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Airlines don’t understand mums and marketing

There’s something magical about arriving at the airport with all your luggage and just two of your kids for the upcoming 28 hours of travel between countries, and reaching the check-in counter to find out every bag comes in just under the 23kg weight limit. Score.

And there’s something even more special about being handed your boarding passes and passports, turning around and seeing the 11yr old has just decked the 9yr old, and he is laying on the floor groaning loudly, holding one leg to an audience of passengers who are surely thinking ‘Oh My God, I hope they’re not sitting next to us.’

5 minutes in, 27 hours, 55 minutes to go.

How to make a flight a dreaded experience

We flew back to the US yesterday on United Airlines. Apart from the following treasured moments, we arrived safely:

a. Wholly inedible ‘food’ which really was probably the worst I’ve ever had on the long haul part, and food that’s more expensive than eating at Spago for the domestic route. (And far less tasty. Yes, I’ve eaten at Spago. Once. It was wonderful. I’m classy. I am. Stop laughing.)

b. Lack of in-seat entertainment which is very entertaining for my spoilt kids who were expecting personal movies and tv, yet had to watch tv shows like Desperate Housewives on the screens in the aisles instead. (I do remember my own childhood flights to the UK when there was just one movie for the whole flight, and the headphones never worked. I tried telling them that but they didn’t care and then they got more annoyed. They did manage very well in the end. But I digress).

c. Being checked into three seats on the US domestic part of the journey which were single seats in equidistant, very distant seats which I find very difficult to believe was accidental because we checked into the domestic flight, getting boarding passes an entire day before (see earlier part about children punching each other). There is no way there weren’t three seats together when I checked in. Mind you, I was easily trumped by a poor woman with five kids under five, who had all been seated all over the plane. That’s just completely stupid. I was momentarily tempted to tell the attendant not to bother reseating the kids, but just to reseat this other mother and myself somewhere and bring us a bottle of bubbly.

d. The lack of real assistance for a woman with four children travelling alone, whose 3yr old would NOT stop screaming for about 3 hours in the last quarter of the long haul flight. She was forced to stay in her seat with that kid because she couldn’t leave the others. I knew that. I’ve got lots of kids and have usually travelled alone with them. One kid will cry, or take a particular liking to the novelty of the plane’s bathroom and insist they have to go constantly, or need something from the one bag in the overhead bin. It’s a drama. Something simple could have made her journey easier. Such as a flight attendant saying, “what can I do to help?” instead of ignoring her.

Sidebar: I’ll never forget the Qantas flight Jed and I took while I was still nursing Charlie, about 6 years ago. The dinner came, and there was no way I could cut it up – my arm was indisposed with nursing child. I said to leave it with Jed and I’d get to it later. The Qantas attendant decided that was okay and she’d do it if I preferred, but how about if she cut the dinner up, and just left the dinner and a fork (rather than the whole tray), and then I could manage it while it was still hot? She was awesome. I remember that still. Six years later. I even remember what the flight attendant looked like. That’s good branding.

Market your flights to mums

This is a trip that costs about $US1000 a seat return – minimum. There are a couple of hundred people on the plane, who’ve all paid at least that amount. This is not a bus. People are tired, stressed and emotional. Being an attendant on these flights is hard work. But it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a flight attendant go beyond the most basic of service effort and everyone’s flight would have been better if that kid had stopped screaming.

On our trip over another woman was left standing in the queue with her three kids. The flight had been delayed. It was 2am. The smallest kid was asleep. She had carry-on luggage. She was really struggling. And the attendants all ignored her.

Yes, I helped her as I could, and Charlie even offered too. If an 9yr old gets it, why don’t the airlines?

When we finally boarded that flight, the ground staff said the standard “how are you?” I said “good, and you?” His reply was “tired.”

Well stuff you.

My reply? “At least you’re getting paid.” I should have added ‘and don’t have to sit on the plane for the next 16 hours with kids, and haven’t just had a 3 hours flight to get here, and then waited 9 hours for this delayed one.’

Sheesh. I wonder who’s more precious? My kids completely expecting video on demand in their seats, or these airline staff who seem to think we owe them something more than the price of a ticket.

Instead of focusing on leg room, loyalty programs and discount prices, it would be great to see an airline focus on really going beyond the call of duty to make your flight the best you’ve ever had. If an airline marketed to mothers, they’d see these women are the decision makers, who travel with their families (more ticket sales), and to be honest, it’s the simple things like offering a pair of hands when needed that will make a mother like you more.

Or maybe that’s just too hard. Too much to ask.

Has Rosemeadow forgotten Dean?

Once upon a time, there was a big lake that crossed two suburbs, Ambarvale and Rosemeadow. Surrounded by ticky-tacky public housing, the murky lake was home to eels and ducks that those local residents who couldn’t afford the cost of movies for entertainment would feed with stale bread. The children of the areas would group up with friends and hang out around the lake, playing in the marshes and poking random things found floating in the reeds with sticks.

Until one day a few kids found a suitcase floating in the lake.

They dug it out, opened it and discovered what they thought was a dead pig – but it wasn’t. As time and months of police investigation would reveal, the kids had found a child. A 2-year-old named Dean Shillingsworth who had been beaten to death by his own mother.

