Long Haul Flying – Which Age is Easiest?

By Mary Malyon

Here’s some good news for itchy-feet parents: it is possible to fly long haul with a baby or toddler, even when you’re alone. I’ve done it once with my fiancée, then twice solo and I survived! Bleary-eyed yes. Weathering a few dirty looks, of course – but I lived to tell the tale.

My daughter is two now and she has flown NZ to the UK return three times. We always go with Singapore Air – the staff are friendly, the service is great and it is the most direct flight for NZ South Island parents: Christchurch to Singapore, Singapore to Heathrow. I booked through the Flight Centre who again are helpful and efficient. Everyone you talk to has an opinion on when is the best time to fly with your little one, here’s the definitive run down.

Six-months: Developmental Stage: Nearly crawling

This is the only flight I’ve done with my fiancée, and in truth it was hell. The lesson I learnt? However much you plan, when kids are involved anything can happen! The fact that I joked to all and sundry that, “Isobel will probably start teething the night before we fly!” probably didn’t help matters. The week before the flight my girl, who has always been vocal, became increasingly fractious.

Luckily I had my lifesaver to hand, a soft carrier. This carrier’s uses go beyond the actual travelling; it is incredibly useful if you have an unsettled baby and no spare arms available whilst you pack.

We arrived at Christchurch airport early in the morning, after our first night of teething: the Adams family looked fresh in comparison! The two heroes of my first-flight story are arnica (which we took in industrial quantities to counter our exhaustion) and breastfeeding: on take off; when Isobel was fractious; when she didn’t sleep and when the twenty-something man behind me gave us foul looks as she howled in teething pain.

That is a downside to flying with kids: suddenly you are thrust into a small space with people who have no concept of how tiring parenting can be, and consequently no sympathy at all.

The baby-friendly index wasn’t only drawn along age range; there was also a marked difference between nationalities. My daughter is a friendly little soul. Her favourite in-flight occupation was to be carried up and down the aisle so she could wave and smile at people.

Most of the parents and older women waved and cooed back, but there was a definite contrast in the younger men’s reactions. Being Singapore Air, there were lots of Chinese and Indians on board. I was struck by how friendly and natural they were with Isobel. On the other hand, most of the solo European men were poo-faced with a laughing six-month-old. I wondered if this reflected deeper cultural differences between east and west: specifically the tradition of extended families living together.

Now some might roll their eyes at the idea of living with their mother-in-law, but I can only imagine how much easier it would be to parent with supportive grandparents, brothers, sisters and cousins on hand to hold a crying baby or entertain a grizzly toddler. I’m sure parents would be far more likely to follow the tenants of attachment parenting: extended breastfeeding, baby carrying and so on, with all that help.

12-Months: Developmental Stage: Crawling going out, walking on return

I was alone; Isobel was crawling, but this flight was much easier. For a few nights before we flew, Marc took over baby duties so that I could catch up on my sleep. Come flight day, I was fresh and daisy-like.

I opted to take the buggy this time, plus the soft carrier. On the previous flight I was buggy-free which was great with a smaller baby and another pair of hands available. but the buggy was indispensable this time. In transit at Changi Airport (Singapore) I put all my hand luggage on it, popped Isobel in the soft carrier and we were off. My main worry about travelling alone was bathroom stops, but on most flights I found friendly people who watched Isobel for me and the cabin crew made up the shortfall.

Isobel was crawling by now, which actually made things easier. On our first flight she had been wriggly with lots of pent up energy. Now she happily zipped up and down the aisles. The only difficulty was that the bassinet seats were right by the galley so I had a couple of tut-tuts from the crew who were worried about tripping over her. She wasn’t allowed to play on the floor either – trying to contain her was challenging.

Luckily on one of the longest flights we met a lovely family travelling with their Granny who introduced me to my number one long-haul-travel-with-kids tips: balloons. Light, small, cheap, easily available at the last minute and they provide endless entertainment for all ages. An added bonus is that the cabin is super static so if you rub them on your head they stick to the ceiling!

See next page for the rest…

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