Stuck in a hamster cage: flying with a toddler

My first post on this new blog is dedicated to our journey to Santiago – the wonderful experience of flying a million hours with a toddler. We started in Australia, and then flew through Germany for Christmas and then on to Santiago.  Before you fly, many people will tell you “it is not that bad, really“. I’m here to say, plain and simple… dont listen to them, it’s torture. Maybe it’s just me; maybe I’m just too impatient, uncreative and envious of all those other sleeping or movie-watching-wine-drinking passengers, but I counted down those minutes one by one. All 2400 of them.

Trip with a toddler

I figure I needed to get my tips to remember out of the way before I forget – particularly if we ever plan on leaving this country again.

1. Drugs:  I know this is a controversial one, but we gave it a go. We tried the Australian toddler sleep remedy of choice: Phenurgan.  On the bottle it says “5-15 mls” for short term sedation and we figured with a 18 more hours ahead of us in the air that night, it would be worth all of us getting some decent sleep. So about 4 hours into the flight in the middle of the night, with an overtired, hyperactive child, we decided to go for it.  Feeling uber-guilty, debating it for what seemed like hours, and feeling like terrible parents, we gave Em a small dose.  And the climax: it did nothing. Go figure, big baby and minimum dose…Em slept a few hours and was up. Next flight we tried a bit more and same thing – nothing. Maybe that was karma getting us in some evil way for trying to take the easy route.

2. Airlines.  This one is simple. Singapore Airlines’ flight attendants were awesome, even in Economy Class. They obviously loved kids – almost all of them stopped by and asked Em her name, offered toys, etc. They did simple things that made life a lot easier, like offering to bring the parents meals AFTER the kids had eaten so you can actually manage mealtime.  Air France’s flight attendants, on the other hand, were far too snobby to be nice to children – even in Premium Economy. We could barely get our kids meal let alone eating at different times. Asking a flight attendant to take the tray after Em had eaten (before it was officially collection time) was like personally affronting her. It goes without saying that not one stopped by to say hello to Em, and in fact, I got the feeling they hated us from the moment we walked on board.

3. Things to do during take-off and landing. The biggest drama is take-off and landing. At these times, your toddler is expected to stay in their seat, with the seatbelt done up. Right. I can barely get Em to stay in her highchair for a 10 minute meal. We had one massive meltdown which resulted in me apologizing profusely to all around while pinning a writhing Emily down as we took off. The things that helped:  homeopathic sugar-free lolly-pops (she just liked eating it and it took forever), the iPad (a miracle distraction tool), snacks (anything that takes a while to eat is best!), a magnetic drawing board (this was surprisingly hours of fun), 3 books (books with flaps seem to be more interesting), ask for a second baby seatbelt to play with…Emily LOVED opening and closing the seatbelt, stickers to take off one paper and put on another (sounds dumb but works!).

4. Things to do during the flight.  Ok, so you make it past take-off and landing and then have about a million hours of wake-time in your little rat-cage. A few more things we did to take up the time:  the iPad (wait, I’ve mentioned that), walking up and down the aisle, DVDs and headphones, the in-seat entertainment, playing with cups and utensils from the meals, warming up and then drinking milk, tea parties on the seat or on the floor (if you have bulkhead), and all of the above from #3, an iPod with their favourite music with earphones.

5. Packing. What worked for us was bringing 1 carry-on with all of the essentials (nappies, change of clothes, etc) and one bag with toys.  We brought a lot – most of it we didn’t use but was good to have ‘just in case’. I’ll summarize:  10 nappies (went through 7), tons of wipes, 2 onesies (didn’t use), a full change of clothes with an extra pair of pants (only changed her before exiting to arrivals out of shame), sleeping bag (didn’t use), pyjamas (didn’t use), disposable bibs (didn’t use), toothbrush etc (didn’t use), panadol (used), blanket (used), muslin wrap (used to block light), anti-bacterial gel (didn’t use, but should have), snacks, milk bottle. Think that sums it up, sorry for the detail 🙂

6. Things to avoid bringing:   Markers or crayons – for obvious reasons, big stuffed toys – they’re only interesting for a few minutes and take up too much space, messy foods, clothes that are complicated or expensive, small toys that can roll under seats.  Some of these we learned the hard way.

7. Where to sit (if you get a choice).  We found that bulkhead was the wrong choice for an overnight flight with a toddler. In these seats you cant raise the armrests to have the kid sleep across the seats. During the day it is great for the space and lack of seat in front of you, but for sleeping it’s really a pain. Achim (read: engineer) built some contraption so that  she could be raised up high enough to sleep across the seat over the armrests. But definitely not ideal.

That’s it for now. Now that I have this out, I can get on to better posts about actually arriving in Santiago!

Flying toddlerFinally a tired toddler


13 thoughts on “Stuck in a hamster cage: flying with a toddler

  1. Re: the efficacy of Phenurgan – must be something to do with Em being the most solid baby ever!!:)

    I can really hear the restlessness in your post. Congratulations on surviving flying three continents, Aly!!

