Tuesday, August 21, 2018

When kids throw up and your travel plans are turned upside down...

As if a combined 12 hours of flight delays, an unexpected night in a hotel in Toronto (sans luggage) and 48 hours of total door-to-door travel time wasn't enough (full story here), we are now delayed a full day coming home because of 2 of our kids vomiting last night.

Monday was rough for the NFO and the kids from the outset.

Yesterday was the one day of the entire trip that the NFO gave me for "blockchain day."  I took the train from Modi'in (near Hashmonaim where the NFO's brother and family live and where the Bar Mitzvah-our purpose for the trip- took place).

I spent the day in Tel Aviv meeting with Israelis in the blockchain scene.  For me, it was a home run.

Meanwhile, the NFO and Team Finland left the house of our dear friends, the Lustmans (who live around the corner from the NFO's brother) at 8:45.

Waze said that the drive to their volunteer day destination (Leket) would take about 50 minutes. They were due there at 10.

Unfortunately, the NFO's Verizon data plan hasn't been working all trip. Mine has (I use Google Fi).  However, since this would be the first day I wasn't driving with them, we printed out Google Maps directions for them to take in the car.

Of course, printed out directions don't automatically update as traffic conditions change or if you miss a turn.

Bottom line, the NFO and Team Finland didn't get to their destination until nearly 12:30pm.

What's worse is that when they called or asked for help, it became clear that no one really knows street names or directions any more.  Our phones have made us locationally blind and directionally challenged (or at least many people).

So, between that and a few other challenges, it was a rough day.

When I walked through the door at 8:30pm after my power day (I was pretty wired because I'd had so much coffee since I'd been up since 4am), I was expecting to relax, hear what was going on, and just hang out on the night before we left.

Instead, I walked into a scene straight out of ER. The first thing I heard was, "Jeremy, [name redacted] just threw up all over the bathroom and [name redacted feel nauseous.]"


I walked over to the bathroom and when he said, "Threw up all over the bathroom," he meant it. It was everywhere.

The NFO and I were in full on crisis management mode.

Over the next 5 hours, child #2 threw up, got them cleaned up, cleaned up the bathroom, threw away vomit-covered clothes, got restocked on clothes from the Lustman's house and discussed how we would make a go/no-go decision on our scheduled flight the next day (11.45am departure).

We packed and prepared, got people hydrated, got towels and plastic bags ready for the overnight, shifted sleeping arrangements and went to bed hoping for an uneventful night.

I was the last one down, finally able to take a shower at 1:45am. Alarm was set for 6:30am.

Actually 3 alarms were set. I didn't want to take the chance on oversleeping when we were targeting an 8am departure for the airport.

I got up with the first of the 3 alarms and saw the texts from the NFO (she was sleeping on the 3rd floor with the 2 sick kids. I was in the basement with the one healthy one).

Both of them had thrown up multiple times over the course of the night. They were unable to fly.

I got on the phone with United and prepared for the worst.

As a 1k status member (nearly the highest), I was hoping that I would get some extra care. Plus, given the fact that they had promised me a hotel voucher when we arrived late in Toronto the previous week, but there was no United agent available anywhere in the airport when we did arrive, I thought I could use that as leverage. 

I had planned on dealing with it when I got back. By my estimation, we were down about $600 btw hotels/meals/clothes/Lyft from our 20 hours in Toronto-we got the last room at a hotel 8 miles away.

Also, they had sent 4 of us travel vouches worth $150 each for the delay (good start), but there were 5 of us. Down one voucher.

Anyway, I call the United Premier 1k desk and.... I HIT THE JACKPOT.

I spent nearly 90 minutes on the phone with Sonja (she's from Macedonia) and she was the most empathic, thoughtful, caring, patient customer service rep you could ever ask for. 

She was able to rebook us from Tues to Wed, change us from Air Canada (via Toronto to Dulles) to United (via Newark to Dulles), get us all Economy Plus tickets (part of my 1k status) and do it all for $0 in change fees.

We got kosher meals ordered. We did about as well as we could possibly hope for with seat assignments.

We even looked at using some of my miles for business class upgrades, but it didn't make sense.

She was incredible.

I know airlines and United, in particular, take a lot of flak for their customer service. Sometimes deserved. Many times unfair, in my opinion.

If you talk to flight attendants, they will tell you that the people who are the most difficult are those who only fly once or twice a year.  There are exceptions, but it's usually the people with the most miles who are the most understanding.

