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Traveling in a post pandemic world is hard enough. Anyone who has flown recently will agree. Lines are longer, crowds feel bigger and airplane seats seem smaller. So throw in traveling with kids and it’s a daunting task.
I would like to challenge US airports to do better in supporting flying families, as our recent experience leads me to believe that American exceptionalism does not include airports.
Yes, some US airports have wonderful play areas and exhibits with children in mind. But I’m talking about lines. Check-in desks. Habits. All the places where little people are cranky and parents are frustrated and want to throw away the burp cloth.
My husband and I recently took our 3 month old daughter with us for an early birthday trip to Italy and France for two weeks. I left the two oldest (grandparents for the win!) and headed from Washington Dulles to Milan, Italy – via Zurich. We are TSA pre-checked, which means children under 12 can skip the long lines to enjoy the fast lane with a parent or guardian. If you’re ever going to travel, it’s worth it. This was our only good experience in the United States.
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A mechanical problem meant we left Dulles nearly an hour and a half late, so our eight-hour overnight flight turned into a 9.5-hour slog across the Atlantic. Fortunately, the child was asleep. We didn’t do it.
We were already booked on the next flight out of Milan, but we had hours to explore in Zurich airport. There we found an entire “Family” lounge that had a full kitchen, sofas, games and more. Well done Zurich! We finally arrived in Milan and spent a wonderful week exploring Italy.
When we flew from Naples from check-in to security – every gate agent sent us into a special line for families. Traveling with kids in Europe makes you feel like a celebrity – albeit a celebrity who wears a nursing pillow and wears spit-up stains. But still.
At our gate, there was a sea of people when boarding began. However, agents asked families with children to board first if they wanted to. Some US airlines do this, but others have dropped the announcement and families must self-identify as needing the extra time. There are also horror stories about airlines separating families on long flights or making parents pay extra just to make sure your 3-year-old isn’t surrounded by a stranger danger.
When I arrived in Paris after another delayed flight, it was rush hour and the taxi line was 30 people deep. Before we can even enter the waiting area, an angel of mercy tells us: “You have a child! Here – come to the front of the line”. It was the only time that 30 people together wanted to carry a child at the same time.
Departing from Charles de Gaulle, we were again sent to the “fast” line at airport check-in. Same for security. They have an entire line dedicated to families with children under 18. I have never seen a dedicated family line in a US airport.
When we finally landed in Dulles, eight hours later, it took us two and a half hours to clear customs. Let me repeat that. For almost three hours we stood in a snaking line to wait our turn for an agent. When I first saw the crowd, I went up to an employee and asked if there was a “Baby Fast Pass” line. She looked taken aback and said no with a look of half-hearted pity.
After an hour in line, I had to find a place to nurse and sit in the wheelchair area. Again, I asked that employee if we could use the empty wheelchair line with the baby. I was told no. A short time later, another employee shouted across the room about something called “Mobile Passport Control” – telling us if we download the app, we can use another line.
Thinking she knew best, we followed the instructions and received a QR code that we were told could get us into the “Global Entry/Diplomat/MPC” line. Hatred! We left our seat at the front – pushed the cart and gear to the other line across the room – only to find that 50 of our closest friends had done the same, so we basically swapped a long line of 20 agents with a line shorter by two. Insert face palm here.
I approached the first woman I asked about a baby fast pass to ask why she didn’t tell me about the mobile passport control option when I initially asked if there was a faster line and it seemed puzzled as if I were speaking abroad. language. No angel of mercy here. Welcome to America.
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When we traveled to Jamaica as a family this spring, we were introduced to shorter family lines there as well. A few years ago, on another trip to Italy, we passed hundreds in a passport line as the agent pushed our stroller FOR US into the family lane.
If airlines and airports want to encourage travel again – let’s start by giving families a fast pass. It seems like every other country does.
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