Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Q&A: Travel

Q. Did you buy Anna a seat on the plane or was she on your lap?

A: I did not buy Anna a seat on the plane. At her age, she is not really able to sit in a plane seat by herself, and I did not take a car seat for her to use on the ride home. In fact, she kind of really hated her car seat when we first got home, so I was glad I didn't bother with that. When she was awake (which was not that much) we played, she sat on my lap, my mom's lap, or Abigail's lap, or we went for walks around the cabin.

Q. How did you arrange to get the bassinet on the flight?

A. I cannot tell you the procedure for any other airline, but if you are flying Ethiopian Airlines, the important thing to know is that a bassinet can be requested but cannot be confirmed until you are physically holding your boarding pass. Only 3 bassinets are available per flight. If a boarding pass has already been issued for the seats where the bassinets are, you are out of luck. So the best way to get a bassinet on ETA is to arrive about 3 hours before departure and request it at the time that you are checking in. I did this, and I had no problems whatsoever.

Additionally, the ETA website says something about age restrictions on the bassinet. Anna was 17 months, 29 inches, and 18.5 pounds at the time we traveled, and they did not question my request. She fit nicely, but if your child is more than 30" tall, they will probably be too long for the bassinet.

Q. What travel agent did you use?

A. I didn't use a travel agent. Actually, I booked online directly through the ETA website. They emailed me the itinerary and I printed out the e-ticket receipt which also had my confirmation number on it. When I checked in, I just presented my credit card and they were able to check me in without difficulty. The ETA policy actually states that they prefer that you book online. (And for me, this was the cheapest rate- much cheaper than using my travel agent. Plus, I got to book right away, and not worry about things coming in the mail!)

Before leaving the US, I did call to confirm my seats on Thursday (I left on Saturday.) On the return trip, I did not confirm my seats at all (but then, I knew I would be arriving early for my flight....) When booking online, it will request a lot of info about the travelers, but I only provided names. I figured they would let me know if they needed more info. I did receive a second, separate confirmation email that had the number for the US ETA customer service desk (571-480-5210 or 571-480-5191).

I forgot to request a child's meal for Abigail at the time that I booked, but in retrospect, I would have done that. She did eat parts of the "adult" meal, but I think she would have been happier with mac and cheese:)

Q. How the trip was for Abigail (her health, enjoyment, energy, comfort level, etc...)

A. Abigail was an amazing traveler! She did so well- so much better than I thought she was even capable of doing!

In terms of the flights, she slept well on both flights, and was over her jetlag in Ethiopia within a day or so. Coming home, I would say it has taken her about 6 days to really get "over" her jetlag and back on her normal schedule (there were about 4 mornings where she woke up at 4-5am, but she has since returned to a normal 6-7am wake-up time.)

In Ethiopia, she did quite well. She did not care for the food, so she had French fries and Fanta a lot. She also ate spaghetti and pizza, and burgers sometimes. (Note, mac and cheese in Ethiopia is made with goat cheese or something like that. Abigail did NOT like it!) I took lots of snacks and foods with me, like granola bars, oatmeal, easy mac, cheese and cracker packs, fruit snacks, etc. Abigail never went hungry, but there were days were everything she ate was pre-packaged. She is definitely glad to be back in the US and able to eat "real" (meaning home-made) food. But a week of pre-packaged food was well worth the experience of this trip!

Abigail had no problem with any of the "strangeness" of Ethiopia, like the dogs barking, the unusual public bathrooms or anything like that. More than once we did talk about begging/beggars, the health status of people on the street, and other social/economic issues. I was honest with her, in age-appropriate terms, and we prayed for a lot of people. I think there were moments when she was nervous simply because of the appearance of some of the beggars being so different than what she was used to, and she was really saddened when she saw moms with small babies begging. But overall, I think she really grasped what I was saying, and wanted to do something to help.

Abigail and Anna really bonded on the trip, and she was very helpful in taking Anna for walks around the house or playing with her when I needed to make breakfast or whatnot. Anna really loves her sister!

Q. And in regards to the new rules, how often did you get out with Anna? How was leaving her behind?

A. Because I stayed at a guest house, I was able to take placement on Monday and have Anna with me at the guest house from then on. I think she really would have been freaked out if she left the care center during the day and then had to go back at night, so I really do recommend that you stay at a guest house during your time in Ethiopia, and that you take all opportunities to get to know your child. (I was really glad I had a week of Anna time under my belt when I got on that airplane....)

There are days/times when you can be out and about with your child. For instance, on embassy day, you pretty much have to take your child to lunch in order to be at the embassy on time. I will not elaborate on when/where baby is allowed out, because the enforcement of these rules may change when the court re-opens, and I don't want to create any "well, Grace said on her blog..." :)

Since my mom and I both went, we often traded off going out and going for meals, bringing home food for the other. I did leave Anna with the caregiver from Gladney when we went to the cultural dinner. Anna was quite comfortable, and the caregiver knew her immediately when she saw her. In fact, when we got home, Anna was clean, dry, and sleeping soundly in her crib! It was quite nice!

In retrospect, I would have left Abigail with the caregiver if the situation arouse, but it did not. The caregivers have limited English, but they can certainly communicate, and with a child Abigail's age (a child able to toilet and feed themselves- and watch cartoons!) I think everyone would have been fine!

I think you will be surprised by what you see... the enforcement of these "guidelines" really falls on the individual agencies. Gladney in-country staff does a great job finding balance. I mean, when Anna was sick, there was no question that I was going to take her to the clinic and the pharmacy. I don't want to say anything to make anyone at Gladney upset (and believe me, there were a few "don't put this on your blog, but..." moments:), and I don't want to misrepresent Gladney's stance, but I will say that when you travel, this issue will become more clear.


~Laura~ said...

I have travel questions. :) I know you booked your travel yourself and I'm thinking about doing that. Where did you fly into? I see alot of people fly into Dubai. What did you do? I've got to figure out what flights are going to cost me. So, I don't have to get a ticket for Mercy for on the way home?

graceling said...

Hi Laura,

ETA only flys one route to Addis and that is with a stop to re-fuel in Rome (you do not deboard the plane.) If you fly another airline (Emirates departs in NY and lays over in Dubai), I can't speak to the idea of booking yourself. I can only speak for ETA.

You do have to purchase a ticket for the baby because everyone getting on the plane has to have a ticket. However, you don't have to purchase a seat. Anna infant ticket with a lap seat was something like $65 for the trip home.

I did book Anna a round-trip ticket because I wanted to book everything together and when you are booking on the ETA website (at least when I did) you didn't have the option of booking the adult for round trip and the child for one way only. However when we checked in at the counter in DC, I simply informed the ETA counter person that the baby would only be coming home, not going both ways, and she refunded half of the ticket (original price: $127.)

If anyone is considering booking their own travel and needs to commute to DC or NYC before boarding their international flight, make sure you give yourself plenty of time between when you arrive in DC/NYC and when your international flight leaves so that if you experience delays, you will still make you flight to ET.

If for some reason you do miss your flight to ET, go immediately to the ticket counter and let them fix it.

Kimmie said...

Thanks so much for taking the time to share this info with us...we are using a different agency, but I think most of what you said we will be able to apply.

Thanks again...sending you a big cyber hug!

mama to 6
one homemade and 5 adopted