No trip is complete without tickets, jelly to get you in a jam

SATURDAY'S HERO

June 25, 1994|By ROB KASPER

Here are a few rules for family travel by airplane: Do not leave your tickets on the airplane. Do not pack jars of jelly in your luggage. Do not forget to pack a screwdriver and pliers. Do not fly on a Saturday.

I give this advice having recently returned from a trip to San Diego during which my family and I managed to break each of these rules.

The major mistake, leaving tickets on an airplane, was mine. It occurred toward the end of an event-filled Saturday. The tickets were eventually rescued, but the incident considerably undermined my authority as family trail boss.

It happened in Charlotte, N.C., where we were connecting to a flight bound for Baltimore. Instead of taking a moment to check the seat pocket in front of me for any personal belongings, I began rounding up the extensive personal belongings of the passenger sitting next to me, our 9-year-old son.

The kid had packed a carry-on bag that was about the size of a compact car. It contained several books, his baseball-card collection, a portable computer game, an audio tape player.

I had lobbied against allowing the kid to take the big bag on the plane. I lost that argument, as well as one with our 13-year-old son, who successfully made the case for carrying his favorite basketball, deflated, in his carry-on luggage. What was especially galling to me about these defeats was that they represented a victory for my wife. My kids had rejected my strict, no-heavy-stuff view of carry-on luggage, and instead sided with my wife's casual, stick-it-anywhere approach to packing.

That is what happened with the jelly jar. Rather than throw out a perfectly good jar of jelly, my wife put the jar in the 13-year-old's carry-on bag. Nobody had told me about the jelly jar, and early on Saturday morning, as I crammed all our luggage into the trunk of the rental car and prepared to drive to the San Diego airport, I knocked the jar's lid loose. The clean-up took a while.

On the plane ride, things went pretty smoothly until the %o 9-year-old's tape player fell apart. I had prepared for the trip by making sure that the tape player had fresh batteries. But I did not have a screwdriver or a pair of pliers. And that is what I needed to fix the part of the tape player that was loose. I fiddled with the tape player halfway across America, but never did get it fixed.

When we got to Charlotte, I pushed the broken tape player into my kid's giant carry-on bag. I gathered his belongings. In true trail-boss style, I began issuing orders. Stay together. Don't get lost. Follow me.

The 9-year-old and I made our way into the Charlotte airport, where we met my wife and the 13-year-old, who had been sitting in another part of the plane. We had come in from San Diego in the "C" arm of the airport and had to catch a plane to Baltimore that was leaving from a gate in the "B" arm of the airport. It was Saturday, a day when airfares are cheaper, and the airport was full of families.

We made it to the Baltimore-bound plane with about 15 minutes to spare. I reminded my wife that she had the tickets. She said she had two of the tickets, but that she had given me the other two way back in San Diego.

I wasn't sure what felt worse: Knowing that my wife was right. Or knowing that the tickets were back in the seat pocket of a plane sitting on the other side of the airport. Quickly, this trail boss turned tail and sprinted back to the plane I had come in on.

Once I got to terminal C, I had trouble figuring out which of the half-dozen gates was the one I wanted. The third gate I tried turned out to be the correct one, but the door leading to the plane was locked. However, when I showed my boarding pass from the San Diego flight to a ticket agent and told him my tale of woe, he quickly unlocked the door and let me on the plane.

I got to my old seat a few steps ahead of the crew cleaning the plane. I reached in the seat pocket, pulled out the tickets, hollered with delight and headed back to the other terminal.

As I sprinted back to the Baltimore-bound plane, I ran into my wife, who had come looking for me. We hurried to the gate, where the kids were waiting, convinced that their parents had abandoned them.

We got on board, the crew shut the plane door. Shortly after takeoff, I reached into my pocket and found a coupon entitling me to a free drink. I used it.

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