Category Archives: Traveling with Kids

10 Reasons Why I Love Southwest Airlines – Hint: It’s just as much about the airports…

I’m writing this particular post, and it is a long one, to address all my friends and family who give me that look when I say I’m on a Southwest flight…. “Southwest? You?”  Yes, me. Apparently I am a travel snob, so read on.  (And remember, this is my personal view from personal experience and has nothing to do with the companies for whom I work or have worked.)

If you know me, you know most of my flying lately is, unfortunately, domestic.  You also know I *love* Southwest.  I’m on two or three Southwest flights a week. Truth is; I’ve been flying all my life, but I hadn’t flown them until four years ago.  All I knew about Southwest was they were the “wacky” airline.  Their flight attendants sang, you didn’t have assigned seating and apparently, they were a cult who would secretly brainwash you into never wanting to fly another airline again.  Boy, was I right.

As most of you know, I am from NJ.  Yes, I’m from Jersey.  Got a problem with that? I didn’t think so.   Four years ago, I moved to (ready???) Indiana. Yep, I’m a Hoosier-in-training though I complain about the horrific pizza and the lack of real bagels in the state. While I’m in northwest Indiana, under 20 miles away from Chicago, it might as well be another planet because I actually believe it *is* another planet, but that’s another post.

Since I moved, I have worked, for the most part, either in NY or in DC, meaning I commute to work via plane.  For the first couple of months, I flew out of O’Hare to LaGuardia. O’Hare is big, but at 4:30AM, you manage just fine.

I’d normally fly another airline from O’Hare to LaGuardia.  Let’s just say my experiences were less than “okay.”  Sure I was “preferred” and got access to special security lines and to clubs.  While these special “privileges” made me feel important, the travel part was such a hassle, especially since so many others were part of this so-called “preferred” echelon.  It was hardly exclusive.

One day, I saw an announcement about Southwest starting flights to LaGuardia.  Price?  Next to nothing.  So, I thought I’d give it a try.  Southwest departs from Midway though and I’d never flown them and had only once flown into Midway before.  My first Southwest flight out of Midway changed my travel life forever.

Midway is the near perfect secondary airport; small (but not tiny), convenient and clean.  It has a sufficient amount of shops and eateries and you can practically park your car at the gate.  At 4:30 AM (to make a 6:00AM flight) it’s nearly empty.  It does get filled as the day progresses, but what airport doesn’t?

I have to admit, my first SWA flight was a bit confusing; it felt like the deli line at the supermarket, complete with numbered tickets (a.k.a. boarding pass).  The boarding passes are numbered; A1-A60, then B1-B60, then C1-C60.  You line up and board by number (A’s first, then B’s, then C’s) then you get on and sit where you like.  If you look confused while in the boarding area, these Southwest cult members (a.k.a. passengers) will gladly explain the system and even do so politely.  Really, everyone is nice and happy to point a new guy in the right direction.

The flight? Fun. Really, fun.  The first flight attendant announcement I heard included “We’ve got three of the best flight attendants in the sky. Unfortunately, none of those people were available, so you’re stuck with this crew.”  The oxygen announcement continued “if you’re traveling with children… or with your husband who acts like a child…..”  Half way to NYC, the flight attendant had the entire plane sing “happy birthday” for a child passenger.

They say companies should treat their employees the way they want their employees to treat their customers. I can only assume SWA employees are happy, because they “get” customer service.  If singing flight attendants, open seating and helpful seatmates don’t do anything for you, here are my top ten reasons I love Southwest Airlines.

