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Flashback: Washington, DC and the blizzard of aught-nine

December 2009


Just a month after our trip to San Diego, we were on the road again. I had to be in DC for work, and my husband and daughter (then 7 months old) came along. For this trip, at least, I had done what I could in the planning phase to make the trip easier on us. I had chosen a hotel near the meeting site and Metro, and I booked our flights into Reagan National Airport so we could take Metro straight to the hotel.

We also had adjusted expectations. We knew that getting my daughter down for the night would be a challenge. We asked for a crib, but had traveled with the carseat/stroller travel system so that my daughter would have an alternate place to sleep; this ended up being a good thing because she used it more than the crib.

In all, the trip started off well. I was able to feed my daughter or pump during our breaks, and the meetings themselves went fine. However, things got crazy that weekend.

The forecast was predicting lots of snow for the weekend. When the meetings ended on Friday afternoon, everyone from the east coast was scrambling to get home. I briefly looked into changing our itinerary but couldn't get us back to Phoenix that evening. Our flight was early enough in the day on Saturday that we might get out before the snow hit. I checked the weather on my phone frequently to monitor the situation. I remember going to bed Friday evening, looking out the window, and not seeing a single flake.

I was up once in the night and looked out the window again. The cars were lightly dusted with snow.

When my daughter and I woke up for the day, there was more snow. I got online to check our flight: it was cancelled. I then called JetBlue customer service to reschedule. They dropped my call twice. It was maddening. Then I got smart and decided to choose Spanish customer service and eventually got to speak to a person. The best they could do was put us on a flight out of BWI the next day. We figured that we could get out there for that. It was not an ideal situation, but I was proud that my Spanish skills had helped us reschedule.

We booked ourselves a hotel room near BWI for that night so we could be closer to our flight. Then we packed and checked out of our hotel in the District. Our plan was to use Metro and a shuttle to get to BWI and then take the free shuttle to the hotel.

Then we stepped outside.

About 3 inches had piled up, but nothing had been cleared from the sidewalks or roads. The wind was fierce, and more snow was falling fast. We were having trouble pushing the stroller and pulling our roller bags. Even though the Metro stop was only about a block away, we turned around and went back inside the hotel after just a few steps... and thank goodness we did: although Metro was running at the time, it closed soon after, and there were stories of people stuck in subway cars for hours. The thought of being in that situation with an infant still makes me shudder.

We then decided to call a cab to get us to our new hotel. After several tries, a dispatcher answered the phone. We were then told it would take 90 minutes for the cab to get there. We spent that time in the hotel lobby, doing our best to keep our daughter entertained. Meanwhile, the snow kept falling.


Once we were in the cab, we saw just how bad the situation was. The streets had not been cleared, not even the expressways. It took about another hour and 20 minutes to get to the new hotel, even though traffic was nonexistent.

We arrived at the new hotel to find a lobby full of people, all of whom had been stranded because their flights out of BWI had been cancelled. My husband and I were also starving because we had missed lunch and eaten through my stash of granola bars (my daughter could nurse, so she was fine). The other folks in the lobby informed us that a Chinese restaurant down the road was still delivering. My husband called in our order to a guy who sounded quite frazzled. Our food arrived about 90 minutes later. We considered ourselves lucky because families who arrived later and tried calling for food found that they were no longer taking orders.

If we were fortunate with regard to the food, we were not with regard to our flights. Midway through our lunch/dinner, I learned that our Sunday flight had been cancelled. I called customer service again, again choosing the Spanish option. This time I was told that if our family wanted to fly home together, we wouldn't be able to leave until that Wednesday--on a flight out of Dulles.

Yes, that would be a third airport: Reagan, BWI, and now Dulles. It would be another drive across metro DC. It would also mean a wrinkle in our holiday plans. My parents were flying into Phoenix on Tuesday to spend Christmas with us, but now we wouldn't be getting in until Wednesday, and our friends who had spare keys to the house were going out of town themselves. It was a mess, but we had no choice but to take the Wednesday flights. It occurred to me that if I had just stuck it out on English customer service, I might have gotten us rebooked for Monday or Tuesday and ultimately gotten us home sooner. So much for my bilingual pride.

Fortunately, things started getting better on Monday. One of my best friends lives in the Maryland suburbs of DC. She and I had been in touch throughout the whole storm and she wanted to help, but she and her family were stuck because 2 feet of snow had fallen and no plows had come, making their street impassable. They were finally plowed out by Monday morning and came to get us. We would have been happy to see them under any circumstances, but it was especially great to see them then. Our friends have a child who is the same age as my daughter. Not only did this make for fun play time, they bailed us out just as our stash of diapers and baby food was running low. The babies enjoyed playing together and we enjoyed catching up.

Our friends had tickets to fly out on Tuesday; the airports were functioning again by this time, so we said goodbye. They were nice enough to give us a spare key and let us stay at their place until we flew out. We were grateful to have the extra space and a whole new set of baby toys to entertain our daughter, who was getting bored with the toys we'd packed for her. Early on Wednesday morning, we caught a shuttle van to Dulles and flew back home. Upon arrival, my husband and daughter drove to pick up my parents from their hotel while I cleaned the house like a madwoman.

Lessons learned:

1. Pack extra baby items. My rule of thumb is 8 regular and 2 nighttime diapers for each day on a trip plus an extra day's worth; it covers you for even a prolific day of diaper use and leaves you with extra. I also try to pack one extra outfit, an extra set of pajamas, and a couple of extra jars of baby food. My extra packing alone would not have gotten us through all of our extended stay in DC, but it got us through the time when we were stuck in hotels and businesses were closed. Had we not been able to stay with friends, we would have had enough to get by until we could take a cab to a store.

2. If you travel with a breast pump, give yourself extra time at security. With so many moms out there traveling for work, you'd think that TSA agents would have seen a breast pump before. Unfortunately, this is not the case. On several occasions, I've had to explain what it is and that no, I can't remove it from the bag because the motor is built in. For this lesson, I remember my flight home from DC the most because my family had to wait while our inept agent got a supervisor to confirm that it was indeed a breast pump. We still made our flight, but it was frustrating to be slowed down like that.

3. Think carefully about rescheduling flights when you're stranded by weather. My first instinct had been to get my family out ASAP, but it backfired, especially in metro DC where they aren't equipped with as many plows and salt trucks as cities farther north. Even though the snow stopped on Sunday, airports and businesses didn't open immediately because people were still snowed in. If that had occurred to me when rescheduling flights, I may have tried to take it into account and schedule something for Monday. I may have been able to save my family the hassle of a second cancelled flight.

Posted by amikulski 13:30 Archived in USA Tagged children snow washington

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