United reverses policy on family boarding

She thanks you, United.

She thanks you, United.

You have to respect a company that admits past mistakes. That’s why I’m loving United Airlines today.

The carrier announced that on Feb. 15, it will resume policies that allow families traveling with young children to board flights early. The move reinstates a policy that the airline had embraced for decades but curtailed back in April 2012.

(It also undoubtedly has inspired invisible choirs to sing “Hallelujah” from Handel’s Messiah, and has sparked families to exclaim, “It’s about fucking time!”)

According to a report in The Chicago Tribune, United was the last “holdout” among major airlines on the subject of early boarding for families. The article lists how other airlines handle the issue and I recommend clicking through (here’s the link again) to read the list. To summarize the info box, some airlines let families skip in front of everybody while others let the first class and elite passengers onto the plane first, then give families a head start on the rest of the passengers.

My favorite part of the announcement was when, Sandra Pineau-Boddison, United’s senior vice president of customers, told the Trib that the move comes as part of a larger effort by the Chicago-based airline to be more attentive to passengers’ needs.

“It takes a little bit of the stress out of the travel situation,” she said. “Some things are just the right thing to do.”

What Pineau-Boddison didn’t say but implied: “We were wrong.” No matter who’s speaking, it takes courage to admit that sort of thing. Well done, United. Well done.

Congressmen push to make family travel more accessible

Get it together, legislators!

Get it together, legislators!

Every now and again, our elected officials actually do something I can get behind. Case in point: the FAA Reauthorization Bill, which includes a push to make into law new rules that would require airlines to allow families to guarantee seats together on planes.

In other words, the legislation aims to make traveling with children more accessible for everyone.

I don’t just support this because of my involvement with the Family Travel Association (though, I admit, the FTA will be supporting this legislation in a HUGE way). I support the bill because I’ve been separated from my kids on a flight before, and it’s about time we did something to prevent it from happening to other families.

Technically, the bill is H.R. 3334. The formal name for it is the “Families Flying Together Act.” It’s been introduced before. And, much like that first, time, the legislation is being championed by U.S. Representatives Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) and Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.).

H.R. 3334 is expected to be added as an amendment to the FAA Reauthorization Bill, which the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will consider later this month. If all goes well, both 3334 and the bill itself will be voted into law later this year.

There’s a lot of work to do before then, though. First is convincing lawmakers that this is something which warrants attention. Next is inspiring other traveling parents to get behind the effort as well. To this end, Davis and Nadler have been circulating a letter to their colleagues outlining the merits of their addendum to the big bill. Here’s a (lengthy) snip from that letter:

As airlines change policies and increase fees for a variety of basic services, it is becoming more difficult for families with small children to sit together on commercial flights. There are increasing reports of parents being separated from their children when they arrive to board an aircraft. Often the only ‘recourse’ is to rely on another passenger to voluntarily change seats. This inconvenience for everyone involved is complicated by the fact that a passenger might have to vacate a seat for which they [sic] paid a premium in order to allow a parent to sit next to their [sic] child.

This scenario also has the potential of being unsafe and traumatic for the families involved. It is not in a child’s best interest, nor does it serve the other passengers on board, to allow small children to be seated alone and separated from their parents on a flight. It is simply common sense to ensure a small child does not sit unattended, next to strangers, on an airplane.

H.R. 3334, the Families Flying Together Act, would require each air carrier to establish and make publicly available on their [sic] website a policy ensuring that families purchasing tickets are seated together to the greatest extent practicable. Further, it would also require airlines to notify passengers traveling with small children if seats are not available together at the point of purchase. These common-sense reforms would increase transparency for consumers and vastly improve the flying experiences of families with small children.

Flight passengers deserve predictability and transparency, particularly for something as basic as a seating assignment. H.R. 3334 does so in a way that prioritizes the safety and well-being of small children without being overly burdensome for airlines.

The issue at hand is clear. For the first time in a while, we actually might be able to do something about it. Now it’s time to come together and do something about it. If you want to get involved, call your representative and ask him/her to support H.R. 3334. At the very least, share this post with other traveling parents to raise awareness of this golden opportunity to make a change. Thanks in advance for your support.

Confessions of a 3-year-old cruiser

Aunt Sherri and Tennyson.

Aunt Sherri and Tennyson.

We family travel writers can pen article after article about how we think our kids enjoy family trips. Nothing, however, beats getting insight from the kids themselves.

That’s precisely why I *love* the latest article from a friend and former editor of mine, Sherri Eisenberg. The article, titled “Confessions of a 3-year-old cruiser,” ran today on Yahoo Travel and outlines the travel perspective of Tennyson, Sherri’s 3-year-old niece, with whom Sherri recently took some cruises.

The format of the article is wonderfully simple; Aunt Sherri lists seven different quotes from Tennyson, then expounds on each sentiment with context and thoughts of her own. My favorite of the kid’s quotes: “Bring some of your own toys…you don’t know what they’ll have.” A close second: “When you get onboard, eat something, then go right to the pool.”

(OK, I also really like this one: “You should eat lots of treats.”)

