I used to love plane rides. The whole experience, from preparing and packing for the trip and getting a nice hot drink at the airport whilst sophisticatedly waiting for my flight, to sitting on the plane and watching the latest movies or tucking into a good book, was amazing. Getting the window seat was the best, as watching the world get smaller and smaller until being high up in the clouds excited me. I even liked plane food (I’ve got this weird want for school dinner type food) and the little snacks provided by the generous staff.
Of course, when I was gifted with children things changed, and moving away from London to Abu Dhabi meant regular plane rides. In this post I will write about different flight experiences with my child/children, based on their ages.
Under the Age of One
Life as an expat began in January 2016, when my DD was 7 months old (my SS didn’t exist at the time- how weird that feels). I was nervous about the 7 hour flight so my husband purposely booked our flight for 8pm in the hope that she would sleep throughout the journey as this was her bedtime in the UK.
She was fantastic at the airport, being a baby who loved sitting in her pram, and even let us get a cup of tea!
Once on the plane, I gave her her bedtime bottle and she drifted off to sleep, completely down by the time we were in the air and put in the little bassinet provided. She literally slept like a baby for the entire flight (now thinking of the popular saying ‘slept like a baby’- that doesn’t even make sense, everybody knows babies don’t like sleeping and the only popular association between sleep and baby is deprivation). I watched a movie and drifted off to sleep too, waking up to polite staff telling me we were arriving in Abu Dhabi 😊.
Similarly, when flying to Abu Dhabi when my SS was six weeks old, his behaviour was fantastic; being so young and hence having no routine, he fell asleep while taking off, and only woke up during the flight for feeds before going straight back to sleep (my DD had turned 2 by then and was a whole different story). We’d booked an afternoon flight, knowing it didn’t make a difference to him as he was still a newborn and slept whenever, wherever and (sometimes felt like) forever. What about your DD? Surely she would have wanted to sleep on the plane, so why not a night flight for your little rose petal?, I hear you ask. You’ll understand after reading the next section.
OVER the Age of One<
We have enjoyed/endured many journeys with my DD since she turned 1, but will write about two particularly, prominent ones.
After having had a successful flight to Abu Dhabi with my DD when she had been under 1 (and back to London), me and my husband tried to recuperate this experience with our now 15 month old toddler. Returning from a long stay in London, we booked a night flight, just in time for her bedtime.
Except this time, she wouldn’t sleep. No longer eligible for the bassinet, I desperately rocked, bounced and swayed with her, having failed in putting her sleep via bottle. She was clearly tired and kept drifting in and out of a slumber but due to the limited space, she would end up waking up due to being uncomfortable. Sometimes I would think ‘yes, we’ve finally done it!’, only to be repeatedly approached by staff asking me to do our seatbelt due to turbulence on the plane, which would end up waking her up (at one point I said ‘piss off!’- under my breath so only I would hear of course).
We ended up making a mini bed for her on the floor beneath us using excessive blankets. She actually fell asleep and just as me and my husband smiled at each other in relief, the stewardess was back again, harping on about health and safety, simply not understanding there is no. other. way. Failing to make our point, we picked her up and, to conclude, had an uncomfortable long flight with an overtired toddler.
You think this is bad?
Wait till I tell you about our next flight to London, where I was six months pregnant and my DD was 21 months old.
So it all began quite spectacularly. We hadn’t bothered to book an overnight flight this time, having thoroughly learned our lesson the last time, and instead chose to travel during the day, departure being right on cue for my DD’s nap.
My DD seemed to be in a delightful mood and if this wasn’t good already, at the airport we had been upgraded to business class by Etihad Airways! (My husband is a regular customer). I’d heard amazing things about business class and after spending time in the beautiful Etihad lounge (reserved only for business class travellers 😎) with polite, happy and relaxed fellow passengers and being let on the plane together early and smoothly, I was feeling super excited and at ease about the 7 hour journey ahead. ‘My DD is going to be able to nap comfortably on a bigger seating space and even I can lay down and rest with this big belly of mine. This is going to be the best flight ever’ I thought to myself happily.
It was the worst journey I have ever been on in the entire, 28 years of my life.
Firstly, she chose not to go to sleep. I’d turned the seat into a bed (the seats turn into beds in business class!), made her as comfortable as possible, and gave her her most prized possession- a warm bottle of milk.
She drunk half then randomly got annoyed and threw it into the aisle. Pregnant bump blooming, I scrambled around the aisle, disturbing passengers on my way (they seemed a bit snotty all of a sudden), trying to go as low as possible to bend down and find it (not low at all really with my belly in the way).
