Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Wopschalls and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day(s)

Oh my, were to begin? At the beginning I suppose...

Our travel day back to Seattle was already daunting, but we were very happy that we were on a non-stop from London to Seattle this time... cutting out one plane change and about 7hrs from our travels to get out to Cyprus. We were scheduled on a 10a (Cyprus time) flight to London (length 5hrs), then had a 1.5hr layover in Heathrow followed by a 9.5hr direct flight to Seattle. I was not looking forward to the 9.5 hr flight, but with home on the other end nothing could dampen my spirits. Or so I thought.

Everything that could go wrong did, and then some. Here is the story of our truly terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days trying to make it back home:

The day started great. We were all packed early the night before, kids were getting good rest, we didn't need to leave the house until 7a, and with early 6a risers that was perfect. Started with a 1.5hr drive to the airport in Cyprus where we offloaded our massive amount of luggage. And I do mean massive. We had six bags, four of which were over weight and two oversized, plus our two car seats. It does seem extreme, but with two small kids out of the country for three months it was pretty unavoidable. Both kids went through a few clothes sizes while out there, so I had to pack several different wardrobes (nightmare). So, we finagle all of our bags inside and check in at Cyprus Air. Hurdle number one... they want to charge us 450 euro for the bags... that is more than the ticket price for a passenger.

On our way out to Cyprus, we were charged $40/extra bag, $60 if it was over weight, car seats are always free.  So that ended up being $180, probably around 150ish euro. We paid that once and our bags were checked all the way through to Cyprus, successfully making it on one domestic and two international flights.

So, 450 euro, nothing we could do about it... Then they inform us that 1) they cannot check our bags all the way through to Seattle, we would have to reclaim them in London, recheck them, and 2) then pay for the excess bag/weight fee on British Air which, the lady informed me, is usually more expensive than theirs. Fan-freaking-tastic. I informed them that we only had an hour an a half to make our connection and that was not enough time to go through customs, reclaim our luggage, transfer that insane amount of luggage plus two kids to then recheck our bags and get back through security. Her response "An hour and a half is more than enough time". I would like to see her try. They did take pity on us though and she called her supervisor, managing to get our excess baggage fee down to 150 euro! That was quite nice of them. She said the fees are so high to encourage people to only bring one bag, but obviously with two kids and staying in the country so long it became absurd to pay such high prices. Nice that at least that was recognized. We tried everything we could to get our luggage checked through... requested that we sign a waiver relieving Cyprus Air of all responsibility for delayed or lost luggage... nothing. Not much we could do.

So, we head through security and get on our flight. Before getting on we talked to the gate agent and they made a note (whatever that means) to try to have a British Air representative meet us at the gate in London to help with our transition. At least its something. We leave our stroller at the gate, where they take it down and bring it back up for you when you offload from the plane, get in our seats and we're off.

We didn't have seats together on this flight, but ended up getting people to trade with us pretty easily. Turns out most people don't want to sit next to a toddler and infant for 5hrs :) The flight itself was pretty uneventful. Miles watched shows on his iPad the entire time (er, I mean our iPad, I forget who actually owns it sometimes), Ellis napped a little, played a little. She was a lot more difficult than on the way out, only because she is so much bigger and physical. She wants to crawl, jump, play, and I spent most of the flight as a personal jungle gym. She really beat me up. But I expected as much. And she did much better than I anticipated.

Now the fun part begins. We get to London. I ask people where to pick up our stroller, everyone says it will come out with our bags. Ya, no, that doesn't sound right. In fact, I'm pretty certain they are wrong. Sadly, our connection is so short I don't want to wait around and waste precious time for a stroller that may not show up. We make the decision to just go get our bags and get moving. We ask a customer service agent if there is someone who could help us, nope. The problem is we have to change terminals and it seems like customer service people only want to service you if you are in their terminal... go figure. We make it claim our luggage... at the luggage carousel Ryan gets the bags off while I run and talk to the British Airways baggage service center to get assistance, again I am denied assistance. He gives me directions on where we have to go and how to get there, but he cannot help and there is no one he can call. Ok, not much we can do but keep moving.

