This Shopgirl is looking with apprehension at the plethora of upcoming travel in February. I have not traveled since the life changing October trauma in flight, so my nerves are not quite calmed, and as the dates grow closer my nerves turn overwhelming. It does not help that the stress of utilizing any of the check-in processes at the United Airlines of Houston Intercontinental only adds to the anxiety of the experience. In my six years of flying with United from IAH I can’t say I’ve had one pleasant customer service experience. Gate doors are closed early, desk attendants are cold and strict, and the check-in process even on a good day is stressful.
Considering the high price I pay for tickets as a mom, I truly expect a bit more help. Children are full price, yet cannot fly alone (not that I’d want them to; just follow me here.) So this means that when you buy one ticket you automatically must purchase two, particularly from the ages of 2-4 where there truly are no other options. This guarantees to the airlines two tickets sold, not just one, yet they refuse to lower the price of a child’s fare. I’d hope that my child’s supreme ticket price would come with childlike amenities such as play packs or special luggage assistance, but alas I am paying double airfare because I hate myself; well more I have children and I have to travel.
This past flight it dawned on me that I’m only five months away from tripling this cost! Making my travel less frequent, and makes me really reconsider having that third child we had been planning for. No seriously, I feel for my cousins who have 4+ kids and due to employment live out of state like me but the plane fees for a family of their size is completely unfathomable for the kids to actually get to know their extended family and take in family memories such as holidays and reunions. Why can’t we work family rates?
This does not just effect large families, but even more so those with long distant blended families who must frequently fly their children to and fro based upon court orders and custody agreements. Over time the double/triple/quadruple ticket fare becomes quite the hefty weight of the pocketbook, and quite honestly discourages many families from traveling, or at least flying to travel. I understand, it’s business, but it does communicate that their customers’ needs are not a priority in their company vision.
Baggage Check Is Grueling Torture
When I travel I always have to travel with a crib, and two suitcases; which may not sound like much, but when you are 5′ 5″ weighing in at 140 lbs. and juggling the hand of a three year old while holstering a 33 lbs. bouncing embodiment of resistent weight on your hip, this becomes quite the predicament. First, with lack of curbside service I must tackle the great walk across the speeding traffic of the Terminal B without a cart. Cars zoom past as the portable crib topples from its precarious positioning atop my new multi-colored Britto Butterfly hardtop suitcase. I try to explain to my ADHD three year old to freeze perfectly still as I attempt to reposition the crib atop the butterfly which bursts with rays of multi-colored cheer, all while the other suitcase I was holding topples over onto its front. I reach for the other suitcase and lil A has hit her limit and began to wander off. Everything falls now in every direction as I reach to grab her. I look at my audience that stands at the curb and wonder whatever happened to skycaps. I catch my breath as a car zooms just past my crib. Through much struggle and an already aching back we manage to enter the baggage check.
At first there is that sigh of relief, until I remember the humans are as personable as the computers I’m required to utilize. “Can I get some help,” I ask. The one woman who seems to be running the booths this day, silently points at the computer with a mild look of annoyance. (I take that as a no.) I walk up to the booth and of course I place down my luggage and beg Lil’ A to please stay put. Of course my drivers license is having trouble reading, and as I begin the task of rapidly swiping the growingly annoyed attendant suggests, “why don’t you try it the other way.” My back at this point is burning, and tears are filling in my eyes from the pain and so I must place down sweet Baby K before I scream.
She of course dashes straight for the nearby escalators, then cuing Lil A to dash for the elevators. I’m running in all directions while knowingly leaving my baggage unattended. This nice little shopgirl is feeling rage and discontent gathering within her chest, “For the Love of God and all that is Holy, can I please get some help, this is ridiculous.” Suddenly a man emerges from the back room behind the baggage counter and approaches my kiosk in order to swipe my card for me so that I can hold two squirmy hands with a tight grip. He selects the appropriate buttons to choose the passengers, Baby K as usual is not listed despite my booking the flight with her, so that becomes an ordeal that requires now three attendants to dash about computers to create a boarding pass for my ticketless stowaway.
“What is that,” he asks, his voice so kind, as he points in the direction of the large black rectangular container on the pile of my luggage.
“That’s a baby crib.”
“You’re going to have to pay for that.”
“Why do I have to pay for that if I wouldn’t have to pay for any other necessary baby supplies?”
“Because we actually have to insure those.”
