So, not all that long ago I completed my ‘gazillionth’ flight with my small person to another country. No. Mean. Feat.
Actually, as I began writing this post, I was still ‘up in the air.’
It was my husband’s turn to sit next to the mini-tornado, so with an aisle between us (I like to think of it as the Berlin Wall) apart from tapping on the keyboard, I was lazily fantasizing – just for a minute – I was one of those single ‘fancy-free’ travellers with the luxury of nodding off with the rest of the plane at any given moment (after I’d eyeballed a movie and enjoyed a small glass of crisp Sav Blanc, of course)!
My ‘apparently’ far-fetched fantasy brought to an abrupt halt, sooner than I could wave down the drinks cart!
If you’re a mum or dad who’s had the pleasure of travelling with children, you’ll probably get my drift….if you are reading this as a single traveller – thank your lucky stars and order another beverage, pronto!
So, now that my in-flight passenger is the ripe old age of three – given our expat circumstances – she’s probably what you might call a ‘seasoned traveller’ of the miniature variety and (newbies will be thrilled to hear) she’s pretty good at it — (which just quietly, by now she’d really want to be)!
We’ve gone from this: To this! Mind you, I am wondering if I should be concerned that she views the in-flight ‘safety card’ as one of her favorite stories? (“Those big, bouncy slides really are for a special occasion!” said no mum ever….oh except me!)
There’s no two ways about it, mostly, flying with a baby/toddler is a frazzled affair…. the law of averages suggests flying with any child under the age of three has to be a little on the hairy side, right?
Sitting in the doctor’s waiting room not all that long ago, a woman walked in looking slightly flustered with an unmistakeable sense of urgency….she didn’t have an appointment but was desperately wanting a few words with the doctor on getting through a long flight with a toddler and clearly hoping for a miracle!
I didn’t like to tell her there’s no single cure for the symptoms of in-flight delirium.
If you are lucky enough to be flying sans children, you may notice (if you care to glance up from that best-seller you’re already engrossed in) many parents stumbling on board, loaded down with Dora backpacks, nappy bags, valium(?)… mostly, they’ll be toting that glazed-over look (which i’m sure is not just due to a lack of sleep (or valium).
They’re desperately trying to ignore the stares from other passengers, boring a hole in their back, as they ever so tentatively make their way to their designated
prison cell seat trying to discreetly tuck baby under their arm…out of sight. (Remaining invisible usually an impossible task should you have a toddler who adamantly decides she would like to wheel her princess suitcase All. The. Way. down the aisle – weaving recklessly, at snail’s pace, of course).
There’s panic written all over your face (and most likely the rest of those faces seated within tantrum-throwing distance). Is little Johnny Junior going to cry inconsolably for the entire journey, while you pace frantically up and down the aisle, rocking and smiling through clenched teeth as he unleashes his own turbulence?
The ‘glazed over’ look comes in handy when your small person kicks the back of the passenger’s chair for the umpteenth time…(you know it’s only a matter of time before 34 B turns around with a plastic knife and threatens on-the-spot murder).
Taking deep breaths and shutting down can be an excellent way of pretending you are anywhere but here, squashed like a sardine with your tiny pocket of terror and no
easy sane way of escaping.
The glazed-over look also comes in handy when your small person decides he or she urgently needs the toilet, just when the seat belt light flashes on….(how things have changed….these days I don’t even take my shoes off on a long flight…no use getting too comfortable is there)!
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again – an over-tired toddler is a little like trying to control someone who’s had too many Mimosas and won’t listen. “Not there, sit down, no jumping, stop shouting, don’t point!”
Well — no one said traveling the world was easy, did they?! 🙂
Keep your eye on the end prize and before you know it, that mile high madness will be a distant memory.
So, if you’re about to embark on a journey of epic proportions across the sky; having flown with child, solo, more times than I can count….I’ve managed (somehow) to store a few tips up my wine-soaked sleeve when it comes to flying with children.