We get two trolleys, load them up... and I mean load them up, 3-4 bags on each (two on each are overweight) the things are unwieldy to say the least. I have Ellis strapped to me along with the diaper bag which is doubling as snack/toy/carryon and is heavy. Ryan has his backpack which has two computers and 3 or so books, also ridiculously heavy. We don't see the stroller and decide we need to cut our losses because it likely isn't coming. If all we lose is a $15 umbrella stroller and we make it on the flight it is totally worth it. So we ditch the stroller and ask Miles if he can run and stay with us. Boy I bet we were a sight. I have Ellis and my large cart while yelling out instructions to Miles that sounded like "Go fast. Miles, stop! This way. That way. Miles, slow down. Stay by Mama, Miles. Miles, watch out you can't be that close to Mama, she'll bump you. Slow down, Miles. Miles, we have to go fast, can you go super fast?" Ugh, that poor kid. He's probably never been so confused in his life. He did fantastic though. Ryan has his massive backpack on, a huge overloaded trolly and is dragging two car seats. One car seat is in a bag with wheels (thank goodness), and the other stacked on top. Problem is whenever you try to turn a corner the top one falls off. Probably not a big deal if you weren't also trying to manhandle an overweight trolly.

Other bonus? Apparently Heathrow airport has this thing for sloping hallways. Trolleys are designed to be easily maneuvered in any direction. Sloping hallway plus 'easy' to maneuver trolly plus trying to steer with one hand equals a disaster of trolly meets wall repeatedly.

So, we have our trolleys, our two year old running like a mad man, both of us stressed beyond belief, trying to find our way to the international terminal in Heathrow. We were told to get on the elevator and take it to get on a train to the next terminal. Get on the elevator, get off on the wrong floor. Sounds like it wouldn't be a huge deal except that to get back on there were a lot of people waiting, and with two large trolleys plus a two year old to wrangle, by the time an elevator opened and we managed to get our stuff over in that direction either it was full or already closed because we took to long. After missing three elevators because of this I had mini-meltdown number one and the tears came. The next one I said, screw it, I don't care what it takes we are getting on. It looked full, the door was closing but I rammed my way in and held the door long enough to get Ryan on. It was crammed, I'm sure I seemed rude, but I'm also sure my red blotchy face and Ryan's look of anger/stress stopped anyone from saying anything.

We make it down to the train only to discover that you cannot bring the trolleys through. Not just you can't take them on the train, but you cannot even take them on the platform. Mini-meltdown number 2. Twenty feet is as good as a mile when you have so many large heavy bags and two kids. We are so fortunate that there was a super nice customer service guy that helped us unload our stuff from the trolleys, put them on the platform and then when the train came quickly load it up with us. We made it on, knowing that when the train stopped we'd just have to get everything off as quickly as possible. That 3 minute train ride was the longest three minutes of my life.

We arrive, and again, are lucky enough to have some other passenger help us unload our bags and then a customer service guy at the next terminal grab two trolleys and bring them over for us. It seemed the closer we got the nicer people were. We quickly get up to departures, I leave Ryan with the trolleys and run to find anyone at British Air that could help us. Every person was helping someone else except one guy who was assisting another worker. I tell him our situation and he moves to an open spot to help us. He tells me its not looking good but he'd try everything he could.

Miles in Heathrow... such a trooper.
How did I end up finding the most helpful and nice employee ever? I don't know, but he made the most stressful terrible situation infinitely better. Because of him I will be a British Air customer for life. He started checking bags immediately, did the car seats first so Ryan could run them to the oversize luggage drop while he did the rest. Called the flight, was trying everything to get them to hold for us, getting constant updates on the situation. Essentially, we only had 5 minutes before it closed and needed to move now. We go to pay for our extra luggage, they don't take mastercard (our BECU card which we've been using exclusively). I didn't even know if we had enough money in our Wellsfargo (a VISA) but we tried it anyways. Those are the only cards Ryan has on him. No luck. I go to look for my wallet with any number of workable credit cards and its not there. This is when I remember that in the airport in Cyprus I made the last minute decision to move my large wallet to a checked bag to save space. After all, I had my passport, cash and BECU card on me... nothing else I would need. Wrong. And yes, we had just sent all of our checked bags down to the abyss mere minutes ago. I run to an ATM to take cash out from BECU... transaction declined. We're in another foreign country so our account was flagged and frozen. Ryan tries to get money out at a travel exchange kiosk but they only can give 200 pounds per customer and our fee is 350 pounds. They won't give me any cash because they know I'm with him and that is considered the same customer? I'm still confused by her reasoning. But regardless, even if we'd been able to get the cash that minute, the flight was closing in two and we had no way of making it.

At this point I resigned to our fate and became instantly less stressed. At least we weren't rushing anymore and there was nothing we could do. The insanity was over. Our amazing British Air employee continued to be amazing and set us up with a new ticketing agent to help book us on a new flight the next day. He waived all ticket change fees and any price difference fees. He also said that because the bags were in the system we could just leave them there and when we got checked into our new flight they would get transferred over, so we didn't have to deal with getting all of that stuff to and from a hotel. Huge help. I also managed to get ahold of BECU, confirmed it was us in London and got our block removed, so we could have money again. Also helpful.

