Monday, December 22, 2008

Getting to America, Part 1

one hour into the flight
Gave the girls their airplane surprises, much to their utter delight. 

I always plan ahead for our flights, stashing two sets of small presents to keep them entertained while on the plane (some toy, some kind of snack they usually don't get). When they were smaller, I gave them dollar store junk, activity and coloring books, mini Play-Doh sets, etc. Nowadays, in addition to the surprises, I always fill their mini purses with a new set of washable markers, a new small blank book, a pack of gum, a lipgloss and a book (whatever they're currently reading).

Natalia has just started to read on her own (actual books, not beginning readers); what a difference this makes! The girls were so quiet on the way to the airport; they were so engrossed in their reading!

Between being able to read and their Didj & Nintendo DS games, the actual flights are now rather easy. SOOO much easier than when they were younger and the dvd player's memory only lasted for three hours... (Let's be honest; the Nintendos were a present for ME -- even though I've never even used them. They buy me HOURS of quiet time when flying or on long car trips. Chris has never been on the same flight as me and the girls, so you gotta do whatever it takes...).

five hours into the flight
Still loving those mini Littlest PetShop sets... They are worth every little ruble!!! Never has an airplane toy been such a hit!!! They keep making up plays starring their little animals.

By the time our plane took off, they had already been traveling for four and a half hours... (Time to get to the airport, checking in, waiting for flight, waiting for plane to actually take off). These toys have completely refreshed them!

eight hours into the flight
Despite having changed into pajamas, neither girl will completely settle down. When one is almost asleep, the other is loud and moves around -- and vice versa. They won't let me sleep a wink; as soon as I fall asleep, they wake me up for this or that. They have fought a bit, but isn't that to be expected? They've been on the road for twelve and a half hours. We're cramped in economy. All things considered, they are VERY good travelers!

ten hours into the flight
Katya is in a rotten mood. Natalia is upset because her sister is -- but not in an empathetic way; instead, they're driving each other crazy. 

Katya is all upset because she missed the big school assembly today -- the holiday assembly that was also a play, dance recital and concert. She even wrote part of the play... and she had main roles in many of the numbers... but for some reason the assembly had to be switched from Friday to Saturday -- and it would have cost $15,000 for me and the girls to change our tickets, remaining in economy, to any other day before Christmas -- so she obviously couldn't participate.

She's mad, and I can understand why... She never asked to be an expat kid, having to travel like this twice a year, going to a school where the week of Christmas isn't a holiday (Russian Christmas in January 7th), missing out on a whole series of important events and parties any time we leave to spend Christmas in America.

I listen and try to be supportive, but she just needs to vent her anger and frustration... Unfortunately that makes me the figurative punching bag. At high altitude, unable to leave my seat.

eleven hours into the flight
Katya has calmed down, in part because Natalia has now fallen asleep. Just in time for us to prepare to land. 

5:05 p.m., eleven hours and forty minutes after taking of
We land, all is well, I'm thankful for a safe flight. Natalia is barely able to move, she's so tired... This usually happens... It's so hard to get her off the plane when she only falls asleep at the very end!

5:20 p.m.
We're still in the plane. There's no gate for us. We don't have much time to make our connection...

5:35 p.m.
We're still in the plane. There's no one to drive the tunnel from our plane to the gate. 

5:50 p.m.
We're finally off the plane; the last people, of course, since we were in the very back and Natalia was so tired.

6:15 p.m.
We've made it through customs; if we can get our bags immediately before having to recheck them for our next flight, we just might make our connection

7:00 p.m.
As many of us are still waiting for our bags, people start to talk... Three of us "old-timer" Moscow expats basically shrug. After living in Moscow, we have such low expectations... Of course it could take hours and hours longer than you think it should. Of course it'll often be unpleasant. But, oh, how super, to simply arrive safely -- and to perhaps have your suitcases eventually make it, too.

Some one overhears us and interjects, "You guys are warped! You've lived there for way too long..."

We just laugh. 

In any case, our last bag FINALLY shows up. We've missed our connection. We follow the snaking crowd to this line, where we stood until 8:45 p.m. No toilet. No water. Katya has to push a cart with suitcases for me, because they're too tired to each pull their carry-ons without some help, and the carts are too small to fit our bags on one. 

Oh, how annoying about half of the other people in the line are... So tanned from their vacations in Cancun, most of them without children, complaining even more loudly than my girls about how horrible it is to have to wait in line... Cry me a river, people!

So... to get that straight... The kids have now been traveling for seventeen hours and fifteen minutes, with about thirty minutes of sleep each. This is why they're in matching striped outfits -- it's a long trip, and I'm tired, too. When they're dressed this way, it's much easier for me to keep track of them.

They are TIRED -- but they are real troopers, albeit whiny ones, for the next hour and forty-five minutes that we inch our way back and forth in this line to get reassigned to a different connecting flight. They are also HUNGRY. (Me, too...)

This is where the story gets a little better... A nice couple who also flew in from Moscow lets me use their cell phone to call some good friends in who live nearby so I can try to find us a place to spend the night. At this point, no one has told us if they'll find us hotel rooms. I luck out -- my friends are HOME, instead of going out that night -- and they're thrilled to have us. They then call my in-laws to let them know we won't be arriving tonight. 

8:45 p.m.
We've been reassigned to a flight the next morning. I need to keep all luggage with me overnight; the clerk basically acknowledged that if I check it in advance tonight, there's a high chance some of it will get lost. Great. We then have to put all our luggage back onto a conveyor belt, and go through security all over again (shoes off, laptop on, etc.) to simply leave the terminal, board the train, and make our way to baggage claim -- AGAIN. 

9:05 p.m. 
Now angel music plays in the background... Tah dah! As we emerge from the trains into the airport lobby, one of our friends is waiting for us with a huge smile. The kids are so happy to see him, even though it has been years -- so they can't remember him. They can just instantly tell how kind he is and they're thrilled to get way from me for a bit -- no, make that "go eat food court sweet and sour chicken."

Our friends will be referred to as Y (the husband) and X (the wife) until later in Part 2. As we all discovered the following morning, one of our friends is in for a delightful surprise when she reads these entries and realizes just how small the world is...

To Be Continued... (Really Great, but with a Big and Clothes-less Caveat...)


Tina in CT said...

Trip from Hell! You need to write a hot letter to Delta execs. Who knows, it might get you some perk for the future.

What it all comes down to is that you landed safely. I just saw on the news about the Continental flight that crashed yesterday in Denver.

You got to visit with Ian and Katya and the boys since it last was the summer of 2007. That was an unexpected treat.

Annie said...

I have always thought that there was little that could be as torturous and require more self-discipline as the trip from Russia to the US. It is being awake for 24 hours, among other things that just undoes me.

Anonymous said...

I was thinking the same thing as you, Tina. It is lucky that Tamara get delayed. She got to visit with Katya and avoided the mess in Denver.