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Monday, November 16, 2015

TGBKA Day 60: THE SLOW PLANE RIDE TO KOREA (PENSACOLA TO DALLAS FORT WORTH)

We woke up at 0330 in Florida. My amazing inlaws were up before we were; they were dressed and ready to help with the insanity that was about to ensue. I was running around like a crazy lady, gathering up the final items to put in our luggage (put in the pajamas, pull out the jackets, pack up the charging cords for the five million i-devices we own, etc.) and the girls were giddy with exhausted excitement. The Elder popped out of bed like a Jack in the Box and was off in an instant. The Wee, on the other hand, woke slowly with the desire to discuss in detail every plane trip she has been on and inquire about how this one would differ. We all tried to put a little something on our tummies since we weren’t sure what would be open at the terminal and we knew our layover would be very stressful; but really, how hungry can a person be at 0330?

We got to the airport with our 15 checked bags, our 5 carry on bags, my 2 inlaws, my 2 babies, and not quite enough caffeine in my system. I was ready: I had all of our dependent ID cards inside our passports, I had Sweet Baboo’s orders taking him to Korea, our first set of amended orders authorizing the Command Sponsorship (but denying us travel until Sweet Baboo got us an apartment), and the final amended orders authorizing us to travel. I had our confirmed travel itinerary, and the boarding passes I had printed up the night before. I even made notes when I checked in on what the weather would be like when we arrived in Dallas Ft. Worth airport (in case we had to take a tiny plane that wouldn’t dock directly at the gate and we would have to huff it in the weather outside), and the weather in Korea (so we could be prepared for the trip to our friend’s house).

I approached the ticket counter with our load and smiled internally when other passengers couldn’t hold their shocked looks from showing. The employees at the ticket counter were nothing short of amazing. They listened to my quick explanation: we’re travelling on official orders, I have called American Airlines three times in the last two weeks to verify our checked baggage allotment, I have 5 bags per person, etc. They were encouraging and thoughtful. And they allowed me to check the bags in the order I wanted to check them.

That last point is very important. When traveling with 15 bags, I find it to be rather important to keep a list of the bags (itemized to coordinate with the numbers on each bag: 1 of 15, 2 of 15, 3 of 15, etc.). I wanted to make sure the bags were labeled in the order I numbered them. For the most part, it was successful.

The four of us were a well-oiled machine! Mom pointed out the next numbered bag for me to lift and put on the scale. Gentleman Employee weighed the luggage for me and didn’t lose his patience when I wanted to write the weight down on my list. Lady employee stuck her fancy stickers on the luggage and Gentleman Employee moved the piece to the conveyor belt behind him. Rinse, repeat… 14 more times. It was glorious!

We made it to security with not a single hiccup, and it was suddenly time to give hugs and kisses to Mom and Pops. With the excitement of moving forward to get the trip started, I never remember to vocalize the super mushy, overly sentimental words that I have in my heart for my family. Sometimes, “I love you and appreciate you dearly” just has to be enough… even though my heart says it’s just the beginning. Mom and Pops understood, and we got in line to clear security.

The Elder is 9 and the Wee is 5. I decided that they could handle holding their own tickets and passports while we waited in line. They did splendidly! We watched the passengers ahead of us as they waited for the TSA employee to beckon them. Then we discussed what we saw happen next: the passenger handed over his ticket and his passport, waited, and moved to the conveyor belt to put his stuff through the x-ray. The line wasn’t long, but there were enough people ahead of us for the girls to fully understand the flow of things when it was our turn. When Mr. TSA called us forward, the girls were giddy and giggly as they handed over their documents. His comments were kind and encouraging to the girls, and we left with high spirits that this would be an excellent day.

After clearing the x-ray area, the Wee got sidetracked by the full body scan machine. We didn’t have to go through it, and she was very interested in what was happening inside. I let her watch one passenger clear that area before I guided her to the window that separated us from Mom and Pops. We posed for one last photo, blew some kisses, and headed to our terminal.

Photo courtesy of Mom. If you look hard enough, you can see her beautiful reflection in the glass. Thanks, Mom!
We got to the gate 2 full hours before we were scheduled to take off. We found a cozy spot next to the window so we could watch the sun rise and keep an eye on our plane, and sat silently for a spell. A little boy with a prosthetic leg sat in the chair behind the Wee, and the Elder asked his family if they were going to Korea as well. The little boy was no older than the Wee, and his sister was even younger than he. The family was going to Hawaii, and I saw a very temporary, very mild look of envy on the Elder’s face when she got the news. She wants to surf again, and meet Bethany Hamilton (Soul Surfer), so Hawaii is on her “Duty Station Desires Before Daddy Retires” list.

