Of course we couldn’t have known our 20 hour trip would lengthen into 48. So of course we didn’t pack a carryon overnight kit.
It began as we loaded up the hired car in the dark, installing the car seats and waiting until the absolute last minute to pull our 1- and 4-year old sons out of bed. Of course they never fell back to sleep after hugging goodbyes to their grandparents, but rather watched out the car windows as night turned to dawn turned to day. As rural orchards became fields became highways became foothills became city. Slowly, over the course of three hours in the height of early-morning Bay Area traffic, we inched from the heart of the state’s Central Valley to San Francisco International Airport.
Tired though we all were after a draining drive, our excitement was palpable. A new beginning, moving to Tokyo. We’d left our home in Hong Kong almost two months before and had spent a wonderfully exhausting summer enjoying our relatives and home states, and we were ready to settle into our new home. The boys were in high spirits as we checked in, filed through security and played at the terminal’s tiny kid-friendly area.
Boarding should have been 10 minutes away when, loud and clear over the PA system, gate agents called our names.
“This flight is delayed,” they told us when we approached the counter. “You have no chance of making your connecting flight from LAX to Tokyo.”
Oh, and better yet, all flights to Tokyo from LAX or San Francisco were fully booked until 7pm the following evening! A full day and a half later.
You may question why one would connect through Los Angeles to get to Tokyo (a 12 hour flight) rather than flying straight from San Francisco to Tokyo (an 11 hour flight), and that is a question you would need to take up with my husband’s employer, which has set city pairs. Believe me, we tried.
I wish I could say I calmly accepted this news with grace, but our exhausted brains, eager to end the transience of our Home Leave, emotional with the transition, couldn’t accept being stranded, waiting a day and a half to head for our new home. We tried bargaining, begging, Googling flights, calling my husband’s office travel coordinator. Nothing worked.
So, in keeping with my life rule of limiting time spent in and around LAX, we opted to sleep in San Francisco and take an earlier connection the next morning with more than enough time to make the connecting flight—oh, and the airline wouldn’t help with the hotel since the flight delay was due to air traffic at LAX and “not the airline’s fault.” Helpful.
The gate agent promised to phone down to have the appropriate department retrieve our checked bags for us, and so, dejected, we sat for a tense and irritated lunch in the terminal food court. “I’m not mad at you,” my husband Joe and I reminded each other. “I’m just frustrated at the situation.”
Down at baggage claim, the line for baggage issues was long. Joe waited while I wrangled two exhausted, confused children and attempted to keep them from ripping destination tags off unattended bags. Employees yelled at them whenever they touched a turned-off carousel. It was fun.
Joe returned from the line and broke the news: Our bags were no longer at San Francisco International Airport. They might’ve gotten on our delayed flight, or they might have gotten on another flight. Who knows? The bags might meet us in Tokyo, or they might not. Who knows?
There may or may not have been tears at this point.
You see, packing for travel with children is a balancing act. You can’t take the kitchen sink along on the plane, but you also have to carry on anything children might need in an entire day.
Finding the balance between “always be prepared” and “carry only what you need” is tricky with tiny tots.
So, toys and entertainment make it in, as do our 1st Class Kid Travel Pillows (a must for little ones on long hauls, if we want them to sleep). Lots of snacks and small meals are a priority, since my older child has severe food allergies airlines won’t accommodate, and the younger one doesn’t understand airline-scheduled meal times. Epinephrine auto-injectors, antihistamines, inhalers and children’s Tylenol are jammed somewhere easy to find in case of anaphylaxis or other emergency. Also, we’ve got cream for dry-airplane-induced eczema or cracking hands or dry nostrils. Minimal extra clothes come along: A warm layer for everyone, one extra shirt each for my husband and me, as well as PJs and one full outfit for each boy, with several extra undies and pants for the 4-year old who struggles to keep dry. Oh, and diapers and wipes and pull-ups. Of course, as we’re moving, all our electronic devices and vital health files are also in one brutally heavy carryon roller.
Now, faced with a cold August night in Fog City (“The coldest winter I’ve ever spent was a summer in San Francisco” and all that) and then an arrival in hot, humid Tokyo potentially without our luggage, I realized we were vastly underprepared.
Thankfully, we were marooned in a world-class American city with Trader Joe’s and Ross and CVS rather than in rural Nebraska or Timbuktu. But still, it would have been nice to save that hundred bucks we spent on spare underwear, tourist apparel (so we’d each have something clean upon arrival), shorts, toiletries, and more diapers and snacks.
So, next time, we’ll add a carryon overnight kit to our list of packing necessities. Here’s what we’ll include:
- Toothbrushes for each member of the family
- Face Wash
- Extra underwear
- Shorts, if weather-necessary at our destination (I always wear pants on airplanes)
- Enough food/snacks for the children for 24-36 hours (we used to do this but always ended up with so many leftovers)
- More diapers and/or pull-ups than I think I’ll need.
- (Optional) Basic cosmetics
Here’s the happy ending: When we groggily found our way to baggage claim near midnight in Tokyo, 30 hours after we should have arrived, our bags were neatly stacked together, waiting for us. My husband had his suit to wear to work the next day, and I didn’t have to look so bedraggled (or touristy) meeting all my new neighbors for the first time.
Those tourist clothes and extra diapers were perhaps not necessary in the end, but how could we have known? And also, when my sons wear their Fisherman’s Wharf T-shirts, I smile. Yet another bumpy ride we survived together, as a family.