One mom’s fantasy of family-class travel

Times Staff Writer

I once stayed at a London hotel so swank that when you checked in, they handed you a lovely leather case containing business cards with your name above the hotel’s name, phone and fax.

The concierge had asked ahead of time what our favorite liquor was, and our musical preferences, and they were all there when we arrived in the room. The bellhop introduced us to our private butler, who showed us the selection of fine shampoos and bath powder and how to turn on the towel warmer.

And you know what? We didn’t use any of it. We were so thrilled to be in London, we were hardly in the room.

Time, time, go back in thy flight. What I wouldn’t give now for a personal butler and a good selection of DVDs when I check into a hotel. But now, of course, I can’t afford those kinds of hotels. Now I have children.

It’s ironic, isn’t it, that at a time in your life when you really need amenities, you not only can’t afford the places that offer them, but they probably don’t allow children anyway?

If I had an entrepreneurial spirit, I would create a chain of hotels designed to accommodate families in a style to which they have not become accustomed. In fact, why limit it to hotels? Let’s consider the entire travel industry:

•  If two-hour waits for on-time flights are going to be permanent, some crafty vendor (McDonald’s, are you listening?) needs to create a play space. Think about the last time you tried to keep an eye on your luggage and your children for two solid hours. Would you pay $10 a head to let them jump around in a ball pit, tiring themselves out so they would sleep on the plane? You bet you would.

•  Planes should have designated areas for children, with a little more space — perhaps something a bit more pricey than coach but less than business. Family class. This would help parents avoid the disgruntled glares from childless travelers who seem to think their fare entitles them to drink those five Bloody Marys in utter silence.

•  Hotels should offer to clear the mini-bars. This would not only give guests a small refrigerator, but would eliminate the frightening possibility of waking up at 6 in the morning to see your 7-year-old polishing off three bags of M&Ms and a jar of macadamia nuts.

•  How great would it be if hotels had special evening events for kids, during which parents could have dinner alone in the hotel’s fancy restaurant? It’s a place they are guaranteed not to be seen in if their kids are with them.

•  Why do children’s menus never include vegetables? (For the sake of this article, French fries are not vegetables and neither is ketchup.) Maybe not spinach, but how about some mini-carrots, green beans or peas? Heck, I’d settle for corn.

•  And on the topic of nutrition, you know what a mom wants to see when she walks into a hotel room? A bowl of fruit.

•  Someone should develop a travel kit, complete with wipes, crayons, paper, scissors, needle and thread, shoelaces, snacks, a compass, more crayons, more wipes, a mirror, sunscreen, a first-aid kit, a small Nerf football and binoculars. It should be light, sleek and sporty enough for Dad to carry. So, just this once, Mom’s purse doesn’t look as if she’s been on a shoplifting spree at Target.

•  The business cards are a great idea, because one of the best things about traveling with children is that they will force you to meet people, if only when trying to return the Game Boy they borrowed from the kid on the beach who was wearing a purple shirt, they think.

The cards should read something like “Danny and Fiona’s Mom, a.k.a. Mary McNamara” and should list all pertinent phone numbers. This will save countless hours of scrabbling for paper and pen while standing on a bus or holding an elevator and eliminate the confetti-like clutter that falls from pockets and purse at the end of the day.

In fact, this is such a great idea that it should not be limited to travel. They should hand out parental business cards in the delivery room.

That, and the butler.