Monday, May 18, 2009


When I tell people my husband works for the airlines the first thing they usually ask is if we get to fly for free. The answer to that isn't as straight forward as you might think. Yes, if we fly on his airline's planes then we are totally free. From there it depends on the airline and the deal they have with his company. Compared to everyone else though, we pay pennies. The real question is, what do we get for those pennies? Well let me tell you...

I first started flying "standby" when Trace was a baby. The first flight I made on my own was suppposed to be a simple trip to Kansas to visit a friend. When Trace was younger he was severly allergic to milk, eggs and peanuts which meant considerably more planning. He was also still on a bottle at nine months. Both required me to carry a small cooler on top of all our other luggage! The first problem came at the check-in counter where the employee came all the way around the counter to see if we were dressed appropriately. Trace was even required to have a collared shirt (according to her). Well, she didn't like the length of my skirt so I had to drag a pair of (approved) pants our of my bag and go change! At the gate we had to wait until everyone else was on before they would give us seats. So, once everyone was seated and ready to go I get to start down the aisle with a stuffed backpack and Trace in his car seat with a small cooler in his lap. You know that everyone is wondering why I didn't get there a little early to at least board on time. They have no idea I've been at the airport longer than they have! Finally get to the back of the plane to find she has assigned us seats in different rows! How exactly is that going to work. I stood there a minute trying to decide what to do while the oh-so-helpful stewardess just stood there. I guess I stood there long enough that she fianlly asked if there was a problem and begrudgingly helped - well, a friendly passenger actually was more help than she was. We had a scheduled flight change in Salt Lake. Upon landing I was informed that the connecting flight had been cancelled. The next flight home was at 8:05, the next flight to Kansas was at 8:15 and there was no guarantee I'd get a seat because there were now all these other paying passengers who'd get seats first! I spent five hours in the airport with a WALKING nine month old and barely enough food. We finally arrived in Kansas after midnight!

So, that was just my first experience. It doesn't get much better! I did get smarter though. By the time I had three kids by myself I had it down to a system. No checked baggage - since there is no guarantee if you'll get on it is pretty dumb to send your luggage on. Each boy had their own backpack full of food and entertainment and their own small, rolling suitcase. I had the baby backpack on with Paige in it and the diaper backpack zipped to it (they were compatible with each other) and was pulling the larger suitcase. We all wore slip-on shoes and our travel uniforms airline appropriate clothes. When I got to the gate I swung the backpack off, pulled Paige out and unzipped the diaper bag. Next I lined everyone according to seat assignment. We trucked down the walkway, left the backpack for a gate check and proceeded onto the plane. As we got to each seat I settled the child in (usually between two unsuspecting strangers) and moved to the next spot. Ending up at the back where I boldly ask a stewardesss to help me find a place for the suitcase. Then Paige and I slide in between two more unsuspecting strangers and smile - quite proud of my accomplishment! My new feelings are; 1. People can either wait for me to get three kids through all of this alone or they can help. 2. If someone doesn't want to sit next to one of my small children then they could be nice and offer to trade seats - only happend once or twice. 3. I don't care what anyone thinks as I walk down that aisle - I know what I've gone through to get there and they have no idea. Just let them judge me!

Over the years I've had one problem or another with every flight I've ever flown alone. I use to look forward to flying with excitement and butterflies. Now, I find that as we approach the airport (whether I'm actually planning to fly or not) my stomach starts to churn, I feel physically sick and there is actual fear of what might go wrong. I've been known to hold up security for various reasons like bringing contraband playdough along. Apparently they think my children are scientific geniuses who might blow up the airplane with playdough. I've been told two of us can have seats but there isn't room for all of us -um that won't exactly work. I actually had to ask another passenger if I could borrow the shirt off her back just to be allowed to board! She had a tank top on and was happy to do it while I was mortified and mad as a hornet at the gate agent with a authority complex. We've been last to board, we've been first to board (thanks to a few lovely gate agents!). We've been told there are no seats despite the computer saying otherwise only a couple of hours earlier. When that happens we have to scramble and usually end up running from one end of the airport to another in hopes of catching a flight. One trip was, Chicago to Salt Lake, Salt Lake to Eugene where we decided it was faster to rent a car and drive four hours to Portland rather than wait for the next flight. We literally dropped Rick off at work for his night shift as we passed the airport! We've sat around the airport all morning with three kids in tears being told no on flight after flight. Twice we rented cars and drove to our destination - resulting in driving across the entire country in one summer.

There is no one who settles into their set with a bigger sense of relief than me. Usually sweaty, nauseaus and near tears I sit down and say a prayer of thanks every time. Now, tell me is that honestly how you'd like to fly? Is it really worth it? I decided a long time ago it wasn't which is partly why we haven't flown anywhere for over a year. As flights are increasingly oversold our chances of getting on are slim. It is impossible to plan anything in advance or to travel during any type of peak. Flying standby has taken all the fun out of flying for me don't you wish you could try it? I almost forgot! Add to all of this the fact that you are usually doing it after getting up at 4 am in order to get everybody to the airport by 5 in hopes of getting on the first flight of the day at 6!

Free - yeah right!


Bailey said...

I totally understand! I am the daughter of a pilot and stewardess. I lived my whole life on stand-by. Way back then it was easier though... there were no frequent flier miles, so we could usually get seats. my heart goes out to you, I cannot imagine going stand-by now with all of the new rules and regulations. By the way, because I was always required to dress up to go on a plane I thought that was what people were supposed to do. It seemed very odd to me that people would wear sweats or jeans. In my mind I thought, "Come on people, you are allowed to ride as a passenger on a plane, why wouldn't you dress up?" None-the-less, great big {{{hugs}}} to you. By the way, i would help!

Jill said...

I agree stand-by is not fun! Jeremy hates to fly because of all those reasons you mentioned. He is the son of a pilot and has been stranded in odd places too. It truly is not glamorous at all!