinet weight limit is 25 lbs (printed directly on the bassinet), although the flight attendants mistakenly told me it was 10 lbs before attaching it to the wall.

When I arrived in Amsterdam with my infant half asleep and my 3 carry-on bags in my arms, I stepped out of the plane to find my (not cheap) stroller completely broken (and dirty). Delta had completely broken the stroller frame on both sides, and I was unable to put my infant in it. Not the best way to be greeted when you’re traveling alone and have a layover to catch. Fortunately, the Delta/KLM agents in Amsterdam were helpful and accompanied me to the KLM desk to file a damage report on-site and helped me to tape up the stroller enough to be able to put my infant in it to walk to my next flight. Tip: buy a cheap stroller for traveling. We only have one expensive stroller and traveled with this one, but damage to a 200 euro stroller isn’t as bad as that to a 1000 euro one…

broken side 1Broken stroller frontBroken stroller side zoom

Now the next test will be the response to the detailed damage claim that I just filed online with Delta. Supposedly I should receive a response in 10 days. To be continued…

International travel and layover with an infant

Surviving international travel alone with an infant…and a layover (Part I- Delta/KLM)

Yes, it can be done! Back in June I traveled alone with my 4-month old son from Madrid to Boston on a direct flight. Since he was so little, he slept for most of the trip, but I said that in the future I would only travel when there were direct flights. However…due to a family emergency this all changed. I was dreading the 15 hour total trip alone with my 10-month old son, with a layover in NYC (JFK airport), but it turned out to be better than I was expecting. Probably the worst part was sitting there staring at the clock countdown with the little image of the plane on the screen in front of me during the 7 hour 25 minute flight from Madrid to New York.

Here are my travel tips for surviving the trip from my experience traveling with Delta/KLM from (1) Madrid-(2) New York JFK-(3)Boston:

Gate in Madrid

1. Try to avoid making the trip until your baby can sit up on his own. There were many times during the trip when I had to put the little guy on the floor. The first time was going through security in Madrid Barajas. The security personnel are not allowed to hold your baby nor can they help you fold up your stroller (especially when it’s a complicated UppaBaby like mine). It’s impossible to fold that up while you have a 10-month old in your arms, so I put him in a little playpen that they had set up at the security area and let him play for a minute while I got our bags, stroller, his food, etc. through security. Right before getting on the plane once again you have to fold up the stroller so you can leave it at the door. And once again the little guy was put on the floor for a minute. And going to the bathroom is another challenge. When he was 4 months old I could put him in the Baby Bjorn backpack, but at 10 months and 25 lbs sitting up is the only way to go.

Boarding in Madrid

2. Get to the airport early and ask everything 3 times. We departed from Terminal 1 in Madrid (not the huge international Terminal 4 with a satellite terminal and underground shuttle train), so this made the transit time a little easier. In any case, I would recommend getting there between 2 1/2-3 hours before your flight. Since I had bought the ticket last minute I had to pay for the infant ticket at the airport counter (not at the check-in desk like I was told on the phone). There wasn’t any line, but this whole process of the woman processing the infant ticket and getting it printed took almost a half hour. When I purchased the ticket over the phone  (calling the toll-free US number while in Madrid) I specifically requested a baby bassinet for the flight and was guaranteed this without any problem. I also specifically asked if I would have to go through security again in New York as security is a real pain in general with a baby and also to know whether I could buy water for the trip. I was guaranteed again that I would not have to go through security and that I would arrive at gate B30 and depart from gate B32. I would only have to pick up my bags and go through customs (no big deal). Don’t believe anything you’re guaranteed with the trip and the flight. If it doesn’t go according to what you were told protest. Why do I say this? Keep reading. When I got on the plane, I found that I was in a window seat with a person right next to me, and no baby bassinet in front of me… the baby bassinet space seemed to be in the same row, but a few seats over. I happily realized this as the pilot was announcing that it was a full flight while people were boarding. After asking the flight attendant about this and saying that I had been guaranteed a seat with the baby bassinet I was told that she was sorry, but that it was a full flight and there was nothing that could be done. She even asked me if I wanted to reschedule to a later flight as I had my 10 month old sitting in my arms. To this I replied that I was going home for a family emergency and never would have bought the ticket if I were not going to have a baby bassinet. Ten hours with a 10 month old in your arms in a little window seat was not going to happen…Fortunately a young girl who was traveling with her younger brother and sister switched seats with me so I was able to have the baby bassinet. And I definitely used it a few times!

Baby Bassinet Delta

When I landed in JFK I went through customs and followed signs to connecting flights, only to find that I was being redirected to go through security with all new passengers again. Even after asking both over the phone with Delta and at the check-in counter at Madrid and being guaranteed that I would not have to go through security again, as it turns out I did. At this point there was really nothing I could do about it and nothing that protesting could help, but I was at least not made to throw out 3 bottles of water and a hot thermos that I had purchased as I said that I had specifically bought this to make baby formula. Thank goodness for little things.