If truth is stranger than fiction, then this news story was. However, what makes any story like this even more shocking is when it happens close to home. On one level, that means it could happen to you, or someone you directly know. On another level, it means it could happen where you live. And this happened at our local big park in Rosemeadow and Ambarvale, NSW, really close to my own home, just one suburb away.

Rosemeadow has a large amount of public housing. Small 1970s townhomes and condos, all the same, bunched up together, populated with people who cannot afford to buy or rent in a competitive marketplace. It’s choc-a-block. And what makes it even more garish is the fact that it is bordered by what is sold by local realtors as the best housing estate in the Macarthur region – Glen Alpine. The estate where the Labor party’s champion couldabeen Prime Minister, Mark Latham lived while he was pitching for the land’s top job. Glen Alpine has 1200 houses and a small community shopping centre with tennis courts for hire – all in great condition. Instead of the McDonalds of Rosemeadow, Glen Alpine features McMansions. And the only real thing separating the two areas is one road, Englorie Park Drive. Oh, and quite a few thousand dollars.

The discovery of this poor neglected child saw media reports that ran the story into the ground. The locals began to refer to him as The Lake Angel. Local clergy attempted to bring peace to the area, and saw this as an opportunity to get the people of Rosemeadow to hold those dear to them, and create a sense of community sadly lacking from an area where people were basically living on top of each other. There were candlelight vigils around the lake for the child, attended by over 1000 people. Stuffed toys, flowers, memorials that stayed for many months after the discovery reminded the community of the type of tragedy that can happen in our own backyard.

But within a few short months, media reported the local bus company declared it would not run buses through parts of Rosemeadow due to people throwing rocks at the drivers. There have been regular incidences of fights in the streets, and today the Sydney Morning Herald reports on another massive escalation of violence.

It is clear to me that if Australia had the same gun laws prized by America there would be many more dead people in Rosemeadow to date. Anger appears to run through the veins of people living in this suburb full of public housing.

But with the same breath I would assert that the type of sense of community I have seen in Boulder could do much to assuage this anger and pain. This Christmas, the amount of goodwill shown by the community of Boulder to those in need was remarkable. The collections for charity in retail stores were overflowing with goods donated by the general public – I saw them everywhere. And many retaillers added an extra dollar to your purchase which went directly to charity over the season. And everyone was happy for it to happen.

I am left wondering if only Australia could combine this sense of community, of general concern and caring for other people, with its admirable gun control laws…. perhaps there’d be less tears.

Hiking with Harry

Harry loves to hike through the Rocky Mountains. There are more trails around here than you can poke a … hiking staff at. (Sorry.)

Harry’s decided to do a series of Hiking with Harry videos, which will show everyone a little bit of what new things he’s experiencing in hiking in a completely different environment. This is his first one, where he is seeing his first ever frozen lake. The quality of the video and editing limits this talented young man because it’s done by his mum! But I’ll get better, I promise! ūüôā

Flapdoodle’s pumpkin diet

Halloween is officially over. The only candy left is the real crud that nobody will eat so I’m about to chuck it out. That’s not bad for an entire month!

The other great thing was the jack-o-lanterns. We had heaps of fun carving them with our US friends and they decorated the outside of the house with their scariness for a while. And the kids even had a jack-o-lantern competition at school which was amusing. (Though why so many parents feel they have to do the jack-o-lantern for their kid like some work of art, and then put the kid’s name on it when it was obviously done¬†by the parent is beyond me. Some people need to get a life.)¬†

Anyway, back to the real story here. The jack-o-lanterns, if carved, go ‘off’ in about a week, so the kids painted and googly eyed etc two pumpkins for school. When they brought them back home¬†we put them on the front verandah… and Flapdoodle decided it was his buffet time.¬†

We have been highly amused by Flapdoodle’s obsession with our pumpkins. (Yes, we are that desperate for entertainment.) Finally he has eaten both of them. And they were quite large!¬†Luckily for him, he left the googly eyes and pipe cleaners, and he’s still running about so they didn’t kill him.

Flapdoodle, king of pumpkin one

Flapdoodle, king of pumpkin one

Attacking pumpkin two

Attacking pumpkin two

The massive difference between A and B

I am swimming in the B pool and I’m not happy. (Don’t try telling me getting a B is okay. It’s not.)

I have some kick-ass papers to write. I have a great brain and a wealth of experience. But I’m not getting the grades I want.

Graduate school is difficult. This week I had what I’d describe as¬†a ‘crash and burn¬†24 hours’. There were lots of reasons to just go back to work. Lots. But in talking with my husband and friends I realised these ‘reasons’ were things that could be changed if I wanted to find a way to make that happen.

So I’ve made a plan to fix things. A better approach. I will be far more efficient at note-taking, writing (so that includes drafting, revising and final drafts… not just one draft), and research.¬†I will¬†talk to people I respect, and tie myself to my professors. I am¬†not going to study myself to death. I am not going to be so¬†fearful of writing the wrong thing that I leave it and end up writing it without checking. I’m going to write it anyway, and then check it up and rewrite it instead.¬†

All this seems obvious. And it is. Unless you’re living it.

So that’s basically it.¬†Oh, and the capstone is¬†the kids and I have a deal. When I do pull myself out of the B pool, we are having a family¬†party – complete with glow sticks from Dollar Tree, disco music and junk food.