  2. Oh my goodness, Aly – you are a godsend!! I was JUST going to email you to get your tips on traveling with a toddler after your ordeals…and then here is this post. I am taking both kids to Victoria (on my own) in February and I’ve been planning already for the flights. Amelia goes into TV coma so I think she’ll be okay, plus she’s really excited about flying and old enough to “get it”. Lachlan is my big worry. We fly out there at 7pm our time (I’m bringing children’s gravol) so I’m hoping they’ll sleep for at least a bit of that, and then our flight home is at 7am so I might be in trouble. We’ll see!!! I’m so nervous already! You are my inspiration though – if you can do 24+ hours of flying, I can do two 5hr stints!!!

    • Hey Andrea!! I was thinking of you when I wrote this! I knew you were going – but not so soon, wow! I think you’ll be absolutely fine as it’s an 1.5 hour to go up and get food out of the way, and then around an hour of packing up and going down. But in any case, it’s still hell to entertain for 5 hours straight. Let me know how you go with the gravel! Would love something that works for the next time we fly… to Canada this summer! 🙂 Let’s talk over Skype soon. xx

  3. You are hilarious. I can relate to nearly all of your tips, and the longest we’ve flown is 2.5 hours to Noosa! But you’ve made it, and now you can discover the delights of Chile. Perhaps starting with Chilean wine – there are lot to try 🙂

    • haha! Oh we’ve tucked into the Chilean wine….the only question is how early you’re allowed to start in the day. I was honestly considering cracking some Argentinean sparkling this morning at 5:30. Bad mommy.

  4. Oh my Aly… You are so brave. We have not flown for all these reasons… I’m pure chicken about flying with my crazy boys. BUT you survived and now are helping the rest of us by providing tips!!! Hope you poured yourself a big glass ( bottle?) of Chilean wine upon landing!! Xoxo

  5. Loved you post Aly, you had me laughing my tits off (sorry, thought you may be missing the Australian expressions). We were glad Xavier isn’t crawling or walking yet as I am sure this contributed to an ‘easier’ 22 hr journey than otherwise could have been.

    Great tips. To the mix I would throw in ‘befriend other parents’. Useful to swap tips, hand the rug rat over for a period of time, pass the time, console each other etc. Totally agree with the choice of airline being important. The staff on Emirates were awesome and took Xavier for me a few times.

    Can you give us you tips on recovering from jet lag?! O.M.G. the first night in Australia with Xavier was a nightmare. Back home is a little better but I did find myself on the couch at 3am last night watching Gigglebellies, playing with stuffed animals and singing ‘if y are happy and you know it….’ to wear him out and back to sleep.

    Bring on my next A380 business class flight SOLO I say! Wine, food, iPad, movies, SLEEP…. ahhhh.

    • Yes!!! Flying SOLO or flying together without babies in business class. Oh how I give those business flyers the death stare when I walk onboard. Damn them. When I fly back to Oz in April I’m downing sleeping pills with the free wine and watching bad movies. Glorious. 🙂 Jetlag is also much fun isn’t it? Basically it just takes time….I ended up sleeping on the floor beside Em’s cot for at least a few hours the entire time we were in Germany. If she woke up at night we just made her play in the dark in her room…lol. Took at least a week before we were sleeping past 4am though. Again, torture. Thank god for Chilean wine.

  6. Love it Aly! I can totally relate. Flying with a child, especially ages 1-3, is not fun. We’re off to Australia in a few weeks, and I’m not looking forward to the travel part of the trip. At least there’s no jet lag to deal with! In July I’m heading back to Canada with both of the girls on my own. Now that is going to be a looooooooong trip.

    As to the Phenurgan, just count your lucky stars that it didn’t have the opposite effect to that intended, as I’ve heard happens from time to time!

    And I too am completely jealous of business class passengers and anyone travelling by themselves. Oh how I long to read a book or watch an in-flight movie!! I used to like flying before I had children!

    Just to add to the ‘where to sit’ discussion: I prefer to avoid the bulkhead for the reason you mentioned, but also because it’s really difficult to corral a toddler if you’re in the bulkhead. At least in a regular seat you can put yourself between the child and the aisle!

    Best of luck in Santiago! I’m looking forward to reading all about it.

    • Hey Jessica! Oh I feel for you with that upcoming travel with TWO kids alone. Panic! Good point about the seating discussion…. you know, I had no idea that bulkhead wouldn’t be the best choice. We were fighting to get there and then really paid for it with a non-sleeping toddler. Good luck on the trip…and if you think of any more tips on the way let me know! xx

  7. I guess our old memories should be documented here…of your first flight across Canada so here it is…the three of us, you and Vicki and I…I think Vicki was four and you seven or eight and we had two seats together and one seat alone many rows back in the middle of the plane. From then on you decied that lone seat was yours and you were flying on your own…I wasn’t “allowed to look back” nor was Vicki with her stuffed elephant in tow. I think you convinced everyone you were flying alone in fact as I noticed you got lots of attention from staff. You probably entertained everyone in the row…I wouldn’t know tho….. as I was not allowed to look back! It was a very easy flight.

    • HAHAHAH!! I wish I could say that I did not do such a thing, but I actually have memories of that. I remember trying to look the opposite way when you were walking by, as I felt very special being a 7 year old travelling alone across the country. No cool 7-year-old needs their mother or their baby sister with her stuffed elephant cramping their style. 🙂 Now I’d kill to take a cross country flight with the two of you… boy you don’t realise what you have when you’re a kid!

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