  1. Employees give great service.  From the flight attendants to the gate agents to the stateside call center employees, these folks “get it” and prove it at every opportunity.  They even provide great service when things are not their fault.  On a trip from LGA to MDW two years ago, all flights were stopped in or out for hours due to a bad storm.  They made announcements regularly and after a couple of hours, even brought out food and drinks.  The other airline passengers at gates next to ours were screaming, saying “they get announcements, drinks AND food and you can’t answer a question for us?  Why didn’t I fly Southwest?”
  2. Secondary airports rock.  I’ll take Fort Lauderdale over Miami or Midway over O’Hare any day.  Traveling is hard enough and not having to cover long distances within an airport is nice.
  3. Earning free flights is easy.  Rapid Rewards has to be the easiest airline program out there. A little known secret; after “A-List” and “A-List Preferred” class, there’s something called “Companion Status” where if you fly enough with them (100 o/w flights), your spouse / companion can fly with you, on the same flight, for FREE…for a year! I defy you to find a better rewards program.
  4. Reasonable rates.  Book at least 14 days out for deals.  Anything less, I find the rates to be comparable to other airlines (yes and sometimes a bit more).  I actually book months out and get very reasonable rates.  Frankly, it’s because of Southwest that I and quite a few others can afford to commute to work.
  5. Specials and other internet fares are awesome, with some fares during sale times for as low as $59 each way.
  6. A great website.  Southwest.com is easy to use, always up to date and includes many utilities.  Want to book with points / miles? One click changes dollars to points. Want a list of all your current, future and past flights, two clicks.  Check in online? One click. And changes are easy too; changing from one flight to another is a breeze.  Their app is awesome too.
  7. Two bags fly free, at least for now.  Sure, fees here and there are increasing, but compared to what’s out there, I still find Southwest to be very reasonable with advance purchase.
  8. Southwest planes are the prettiest in the sky.  Not just the normal corporate colors, but thematically painted planes, like the Shamoo plane which looks like a huge killer whale for Orlando flights or flags covered in the Texas flag.  This makes flying fun for kids.
  9. Great for families. Speaking of kids, families get to board a bit earlier (but not before the most loyal passengers.) My wife and I each sit with one child and sit one row in front of the other.  It’s perfect family seating.
  10. Roomy seats.  I haven’t fretted about getting the other airline seats with extra leg-room because on Southwest, they all have plenty of leg-room.
  11. Yea, I have more than ten…. Again, you gotta problem with that? … Preferred Status also gets me priority lanes at security called “Fly by.”  Sure, you get this with the other guys, but on Southwest, if you’ve not yet reached Preferred Status, you can buy “Fly By” for $10 per person, per flight.
  12. Free wifi for “A-List” passengers.  Need I say more. Free and quick connections…

Now, I know there are those of you who look down on Southwest.  That’s okay, it’s not your fault.  I was one of you so I understand. You have been told for so long that special boarding lanes with colored carpets (on top of other airport carpet) means something.  You have been trained to watch, like Pavlov’s dog, at TV screens in hopes your name appears on the upgrade list. For me, whenever it appeared, I was always far down the list and rarely got an upgrade (because I was competing for the upgrade with international flyers who had three times the miles I did.) You do get airline clubs and that’s nice (but that is because you *need* it to make up for the rest of the flight experience.)  By the way, if you fly internationally, well then this post isn’t for you, but you already knew that.

So, now that I fly mostly domestic routes and after years of being trained to appreciate/need/want other airlines “benefits” I have made a change; I joined the elite group of travelers loyal to Southwest because this airline knows their business and treats me, well, like a customer. Imagine that.


Hi. Nice to smell you… 15 tips for being a considerate traveler.

Since I commute to another state for work, by plane, I regularly find myself in close quarters with other people.  Proximity is an amazing thing, especially as you travel.  Since I have traveled most of my life, I have always known that to be a good traveler, you must also be a considerate traveler.  After all, if *everyone* would do this, the travel experience would be so much more pleasant.  Below, I have assembled my list of the top 15 things you can do to be more considerate while you travel.  You’ll see a theme and this comes from something my Mom always tells me; “Be nice to people and they’ll be nice to you.”