#Tip 1: Short or long haul flights
In my humble opinion, short haul flights are often harder than long haul flights…(believe it or not). (I’d probably define short haul as anything less than 5 hours.) Why? On a long haul flight, the aircraft is usually bigger and in the air, space is your best friend. Whether its leg space or aisle space, you can’t get enough with a small person at your side. Short flights are often crowded, noisy (no one’s sleeping) and service is limited, so getting help is not always readily available. Whereas on a long flight you can settle in and get comfortable, staff are usually helpful with things like putting cumbersome bags in the overhead locker, fetching bottles of warm milk, watching bub while you make a toilet pit-stop and anything else in between. If they’re not, be bold and ask for help.
#Tip 2: Where to sit?
OK, so my theory on this one…. if you are flying long haul during the day, sit up the front where they have the baby bassinets (otherwise known as ‘bulk-head’ seats) – even if your baby isn’t sleeping or is too big for the bassinet – you can pop them in it to play and the extra foot room is handy for them to sit (when the seat belt sign’s off and if the Flight Attendants permit). NB: Some strongly advise against this, but if not and it’s a long flight and junior’s happily playing with some toys at your feet, it’s a lot better than chasing him or her squealing up and down the aisle! (You can also breathe a sigh of relief that junior won’t spend half the flight kicking the back of the seat in front of you. BONUS!)
If you are travelling overnight and your baby is too big for the bassinet do not get the front row. The arm-rests have the television monitors inside them so won’t lift up. Absolutely mortifying when you go to lie junior down and stretch him across your lap and the neighbouring seat! All the other seats’ arm-rests behind the bulk-head generally do lift though, which is great for sleeping if he/she has a paid seat or you are lucky enough to get a spare seat.
ask plead, grovel for a spare seat. Usually the oh-so-kind check-in staff will try to make your flight as comfortable as possible for you AND the other child-free passengers. It pays to arrive early to check in, before the plane fills up, so you get a better chance of grovelling having the seats you want.
Tip #3 Beating jet lag
There are many theories about beating jet lag….some stand by sticking your children to their normal sleep schedule, while others say it makes more sense to adjust to the time zone in the country you’re going to, during the flight. I can’t vouch for everyone but when we travel a 12 hour flight from Hong Kong to the UK, we always try to put ourselves in their time zone. At least if you arrive in the morning UK time, you can stay awake for a few hours if you’ve been sleeping in-flight…and have an afternoon nap before bedtime.
Granted! The odds on this for many little people are on the slim side – different time zones are horrendous no matter which way your sleepy eyes look at it.
In the past, on trips from Hong Kong to the UK, we’ve tried to stop Ava going to sleep in the afternoon we’ve arrived, hoping she would go straight to sleep at bedtime, only to have it seriously backfire and have her awake half the night or launch into horrifying nightmares because she’s been awake so long.
Usually no matter what you do it can take 3 to 5 nights to get settled, sometimes longer. Hence a week away somewhere in the opposite time zone with kids is not really going to be the relaxing family break you may have imagined. Re-think that trip to the Bahamas!
Arriving in daylight makes beating jet lag a little easier. And having a day to catch up without being on the go is always a good idea.
Tip #4 Night or day flight?
When I travel to Australia (an 8.5 hour flight with a 2-3 hour time difference) everyone always asks whether it’s best to travel at night or during the day?
For me it depends on the child’s age.
Night is great if they are still not up for entertaining themselves during the day. Probably any time before the age of two, if possible, I would be opting for the night trip. A long day flight can leave you counting down the excruciatingly looong minutes as you pace up and down the aisles with a toddler who wants to practice his or her newly acquired ‘balancing on two legs’ skills! (This is great if you’re looking to network and keen to get to know the entire plane – hand out those business cards!!) But gee, it’s a killer!
After the age of 2 and a half, a day flight is pretty good if they like to watch TV. A Peppa Pig obsession? You’re in luck! An iPad or similar works miracles! Some people swear by buying their kids baby-sized headphones…. I am yet to do this but reckon it could be worth it.
Oh and just so you know, once they reach three, it just gets easier and easier. I even managed a movie and a glass of wine on my last trip DownUnder!
