When you travel with kids, you expect a few bumps in the road. Usually it’s the kids who throw the curveballs. Or the airlines. Very rarely is it the hotels. This time for my family, it was the hotel. The curveball that came our way was more than just bad service – it was a very serious child safety issue that other traveling parents need to watch out for.
Our Hotel Crib Horror Story
At the end of our Christmas travels to Alabama, my family decided to stay the night before our flight home in an Atlanta airport hotel. We had a very early morning flight out of Atlanta, and has been visiting my family that lived over 2 hours away. We decided we could get a better night’s sleep and avoid travel hiccups if we stayed at the airport instead of doing the long drive the morning of our flight.
I booked a room at the Renaissance Concourse Atlanta Airport Hotel. I choose this hotel for a lot of reasons. First, it’s located right on the runway and has awesome views of planes landing and taking off. I like that kind of thing – I’m a bit of an airplane geek. In addition, I’m a Marriott loyalist (Marriott owns Renaissance) and had a free night certificate (a reward for carrying the Chase Marriott credit card) I could use. I also chose it because it happened to be the hotel where my husband and I spent the first night of our honeymoon 11 years ago before a morning flight out of Atlanta. I figured it would be a little bit of nostalgia to return years later with our two kids in tow.
My husband, 6 year old, 2 year old, and I arrived before 9 pm to check-in. I had requested a Pack ‘N Play or crib on my original reservation, and I also reminded the front desk clerk. He told me he would make sure one was delivered to our room right away.
After arriving into our room and getting the kids ready for bed, no one had arrived with our Pack ‘N Play. I called again and the front desk staff assured me that it was on its way. I called a second…. and a third… and a fourth time within the span of an hour and a half. Each time, I was assured by staff that someone was on the way. Each time, nothing arrived. Clearly, no one was on the way.
My husband then decided to go down to the front desk and stand there and wait to carry a crib back to the room himself. I also tweeted to the hotel in desperation. Finally, over two hours after we checked in, the same front desk clerk who checked me in delivered a Pack ‘N Play to our room. It was already unfolded and had linens piled in it. After he dropped it off and departed, I began setting it up. To my complete horror and frustration, I discovered that what had been delivered was beyond unsafe. The Pack ‘N Play itself was wobbly and broken but it also was completely missing the original mattress. Instead, the employee had placed an outdoor furniture chair cushion in the bottom of the Pack ‘N Play to serve as a mattress. I could see the chair ties and label on the cushion. This was seriously something from a pool chair.
This puffy cushion didn’t fit the device at all, leaving large gaps on either side that a child could fall into and suffocate. And as all parents know, play crib instructions have explicit warning labels about using anything but the original Pack ‘N Play mattress with the product because of this hazard.
I called my husband (who was still waiting at the front desk) to find another crib. He found a different employee who was willing to help him. They began searching for a replacement. The only two Pack ‘N Plays remaining in the housekeeping stock both were also missing mattresses, which obviously begged the question as to whether other hotel guests had been given unsafe cribs for their kids.
After an additional hour long search, one that had a mattress was finally found (I later learned that this kind employee went to a neighboring hotel to borrow one!). My husband returned to our room at close to midnight. We left at 6 am, meaning that three of the nine hours we spent at the hotel was spent searching for somewhere for our toddler to sleep. Added to that the very concerning matter of unsafe equipment for babies and toddlers, this stay truly topped the list of bad hotel experiences this year.
Naturally, I wrote to Marriott expressing my serious concern after we returned home. I was heartened to at least receive a very quick response from the hotel manager who was understandably deeply concerned about what happened to us. He expressed to me that he was a father himself and was well-versed in the importance of proper usage of Pack ‘N Plays and cribs. He further assured me more than once that the broken equipment had all been immediately discarded and that the hotel had already purchased several new Pack N Plays and talked to the involved employees. He also kindly credited me Marriott points for our experience – a nice bonus, but frankly I’m happiest about the cribs being replaced!
What to Do If this Happens to You
This experience was a bit of a wakeup call about the risks that can come along with traveling with kids and the vigilance parents need to practice. I’m lucky that I knew very well what all the pieces of a Pack ‘N Play should look like, but I worried that a parent who had not used a similar piece of equipment might not know and a child could be put at risk.
Parents often talk about the risk of borrowed car seats when traveling, as you cannot know whether a rental car company has maintained them safely or whether they’ve been in an accident. I’ve rarely seen hotel cribs or Pack ‘N Plays, however, discussed as a potential child safety hazard.
Although I’ve never had a experience this extreme, I’ve certainly had a lot of hotels include improper bedding along with a hotel crib or Pack ‘N Play. Often I’ve been provided ordinary bed sheets that don’t fit the mattress or fluffy pillows and comforters not appropriate for use with babies and younger toddlers (the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no blankets or pillows until your child is at least 12 months due to the risk of SIDS). These too present sleeping hazards.
With this experience in mind, here are a few tips for keeping your own kids safe and to help keep others safe as well:
- Check baby and child equipment closely: You can’t always see hidden damage (particularly with rental car seats), but at least you can spot major obvious breakage or missing pieces.
- When in doubt, don’t use it and try to get a replacement: If something concerns you about a piece of equipment, don’t use it. If we had not been able to get a replacement crib for my son, we would have put him into bed with us or set up a pallet on the floor. Anything would have been better than a broken crib.
- The only way you can be sure it is safe is to bring it yourself: Some level of trust always has to go along with borrowing baby equipment. If you can’t stomach that level of uncertainty, bring the equipment yourself. That’s hard to do when traveling by air due to bag fees and space constraints, but there are more and more space-saving kid travel products that won’t take up all your luggage space. I particularly like the Kidco Peapod travel bed and the Cosco Scenera NEXT car seat. (At the very least, I always travel with a thin Pack N Play sheet when I expect to borrow a hotel Pack N Play. I know it is properly fitted to the device when hotel sheets might not be.)
- Speak up if safety is at issue: I’m not a travel complainer at all. In fact, I can only think of one other occasion in all of my travels in which I’ve contacted a hotel manager and requested compensation for a poor travel experience. But when safety is at issue – particularly the safety of kids – I’m happy to be the biggest complainer under the sun. If you see something unsafe for kids in your travels, make sure to bring it to the attention of a decision-maker. Other parents may not understand the danger that you see.
Have you ever received unsafe child equipment while traveling? I’d love to hear your experiences and what happened!
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