Monday, August 23, 2010

All flown out

Natasha and I (and #2) have flown some 7,000 miles and 16 hours in the last 10 days.  We are now done with flying for the next few months at least, and I could not be happier.  A few highlights from our travels:
  • I learned that, for the most part, the Muscovites who so impressed me with their politeness and regard for a woman with child (in or out of the womb) must not be the ones who can afford to fly to the United States.  When Natasha and I finally made it to our gate at Domodedovo Airport, I actually had to ask multiple people whether the seats next to them (occupied solely by luggage) were taken, before someone reluctantly cleared a space for me.  When an airport employee wheeled an elderly woman to the gate and rather unceremoniously dumped her there, standing, no one offered a seat.  Natasha and I gave up our seat in her favor.  I don't think anyone was moved to regret by my dagger eyes, but I stared them down all the same.
  • When I saw the symbols on this bathroom door, I thought that they denoted a safe place for handicapped people to pee or for mothers to nurse their babies.  I was wrong.  When used in tandem, the signs actually mean, "Please Smoke Here."

  • Natasha's car seat, which fit just fine in the Delta economy seats on the way to Moscow in May, was too wide for the United "Economy Plus" seats on our Moscow-DC flight.  (The flight attendant was nice about storing it in a closet for us, though, so that's something.)  
  • The bassinet, which we did get (thanks, Agent C!), was basically a hard-bottomed vinyl sleeping bag.  With some padding, it would be adequate for an immobile baby, however, Natasha is pretty much the opposite of immobile these days.  So I had no way to contain her other than holding her.  Also, she peed on me within the first hour of the flight.  Having stuffed the carry-on full of her various diapers, extra clothing, toys and food, I didn't have a change of clothes for myself, so I spent the next 13 hours stinking of baby pee.
  • Having satisfactorily emptied her bladder, my daughter then amused herself on the plane by bothering our very tolerant seatmate.  Later on, I let her crawl down the aisle.  Yes, I know it's gross, but I had no way to contain her and it WAS a 10-hour flight.  Go ahead and judge.  Anyway, the aisle-crawling was short-lived, as it turned out Natasha was mostly interested in turning into people's personal spaces and playing with their shoes.
  • It was raining when we arrived in DC, so we had to wait until the storm had passed (an hour later) to get our bags.  Little known fact: United baggage handlers actually melt in the rain.  Thankfully, my luggage does not.
  • In the cab on the way to my parents' house, where Natasha and I were staying over night, she projectile vomited not once, but three times.  While we were stuck in rush-hour traffic on 495.
Also, there's a TSA agent at National Airport, whence we flew to Omaha the next day, who is on my list.  True to form, no one offered to help me get myself, Natasha, our carry-on and her car seat and stroller through security.  I managed to get everything folded up and on the belt, but on the other side, where there is no room to reassemble yourself, I had a bit of trouble.  Needing both hands to retrieve and unfold the stroller and carseat, I plopped Natasha into one of those security bins.  This conversation ensued:

Agent: You can't do that.
Me: Do you have another suggestion?
Agent: You can't do that.
Me: Well, I'm seven months pregnant with a baby and a bunch of stuff.  If you'd like to help, that would be great.
Agent: That's not my responsibility.

Since we were in America, my fellow passengers just watched us snipe at each other.  No one offered to help unfold the stroller.  I really should start expecting this.  Maybe then I wouldn't get so pissed off each time it happens.  Also, I was really tempted to take a photo of the agent and post it on the blog, like that girl in NYC who took a photo of her subway harasser.  I figured I'd get arrested, though, so I refrained.

Natasha screamed half the flight to Omaha, but other than that, our remaining travels were uneventful.  We spent five days catching up with grandparents and great-grandparents and other friends and family in Nebraska, and then flew Omaha-Chicago-Norfolk, VA without incident.