3. Take your time through security and let people help you. Going through security is usually where I get the most nervous as you have people rushing you and a million things that have to be taken off, taken out, then put back in and put back on. And add a little baby, a stroller, and baby food to it and you might as well add a partridge in a pear tree… my advice is to take your time. Most security areas have separate lines for people with babies, wheelchairs, etc. They won’t rush you, but you’ll still have to take off all belts, take out any liquids, etc. The most important thing is to take your time and make sure you keep an eye on all of your belongings (and your baby). Your little one will have to take off his coat too if he’s wearing a jacket. And if you’re traveling with cans of baby food and/or formula, you may have to have them tested in special machines. It doesn’t hurt, but it does add quite a bit of extra time to the whole trip process. I had several people offer to help me to hold my son while going through security and on the plane. The only time I actually took someone up on this offer was at the second security checkpoint in JFK when I had to fold up the stroller to go through security and really didn’t have anywhere to put my baby, and right before getting on the second plane to my final destination when I had to fold up the stroller again. I let two people hold him for about 20 seconds, and it definitely helped.

4. Prepare any food that’s possible for you and your baby ahead of time. As for you, don’t expect to be able to eat the meal they serve you on the flight…bring along a few sandwiches and snacks for when the little one decides to take a nap. As for the little one, bring single meal servings (fruit/veggie and meat jars) so that you don’t have to worry about preparing anything and put pre-measured formula in the plastic dispensers. Whenever you get a chance during the long flight fill up a thermos with boiling hot water that you can later mix whenever you need with cold or room-temperature water that you buy in the airport before the flight. Trust me; this is definitely helpful when all of a sudden your baby decides he/she is starving!

5. Take the little one out to play before the first flight and during the layover. I brought along a small roll-up towel that I put on the floor so my baby could play a bit before the first long flight and during our 2 hour layover. Once you’re on the plane he can’t move around much, so it’s best to let him get out as much energy playing as possible beforehand.

Layover time

6. There’s no easy way around jetlag, but trying to get food on a normal schedule asap helps. When traveling from Europe to the US expect to get up pretty early the first few nights and/or week until your baby gets used to the schedule. I remember the first night hearing my little one ready to play at 2am (8am his normal time). The only thing you can really do is play a little, but keep the lights off and the room dark. They should fall back to sleep a few times, so you can not really get up until close to their normal wake-up time. During the day, if they’re tired, let them sleep. However, when you notice that the late afternoon nap is turning into a nighttime sleep mode you’ll have to wake them up to avoid them sleeping 10 hours straight and waking up at 2 or 3am.

Good luck!

Flying alone across the ocean with an infant Part I (Iberia)

This past June I decided to take advantage of my maternity leave and spend a month at home in the US. In theory this was a great idea, but I was quite nervous about the international trip with my four-month-old infant alone (my husband would be joining us later in the states and accompanying me on the trip back).

Part I: Booking the trip

I would be flying with Iberia, the only airline with direct flights to Boston (during certain months). It would already be enough of a traumatic experience without having to add a layover to it! (Note: tomorrow I will be taking a 15-hour trip home with a layover with my now 10-month old baby. That should be interesting…See (Surviving International Travel Alone with an Infant and a Layover). Since I was traveling with an infant and at the same time using accumulated frequent flyer miles, I decided it would be best to make the reservation over the phone to avoid any issues. The reservation process went very smoothly, and the agent helping me on the phone was very friendly. She assured me that I would have a seat with an infant bassinet in front of it. The entire reservation took about 40 minutes to complete due to all the details, but the service was great.

NOTE: I did not realize that the phone number on the Iberia web site was not toll-free! That is until I later received a 40€ charge for the phone call…(see Paying for customer service)

Part II: The trip

There’s no way around it. Flying with an infant is difficult. However, everything went quite smoothly, and the Iberia service was extremely helpful. One of the most difficult things is going through security at the airport because you have to fold up the stroller yourself, but a four-month-old baby can’t exactly be left alone. I ended up handing off the little man to an employee for 10 seconds while I folded up the stroller and took off the wheels so it would fit in the machine. Another complicated thing was finding a place to heat up water for his bottle. After waiting in line for about 10 minutes at a coffee place near our gate, I got to the front of the line only to find out that they don’t have a microwave. Finally I found water and made it to the gate after boarding had already started (oops).

Baby Bassinet IberiaBaby bassinet Iberia 2

We were quite comfortable with our seats (my seat really) and the baby bassinet. The crew was extremely helpful and attentive, and we were even given a little baby travel kit as a remembrance (bibs, baby cologne, diaper and wipes). This was an extra touch that was quite appreciated, but not necessary.

Thankfully my baby behaved quite well during the trip. We arrived in Boston without any problems and headed on our merry way.

iberia gifts

Now the jetlag for the next two weeks is another story….

TIPS for international travel:

  1. Make sure the airline you’re calling won’t be charging you for the call! Check out the web site No Más 900 (http://www.nmn900.com) for a free equivalent phone number if the one you’re calling is 900 or 902.
  2. Arrive at the airport 3 hours ahead of time. I arrived a little under 2 ½ hours and ended up getting to the gate when boarding was already underway.
  3. Bring a thermos and fill it with very hot water whenever you get the chance to have them heat up a bottle that you purchase. Buy separate room temperature bottles. This way you’ll have the hot water for a while and can mix it with the room temperature water to make bottles during the trip.
  4. Be prepared to have to put everything (everything) through security. Practice folding up the stroller beforehand at home. (This was something I was dreading, but in the end I survived).
  5. Request the baby bassinet. It’s extremely helpful!

All in all, the trip over with Iberia was great. The trip back in general was just as good except for one MAJOR problem when arriving back in Spain (See Part II)