Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Journey to Korea Part 1: Getting to Seattle

We have two boys, ages 3 and 5. So, when I found out we had orders to Korea, naturally, I was worried about the flights. I did research, research, and more research to read others’ experiences. So now that we’ve made it through, I thought it best to pay it forward and write a few posts about our journey to the ROK. We flew regular, civilian flights to get to Seattle and then Patriot Express from Seattle on. Of course, your voyage may be a little different but this was our experience.

We took leave in Ohio before our trip so we had to drive a rental car from there to the Nashville Airport (where Transportation booked our tickets from). We travelled with 8 big suitcases, 4 carry-ons, and a stroller so we needed something with a lot of space. We rented a mini-van and folded the back seat all the way down. This worked extremely well for our family of four. All the suitcases fit in the back and our boys still had room to wiggle a bit in their middle bucket seats. We used Hertz for our rental and I would recommend them. The price was comparable to all the other companies we checked; no hidden or unexpected fees when we paid, and the return agent even helped us unload our massive amount of luggage at the terminal.

When we arrived at the Nashville airport, things moved pretty quickly. We had about 2 hours until takeoff, but considering everything… that ended up being the perfect amount of time. We first pulled into the “Rental Car Return” garage. The Hertz agent took down our car’s mileage and our names and then got us a Hertz driver to take us over to the Departures terminal. There were luggage carts available to rent right outside the Departures doors. The cost $5 each to rent; we got two and piled them completely full. We (very carefully) pushed them inside and parked in a corner where the boys and I waited with all the luggage while my husband walked down to the Hertz rental counter to close out and pay. It took him maybe 10-15 minutes. When he got back, we got in line at the Southwest Airlines counter to check our 8 bags and print our boarding passes. Our small circus act definitely caught the attention of other travellers in line. Both our boys were so excited, they didn’t hesitate to tell everyone that we were moving to Korea! They all wished us well (and lots of luck!) and we got through the line in about 10 minutes. At the counter, we used the self-kiosk to print our boarding passes and designate how many bags we were checking. The clerk checked my husband and I’s IDs, weighed all the bags one by one, and then took them to be loaded. We left with our carry-ons and the stroller and took the 2 (now empty) luggage carts back outside to return them. You get a quarter back when you return them.

We had about 1 hour until boarding started at this point, so we headed straight for the security checkpoint because it looked pretty busy. There were six lanes open for ID check (this was around 5pm) and we just chose one at random. The TSA clerk check our ID’s and also our children’s’ passports. We proceeded to the X-ray scanners and metal detectors. I folded up the umbrella stroller and sent it through on the conveyer belt. We took off our shoes, emptied our pocked, and got out the laptop and sent them through in the bins. We were told we didn’t have to send our iPads through separately; they could stay in the bags. We sent our carry-ons through and walked through the metal detector as directed by the TSA agent. When we got through to the other side, it was CHAOS! Everyone was rushing around trying to get their things at once. We grabbed all of our belongings, walked bare-footed over to a quieter spot by the windows, and gave our boys their shoes to put on while we got everything else back in order.

By the time we had found a restroom and then walked down to our gate, we had about 20 minutes until boarding. We found a place to “park” by the window so the boys could watch the luggage being loaded onto the plane.

My husband stayed with them while I went to purchase a bottle of water for each of us. When I returned, it was time to start boarding. They boarded the “A” group and then called for family boarding.  With Southwest Airlines, you don’t get assigned seats, you just pick when you get on the plane. We gave them our boarding passes and found some seats near the back. Our plane had 3 seats on each side of the aisle. For us, a family of four with two small children, we decided to sit parent/child and parent/child, one in front of the other. This worked really well; both children got a window seat (which they both wanted), we could easily pass toys and snacks between the seats, and it cut down on sibling bickering since they weren’t sitting next to each other and each had a parent’s undivided attention. We sat near the back to be close to the restroom.

We had a brief layover in Denver where we got off and directly onto another plane at the gate next door. We got to board first since we were “through to Seattle” passengers but we chose the same seating arrangement as before since it worked so well the first time. The flight attendants from our first flight also transferred to our second flight with us. They were awesome. They let the boys get a peek in the cockpit, see all the buttons and lights, and say hi to the pilots. They also gave them extra snacks before takeoff and talked to them about their trip. They made them (and us!) feel so welcome. It made a long flight a bit better knowing that I could ask them for something, or help, if we needed it.

Both our boys did great on the first two flights! They each had their own rolling backpack that they carried or pulled themselves. Except when little brother fell asleep in the stroller on the plane, our oldest was a trooper and took both!

Here’s what we packed for each of them:
iPad mini
sticker book
coloring book and crayons
small container of play dough
one stuffed animal
fun neck pillow (which they didn’t really use)
snacks (carrots, apple slices, pretzels, goldfish crackers, granola bars)

My 5-year-old used his iPad and headphones the most and my 3-year-old favored the play dough and his sticker book. They both snacked A LOT! We didn’t really limit their snacks, especially since we were flying at dinnertime. But, we were thankful that we did NOT pack sugary snacks. I feel like that would have been a disaster. My advice? Stick to light whole grains, fruits and veggies, and a little protein if you can.

We made it to Seattle with no major issues or meltdowns. I hope you have the same luck! Check back for my next post, which will be about the second leg of our journey; from Seattle to South Korea!

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