I had the experience this weekend (14th / 15th December 2013) of travelling with Xander, my one year old son, including some short air travel. On the way home, another passenger asked me “is it hard to travel with a young child?”, and it got me thinking about the overall experience. The outward journey could be best described as mixed, but my return journey was as positive as it could be. Travelling with infants is not quite as bad as you might think.
I got to Birmingham airport on Saturday morning, and the staff at the bag drop area were pleasant and helpful. I made it through security, where the staff asked me to taste the milk that I had for Xander to prove that it was nothing more unusual than that, and then went to a café at the airport. Amazingly, one of the staff recognised us from our trip to Australia from Sydney a few weeks ago, and commented on how Xander had changed since then.
I got on the flight, being one of those “passengers travelling with young families or in need of extra assistance” that you hear announced before a flight. Other passengers asked if I needed any help – which I did not – and quickly settled into my seat. Xander drank some milk, and slept for the flight, not just to my relief, but no doubt to that of some of my fellow passengers who were probably worried about having a small and potentially noisy child on the flight. It was quite a bumpy arrival –it had been a day of strong winds – and when he woke up, Xander seemed to deal with the landing better than some of the adults nearby.
I went to the Budget rent a car desk, and the chap there was a great example of good service and helpfulness. The Budget car park at Belfast International Airport is a short walk from the terminal, so he offered to call one of his colleagues to meet me at the car, as carrying a child, a changing bag and a suitcase took all of my available limbs, and the addition of a car seat may have rendered me like a contestant on the old TV programme Crackerjack, trying to retain my tower of goods without dropping anything. He called the car park, and after what sounded like a slightly awkward conversation, of which I could only hear one half, he explained that the car seats in the car park were not that good, so I should take one from the office. So, I got a trolley, loaded it up including the car seat, and headed off, using one arm to hold Xander, and the other for the trolley. The very strong winds outside were such that the car seat quickly risked becoming an air seat, as various gusts of wind would lift it off the trolley, and I made a mad dash after it, hoping that the trolley would not move. I managed to navigate to the car park, having only lost the seat four of five times, and then attempted to install the car seat. It was then I realised that I did not have any instructions as to how to fit it, and it was so windy that anything left unattended outside the car would simply blow away. I looked at it, and was relieved when I saw two Budget staff get out of a car in the car park. I asked if they could help me fit the car seat.
“Can’t touch it mate. I’m not insured”.
Whilst I understood the principle, it was far from a helpful answer, so I asked if he could show me how to fit it, or give me instructions.
“I’m not insured”.
I did not think that a lack of insurance would preclude him from just telling me where the seat belt went, or from giving me an instruction sheet. After some pleading, he actually did help me fit it, although seemed far from happy by having to get involved. It is fair to say that he was not the happy, jolly sort that you would normally chose to put in a customer facing environment.
The minor hiccup aside, we headed off, and then I realised that one of the paper casualties of the storm was the leaflet that had the code for the car park written on it. Thankfully, I managed to remember that, and headed off.
My return trip on Sunday was even easier, and with hiccups this time. I dropped the car off at the Budget kiosk, where a staff member met me and drove me to the terminal door, being very pleasant throughout. He asked me if I needed any help with my luggage – which I did not – and wished me a Merry Christmas before heading off. There was no queue at check in, and the staff were very friendly. Going through security, one of the staff offered to hold Xander to let me take my belt and jacket off, which was very helpful, aided by there again being no queue requiring me to wait. We stopped for some lunch, and a high chair appeared almost instantly as well as plenty of offers of help in carrying my tray. As we headed through for the flight, we had just missed the call for those needing extra help to board, so the Easyjet staff came to get me out of the queue and get me straight onboard. Again, the passengers near me offered all sorts of help in getting my bag in the overhead locker, and then the staff asked a few other passengers if they would be happy to move, and to my astonishment, cleared a row of three seats for me and Xander. People were so helpful and pleasant that I was amazed by their kindness.
The staff chatted on the flight, checking that Xander was fine and that I did not need anything else, before the captain announced that we were starting our descent into Birmingham. The strong winds were pointing in the right direction, and we managed to be back on the ground 20 minutes early. We got off and onto a coach, where other passengers offered to help me with my bag, before passing through baggage reclaim and to be picked up outside.
Although most of those that I encountered – whether staff or fellow passengers – were extremely helpful, it was the team at Easyjet and their handling agent at Belfast International Airport who were the most supportive, providing a level of service that genuinely surprised me.
So, to answer the question from my fellow passenger, “is it hard to travel with a young child?”, then the answer is no, and mainly thanks to the kindness of others.