Sunday-Monday June 25-26
I’ve said it before, but traveling from Lithuania is not easy. At least not by plane. Very few places are accessible directly, and those that are, are usually through the low-cost airlines (let’s never forget Flights for 50p, shall we) and get you someplace near your destination (For example, going to Paris, Ryan and Wizz fly you to Beauvais, which is about an hour away). Anyway, for our flights to the US, where we are going to spend a week on vacation with family in San Diego then all head back to Vegas for mom’s Bat Mitzvah, we decided to do it in two jumps – Vilnius (not even from Kaunas, so that’s another hour added on to the journey) to Paris then Paris to LA.
As I said, most of the ways to get to Paris leave you actually about an hour away, and from that small airport, there’s no way to fly transcontinental, so we would have to end up at Charles De Gaulle (CDG) at some point, regardless. Turns out, there is a low-cost airline that flies from Vilnius direct to CDG – Air Baltic. In fact, it’s the only airline that does so even if we had wanted to pay extra, this was our only option.
So we booked the flights to CDG, then we booked the flights from CDG to LAX on Air Tahiti Nui with a one night stay in an Ibis hotel right at the airport. Now, Air Baltic insists that Monki fly in a lap as an infant. Air Tahiti had no infant option, which was fine, we wanted her to have her own seat for the 11+hour flight across the Atlantic and the contiguous 48. We knew we were going to need a car seat anyway, so we figured we could use it on the plane – and, in fact, Air Tahiti insists on having a car seat for their child passengers (they don’t make this clear, by the way, you have to really search for it on their website. And when you send emails or try to call their offices, they are less than helpful – when they bother to respond at all. They never did pick up the phone and I called several times).
So finally, the day arrives and we start packing – and here’s where they get you: Air Baltic gives us one checked bag apiece, with a maximum weight of 20kg. Monki gets a 10kg bag, and also one checked piece of baby equipment – in this case, the stroller. They also don’t let you add weight. You can purchase an extra suitcase, which is another 20kg, but that doesn’t mean you get 40kg total. No, you get 2x20kg and if one of those goes over, you pay overage fees of 50 euro up to 32kg. Air Tahiti gives you 1x32kg bags so if you fall into the Tahiti requirements, you’ll be paying overage at Baltic and if you have an extra suitcase for Baltic, you’re paying upwards of 70 Euro at Tahiti. It’s either the chicken, wolf and man trying to cross the river or the 10 hot dogs/8 buns conundrum. No matter which way you look at it, though, it’s the passenger who’s screwed.
So we packed well (Rasa is a genius) and ended up with two cases, both under 20kg, and a great little rucksack backpack for the car seat and away we went to CDG, backpacks and diaper bag stuffed with baby stuff for the plane. That first flight, Monki was great, despite the fact Air Baltic screwed us by not giving us the seats we paid for, which would have given us more room. Instead, we were in the last row with the window and middle seats and a guy on the aisle watching Legends of Tomorrow on his iPad mini. Monki played, looked out the window, drank her tea, ate her porridge and was generally awesome. We had a rough few moments on landing but , but really, she was a trooper.
Once the plane stopped, we took our sweet time getting off and were, in fact, the last ones to disembark from the plane. We collected our checked baggage and headed for the hotel. It really was right at the stop for terminal 3, as they claimed, and check in was easy and quick. (There was one incident with a guy trying to tell us the elevator we needed was “up only” but he was an Englishman in France so obviously a nutter). The room itself was small and for some reason, they only gave one key. This normally wouldn’t be an issue, but this was one of those rooms where you need to put the key into the slot in order to get any power in the room as well as needing the key to get back up in the elevator, so if I had to go downstairs for something, I either had to leave the girls without power or I had to wait for someone going up to the 10th floor. Eventually, I got a second key. This was at the sometime I tried to get some ice to keep Monki’s porridges cold for the big flight the next day. There were no ice machines anywhere. Even Motel 6 has ice machines. But not here, in a business centric airport hotel. I suppose they figured you’d be doing your drinking down the bar. When I asked for ice, I was eventually directed to that selfsame bar and the bartender was loathe to actually part with a few cubes. Seriously. He didn’t want to give me any ice. And a bucket? Forget about it. The best I got was a 16oz plastic cup and when I asked for a second cup so maybe I could keep two bottles cold, I got a dixie cup and a whole tonne of attitude.
So we improvised. We wrapped the porridges in a towel, surrounded by the ice and left it in the shower with the cold water running over it all night long. It worked fine. The next morning Monki enjoyed her porridge (I made several trips to the breakfast buffet for hot water and microwave service to make sure the little one got hot meals and tea, but that’s fine, I had an extra key). Then it was off to the airport with plenty of time to check in.
Our first hiccup came as we were heading to the check in desk and suddenly, we couldn’t get through. No one was moving. Turns out there was a “suspicious package” so a section of the airport was shut down for about 20 minutes, passage obstructed by the omnipresent military personal in conjunction with local and airport police. Not a problem, but also concerning when you don’t know what’s going on. Eventually we make it to our check in desk and snag no 2 hits. Turns out the car seat requirement is specifically for a car seat designed for airline travel – and they weren’t sure ours qualified. So an expert was sent for, an expert who was supposed to arrive within 30 minutes but took closer to 45, all while we edged closer to the time check in would close. He determined our car seat wasn’t up to snuff and we would have to change Monki’s ticket to the unknown infant, losing the third seat we’d already paid for. Except there might be a place “a five-minute walk” where we could get the proper seat.