Still trying to get everything sorted out. No idea how long
we sat here in Heathrow for.
They tried everything they could to get us on a flight that night. We almost got on a flight to Vancouver, BC and then down to Seattle, but they couldn't confirm three seats so it was a no go. They also couldn't get us on the non-stop to Seattle the following day because it was way oversold. Our best option was to stay the night, go to Chicago in the morning and then on to Seattle from there. The flight to Chicago is 9hrs (yes, just 30 minutes shorter than going all the way to Seattle), then from Chicago to Seattle 4hrs. So, we would be leaving 5hrs before the non-stop flight and getting in one hour later. More than frustrating, but at least we would be home.

My new best friend at British Airways surprised us again and booked a hotel for us, free of charge, and gave us bus vouchers, dinner vouchers and breakfast vouchers. What an amazing individual. British Air had zero responsibility for us missing our flight. We booked all of our travel through American Air, so they set up the layover times, and it was Cyprus Air that wouldn't check our bags through. Yet, British Air took care of all of our accommodations, rebooking and we ended up not having to pay for our excess baggage. Simply amazing.

Miles super excited to get to eat dinner in bed!
If all of that weren't enough, our story continues. We make it to the hotel (via bus ride where at one point Miles flew off the seat and hit his head on the partition... thankfully no bump despite the hit looking bad). Check in, get room service. The hotel is really nice, way nicer than I would have booked for us. I was worried about us getting the kids to sleep in the same room, but everyone was so tired they passed right out (it was three hours past their bedtime). Ryan had been feeling not very good starting at the London airport, but we figured it was mostly from the stress/craziness we just experienced. Wrong. Not more than 15 minutes after getting the kids to sleep Ryan is up getting sick in the bathroom. Joy. Two hours later, Ellis starts :( Both are violently ill. Ryan makes it to and from the bathroom ok, but with Ellis there is only a couple of seconds of warning where she sounds like she's gagging before she throws up. So, I slept with her in my arms (if you can call it sleep) and every time she was about to throw up I'd sit up and lean her over some towels I had down, trying to keep as much of it off of her and myself as possible. Yes, it is as glamorous as it sounds. Somehow, Miles slept straight through the awful evening.

Morning comes and Ryan, while feel understandably very very weak, dehydrated and hungry, seems to be passed the vomiting stage as does Ellis. Whatever it was was fast and furious. I was so thankful because what was our option? Staying in London another day and sitting in a hotel room while everyone got sick? Terrible. So we head down to get breakfast, plans to continue on to the airport and see if everyone is still feeling good enough to fly. A few steps outside of our hotel room and it hits me. My turn for all of the fun. I get sick (thankfully just made it back inside the room). The night before Ryan only got sick every 2-3hrs and 'felt fine' in between. I was feeling much better, and that combined with the fact that if my sickness only lasted as long as it did with Ryan and Ellis (around 8-9hrs) then we wouldn't even been halfway through the first flight and it would be over, we decided to keep on moving. I was watching Miles like a hawk, waiting for it to hit him too, figuring it would be inevitable and at any moment.

We make it to the airport, Miles is still good, I'm not feeling great, but one trip to the bathroom and I'm doing ok enough. Our flight is delayed so we are stuck for what feels like forever in the hot little holding room before boarding. At this point I should add that while I packed two changes of clothes for the kids (stuff always happens while traveling) I never thought to pack anything extra for Ryan and I. The day before on the plane Miles had peed on me (missed the toilet in the plane and due to the size of the bathroom if it wasn't in the toilet it was on me), Ellis pooped on me and, as you may recall, spent the night vomiting in my arms. So, at this point I had pee, poop and baby vomit on my clothes while being sick myself.

We get on the plane. Miles has been saying his tummy hurts for some time now and is a terrible mood, so I'm expecting him to lose it at any moment. Ryan is, understandably, beyond tired and stilling feeling gross... sadly he is the one that is 'doing the best' at that very moment. Right after take off I need to bolt for the bathroom. I then spend the next 9 hrs rushing to the bathroom frequently. I don't know how frequently because it would have been obscene to keep track. At some points I would only be in my seat for 5 minutes before rushing back. More than a few times I'd get an exhausted Ellis asleep in my arms only to have to throw her at an exhausted Ryan to then run to the bathroom, waking her up and making us all more miserable. On only one occasion I didn't make it to the bathroom... it was the one time Miles was coming with me to go potty. It was occupied and there was no helping it. Luckily there was a half full garbage bag right by me that I could use. Miles was worried and I think it was the first time that the flight attendants realized I was sick. Two hours into the flight I was ready to quit. About four hours into the flight, things got even better....