In this case though, Sonja was a rock star.  I was so grateful to here and thought to myself "if every United customer service rep was like Sonja, people would be lining up to sing United's praises."

Having put that worry aside, we were able to rest easy.

We are so fortunate to be in a place where we are surrounded by family and friends who are more than willing to help us and make us so comfortable during a pretty inconvenient and potentially stressful time.

It's probably the best possible environment given the situation we are dealing with.

Anyway, I am very proud of Team Finland for having behaved so admirably, displaying great resilience and adaptability on a trip that, both at the beginning and towards the end (as well as some in the middle) has really challenged us to learn how to respond to adversity.

I am grateful to our friends and family who are an amazing source of support.

I'm appreciative to Sonja @ United who helped us get through the challenging time with minimal financial impact.

It's not fun to be in this situation, particularly on both sides of a trip, but I told the team, "in 30 years, we will be talking about this trip. This is what life and family are about."

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Israel: A Dialogue with Time

Yesterday, we visited the Holon Children's Museum and participated in a fascinating, interactive exhibit called "A Dialogue with Time."

The exhibit is a powerful experience, designed to help kids (and adults) understand what it is like to grow older.

There are simulations for how it feels to have your eyesight, hearing, memory, and muscle mass weaken. There are interactive trivia games that help dispel some myths about aging and build a deeper understanding. There are powerful stories about living with regret as well as maintaining an optimistic eye towards the future.

When you arrive, your picture is taken (you are asked to not smile) and then, later in the exhibit, an age simulator shows you what you might look like as you get older, hence the picture of me on this post.

We had a guide, Rena, who was fantastic and told us her life story in reverse chronological order, helping us (and our kids) see who she was today and how she got there.

It was humbling and also a great tool to build empathy.

It occurred to me that the idea of a "Dialogue with Time" also sums up the very experience of being with Israel.

Within in the course of minutes or an hour, you can go from the most ancient of places, the Western Wall (Kotel) [where we had a small ceremony as part of Paco's Bar Mitzvah celebration] to Tel Aviv, which is just booming in terms of construction, energy, and activity. The skyline rivals that of many world cities now. It's very impressive.

On one drive, we were diverted through the West Bank by Waze (safety wasn't really an issue), but we did have to go through an army checkpoint.  It was the end of the working day and we saw many Palestinian day laborers going back in the other direction to their homes and families, a powerful reminder of the impact of decisions made 50 years ago that reverberate today.

And, of course, our nephew's Bar Mitzvah is all about a dialogue with time in and of itself.

We were able to visit with friends whom we have known for years and relatives and hear their perspectives on how the country changes with time.

For me, that is the best part of traveling to any place, but particularly one that you have visited multiple times, where you get to hear how people's perceptions have changed (or remained constant) over time.

I've been on a bit of a time kick recently, trying to reconnect with the innate knowledge that all time is precious, limited, and of unknown quantity...which is why it should not be squandered.

The exhibit, like the country of Israel itself, was a great tool to help me do that.

Our dear friends, Jeremy and Tamar Lustman
(yes, same name, just more popular)

Inside a fish tank at the new Israel Aquarium in Jerusalem

Team Finland in the surf on the Tel Aviv beach

With our great family friends, Sue and Max Singer plus my cousin, Caroline Mendelsohn

Monday, August 13, 2018

The first rule of airline travel...

is don't get on the plane if you can't handle delays.

We were supposed to leave Dulles at 12:30pm on Monday for a flight to Toronto.
From there, we were going to catch a 4:50 flight to Tel Aviv.

Well, our 12:30 flight didn't leave Washington until 7pm.

This was after 2 weather delays, 3 different captains and 3 different first officers (they "timed out"), a missing passenger after we deplaned and reboarded, a few refueling incidents, and a few other false starts.

By the time we got to Toronto, our bags were not available to us (they were checked through and apparently in some warehouse at the airport), pretty much every hotel was filled up (due to storms), United's supposed 1k Premier service team was unavailable to help or offer vouchers, and the 5 of us ended up in a Marriott 8 miles away in a room meant for 4, having done our dinner shopping at Walmart.

We were *this* close to sleeping on the floor of the airport, but we made it and (hopefully), will be on our way to Israel tomorrow.

I will say that I was thrilled at how Team Finland responded to the adversity, with a great attitude.

And now, we get to hang out in Toronto for 17 hours.