  1. Perfume / cologne – Here’s the rule of thumb; Women, I should have to get close enough to kiss your neck to be able to smell your potion.  If I can smell you just by sitting next to or across from you, you have too much on, in my opinion.  If I can smell you in the elevator, after you have gotten out of the elevator, that’s just rude. Men, aftershave serves a purpose; it heals the skin after we tear it to shreds with a razor.  A little aftershave is okay.  No neck kissing here; I simply don’t want to smell you at all.  As for cologne, I know, your mom keeps buying you some for Christmas, but this does not mean you have to wear gallons of it.  When in doubt, just use a little.
  2. Electronics on planes – Turn off your electronic devices when the flight attendants ask. Seriously, this hide and seek game is silly.  How old are you?  Shut it off.  These rules apply to everyone, not everyone but you.  When the FAA finally says its okay to leave them on, then we’ll all do it.
  3. Flight attendants – Stop yelling at or speaking rudely to the flight attendants, especially for things out of their control. News flash; they don’t control the weather. They don’t make the rules either.  They are there for your safety. However, If you feel they are being rude, you could and should say something, but not if they’re reacting to *your* rudeness.  Also, they’re not your personal servants.  Call them, if you must, by pressing the call button, not outburst of “Hello. Excuse me!”
  4. Be nice –  Say “please” and “thank you.”  I’m amazed as I travel how many people don’t do this. When a flight attendant hands you your beverage, say “thank you.” When the doorman holds open your door, say “thank you.”  If you need some ketchup, ask the waiter nicely and say “please.”  Is this so hard?
  5. Can you hear me now?  – When listening to music on the plane, even if you are wearing ear buds in, make sure the person next to you can’t hear your music (read, because you are playing your music too loudly.)  If you’re into loud music (I am) use noise cancelling headphones on a plane.  As I type, The Who’s “Eminence Front” is blaring, but my seat mates can’t hear it.
  6. Arm rest wrestling – Don’t be a space hog; armrests are for sharing. Take turns or something, but the wrestling for the armrest is rude. The same goes for reclining your seat; give a quick look behind you and see if someone (yes, me) is working on a laptop before you nearly crush it with a recline forceful enough to split atoms.
  7. Excuse me, can you let me out? – If you, like me, have the bladder of a tree frog (read small), but love the window seat, well, pick one; bladder or view.   View or bladder.  I don’t care either way, but I don’t want to have to get up three times in a flight because you like to look at clouds in between visits to the potty.
  8. Clean up – And speaking of the potty; clean up after yourself in restrooms, especially on a plane.  Rinse and wipe down the sink and pick up any of your random (insert anything here) that you have left behind.
  9. Kids on a plane – Parents, I’ve written a dozen posts on how to be good travelers when you are with your kids.  I have kids and they’re always on planes with me. Here’s the rule of thumb; OVER-PARENT on planes. For infants, make sure you feed them a bottle during takeoff, so their ears don’t hurt (sucking on the bottle will help) and they start screaming. For toddlers, bring entertainment; think 15 minute attention spans; one coloring book is not going to cut it. Taking your children’s shoes off will keep them from kicking the seats in front of them.  I have lots of tips. Here’s a link to my most popular post on the subject “Tips for traveling with kids.”
  10. Drunks on a plane –  Speaking of “sucking on a bottle” – don’t get hammered on a plane. That’s just rude.  Sure a beverage or two will take the edge off, but getting blotto? Yea, ah…no.
  11. Here’s a tip – To tip or not to tip? I’m an over-tipper, but the rule of thumb is don’t be a cheap skate. You should leave hotel maids a few bucks a day if they kept your room nice and clean. Taxi drivers (who drive well enough for you not to get nauseous, and keep a clean, smell-free taxi) should get 15-20%. Come on, you know the drill; just because you’re traveling does not mean you shouldn’t tip. If someone works hard to give you good service, reward them. On the other side of that coin is “if they don’t, then don’t.”  I’m all for sending a message.
  12. When in Rome – Do you travel internationally? If so, get with the (local) program. Respect the local culture and customs. Learn a few words of the language (“please” and “thank you” are always good ones) for heaven’s sake.  I recall a trip to the Greek Island of Crete where an American counterpart was upset the restaurant didn’t have Tabasco.  News flash, Greeks don’t use it.  If it’s so critical to your skewered meat, bring some with you or better, go to Morocco… just sayin’.
  13. Share – Share with your seatmates.  Are you just about to enjoy a stick of gum? A triangle of Toblerone? An Oreo? If we’re going to be sitting next to one another for a while, what better way to start our relationship off on the right foot?
  14. Feet – And speaking of feet… Dear Lord, keep your shoes on!  If we’re about to embark on a long international flight, I understand you’ll want to take your shoes off.  I take mine off.  However, give your tootsies a pre-flight powder or something.  I’m not paying thousands of dollars to smell your feet.  Same goes for open sandals. If you’re a woman with pretty, manicured odorless feet, okay.  But if you have weathered, stinky, Fred Flintstone feet, keep them covered.
  15. Don’t do it – Finally, keep your fingers out of your nose or I’m going to call you out. Period.

