Thursday, June 26, 2003

I'm <i>sure</i> I'm smarter than the car seat. Maybe.

Just staggered in after 11 hours of travel (though only 5 1/2 hours of actual flight), returning from two weeks of family time on the east coast. And this was special air travel: our 7 month old tagged along, as did her 50 tons of paraphernelia.

I'm exaggerating. We packed pretty light, and Lord knows the baby handled herself like a pro. Each way, she only cried for two or three minutes during landing: flying east, because she was bored, and flying west, because we woke her up to put her in the car seat.

Which brings me to the only blight on an otherwise flawless Baby Travel experience.

See, we have this wonderful fancy expensive car seat, and we didn't want to buy another when we got to the east coast. Plus, we wanted to use it on the plane. Thus, Car Seat was among the paraphernelia we lugged.
It was my job to install and uninstall the car seat as appropriate. Normally this isn't a big deal, and on the plane it went in without much trouble. (The seat belt passes through a sturdy channel near the back of the baby seat.) After I tightened the belt, though, I noticed a problem. While seat belts in cars have the buckles on the side, airplane buckles are in the middle. And while car belt buckles usually release with a button, airplane belt buckles usually release via a big pivoting faceplate.
These two factors made the car seat easy to install, but hell to uninstall. The buckle, buried in the depths of the car seat channel, was difficult (though not impossible) to reach. But the buckle's faceplate, nestled tightly against the side of the channel, didn't have enough clearance to pivot. And no pivot, no unbuckle.
Upon landing, I wrestled helplessly with the seat for ten minutes, and soon began to wonder if the airline would just like to buy the damn thing from me. Finally, though, I twisted the mess enough to wrench the plate open, and then worked the buckle free. Bruised but victorious, I plodded out of the plane as the last flight attendants were leaving.
On the flight back, hoping to avoid such a battle, I tried to find a different way to thread the belt. This resulted in several variants of Jammed, Unusable Car Seat. Soon, and for the first time in my life, I was That Guy Several Rows Up That is Keeping the Plane from Taking Off, Dammit. Don't you hate that guy?
On the verge of a nervous breakdown, I managed to summon a flight attendant, and got him to show me how the belts release at the anchor point. (In addition to the buckle, seat belts can detach from the seat. There's a little sliding thing that reveals a hook that just comes off.) This got me out of Jammed, Unusable Car Seat, and made a much more reasonable installation possible.
This would all have seemed less insane if they'd actually let us board a little early. Remember the good old days (like, a few months ago) when they'd offer for Families with Young Children or Special Needs to board at the same time as First Class? Well, word got out that I finally have a kid, so they put a stop to that luxury. We boarded with our seating section, which meant I had about four minutes to install the car seat before I became That Guy.
But, um, other than the car seat thing (can you tell I'm bitter?), it was a great trip. And, as with all good trips, the best part is finally coming home.
Mmmmm... Home.


  1. What airline were you flying? Southwest and Cathay Pacific both have preboarding (as of a month ago when I was escorting a minor who flew unaccompanied to the gate and a week ago when I was just waiting for the families and elderly), I can't remember if JetBlue has preboarding (as of yesterday and earlier this week), but those guys are bending over backwards to be helpful and friendly right now (startup airlines are both scary and cool!) and it sure seems like they'd gladly give any help they could.
    (And yes, I am seriously jet-lagged right now, and I discover Alaska's service policies tomorrow morning. When I get home Friday it'll be 4 nights at home in 3 weeks.)

  2. It was United. Though I know it's fashionable to hate certain airlines, I've never really formed negative opinions about any one airline. Or, more accurately, my experiences have uniformly negative, my primary issues being Fear of Plummeting and Numbness from Cramped Legs--both common to all contenders. After those two, differences between airlines are lost in the noise for me.
    Because of how early I show up to the airport, I suppose I should favor rush-to-get-first-seating Southwest. But my highest priority is usually getting a nonstop flight, which (on Travelocity, at least) tends to lead me to Continental or United. (Maybe that's just the particular routes I fly. Dunno.)

  3. Okay, Alaska Airlines has preboarding too (and, although it wasn't as well delivered as some of the Southwest ones, a safety speech that included every gag I've ever heard in a safety speech).
    After doing a few comparisons with the various aggregators and what the airlines offer themselves, I now go use the airline's sites directly.