It was around this time that there was another “suspicious package” found right near where we were standing so I took off to try and get the correct car seat while Rasa dealt with the non-comprehending airline guy. I get to the place, they tell me they have what I need and I can rent it, no problem, they just need my passport… which of course I had left when I ran to the other end of the terminal trying to get back before they closed check in. I admit, I may have lost my cool a little. But eventually, car seat on airport trolly, I ran back to the gate where…I couldn’t get to because they still had that section evacuated. Fine. They clear the threat and I rush up and say “here’s the damn car seat.”
Except it wasn’t. It had the same problem ours had. No airplane symbol. So now I had an extra car seat and time was getting scarce. I ran back to the shop, this time with my passport, while Rasa took care of the purchasing of the infant ticket (they said they will refund the original child ticket, but I’ll be calling this week to confirm) and being told that check in was closing before I made it back.
I ran back, again, sprinting the length of the terminal to arrive just as they were issuing Rasa boarding cards and they needed my passport to make sure I got one, too. Then it was through passport control and security and by this point, we had ten minutes before the flight was scheduled to take off. I was a rude American and politely asked flight attendants from different airlines to please let us go since we were desperately trying to make our flight. Naturally, when you’re in a rush, you tend to get confused so everything Rasa had packed so brilliantly was tossed back into whatever open bag we could find. Monki, who had been asleep for most of this, had to be woken up since the stroller had to be folded to run it through the x-ray machine so now I’m the one throwing everything willy nilly into the bags while Rasa is holding a baby who wakes up hard at the best of times… and this certainly was not that.
Past security, the gate we were looking for was 38 – so we went to the side with 37-51. Naturally, we passed 51 first, which meant 38 was at the very end. So I’m pushing the stroller, heavily laden with our carry-ons (mostly Monki’s food and toys and stuff) and Rasa is carrying the Monki. Neither of us had the coffee or pastry we were hoping for while waiting for our boarding call with what we had assumed would have been ample time. Monki hadn’t had her snack and as we passed gate 42, they start calling my name over the intercom and announcing a last boarding call.
I put on an extra burst of speed, yelling “Here!” As I ran up to the desk and announced there were three of us, pointing back to where Rasa and Monki were coming in to the boarding area. A ticketing agent was right behind us, explaining the stroller needed to be gate-checked. It was and we were sent onboard…only to find someone else sitting in our newly assigned seats. So they had to move, not only seats, but they also had to move their overhead stuff since evidently we, with an infant, took priority. Makes sense, since I’ve been in and out of those bags a dozen or more times since we took off and it’s only been a little less than four hours. We still have seven and a half to go.
But right now, Monki is sleeping peacefully in the slightly too small bassinet attached to the bulkhead in front of us. There’s a 10 month old little girl sleeping in a second bassinet next to it. Monki has eaten, finally, and we’ve gotten a slight chance to breathe. I figured I needed to get this out of my system so I can enjoy the rest of this trip.
And then this happened…
So we land in LAX slightly less than 12 hours after we took off from Paris, commented on the wonders of modern technology, got no sleep and headed through passport control. They’ve got this new system where you slide your passport into a machine, answer a series of questions, have your picture taken and then you get a printout with all that information. With that in hand, you get to an actual person who looks, makes sure you’re you and waves you through.
Except not with us.
With us, Monki and I, being US citizens, were fine. I even got the nice officer to stamp her passport (they usually don’t do that for returning citizens). But then he asked about Rasa and her status. I explained about her ESTA visa and showed him the paperwork which said it had been granted. Thing was, it wasn’t in his system. “No problem,” he said. “It happens from time to time.” These are only mildy comforting words after a twelve-hour flight. “It’s the system, sometimes it doesn’t come through. Happens to 1 in 2000 or so.” Then he explained that she would be taken into a room where they had better access to the ESTA system and that would be that. “And take the baby with you, that way they’ll take you first.”
They came to get her and I was told to go ahead and get the luggage and wait at the bottom of the escalator. No indication how long it would take or anything else. So I got the bags and waited. After 20 minutes I realized I had her phone so I couldn’t even call if I wanted to check on things (Turns out, wouldn’t have mattered since they took everyone’s phones away). After about 35-40 minutes, Rasa and Monki came down the escalator, looking none-to-pleased. She said they were all incredibly rude and when one person asked how long it would take the response was “In here, time stops.” The question about letting family know what was happening was met with “If they really love you, they’ll keep waiting.”
Thankfully, for Rasa, it really was a simple matter of paperwork miscommunication and she was released quickly. But still… scary. Anything could have happened. But nothing did. So, reunited, we headed out for our rental car (the Alamo self-service kiosk, aside from the incessant upsell, is incredible) and, barring rush hour traffic, we made it to our beach house in time for dinner and to see all the family!
Finally, the vacation could start!