Tip #5: What to take?
If your baby is tiny make sure you feed them (breast or bottle) on take off and landing to avoid any ear problems or if they’re older, give them a dummy or lolly to suck on. Taking a night flight usually means you get fed pretty late, so it pays to have a stash of food for the little one to eat before boarding or once they get on board, so they don’t fall asleep on an empty tummy (or shout the house down demanding food)!
When they are babies and young toddlers, take a baby carrier like the Baby Bjorn or equivalent, especially if you are flying alone. It is not easy getting yourself, baby and paraphernalia through x-ray machines and on board and this frees you up to fill in departure/arrival cards and lift bags etc. NB: They will make you take the baby out of the carrier going through the x-ray machines and the first time they did this to me, I seriously nearly had a pink fit. (Breathe Nicole, breathe!) My poor mum saying goodbye could see me from the gate but was helpless to do anything.
At least if you expect it, you won’t be ready to throttle the security dude on the spot (if only you had a spare hand)!
If your little one is verging on toddler age….and walking steadily, make sure you take the stroller and don’t check it in with baggage until the gate. If the airline asks you to, get a temporary one from then to get you through the airport in one piece. Trust me on this.
I know it’s hard not to want to take a truck-load of bags and you worry you won’t have enough nappies, wipes, wraps etc… and obviously it depends on how long the flight is/stop overs etc, but less is more if you’re traveling alone.
Yes! You can take baby powder and milk on the plane…. if baby’s on normal milk, the staff should happily fill your bottle(s) or warm existing ones up. I have also gotten away with taking baby food on board in the past when Ava was younger. Now at three she can eat normal airline food. (They usually make special kid’s trays with plenty to pick on for a few hours of cartoon viewing.)
New toys, colouring-in pads, crayons etc (things that don’t require small pieces that fall down the side of the seat and drive you crazy) can come in handy for
bribery – engaging your tot!
Do take extra dummies etc in case you lose them down the side of the seat. Extra change of clothes for you and bub. Nappy bags….wipes, wipes wipes….Nurofen/Panadol or the equivalent in case of an unexpected high temperature or teething.
#Tip 6: Sleeping Aids?
When you first join the tubular party in the sky, many of you might be very tempted to try antihistamines in a panicked effort to make your baby/toddler drowsy (aka ‘knocked out for the entire ride’)! Trust me, I was a keen offender! Some doctors don’t recommend it, but whatever it takes eh?…In a devastating blow for me, it appears I have a daughter who actually hypes up on these sorts of drugs…(panadol included). I can’t recommend enough trying medication out before the flight!! If they work and you’re comfortable with it, hats off to you!
Otherwise, your best bet is to take your little one’s favourite toy, any creature comforts and hope for the best…..keep their routine as normal as possible in the lead up to your flight, so you’re not starting on the back foot.
And from the mouth of my very own pediatrician: “Young children – feed them! Older children – buy a dvd!”
Yep! It kinda sums it up really.
I know if you’re still not familiar with flying with children you’re probably feeling a little anxious (ok sweating bullets might be more accurate)….but try to relax. Ask yourself, what’s the worst that can happen? So Johnny Junior cries most of the way; passengers give you filthy looks and wonder what sort of parenting school you attended, you don’t get to the toilet and only manage to shovel in a bread roll? Don’t stress, those pesky passengers will get over it the minute their well-rested tootsies hit the ground, running. And you, you’ll get over it the minute you see your beloved family on the other side! (Or that luxurious hotel suite.) I promise….
Pssst… just for the record, I (rather reassuringly) read in the in-flight magazine that 67 per cent of people would rather sit next to a whiney toddler on an airplane, over a smelly adult. (I can almost understand that given I was sitting next to a passenger doing that snorting in the back of his throat thing, every five seconds). So annoying, I started timing him…and possibly muttering something inaudible under my breath about ‘manners!’
What about you? Have you flown with small people in tow? What are your hot tips? Share them in the comments. I’d love to hear!
++For more in-depth details, Nicola Burke’s blog Jetlag and Mayhem is brilliant.