The end of free flights

We’re approaching the end of an important period in our travel lives. As of next month, Ella will no longer be able to fly for free (or nearly free in some cases). Anyone who has flown with a toddler will know that we come to this milestone with mixed emotions. We’re really looking forward to Ella having her own seat, but it’s going to suck to have to pay for it.

We decided that to celebrate/mourn this transition, we’d best travel to some far flung location and squeeze as much value as possible out of Ella’s final free flights. As luck would have it, we have some friends, Kevin and Vanessa, currently living in South Africa. (If you’ve been following along for a while, you may remember them from Vietnam.)

YYZ-AMS-CPT
Let’s see, Canada to the southern-most tip of Africa…carry the one. Yep, that counts as far.

You win some, you lose some

Though it wasn’t the cheapest option, and may cost me status with Air Canada next year because it isn’t a Star Alliance airline, we booked our flights with KLM based on the fact that it offered the most direct route from Toronto to Cape Town, our ultimate destination.

Faced with around 18 hours of flying time, plus all of the other ground travel time, we also decided on a “rip the bandaid off approach” and opted for a short layover in Amsterdam, just over two hours. As we nearly learned the hard way getting to Malta,  any shorter than that voids your travel insurance if something should go wrong.

This still seemed like the right approach, at least until I got an email from KLM on the afternoon of our departure saying that the first leg of our journey (YYZ-AMS) was being delayed by about an hour. Then we started to get a little nervous.

I called KLM about the delay and connection. Their response was essentially that they were going to fly faster. Sounds simple enough. I mean, that’s fairly impeccable logic. If you’re late, go faster. With little else we could do, we went to the airport a little later than originally planned and crossed all of our fingers and toes. The KLM service agent on the phone assured me he would do the same.

Though we didn’t realize it at the time, it could have been much worse. We were getting out of Toronto just in time. Shortly after we left, the city was hit with the first major snowfall of the season.

The risks of staring intently at a screen while a plane takes off around you…

I don’t know if it was the delay, the large number of children, or the huge line of people in wheelchairs, but boarding the flight in Toronto was total mayhem. We watched the minutes tick by while they tried to corral all of the toddlers, kids and seniors, cramming them into a 747, along with a few of us other adults. When all was said and done our flight left almost 2 hours later than scheduled. No way we would make our connection in Amsterdam, right? Well, you know what? They flew faster. We made it to Schipol with around an hour to spare.

Boarding our second flight in Amsterdam was much more orderly. This didn’t change the fact that we were still late leaving again due to high winds and only one runway in operation, but once more, they flew faster so it wasn’t a problem. More importantly, given we were facing an 11 hour flight, we were able to pull off quite the coup in the time that we were on the ground in Amsterdam. We talked our way into getting three seats.

As we settled into our 11 hour flight, I hooked Ella up with some Sesame Street on the iPad and was pleasantly surprised that she seemed totally engrossed. As we took off, she watched that, Katy fell asleep, enjoying the freedom of not having a toddler on her lap for a change, and I settled in to watch part of a movie. For a moment, the 11 hour flight didn’t actually seem that daunting. Then Ella, barely moving her eyes from the iPad started to projectile vomit all over the front of herself. Good times.

Sadly this meant me waking Katy for backup, while running Ella toward the bathroom. Standing in the aisle, as you can imagine, with Ella at arms length like I was holding a bomb set to go off at any moment, which of course it already had. The guy waiting ahead of us in line asked whether I wanted to skip ahead. While I appreciated the offer, and took him up on it, I thought it was kind of a given.

While I stripped Ella to her diaper in the bathroom, Katy was in speed clean mode on the seat. With support from the crew she managed to wipe up the puke that managed to miss Ella’s clothing, put down a plastic layer of disposed blanket bag and a fresh blanket as a new seat cover.

Before long, Ella was in her PJs stretched out on what had recently been a pool of vomit and actually got 3 hours of sleep.

This is a great picture of Ella on a plane... because you can't see her causing trouble.
This is a great picture of Ella on a plane… because you can’t see her causing trouble.
Who needs to pay $23k for a private room on a plane.
Who needs to pay $23k for a private room on a plane.

The rest of the flight was rather, uneventful, if hardly relaxing. Ella felt much better and spent most of her time hopping up and down on Katy, running up and down the aisles, including the occasional foray into first class, or playing with kids from nearby seats.

Travelling lighter than expected

Standing in line at passport control we heard something you never want to hear when arriving in a new country, Katy’s name over the PA system. We couldn’t quite understand what was being said but we clearly heard Katy’s name and “baggage”. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what had happened. Sure enough, though we were able to take advantage of the faster flying, it seems our bags took a more leisurely tour through Schipol and would be joining us in Cape Town at a later date.

Having filled out the requisite forms we went out to meet Kevin who had graciously offered to pick us up at the airport and drop us off at our apartment. There is definitely something to be said for having a friendly face waiting for you when you arrive in a new country after 20 hours of flying and smelling vaguely of vomit. Before long we were settled into our great AirBnB apartment for some much needed sleep.

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4 thoughts on “The end of free flights

Add yours

  1. You got to admit Ella is still a trooper to be on a flight for that many hours,…Once you settle in a routine there all will be just a good memory. 🙂

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  2. At this point, Dave, I expect nothing less than an adventure when I hear about you travelling. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!

    Glad to hear you guys made it safe. And when you read this again when it’s all said and done, you’ll remember it as the fun part 🙂

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  3. Something good always comes with something bad. Nice to see that you made it to Cape Town without any issues on the flights. I hope your bags will arrive soon, too 🙂

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