11 Aug 2013

Flying With A Two Year Old

Eli has been on a flight before. He was only 10 months at the time and I wasn't present for the flights. Ian and Eli joined me at Melbourne for work one weekend and we caught different flights. Ian said it was hard travelling with a child that young on your own. Not only did he have to hold Eli but his baby bag and stroller on to the plane. Then there's the loading of all your equipment onto the over head compartment. He was lucky random people felt sorry for him so they assisted him with getting seated on the plane.

But a one hour flight is nothing compared to a 9-10 hour flight overseas.

The day we were leaving Eli developed a mild ear infection. He had a high fever early that morning and decided to take him to the doctors before we left as we didn't want to get to Hawaii, see a doctor there and pay some ridiculous medical bill. He was given antibiotics to take so during our flight to Hawaii he was pretty drugged up on medication, I actually felt really sorry for him. He was drowsy, could barely keep awake, he didn't want to eat or drink anything so his lips were dry from dehydration. It was really hard to see your child sick, helpless and suffering like this, knowing you're about to subject him to a long haul flight. I remember crying second guessing whether we should even step onto the plane.

Then once on the plane listening to the air hostess go through the standard procedures and estimated arrival day and time, it dawned on me we will be arriving a day earlier than I expected. I only booked accommodation for the following day onwards. I wasn't too worried we would find accommodation in Hawaii as there are ample of hotels, I just couldn't believe I made that mistake. I blame it on "baby brain-ness."

So the flight there was relatively easy as he was constantly falling in and out of sleep throughout the flight. However when he did wake he was hysterical probably from feeling unwell and seeing unfamiliar surroundings. We also had to administer medication several times during the flight which was painful and then there was the nappy changes. He was really cranky getting his nappy changed while he was sick but what was disturbing was finding a dry nappy each time, we knew it meant he was really dehydrated and there was completely nothing in his stomach to digest. 

As a parent travelling with a young child I would say don't expect to get any sleep, I certainly didn't. I tried and probably only got maybe only 40 minutes. I think it was the combination of worrying about Eli and how uncomfortable I was sitting in a 90ish angle while 28 weeks pregnant. It really was uncomfortable for me. The other school boy error I made was not getting any rest during the day hoping we would all sleep during the overnight flight. Wrong! So I had been awake for over 24 hours by the time we arrived to Hawaii therefore I was exhausted but still had to be alert for my sick child. 

The flight back we had a day flight (12.40pm). I purposely didn't sleep on the flight so that when we arrived back in Sydney at 7.30pm it would be evening and I can crash out, which I did. Eli was back to perfect health for the flight back to Sydney. He slept for about 3 hours and during the meal service time so it was perfect. When he was awake we entertained him with either the iPad playing one of his favourite movies or the entertainment unit available on the plane. He was surprisingly really good. Of course he wanted to chat to people and most were nice enough to entertain his curiosity. There were a few who were not so generous. 

Reminds me of a time we were queuing at Marukame, a popular udon joint in Waikiki. The line snaked outside and in front of us in the queue was an Aussie family. Every time Eli made a sound the father would just look and stare at him in a not impressed manner. I felt like saying to him "Cause your children were never toddlers at one stage ... You were in my shoes too buddy, relax you'll get your udon!"

The flight back was actually longer but it felt shorter than the flight over. I guess cause Eli was in better health and mood so I was more relaxed too. 

Everyone has different experiences with long haul traveling with a toddler but the lesson I learn from my experience are:
  • Choose a flight time you think you will be most effective. With a toddler you can throw out any expectations of getting any proper sleep on the flight so choosing a time where you're not fatigue and can be alert is probably the best option ... in my opinion. Also get some rest yourself before the flight so you're not overly tired on the flight. 
  • You do need an extra seat for your child for long haul flights to allow them to lie down and sleep comfortably. If you're child is under two and you have decided not to purchase him a seat, like we did. Choose the middle seats towards the back of the plane, they usually start to go from rows of four seats to three. And if you're lucky and ask nicely or in our case was done for us airlines may allocate you to one of these rows and keep the middle seat vacant or blocked so no one can sit on that vacant seat and your child can have a seat - for free!! However our luck was only because both flights weren't full. 
  • Bring packaged and customs safe food for your child. If you opted not to pay for a seat for your child your child actually doesn't get allocated a meal. We were given meals during our flight I guess because we were at the back and there were spares, but if you think your child will like the food think again. So bring food your child usually eats so your guaranteed they will eat - something. We brought cookies, rice crackers, chocolate and prepackaged pureed fruit in addition to his formula. 
  • Bring familiar and unfamiliar toys for entertainment. We brought a few of his favourite books and toys but also purchased new crayons and paper. The new crayons was enough to distract him every time we took them out.
  • Load your iPad or iPhone with their favourite movies, clips or music. I think I know every line to Finding Nemo and Up ... still get teary every time when watching that scene. We knew he would keep still and quiet when he can watch one of his favourite hows.
  • We purchased Eli his own hand carry, a Trunki and kept all his things in there. From his nappies, food, toys and spare clothing. We found this helpful when keeping his things separate from ours. Also we notice customs were less intrusive when his things were separated from our own. They didn't question his food or formula when it was in his own hand carry. The trunki was pretty cool cause its designed to allow the child to sit on it too so when he was tired from walking and we had enough of carrying him he was happy to sit on top of it and push himself on it. There's a leash attach so you can pull and direct them in the right direction. I was actually quite surprised he had the motor skills to figured out how to push himself on it, smart little monkey. 
  • Take advantage of any queue jumping opportunities this may be the only time you get to do this, until you're old and fragile. Most times when announcing gates had open for boarding they ask people who require extra time for boarding or parents with children under two to come forward first. We always took this invitation to allow us time to get to our seats, get prime overhead luggage space and get comfortable.  
So that was my experience traveling with a child. I've been in far worse situations and hasn't deterred me from traveling with young children. Actually after this experience I feel more confident traveling with children and already day dreaming about our next holiday ... with two.  
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