Another Travel Adventure with Kids
Darren and I swapped days this year just for kicks – we celebrated Father’s Day on Mother’s Day and we’ll be celebrating Mother’s Day in June. It just worked out better to treat dad in May plus it was a fun and silly thing to do.
So for “Dad’s mother’s day” treat, we flew him and Kaitlyn to Anaheim to watch the Flames play the Ducks in round 2, game 5 of the Stanley Cup playoffs. They lost, but had fun.
No, this isn’t a story about sports.
They had a blast – they visited Disneyland the day they arrived, wandered around enjoying the nostalgia, went on Pirates of the Caribbean three times and watched the fireworks.
No, this isn’t a story about Disney.
With no mom around, they ate junk food pretty much the entire time. Their healthiest meal was at IHOP (they were very excited about IHOP). Then tired, defeated, stuffed and content they got on the plane to come home.
Yes, this is a story about air travel.
On boarding the plane, they were given a “Quick Connect” card for their WestJet flight through the Vancouver airport. There’s the photo of it which you can read yourself but basically, it was supposed to make the customs process go faster. Passengers didn’t have to collect their luggage in order to go through customs, it would proceed to the plane without them – yay! Darren and Kaitlyn were super excited (it was like a FastPass at Disney only for the airport – how cool is that *chuckle*)
Note: some large airports in the US have a “Quick Connect” system – it’s entirely different than this Quick Connect system which I imagine may lead to some trouble and confusion in the future. This one should likely be renamed. Under the US “quick connect” system – there’s a different line-up for passengers with short connections other than that, the process is the same. Vancouver system – don’t pick up your bags to go through immigration (different process, same line).
Anyways, Darren and Kaitlyn got off the plane and headed for customs. As usual, the map on the little card looked easier than real life proved to be but they found their way over there…
…and discovered Kaitlyn had been “randomly chosen” for additional screening.
This is a normal part of the process and didn’t faze Darren (yet) – we’d been through it before. It happens to half a dozen or so passengers on every plane and we’ve discovered that if one parent is traveling with a child it tends to occur nearly every time (I’m not sure if this is just luck, but I suspect that when they see a teen girl traveling with a middle aged man they take an extra look just to be safe – good for them).
Off Darren and Kaitlyn went to the screening area where the customs official asked for her passport and her luggage.
Darren had wisely kept the card that was provided (what has affectionately become known as the WestJet FastPass in our household – Kaitlyn’s going to glue it into her journal so she can remember her misadventures). Anyways, he handed over the “Quick Connect card” as did the other passengers that were in the same boat, explaining that they didn’t have access to their luggage.
After some confusion among the customs officials the lot of them were whisked off to immigration detention.
Aside #1: I rarely swear.
Aside #2: At that moment, “dad’s mother’s day” was officially over.
So… immigration detention is not something that a traveller “normally” sees in the course of air travel. It is not like the business class lounge. It is not like the ordinary waiting areas in the airport. It is sterile and, honestly, quite scary. Especially for a teenage girl with a Lilo & Stitch pen, a Disney flashing light bubble gun, a Calgary Flames jersey (in Vancouver Canucks territory, no less), no passport and no luggage.
I think the thing that freaked Kaitlyn out more than anything is that they wouldn’t return her passport – we have always emphasized the importance of that document. She went on a school trip to Europe and it was drilled into her by us and teachers that above all else, don’t lose your passport. Having it taken away and not returned was a sure sign to her that something had gone very wrong.
Technically Darren didn’t have to go to detention (not that he’d dare set foot back in our house without her, hehe) but he and others accompanied their family members making for quite the crowd of fifteen mouse-eared detainees all of whom had likely had too much sugar over the weekend.
You really have to feel sorry for the customs officials as they watched kids run laps around detention – one of the young boys climbed up onto the stainless steel counter where they search the bags and started spinning in circles on his tummy.
Having said that, customs officials in the detention area are likely paid/trained to look intimidating, not friendly and reassuring so while they likely felt a bit awkward so did the passengers.
As funny as I’m trying to make it sound, it wasn’t pleasant. To use the washroom you had to raise your hand. There was no food or beverage available. Though they did bring a gulp of water in those little paper cones (Kaitlyn didn’t like that it tasted like paper).