Have any others I should add to this list?

Happy New Year!


My View on Traveling with Children

 

 

Traveling with Children

Traveling with Children

I have a feeling I’ll catch some heat on this.  However, before you throw stones at me, read the whole post.

 

 For years, I’ve been traveling on planes listening to screaming, misbehaving and crying kids. I must admit something very dark; I hated kids on planes. Just the sight of them made me cringe.  I would spy them in the waiting areas and try to judge how misbehaved they’d be and what my odds were they would be sitting within one row of me or worse, next to me.

I recall one flight, I was sitting next to a man (he in the aisle and I in the middle seat – so I was already pissed) and the two little brats, er, I mean children behind us wouldn’t shut up. The man next to me continued to read his Wall Street Journal as if there was nothing wrong.  As the kids bounced and yelled, he kept reading.  Then the kids started playing “go fish” as they threw their cards and proceeded to slam the tray table connected to my seat repeatedly.  All the mother did was kept repeating “Calm down, you are bothering the nice man in front of you.”  (Ya think?) However, after one hundred times of saying this, I’m sure all the kids heard was “way to go, make more noise.” One last slam and I turned around and said to the mother “I normally am a nice man, but the fact you continue to sit there and do nothing while your children bang on my chair is unbelievable to me.”  Her response? “Sorry, but they’re only children.”

The slamming stopped for a few minutes and I commented to the guy sitting and reading his newspaper.  (Note: he hadn’t moved and, to my amazement, was still calmly reading.) “Do you believe this?”  His response? “I’ve got four kids at home. This is nothing. I honestly don’t hear a thing.”  I couldn’t believe his response and thought for a moment, he might have been their father; you know, a dad who travels with the family but acts as if he doesn’t know them.

As for me at the time, I never thought I could deal with kids on a plane. That is, until my wife became pregnant with our first child. I knew, at that moment, I was going to have to grow up and get with the program.  One thing I was sure about was 90% of a child’s behavior on the plane was in direct proportion to the effort put forth by the parents. Yes Mom and Dad, your children are your responsibility on planes or in hotels or anywhere else for that matter. Ignoring them in your own home is fine. However, ignoring them while they slam my tray table isn’t.

Fast forward at least eighteen years. I now have two children under three years old. Both are avid flyers.  My wife and I have, over many flights, put together a list of things we do and bring to make sure we have a good flight, not only for us, but for the people around us.  It’s not a foolproof plan, but it’s pretty good. So, here goes.