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Reason #9,567 why I hate United Airlines

The smog has gotten worse here in Moscow, so we've decided to move up my and Natasha's trip to the U.S. to await the arrival of #2.  We're headed out of here next week.  Unfortunately, the only direct flight from Moscow to Washington on an American carrier is a United flight. 

I loathe United Airlines.

I loathe them with the fervor of 500-some burning forest fires.  Their flight attendants are, hands down, the rudest I have ever encountered.  My luggage almost never gets to where it needs to go (like that one awesome time when my bags, coming from Armenia, somehow ended up in Manchester, England, instead of in DC).  When I call their customer service line to find out whether they've located my bags, I get an automated message saying that my request is being processed - only to find out days later, after actually getting a real person on the line, that there is actually no record of my request.  Plus, after all that crappy service, they have the nerve charge for everything but toilet paper.  (And I wouldn't be all that surprised if, on my next flight, there were a Russian port-a-potty money collector outside the WC door, handing out tiny squares of generic single-ply at 15 rubles a pop.) 

So when we started out trying to get seat assignments on this particular United flight, I wasn't that optimistic.

We wanted bulkhead seats so that we could get a bassinet for Natasha.  Our travel office called United and was told by an agent (let's call him "Agent A") that the bulkhead seats were reserved for Economy Plus passengers.  Did we want to pay the extra money for the upgrade?  At that point, no, we did not want to pay extra money just so that we could sit in the only place on the plane that could house the baby bassinet.  It was the principle of the thing.  (And don't even get me started on the sham that is Economy Plus).

A little later ...

OK, principles, schminciples.  We called United to upgrade to Economy Plus and attempt to reserve bulkhead seats.  No dice.  Agent B told us that the bulkhead on our flight was actually an exit row, so babies and enormously pregnant women could not be seated there.

Being fully aware of the lack of consistency among United booking agents, we called back.  Agent C, speaking from a call center somewhere in India, informed us that the bulkhead row (and let's not forget that it's an exit row) was actually reserved for disabled passengers only.  Jeremy argued that his wife would not exactly be fully able-bodied, given the huge belly and the squirmy infant.  Agent C said, "Oh, she's pregnant?  No problem.  And no, you don't have to upgrade to Economy Plus to get the seats."  So now we have seats on the bulkhead and a reserved bassinet.  I know, having flown United way too many times in the past, that the likelihood of us actually retaining those seats and getting the promised bassinet are probably only about 50 percent.  But we like Agent C.  Even if she works for an evil, evil airline.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Now I remember why I left journalism

Just watched a story on CNN about a turtle trying to cross a busy Boston road. 

This makes me sad.

(For the state of the news industry, not for the turtle.)

Friday, August 6, 2010


If you've been watching the news at all, you know that Moscow is currently under seige by a giant smoke cloud generated by some 500 forest fires.  Add to that the current blistering heat, and it's like a little taste of hell. 

Yesterday the wind blew the smoke out of the city temporarily, so Natasha and I took a walk in the 100-degree heat to the grocery store.  Which is not air-conditioned.  As horrible as that was, I'm glad we did it because the smoke is back today and we've been cooped up indoors.  Being inside doesn't offer complete relief, however, as the smoke has seeped through the cracks around our doors and windows.  Jeremy and I have massive headaches and we're a bit worried about the long-term impact on Natasha's health.  There's no rain in the forecast, so it seems the fires - and the smog - will continue for some time.

I leave you with these photos.  I took the one on the right today.  The one on the left was taken last week, on a not-completely-smoke-free day.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Zoo

This weekend we took Natasha to the Moscow Zoo.

She wasn't such a fan of the emu.

Giraffes in the city.

The zoo makes snow for the polar bears, but the bears weren't fooled and stayed inside (it was about 95 degrees).

"We ask you not to feed the animals," says the sign next to the girl throwing bread to the ducks, and who incidentally is standing just a few yards from ...

This animal-feed vending machine.

It's the little incongruencies that make life so interesting.