Ryan broke out in either hives or a terrible rash. He noticed it on his arms first, then realized it was all over his chest and back. Like, bad. Real bad. When he saw it on his arms he'd asked the flight attendants if they had Benadryl he could have and they said they did not. After seeing it on his chest and back I went to talk to them to relay the potential seriousness of the situation. Turns out they do have kits with Benadryl, but as non-physicians they are not allowed to open them and give it to people. So, they had to call for a doctor on the plane. Yes, we were those people. You hear the announcement "we have a passenger with a medical condition, if there is a doctor on the plane could you please press your call button?". And everyone wonders if there is someone suffering a heart attack or going into shock and if something crazy is about to go down. Nope, turns out we just need some one to open the Benadryl. It instantly helps, but also makes him crazy tired. Not fun when you have a wife throwing a baby at you so she can go throw up.

So, we were a mess. I can only imagine what these people thought. Ryan breaking out into a crazy rash and me puking in their garbage bags. What fun.

Our flight finally ends. When entering the US you are required to reclaim your bags and recheck them. How excited do you think we were for that!? At least they have a process in place where the rechecking is located directly by the claim area. Also, when we get to the baggage area there are porters with huge trolleys that are there to help. So excited to see them. The lady said you were supposed to tip them, all I had in US dollars was a twenty, but I was happy to give it to him if he'd cart all of our stuff out for us.

We're waiting for bags. Don't see ours. Oh, that is all the bags from our flight. The porter talks to some people and we find out our luggage didn't make it out from London. At this point, who cares. We are so over it. Both of us are like, "whatever". The car seats didn't make it either which is a slightly bigger problem, but like I said, we were over it. We head to our new flight... wishing we hadn't lost our stroller because Miles is exhausted and would have done much better not walking (but did amazing for such an over tired little guy). I had just enough time to get a call into my sister and grandma. One of them was going to pick us up at the airport but they didn't have our flight info, time, anything. I get both of their voicemails so I leave a long message with my sister, Kalimar, that is something crazy like this:

"So we get in at 5:30p, if you could pick us up. We don't have our baggage, it was lost, so we don't have car seats. So we need you to pick us up with car seats, but you can't use yours because we've all been violently ill and I don't want your kids to get sick. So, could you go buy us two new car seats and either help Grandma get them set up so she can pick us up or you set them up and pick us up? Space isn't a problem, we don't have bags anymore, so bring any car. Ok, hope you get this and can figure something out..."

More or less. We get on the flight and despite one quick trip to the bathroom at the very beginning, it went surprisingly well. I was over the throw up stage (joy!), Miles and Ellis passed out before the flight even took off. It was 3am to them, after all. Ryan, Miles and Ellis all slept the entire four hour flight and I slept most of it. At the start of the flight I felt so awful and was so over everything that I'd already planned for us to stay the night at my parents because I couldn't fathom driving the extra 20minutes to our own house. Thankfully, by the time we landed I felt good enough and was excited enough to where that wasn't the case anymore. We had made it home.

Ryan was getting a crazy rash again... oh boy, but we found some Benadryl at the airport in Seattle. I was expecting Ellis and I to get the same rash, but we never did. Miles still has not thrown up (thankfully!) so I think we are almost out of the woods there too. I don't know how he managed to avoid it but am so so incredibly thankful for that. We left our address for our bags to be delivered, we got one today, I think two or three are coming tomorrow... they are all on different flights which is odd, but again, I'm over it. We're home and it is glorious. My bed is literally heaven. Nothing has ever felt so good as sleeping on it after being on a crapy springy one for 2+months. Also, seeing how happy Miles is to be home warms my heart. He insisted on sleeping with all of his trucks last night and has been so happy and full of smiles. He can't get enough of bjax and mj. Ellis is terrified of the dogs, but definitely loves her crib after sleeping on a pack n play for months! And, despite being jet lagged and recovering from a crazy sickness is still all smiles (see her modeling her new shark hoody below).

There it is. Our story. Barring injury or death I don't see how it could have gotten much worse. But its over and now we get to laugh about it right?

I should also add... during our travels Miss Ellis turned 9 months old! What a way to spend your 9 month birthday little lady!