  1. Kill Germs. Airports and planes are dirty. Bring disinfectant wipes and wipe down everything around your child on the plane; arm rests, tray tables, wall, window shade – everything. Carry Purell and wipe/disinfect their hands and yours regularly. OK, germs killed.
  2. Bring extra supplies. The diaper bag has to be filled, complete with any supply that might ever be needed for any possible reason.  Extra diapers and supplies (30% more than you think you need – just in case of delays), paper towels, a cloth towel just in case you have to mop up a spill, plastic bags and ziplock baggies and an infinite supply of wipes.  Bring a little air-freshener too. Trust me, you may be used to your little-one’s spit-up smell, but everyone around you won’t appreciate it.
  3. Keep ‘em busy. Children’s attention spans are short at a young age.  I plan the 15-minute activity list.  You should have one activity per 15 minutes. Keep  them busy and their less likely to aggravate you and the other people on the plane. Activities can be repeated, but only once an hour.  For us, these include: crayons on coloring books, regular hard picture book, sticker book, etch-a-sketch mini and one of those books with the special marker that reveals hidden pictures as you color.
  4. Go ahead, watch TV. Here, television IS your friend. For longer flights, get a portable DVD player or something where you can play Barney, the Wiggles or whatever else you child likes.
  5. Popping Ears. Infants cry during take-off and landing because their ears hurt.  So, make sure they’re drinking a bottle during those times to alleviate their ear-popping pain. It has worked like a charm for both of my kids.
  6. Extra clothes. Bring extra clothes for the kids…and for you. Sometimes, children get sick, so plan for it. Sometimes children get sick on you which my wife learned on one flight when my son threw up on her. From then on, we’ve each carried an extra t-shirt with us, just in case.
  7. Thou shall not kick. If your child is a fan of kicking the seat in front of them (why do they do this?), take off their shoes. One kick and it will hurt and they’ll stop doing it.
  8. Hear no evil. No matter how well-behaved you think your kids are, they may cry. So, as soon as the flight attendant comes around offering earphones, offer to buy a set for each of your seat-mates.  On our last Continental Airlines flight, they were being offered at $1, so I automatically bought one for the five people around us.  One man kept saying “you don’t need to do that” but for a buck, it was a good insurance policy, just in case.
  9. Thank you and Sorry! Sometimes your children are going to misbehave. It happens.  Yes, they are just kids (Okay? There, I said it.)  Or, they’ll be sick or something just won’t go as planned on the plane. You’ll make a few people miserable. You won’t want to, but you will. When we fly with our children, we carry a dozen gift cards (from Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks).  Most are for $10, but a few are for $50.  We use these as “thank-you” and “I’m sorry” for people that have either helped us (like the flight where my wife was flying alone with my infant daughter and flight attendant held my daughter when my wife had to use the rest-room.) On a flight that was delayed for three hours ON THE RUNWAY, our daughter spilled her drink on the man next to her.  It was just juice and she didn’t mean it, but she was fidgety. He wasn’t upset, but I felt I should at least pay for his dry-cleaning. He didn’t want to accept anything but was pleasantly surprised at the gift-card.
  10. Dads – this one is for you. Your wife has enough to deal with so help her. Help her even more than you normally would. Take turns taking your children to the bathroom. Do more than your fair share. Traveling with kids can be fun. My daughter and I love to look out the window on take-offs. We love to look at the clouds.

As you can tell, I’m a firm believer in over-parenting on flights. It’s the right (and polite) thing to do. Your children and your seat-mates will thank you.  I acknowledge that things always won’t go as planned, so you should plan for that as well.  It won’t be easy all the time, but you have to make the effort. Traveling with children can be a great experience.

For those parents who think that ignoring their misbehaved children on the plane is okay and the rest of us should just deal with it – well, no. You deal with your kids.  At least, please, make a real effort.  We understand they’re just kids, but you are the adult.

For the rest of you on the plane, including people like the anti-child-on-plane person I used to be, people traveling with kids (especially single moms) need help, so offer assistance. Every little bit helps.  You’ll see how much they appreciate it.  My mother always says, “Be nice to people and they’ll be nice to you.”