The Wee was not quiet when she asked me if I saw “the little boy with the ‘thing’ on his leg”. I was not quiet when I responded with, “Yes I did! Did you introduce yourself? Maybe he would like a friend to talk with before the flight.” The Wee bashfully shook her head and got really quiet. I softened my voice a little, but was still loud enough for the little boy to hear when I said, “Do you know what that thing is on his leg?” And then the Wee, the Elder, and I had a discussion about prosthetic limbs and how absolutely cool they are. I don’t know if the boy was bashful, or tired, or embarrassed, but I didn’t want him to think that we thought any less of him because he was different. He got the message.

At one point, I looked down at our boarding passes and realized that we would be departing our first flight just as our connecting flight was starting to board. I took those boarding passes to the gate crew and asked what could be done about it. I was told that the terminals and gates were subject to change several times during our initial flight so planning our escape route now was not going to work. But he put in a request for one of those motorized vehicles to meet us at the gate and take us to our next gate quicker. But when we had to gate-check two of our carry on bags I knew the layover would be crazy. And it was.

Our reactions when we saw the time table ahead of us. Me: visibly stressed. Elder: shocked and she doesn't know why. Wee: completely oblivious
We bounce-landed, which got the girls’ attentions. We giggled at the sensation the bounce gave us, and the girls were eager to move to our next plane. But DFW is a large airport, and after landing we still had a ten minute taxi to the gate. Suddenly, I had the song “God Blessed Texas” in my head and couldn’t keep myself from singing it to the girls to distract them. The other passengers weren’t amused when the girls sang the chorus for the hundredth time in under five minutes. Then out of nowhere, the Wee giggled loudly and exclaimed for all of the plane to hear, “Mommy! I just farted!” We couldn’t get to the gate quickly enough.

Bounce landings are better than crash landings!
I coached the girls on how the next twenty minutes would go: when they turn off the fasten seat belts sign, they were to stay in their seats while I moved to the aisle to get our bags down from the overhead compartment. Then they would load up with their respective bags and we would head out to get our gate-checked bags. I warned them that the gate-checked bags would take us a few minutes and that they would need to be patient.

When we got off the plane, we stood in line to get our bags. A lady who worked for the airport walked by and I grabbed her attention. I explained to her that we were waiting for our gate-checked bags but our next flight was already boarding according to our next boarding passes. She told us to follow her to the front of the line. She told us to grab our gate-checked bags and then just stared at us. I asked her if she were able to radio for a cart to come get us from the gate and drive us to the next one. She stared at us. I asked her if she could help me… she stared at me. The staring was maddening. I finally said, "Look. I don't have time for you to stand there and stare at me. Are you going to help me or not?" She started in on what looked like a SpunkySoul length explanation, and I just didn't have that kind of time. So I politely cut her off: "Excuse me, ma'am... yes or no?" She said no and we moved on.

I looked down at the girls and all I had to say was this: "Girls, be the Jammer. See that pack? Bust right through it. We're heading for the Skylink. Wee, you lead the way. Elder, follow right behind her. I'll bring up the rear. Get us through!" The twinkle in their eyes was unmistakable. It's as if they had trained for this moment over the past two years. And boy, did they get us through the pack! I was the slow one... lugging the heavy bags and trying to keep up. 

By the time we made it to the Skylink, we had forgotten the actual gate we needed to get to. There were two stops for the terminal we needed, so we made a game plan: get off at the first stop and re-check our gate. If it's the wrong one, haul ass to the correct gate. As we were making our game plan, an amazing human being was listening. He was in a wheel chair and had a young airport employee assisting him through the airport. He looked up at his "handler" and said, "You ready to haul ass with them?" I looked over at them, and they both nodded at each other. His handler asked me where we were headed, looked at my boarding pass, and said to me, "We'll help you." I was so relieved to have somebody there that cared!

The Universe was ready for us to get to Korea. Awesome Handler Dude parted the packs of people with Wheelchair Dude. Wheelchair Dude shouted things like "Coming through. You really need to move out of our way!" The girls were giggling and trying their best to keep up. I was thanking every deity we have ever studied in our homeschool adventures for what we were experiencing. In no time, we found ourselves at the end of the very long line of people who were preparing to board our flight. I caught my breath, counted the kids and the carry on bags (to make sure we didn't have any slackers in our convoy) and turned to Wheel Chair Dude. "You're a lifesaver! Thank you so much. Wait. Are you going to be late for your flight?" He offered the biggest smile that could possibly fit on his face and replied with, "Nope. I have a 90 minute layover." I thanked his handler and looked up at the information screen.  Flight delayed.

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