Baggage and Babies: Travel from San Jose to Minneapolis

I’m in Minneapolis this week for the STC conference.

My flight was a Frontiers airline flight. It took me from San Jose to Denver, then from Denver to Minneapolis. When I reserved my tickets, the closest available seats were in rows 16 and 17. Yesterday morning when I checked in, I could get aisle seats in rows 3 and 2. Whew! I changed my seats, if only so I could spare myself an extra half hour of getting off the plane and waiting in line for the bathroom.

On the flight to Denver, the gate attendant mentioned over the PA that they had a very full flight and would like to gate check any extra bags. I volunteered to have them take my larger bag and check it. They called for people in rows 1-3 first (which is odd, because Frontier doesn’t have any first class cabin), so I trucked up to the gate and offered my bag for gate check. They started loading the rest of the rows while I waited for them to fill out a gate check tag for me (Marquette and other small airports have this gate check thing down to a science– they would never have taken five minutes filling out a form for the bag). I walk out onto the tarmac (I love San Jose Airport) and hand the guy my bag, explaining that I want to have it back in Denver, not Minneapolis.

Typically with gate checking, you get your bag back on the skywalk between the plane and the terminal. That’s why you’ll always see a clutter of bags, wheelchairs, and strollers sitting there in the bend in the walkway when you get off your plane.

In Denver, I got off the plane and walked all the way to the terminal, not seeing my bag. The gate attendant said it would be at the end of the skywalk (which I had just walked past) so I turned around and went back. Another Frontiers airline employee who was pushing a wheelchair stopped me and told me I couldn’t return to the aircraft, and did I need anything? I explained about my bag. He offered to go check for me after he delivered this wheelchair passenger to the gate. He returned and went to check for my bag.

Mind you, I was one of the very first people off of the plane. As I waited, every other passenger came off the plane. Then the flight crew. I was mainly amused, rather than annoyed, which is a good way to pass the time. Finally, he returned. Apparently, a new TSA regulation prohibits returning gate checked bags to passengers at the skywalk. I would need to leave the secured area, get my bag, and return through security. I mentioned that if I had known this, I never would have gate checked it. He agreed, and we set off to get my bag.

After getting my bag and going back through security, I stopped at a bar for a drink and lunch (chips and salsa). Service was slow and I started to worry about my flight, though I needn’t have– it boarded ten minutes after I mosied up to the gate. There were the usual contingent of about five lap babies. Personally, I think the age at which a child is really crawling is the age where they should no longer be a lap baby. It’s simply impossible and cruel to keep a mobile child on your lap for an entire flight, and it’s naive to think there will be a free seat near you.

In fact, not only was there no free seats next to the lap babies near me, but they were massively overloaded in terms of how many of them there were compared to the adults. Isn’t there a legal limit to the number of lap babies you can have in a row of seats? In the row behind me, there were:

  • A woman traveling alone (window seat)
  • A mother with two children (one in a lap) and their grandmother (middle seat and both aisles)
  • A couple with their infant of about 8 or 9 months (middle and window), with the baby in lap, of course.

Both of the lap babies had been shrieking nonstop at the gate, so I knew that they were going to be a lot of fun to have on the flight– I just had no idea how close that entertainment would be to my own personal space. The little girl (old enough to know the phrase “inside voice”), upon boarding the aircraft, screamed so loud (with excitement, at least) that I think she ruptured my eardrum.

The woman traveling alone was asked by the mother/grandmother to take the aisle next to the other lap baby family, so they could all sit together. On the one hand, I had a lot of sympathy, because there was no possible way the mom (who was seated in the aisle across from grandma and the daughter and the baby) could take her own lap baby when the other family in the row also had their lap baby. There simply isn’t room!

And that’s why I don’t think taking your baby on your lap should be done in any but the most dire of family emergencies. If a fat woman needs to pay for an extra seat for her extra weight (which may be unsightly but is at least silent and doesn’t kick the seat), then every human being in your party should have a paid seat as well (you can’t possibly tell me that a baby on your lap doesn’t “overspill” into another seat– I don’t believe it).

It comes down to basic physics. Airplanes just don’t have enough room for your baby to travel the same way your iPod does. Plus, since you’re not capable of powering down your lap baby during ascent and descent, I really think you should pay for the extra seat. Not only will you be happier, your travel companions will, too.