After my husband failed to put her to sleep, we gave up and tried to show her some children shows for entertainment. No success. She just. Wasn’t. Interested. All she wanted to do was walk around the aisles, up and down with me. With my bump, the aisles felt so skinny so after a few laps I gave up and forced us back to our seat (a loud, aggressive fight was put on show for the less than pleased passengers).
Maybe she was hungry?
Oh no, definitely not.
I offered her an Ellas Kitchen Satchet (Big Smiles Cheesy Pie) but she did not want it and spat out the thick, yellowy, cheesy substance all over the blanket we were given. I rolled it up and stuffed it under our bed/seat guiltily.
Feeling flustered, hungry and hard-done-by, I looked at the time. It had only been an hour and a half!!! Starting to feel sorry for myself (you all know how self-destructive that can be), I was running out of options. Then the friendly cabin nanny (there is a nanny in business class!) approached us and asked if we wanted any help. I accepted, feeling grateful but unsure as I’d never actually had someone I don’t know look after my DD. She took her into the aisle and they were off to the far end of the cabin. I then ordered some food and tried to relax, browsing movies that were on offer. However, it was hard to concentrate with the blonde bob of the nanny running up and down the aisle with my DD, starting to look as flustered as I was. After about 15 minutes my husband took the poor woman out of her misery and returned my DD back to us, thanking the nanny awkwardly for doing basically nothing.
I quickly ate my lunch (they serve food on plates in business class!), too distracted by my agitated DD wrestling with my husband to enjoy it and then took her from him, resolved to end this madness. I am a grown up and will NOT let this go on any longer. I theatrically turned my seat into a bed again and looked at her dead in the eye.
“Go to sleep now, that’s it!” I said to her harshly and firmly. Knowing that I was not going to back down, her eyes started watering as I laid down and gently tugged her arm for her to join me.
Her response began as a feeble cry.
It ended with a roaring, angry tantrum that resulted in thick, smelly, extensive vomit shooting out of her mouth all over my clothes and herself.
Her ultimate weapon.
My husband gasped and, after reading the absolute distraught expression on my face, grabbed my DD, her changing bag and ran to the toilet.
Feeling disgusted and unable to get up pregnantly (roll to the side and shuffle up messily) without getting the vomit on to the sides of the seat, I lay there immobilised, thinking ‘what the HELL am I going to do?’ If I got up, everyone would see and smell my existence and if I stayed I would smell my own existence. Starting to feel the overwhelming need to cry, I got up, smearing vomit over the seat as I did and done the true walk of shame through the aisle. I passed a Stewardess on my way, and she actually said ‘eww’ (looking back, I wish I gave her a hug).
I locked myself into the toilet (the toilet is the same dingy size it is in economy class!!).
Bursting into tears, I took off my vomit infested clothes and stuffed it into the sink to wash it, knowing that I didn’t have anything to change into (there are no dryers in the toilets in business class 😱).
I was in there for what felt like ages: stuck, smelly and sad. Realising after the final attempt at a solution failed (flap the materials about to try and dry it), I put on my wet (and still smelly) clothes on and then painted the look of I-don’t-care on my face. You don’t know anyone in this cabin, who gives a #*%^#* what they think? (I don’t actually swear, ever, but just seemed cool to think it). I left the toilet, head held up high, dripping water as I went and returned to my seat without looking at anyone.
“Keep her away from me!” I hissed at my husband as I squeezed into the seat.
I looked down at them and she had had the audacity and the good grace of falling fast asleep. I wrapped a blanket around myself to mask my awful smell and ceased movement and brain activity and she remained asleep for the next 3 hours, right up until we landed in the UK.
Rather than just rant, I will leave you with some tips for if you ever travel with your little one.
- Take snacks that your child/children love- enough to last your child a month.
- Take a change of clothes (ha!)
- Think about what your child likes for entertainment and take that too (I wish I’d taken children’s books rather than assuming my DD would watch shows she’d never seen before, or even downloaded shows she does recognise onto our iPad).
- If your child is under the age of one and is a good sleeper, book an evening flight- planes are as relaxing and sleep-inducing as cars, they should sleep for the journey.
- If your child is over the age of one and a good, unfussy sleeper, book an evening flight.
- If your child is active and doesn’t like sitting still, take calm walks up and down the aisle, (ignore staff if they tell you to return to your seat, unless there is turbulence on the plane) and take it in turns if travelling with a partner.
- Or, just drug them with sleeping pills (JOKE).
- Try not to focus on the time so much; it’ll just stress you out further. Ignorance of it is definitely bliss.
I hope you have enjoyed this post. As usual, comment, subscribe and like if you do 😊.