Powerwoman and I haven’t had the opportunity to expose our trio of girls to cruising—yet. It’s on our list for 2017, and we can’t wait. Perhaps we’ll take some of Tennyson’s advice. After all, the little ones always seem to know best.

Fresh take on multigenerational family travel

multigen00tr2

Heather and her peeps.

As a board member for the Family Travel Association, I get to work regularly with some pretty incredible people. One of them: Heather Greenwood-Davis, one of the best family travel writers in the biz.

I’ve blogged previously about Heather’s prowess with the pen—her piece about canal boating around England with her husband and two kids was a tour de force (and a story I dreamed about writing when we lived in London back in 2013).

Last week, HGD was at it again, this time with a piece about multigenerational family travel.

The story first appeared in The (Toronto) Globe and Mail, but was reposted everywhere, including on the FTA website (hence the weird tiles you see when you click through that link above). IMHO the piece can’t be reposted enough; as it delivered one of the freshest and sincerest perspectives on multigenerational travel I’ve ever read.

I appreciated Heather’s tips regarding who will parent the kids on a multigenerational trip—the few times we’ve traveled with family members, this has been a source of tension for us as well. I also like her note about not over-planning.

But my absolute favorite part of the story is the section where she talks about using the generations against each other and to your advantage. Here’s a snip:

“Don’t ask your parents to babysit. Instead coach your kids in the exact words they can use on Grandma. Phrases like, ‘Granny, can we have some just-you-and-me time tonight?’ or, ‘Grandpa, I love the way you read me stories. Can I have a sleepover?’ are the types of things that evenings alone with your significant other are made of. Embrace it early and create opportunities for the generations to enjoy each other while you enjoy the quiet.”

Yes, this last bit from HGD is a different way of approaching a multigenerational trip. But it’s a great perspective. And one I intend to try the next chance I get.

What are your tips for surviving multigenerational family travel?

Family travel inspiration from Charles Schulz

The five of us spent the afternoon today at the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, watching Peanuts cartoons and learning more about the legacy of the man behind Snoopy and Charlie Brown. During our visit, in an exhibit about the new “Peanuts” movie, I spotted this quote on the wall, which pretty much says it all…

A photo posted by Matt Villano (@mattvillano) on

Sand in the minivan

We rung in the new year in style today, traipsing all over our favorite beach in Sonoma County. As the crow flies, Goat Rock State Beach (part of Sonoma Coast State Park) is only about 25-30 miles from our home. But because it takes about 75 minutes to get there, we consider an excursion to this spot a family travel adventure of the day-trip variety.

And what an adventure it was. After experiencing a shutout for the first 20 minutes, the big girls found 27 pieces of beach glass in the 35 minutes that followed. The wind whipped us until we felt like icicles. We counted not one, not two, but THREE rogue waves.

Oh, and Baby G slept through her first trip to the ocean.

After the beach, we drove 10 miles south into Bodega Bay, where the five of us (ICYW, Baby G still was sleeping) grabbed some fish ‘n’ chips at one of our favorite local restaurants.

I capped the excursion by taking L and R on a walk around the marina, exploring finger docks (thankfully no-one fell in), dodging seagull poop (thankfully no-one got hit), watching pelagic birds (they loved the petrels), and scanning the surface of the water for signs of Harbor seals or California sea lions (sadly, no dice here).

Perhaps the most satisfying part of the afternoon came when we pulled into the driveway at home. The Big Girls got out and went inside. Powerwoman took the baby out and brought her in, too. I lingered a bit to collect some of the wrappers and usual detritus a family amasses on a daylong road trip.

That’s when I noticed it: The inside of our new minivan was covered with sand.

Normally this kind of unexpected mess would drive a neurotic freak like me nuts. This time, however, it was comforting, enthralling, and downright wonderful.

In that moment, the sand was the physical manifestation of a return to normalcy in our lives—a sign that after more than a month of working through a new routine as a family of five, our Wandering Pod was wandering again. It was, quite simply, proof we are back. Now that’s a mess I can embrace.

Family outing for holiday tea

Yum.

Yum.

As the father of three girls, I’ve resigned myself to lots of fancy stuff over the next 18 years. Sometimes this means attending elaborate dress-up parties. Other times it includes fabulous afternoon teas.

On very rare occasions, I get to do both.

Such was the case earlier this weekend, when the five of us attended an afternoon holiday tea at the nicest hotel in our hometown, Hotel Healdsburg.

The tea is a special annual offering for the Christmas holiday. Every year on weekends in December (and, some years, in early January), the hotel (technically it’s Dry Creek Kitchen, which is the hotel’s signature restaurant) serves the fancy meal in the lobby. We’ve wanted to go since L was 3. Finally, this year, we got there. And it was well worth the wait.

For each person, the experience includes tea (of course), savory sandwiches, house-made scones, and house-made pastries. In our case—at least for the grownups—the tea also included special holiday drinks. The price: $34 ($43 if you get a cocktail or wine) for adults, and $14 for kids.