The worst part was that most of the people had connecting flights (Vancouver’s a hub in Canada) and that no one seemed to really know what to do.
Having said that, everyone was calm, cooperative and quiet (especially once one mom raised her hand to request that she be allowed to play “Power Rangers” on her iPad to entertain the kids). Even those detainees like Kaitlyn, that were obviously stressed out/freaked out did it quietly – sitting nervously in immigration detention with the strange juxtaposition of “go go power rangers” music playing in the background is one of those memories that’ll likely stick with her, heh.
After a little over an hour, Darren raised his hand to request that he be allowed to use his telephone. The official paused but gave permission and Darren called WestJet customer service to try to explain the situation.
After 30 seconds of explanation, the customer service person put him on hold (never to return, but that’s ok!) and about fifteen minutes later Darren’s bag (and a few others) arrived. Of course it was Kaitlyn’s that was really needed but at least that was some progress.
Ten more minutes and they brought Kaitlyn’s bag. The custom’s official gave it a fairly quick search – they really were doing their best to help the passengers through this – returned Kaitlyn’s passport (phew! Boy, did she clutch that thing, once she got it back!) and sent them on their way to their connecting flight.
Darren was relieved – plenty of time still – until he realized that detention is on the wrong side of security. He waited with mounting stress 20 more minutes to get through security and then raced to the gate. They made it just in time to board and got home to hugs from mom with one heck of a story to tell.
As happy as we were, others weren’t so lucky. All the passengers had watched the clock ticking and quietly shared their deadlines with each other. Some missed their connections. And a few didn’t get their bags by the time Darren and Kaitlyn left the area – hopefully they aren’t still sitting there (this was about 12 hours ago as I type this).
I’m not a big fan of “blame”. I prefer problem solving. I’m often frustrated by the “it’s not my fault” natural human reaction – getting past “fault” to arrive at “solution” is half the battle.
To us, it doesn’t matter who did it or why it happened. We just hope it doesn’t happen again. I’ve sent our little story to WestJet and the Vancouver airport. Hopefully they sit down to discuss things and figure out how to stop all that from happening to others!
While there’s very little we can do about the processes at an airport, here are a few lessons from this experience we can share with all our fellow travellers:
Lesson 1: Leave yourself plenty of time for connecting flights. In some cases you can make connecting flights with short layovers like 30 to 60 minutes. Four out of five times you will be fine. But then something goes wrong like it did for Darren and Kaitlyn and you won’t make your connection. This is especially true for international connections. Kaitlyn and Darren had a three hour layover and almost did not make it. Had they missed it they would have had to stay overnight in Vancouver waiting for the first plane to Calgary in the morning.
Lesson 2: “So that’s what those are for…” That little sticker you get with your bag tag. Don’t lose that. Passengers that had their sticker got their bags eventually. Those without their sticker hadn’t by the time Darren left the detention area.
Lesson 3: When travelling with a group, don’t mix and match the bag stickers and the tickets unless you’re SURE you want to stay together. In Darren’s case there was no way he was leaving Kaitlyn so he just stuck both stickers to the back of his boarding pass but another group was two adult-aged sisters actually did decide to split up – the one with the children left auntie behind (a good choice, I think) but it was a struggle because their boarding passes and baggage stickers weren’t matched up. They likely missed their connection unless WestJet held the flight for them.
Lesson 4: You don’t want to go to immigration detention so behave yourself. Fill those customs cards out honestly and as accurately as you’re able to. Know the full address of the hotel you’ll be staying at (if there is one) as sometimes they’re quite sticky about getting exact information.
Lesson 5: Model the behaviour you want your children to have. Not all of us will have the same feelings about how to act in a situation like this – the point is, act the way you want them to in stressful moments so they learn from your example.
Darren’s that quiet, patient type who says nothing until he feels an appropriate time has passed and then does something if he can think of something productive to do (in this case, it was call WestJet for help). We live in a pleasant, civil part of the world and trust that people in authority are usually doing their best for us – or at worst, just ignoring us, hehe.
Lesson 6: Don’t panic and always carry a towel.
“any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.”
~ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
My hubby always knows where his towel is.