Like in life, there are both good and bad experiences in travel.
The savvy traveler needs not only to enjoy the good times but to learn valuable lessons from the bad ones.
In our case, traveling with an autistic son can make one stressful incident cast a gloomy tone on the rest of the day—sometimes even longer. So, we try our best to learn from them and apply our lessons as fast as possible to prevent future recurrence.
Here are some of our worst experiences and what we learned for our future travels.
Back in 2006, we flew with United Airlines from Los Angeles to Amsterdam with a stop in Chicago. Since the airline arranged the flight with the connection included, I assumed that everything would work out perfectly. I was wrong. Like many other air travel companies, United provides minimal time between flight connections, so even a small delay can wreck the entire schedule.
Our flight from Los Angeles International Airport was delayed for thirty minutes due to technical reasons; this catalyst was pivotal to our future boarding woes. When we deplaned in Chicago, we immediately talked to a company representative, who assured us the next flight (a terminal over) would wait for us. However, after running insanely through the Chicago O’Hare escalators to reach the next terminal, we were told that even though the plane had not left, we could not board since “the doors had been already shut.” My special needs child had a major meltdown! The incident took us another twelve hours and a second stop in London until we finally reached our destination.
Lesson learned: always check your connections carefully, and do not accept connecting flights with less than two hours between them—especially when flying on international flights.
As we were flying back in 2006 from Paris’s Charles De Gaulle airport to Los Angeles, the flight crew began to spray aerosols in the airplane cabin (close to passengers). When I inquired as to why—many of us had just woken up from a night’s sleep—we were informed that the spraying was to comply with US regulations against mosquito-borne illnesses (the plane had previously landed in the Indian Ocean area). I was not happy; my son is asthmatic and suffers from multiple allergies. Unfortunately, it was too late to do anything about it.
Lesson learned: we always carry face masks in our hand luggage in case it ever reoccurs.
Two summers ago, we were traveling from Los Angeles to Savannah, Georgia via Chicago, and I did not notice my wallet (with all our IDs) had dropped to the airplane dark floor during our first leg of the journey. I only realized the drivers’ licenses, and IDs were missing when we were trying to rent a car at the Savannah airport. By then, however, all we could do was notify the airline—in this case, United—and hope for the best.
Needless to mention, we had to alter our visiting plans drastically; instead of hopping in a car and touring Hilton Head for the week, we had to use expensive cabs to go from place to place. To add to our problems, without our IDs flying home was quite difficult! United, eventually, did come through for us, finding the wallets and promptly returning them (we had already come back by then).
Lesson learned (or two): Always get yourself a second form of government-issued identification (and pack both in two separate places in case one is lost), and get colorful containers and wallets to notice quickly on the airplane floor if dropped.
Place ID tags on carry-ons:
While most of us properly place ID labels on our checked baggage, not many put tags on their carry-ons—a huge mistake. On the rare occasions when I was forced to check my carry-on luggage (due to excessive weight or lack of overhead bin space) while it usually turns up on the carousel, I recall times—like a BMI flight from London Heathrow to Amsterdam—where it did not and was lost for good.
Lesson learned: tag your carry-on with your name and email address (or cell phone number), and photograph its contents while packing at home. Whatever you do, never agree to send your carry-on bag containing your child’s medication.
Pack a small travel scale:
In today’s world of low budget, low-profit airline companies, packing a bit lighter than the fifty-pound limit (in the US) can help save you on the excess baggage charges. While we are frequent and loyal customers to United (even having Premier status) and most airport agents are willing to let some small excess weight slide, we encountered two years ago a hardliner in Florida who was adamant about the fifty-pound limit.
Even though only one suitcase was 52 pounds and the rest were 46-48, he forced us to either reshuffle the bags (which we begrudgingly did) or pay the extra fee. The moral of the story is always to check the allocated weight published and make sure your luggage is not over the limit. Or you’ll spend your airport time either paying up or rearranging your bags on the floor.
Lesson learned: carry a small travel scale and distribute your luggage evenly so you don’t have some suitcases over and some under the limit. Additionally, pack everything in Ziploc plastic bags, so even if you have to reshuffle, everything can stay clean.
Ever had a bad experience with an airline?
How has that change the way you travel?