Among the favorites: The egg-salad, scallion, and watercress sandwiches; the cheddar-sage scones; the almond raspberry cake; and the lemon bars. L and R also loved the sandwiches of smoked salmon, cream cheese, and caviar. In fact, they loved ‘em so much that neither Powerwoman nor I even had a taste.

Equally delicious was the holiday themed drink: a walnut-flavored whiskey sour.

But perhaps the best part of our tea experience at Hotel Healdsburg was the setting; the host put us at a table right next to the piano, where a woman played holiday tunes throughout. The girls felt like they were receiving their own personal concert. And Powerwoman and I were grateful for the distraction.

It’s not too early to book for later this year. It’s also never too late to bookmark this idea for next year. Life is better when it’s fancy. Take it from a guy who’s reminded of this every day.

Cool family travel gadgets from Travel Age West

FlyeBaby. (Photo courtesy of the manufacturer.)

FlyeBaby. (Photo courtesy of the manufacturer.)

Holiday time is gift time, and there’s no better reason to go out and buy your favorite traveling family (or your own family) gear to make their lives on the road a little easier.

With this in mind, the folks at Travel Age West magazine recently published a story about the latest and greatest in family travel gear. The story is jam-packed with great suggestions. Heck, it might as well have been a gift guide.

My favorite mentions: the Indoor Tuckaire Toddler Travel Bed, FlyeAway baby sling for airplanes, and the card game, Uno. Because I’m a huge fan of white noise on the road, I also support the mention of the app, Sleep Pillow. I sort of can’t believe the authors didn’t also include the mifold, which I spotlighted on the blog last month.

(I also am surprised the story didn’t at least give a nod to Poo & Pee.)

In terms of which of the feature products we use in our day-to-day lives, we purchased the Lotus Everywhere Crib when G was born but have not had the opportunity to use it yet. Guess it’s never too late for a review. (In other words, stay tuned.)

Check out the Travel Age West article here. Once you’ve read it, respond in the comments field with a list of other products you think the authors should have mentioned.

Meeting a baby giraffe at Safari West

Big Girls meet Kopi.

Big Girls meet Kopi.

We’re lucky enough to have a world-class animal park—Safari West, for those of you scoring at home—in our proverbial backyard (it’s about 20 minutes away). So when my friends over there heard we recently welcomed a baby into our family, they invited me and L and R to come and meet some of THEIR new babies—namely a baby giraffe and a baby Brahma cow.

We went down this past weekend, and the girls had a blast.

Nikki, one of the animal keepers, met us at the front gate with the baby cow (they’re called calves), and the girls treated her (the calf, not the human) like a puppy.

From there, Nikki led us back to the giraffe barn, where she let the girls feed some of the momma giraffes and ogle at the new baby. They became particularly fond of a hungry and curious long-neck named Kopi. (Related fun fact: the baby, who was less than 10 days old when we met him, was taller than most players in the NBA.)

We ended our visit checking out some of the skulls and skeletons from animals who have died at the park over the years. I thought my girls would find this part of the afternoon disgusting. To the contrary, I think it might have been their favorite part—especially when they started pretending to battle each other with the bones.

In the interest of full disclosure, we were able to have this experience because the folks at Safari West have become friends over the years; the giraffe barn is NOT something general members of the public get to experience on an average visit.

That said, Safari West is a wonderfully family-friendly spot here in Sonoma County, and is worth the trip on a Wine Country vacation.

My Big Girls always have loved the place. Now I think they love it even more.

Jim Gaffigan on traveling with five kids

The challenges of traveling with multiple children are real. Powerwoman and I are reminded of this whenever we leave the house these days with L and R and (now) G in tow. But, really, we’ve got nothing on Jim Gaffigan.

The Gaffigans meet Rapunzel (from "The Jim Gaffigan Show" website).

The Gaffigans meet Rapunzel (from Gaffigan himself).

Yes, THAT Jim Gaffigan. The comedian. The guy who played my favorite role on the television show, “My Boys,” back in the day. The guy who made millions on the “Hot Pockets” skit.

You see, Gaffigan has five kids. And apparently, as we call can watch on his new reality show, “The Jim Gaffigan Show,” he and his wife take them on the road when Gaffigan is touring. Ostensibly to promote the show, Gaffigan opened up to Kelly DiNardo in a recent Q&A for The New York Times about the rigors and realities of traveling with a handful of offspring. If you read nothing else about family travel today, you should read this piece.

Why did I love the story? For starters, it’s funny, just like Gaffigan. Example: “Traveling with 3- and 4-year-old boys is like transferring serial killers from a prison. You have to be constantly aware.”

The piece also offers some really useful tips. Like the part where Gaffigan says he makes his older kids write a single-page diary entry about every city they visit. (I’m *totally* trying that with L.) Or the part where the comedian admits that his kids—like all kids—struggle on international flights.

But my absolute favorite snip from the piece is where Gaffigan defends international family travel. His perspective: “There’s this perception that with international travel it’s not worth it because [kids] don’t get it. I think they do. And I think they see their parents behave differently in different cultures. My kids are pretty good travelers. I think they’re more sturdy because of it, more resilient.”

All told, the piece will take you five minutes to read. Check it out.

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