So wouldn’t you expect that leaving five and a half hours before your international flight would be enough time? Even if you live at a distance of about 70 miles from the airport? I actually had factored in a bit of heavy traffic on the New Jersey turnpike and still expected to arrive in Newark on time to have some dinner. Consequently we had snacks packed but nothing really substantive enough to count as a meal (I know, stupid, stupid – you’d think I was an amateur).
As it turns out, we would ultimately be fine on the turnpike. However, it took us almost two hours – two hours – to get from our house to the other side of Delaware where the bridge crosses into New Jersey. This is a distance of twelve miles. My nerves were jangling by the time we finally got across the river and there was no way we were stopping to do anything like eat fast food along the highway. Then when we finally got to the airport, we couldn’t find the parking lot where I had made a reservation. And of course there was the inevitable line. The desk clerk who did our check in turned out to be the slowest person Air India has working for them (and that’s saying something). He couldn’t find his pen. He couldn’t handle the fact that my last name was different than Matt and the boys (if you learn that I’ve changed my last name next month, now you know why). Then the boarding pass printer ran out of paper…. By the time we got up to our gate, it was less than an hour to flight time and well past bedtime and the boys had eaten cheese curls and dried fruit for dinner. Wolfgang Puck’s airport bistro stand, the only food option, proved a nonstarter – Salmonella Café would have been a better name for it. I ended up buying a banana muffin and a bottled fruit smoothie. Teddy’s hands were shaking with hunger as he shoved bits of muffin into his mouth hungry and I felt like the worst mother in the world.
All of this would have been mildly distressing under normal circumstances, but it was made worse by the fact that the scene at the boarding gate resembled the Agra train station (and I know – I’ve been there). Our flight was actually continuing on to Mumbai after dropping some of us in Paris. I’m not sure it this is what necessitated a second security screening at the gate, but there was one. And once we went through that screening, we couldn’t leave the boarding area, which had enough chairs to hold approximately half the people who would be getting on the enormous airplane. So everyone just stood, packed and immovable, a human crush pressing against the gate’s desk. No one got in any kind of line, no one attempted to be polite or observe any rules of personal space. Every few minutes one of the ground crew came on the loudspeaker and begged people to “please take a seat, please take a seat and move away from the desk.” They never sounded like they expected anyone to listen, and no one did.
Finally, after the flight crew had refused to allow us to use Teddy’s carseat on the plane (we’ve had this problem on international airlines before) we were in our seats on the plane, which sat for an hour in line before it took off, making any chance of a meal a complete impossibility for two sleepy children. The boys had more corn chips and more dried fruit and Tommy promptly fell asleep on Matt’s lap. Teddy took a little longer. As we took off he leaned up against me and said, “don’t like it.”
“Don’t like what sweetie?” I asked.
“Don’t like going up into the air,” he said. “It’s scary.”
“There’s nothing to be scared of,” I said, “Mommy, Daddy, and Tommy are all here.” (I was blantantly lying. I hate to fly and my palms were already sweating.)
“Don’t like it. It’s dark,” he said stubbornly, “We shouldn’t go up in the air.”
Despite these protests, he did eventually fall asleep with his head in my lap. The plane started to buck and shake as soon as we hit cruising altitude and the pilot came on to inform us that although he expected turbulence all the way to France, he had no plan to turn on the fasten seat belt light because he figured we all knew what to do. Then the flight attendant asked me three times if my sleeping family wanted dinner. After I repeatedly said no she and her colleague decided that our (middle) row was the perfect one to use to pass hot trays of food back and forth to each other, since three of the heads in it were bent in sleep.
But finally the cabin was darkened and quiet. Operation Get My Family to Paris was almost complete and I should have been able to relax. But as I looked at Matt and Tommy and Teddy all sleeping I realized that every time I fly, I go through the five stages of grief. Teddy had participated in denial with me (psychic boy knew full well that Mommy doesn’t think we belong up in the air, especially not at night). This would inevitably be followed by irrational anger (at the airline for putting us in the back of the plane where I’m convinced the turbulence is always worse), bargaining (God, if we can just get to Paris safely, I promise not to buy any shoes while we’re there), depression (this plane is definitely plunging into the ocean and I haven’t even managed more than a few blog posts), and finally acceptance (I hate flying, I always have hated flying, I always will hate flying).
So I cuddled Teddy’s head as my leg went numb and handed him his binkies when they fell out and watched the Bollywood dancing how-to video and the maps that showed our progress, always too slow in my opinion (not that I relished thinking about the fact that we were traveling at 600 miles an hour) and dozed, only to be wakened every fifteen minutes when the plane bucked.
And when Teddy finally opened his eyes in the morning as they served a pathetic excuse for a croissant for breakfast, the first thing he did was smile and say in a joyful voice, “Now we’re in Paris!” Almost, my sweet boy, almost.
Please see Paris in its proper order if you’re interested in a chronological list of posts from my family’s July 2008 trip to Paris.