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