I’ve completely lost count of our transatlantic journeys as a family. I actually just tried to count, and can’t quite resolve the trips in my head anymore. I *think* we’ve taken 4 round-trip transatlantic trips together, plus the one-way trip that brought us here (or, if you like, you can think of that as the round-trip we just haven’t completed yet) but I could be missing one. So, we’ve done at least 9 transatlantic flights together as a family, and though I’m not sure we’re experts, we’re certainly pretty well experienced. (I mean, seriously. My kids have each made at least 9 transatlantic flights so far. I was 37 before I could say that.) But all of our experience does very little to mitigate the unscripted insanity that invariably awaits us every time we do it. Every trip has been a little different, and each one has presented its own challenges. It is, as I often say, always an adventure.
In the past, we’ve usually (always?) flown direct from Vienna to Washington or stopped in Paris. Direct is great, but pricey, and though Austrian Airlines is pretty wonderful, their planes are not always the most comfortable. Last year, we opted to fly through Charles de Gaulle in Paris so that we could fly to Washington on the new A380 — the gigantic, double-decker plane. I said I wanted to try it out because I thought it would be fun for the kids, but the truth is that my years working in aviation left me as kind of a plane nerd and *I* really wanted to try it out.
It was great — comfortable, quiet and convenient, and Air France has stellar service. But Charles de Gaulle is a headache of an airport, and no matter how long we allow for a connection there (we’ve connected through Paris in the past, flying to other European destinations) we always end up running for the plane, which is a crummy beginning to a trip. (Last year was no exception.)
So this year, I thought we’d try something a little different. I was fine with connecting through Paris, but I wanted to allow more time than last year, and I wasn’t set on it being anywhere in particular. As it turned out, the A380 now flies between Washington and Heathrow, too. We’ve had some decent experiences at Heathrow before, and it’s a bonus that people in London speak English. Sold! We booked our tickets with a connection through Heathrow.
We had no delays getting from Vienna to Heathrow, so I expected than having nearly 2 hours to get to our next plane would be no problem. Ha! I had never realized that connecting from intra-European travel to transatlantic travel at Heathrow makes it every bit as much of a headache as connecting through Charles de Gaulle. It was not pleasant.
We had to wait for a shuttle bus which ran only every 15 minutes, and which took 20 minutes to get to its destination. Which sounds fine, except that the entire flight of people from Vienna had to get on the shuttle, and we had to wait through 3 rounds of shuttle buses before we got on. Then we had to go through security again, and there were insanely long lines. When we finally got to the front of the line, we were told that Liam’s antibiotic (remember how we were all sick for most of December?) couldn’t clear security. Huh??? No, really. It couldn’t go through because nowhere on the bottle did it say how bit it was (though it was, quite clearly, the same 100 mL size as the children’s ibuprofen we had — which DID say 100 mL on the bottle, so that was clear to go). Apparently, it would have been ok if we’d had the doctor’s written prescription with us (but we didn’t), even though it was in its original bottle from the pharmacy, all official-looking and everything. I explained that antibiotics are the kind of medicine where it’s very bad if you miss a dose. I offered to take some of the medicine. I offered to let them gas chromatograph it. I asked Dan to find someone to call our gate and tell them we were coming while I pleaded with the (not unsympathetic, but unbudging) security guy. Our flight was due to take off in less than 15 minutes, and we still had a shuttle train to take. We had to choose between leaving the medicine and running for our flight, or staying to argue about the medicine and getting on a later plane. We ran. (Again.)
I’m not exaggerating when I say that by the time we left security, we had just over 10 minutes to get to our gate. I was 95% certain we were going to miss our plane. I figured that, at least, our seats had been given away to someone on standby at this point. We ran, flat out, to the train terminal. We ran, flat out to the gate. We arrived, with about 90 seconds to spare before departure time. The gate agent said that the only reason our seats weren’t given away is that so many people had missed their connections that there were more open seats than standby passengers. He told us that if we hadn’t called from security to say we were coming, they would have left without us. We were the last people across the jetway, they closed the door as soon as we were through it, and we were still walking down the (admittedly very long) aisle when the plane pushed back. We were red-faced, sweaty, stressed, exhausted and without antibiotic, but we made our flight. (So much for not repeating the experience we had the year before!) I wanted to email our pediatrician, to ask if she could email or fax a replacement prescription, but between the dash for the plane and the actual takeoff, there was not a single moment to do it.
The kids were great. Though it’s not great that we keep ending up in that situation, they’re at least getting used to it, and they know that it’s not a calamity. (Besides, they’re getting bigger, so they’re getting pretty fast!) The rest of the flight was relatively uneventful. The boys are definitely getting more and more accustomed to long flights. The service on British Airways was as good as Air France (though the configuration of the plane was slightly less comfortable).
And it was so, so wonderful to see our family again when we arrived. That is the absolute BEST feeling about being abroad — how magical it feels to come home again. There are all of these wonderful people that you miss SO much, and then you get to see them, and they’re just as happy to see you as you are to see them, and they don’t care too much what state you’re in when you arrive. It is the BEST. (And, we got to meet our new nephew/cousin!!!!)
But after we gave hugs and kisses, collected our things, packed everything up, got to my mom’s house and got semi-settled in . . . we still had the antibiotic to deal with.
By the time we got to Maryland, it was late at night in Vienna, so I couldn’t reach our pediatrician (though I left her a message). We had no recourse, except to go to a 24 hour pharmacy and beg for them to give us a single dose of amoxicillin (we figured we could come back with an emailed prescription in the morning, but we didn’t want him to miss a dose). If at all possible, we didn’t want to have to take poor, exhausted Liam to the ER or an urgent care place to get them to write a new prescription that night. I discovered that, randomly, I’d taken a picture of the prescription when the doctor gave it to us (I have no idea why — I never do that) so Dan was able to take that with him to the pharmacy. (It’s too bad that I didn’t realize I had that at Heathrow — he might have let us through with that.)
When Dan went to the pharmacy, he explained the situation. We were fortunate that the pharmacist was as outraged by the fact that the antibiotic had been confiscated as we were, and he refilled the entire prescription for us, based just on the picture from my phone. And so, just 22 hours after leaving our apartment in Vienna, after running through the airport, going over the ocean and through the hassle of getting Liam’s medicine, we were, finally, tucked in, safe and sound, at Grandma’s house.