“This?! This costs three times less than my stroller. If I had my 350 dollar stroller here and it was to become damaged would it not be covered?”
“If you paid for it.” (So if paying is an option can I just opt out of insurance of the crib, but by all means save, insure, and covet my hard top Britto!)
All of that is done and I’m handed these long stickers to attach to the handles of my luggage and the guy begins to walk off. I return to my game of cat and mouse with the girls while trying to attach the sticky and long strips evenly on my suitcase. Not even the first one is attached before I just flat out ask for help once more. It takes three requests on average,or deliberate (or not so deliberate) sabotage, for help before they will reluctantly agree. Then they tell me to relocate all the luggage once more to another line to actually physically hand off my luggage, (tell me again why we saved your job over the skycaps) so once again I wrangle the girls, the suitcases, and just start kicking the crib along the 10 foot stretch that to me feels like a mile. I stand in a line that is slow moving and Baby K is anxious to move around, resisting my embrace.
If this is a sneak peek at the future of a customer retail experience, Lord help us all. (I’m talking to you Amazon Go and SnapChat!)
It’s a Sad Day When The Security Line is Your Reprieve
My one preference of IAH over HOU is the security line. With IAH security lines are broken up by terminals allowing for far shorter wait times (I do wonder whatever happened to the expedited family line I was promised until my tots were five.)
The TSA employees are always kind and helpful, for the third time I do not have anything in my fricken’ pockets. #DearCustomer I know what’s in my stock room; #DearTSAAgent I am definitely aware of the contents in my pants.
Repeating my no’s once more I’m always able to walk through the metal detector with ease. Well almost always, but that’s a story for another time, and has nothing to do with IAH.
In The Gate and In Flight
Beyond security there is no play area for children, or really anything to hold their attention so I’m sorry yes that’s my children crawling under your seat and racing down the halls…a kids gotta be a kid. I’m not expecting them to spend two hours sitting properly in their seat, even I find that challenging at the age of 31.
Boarding is always an issue because there always seems to be some miscommunication as to the seating I am allowed in with a lap child. I try to nip it in the bud now at the check in desk, but the past couple of times the women behind the desk have shrugged their shoulders “There is no special infant seat.” Seriously the lady who assigns United’s seating doesn’t know the specifications of assigning seats as per United’s Safety Policies? So of course when I board the flight attendant makes some comment about how I haven’t changed my seat to an infant appropriate one (I’m not going to argue, she’s already understandably frustrated as it is) and now I have to force some elderly woman to resituate her needle point and head towards the front to the plane.
In flight and when she’s sick are the only two occasions Lil A is allowed her iPad, so Baby K is my only struggle on the airplane, as she has zero interest in sleeping or gaming. She is my future rugby star and wants to take her own level of flight up and down the aisles (October’s flight being the terrifying exception).
Finally home and I stand at the front of the conveyor waiting for my luggage to circulate, and yes of course Baby K dangles like a swinging chimpanzee as I holdfast her wrist; she has now tried three times in a row to hop on the shiny carousel of every childs’ dreams. My suitcase is obviously not hard to spot as I see the technicolor prism float towards me my heart sinks. My suitcase which has sat on my wish list for four years is completely destroyed from its maiden voyage. One wheel is hanging off the corner by a single strand of polycarbonate whatever, a second is half ripped off. Six of the eight corners are dented to the degree of deep craters, and there are black scuffs all across the front and back. Luckily HSV has complimentary luggage carts with a baby seat, nothing screams welcome home more than these simple conveniences. I load the mauled suitcase onto the cart with the rest of my baggage. There’s a long line at the baggage claim help desk and I just want to be home. Deciding I’ll call in a luggage complaint from home we head out the door. We are hungry, we are tired, and we are ready to just be home.
As soon as I have the kids fed I call United. I’m put through a billion automated hotlines of course, because why invest in customer service or quality assurance? When I reach a human she informs me that if I didn’t show the suitcase as it landed off the baggage claim, it didn’t happen. Are you kidding me? I mean I get it, customers are dishonest, but not so much as an I’m sorry? Not even a 25 dollar refund on my travel charges? So much for the so called “insurance” that was assured to me by the man at the kiosk.
Yay, to start this all over again. I am thankful though, that my end destination will change come mid February as the House of R will be relocating to Orlando. This will definitely loosen United’s grip on the monopoly they have embraced over my traveling options here in Alabama.