Monday, June 15, 2009

Do I stay or do I go?

So, we have a few minor logistical problems here at chez parisienne. The first is that our nanny has to take six weeks off this summer to go back home to Côte d'Ivoire to deal with some administrative problems. So, for the last two weeks of August and the first four of September, we have no child care.

We've decided on a classic French solution: we're going on vacation! I am using up my vacation time practically all at once, taking two weeks in August in France and three in September in Seattle. This will leave one week at the beginning of September still unaccounted for, but I'm hoping blindly that grandparents or telecommuting might take care of it.

Why complain about five weeks of vacation, you ask? Well, my husband only has four, and there lies the problem: I had originally planned to leave for Seattle alone with le Petit one week early and my husband would join us a week later.

So I started researching car seats for the plane. Our current seat is so heavy and bulky, with its huge metal stabilizing foot, that dragging it through an airport is unthinkable. Alas, taking car seats on planes doesn't appear to be a European concern, since none of the manufacturers offer anything like an FAA approval sticker and none of the models on the market look compact or light enough for plane travel.

In my research about toddler plane travel I stumbled upon this blog entry and this article which make me shake in my boots. Le Petit is no big sleeper, and I fully expect ten long, loud, squirmy and restless hours on that mercifully direct flight from Paris to Seattle. Will angry passengers like the ones described and self-described in the numerous comments mob us and throw us from the plane?

On the one hand, I miss Seattle. Three weeks back home would give me plenty of time to catch up with family, catch my breath, and get over the staggering nine hours of jetlag before heading home to face a largely vacationless rest of the year.

On the other hand, there are so many ways this could be misery. I could lug a car seat to the gate only to find it won't fit in the seat, then be forced to somehow confine le Petit to his adult seat for the duration of the flight. I could find myself sitting near some of the people who consider having to put up with children on flights to be the ultimate injustice. I could be asked to drug my child with Benedryl and be unceremoniously ejected from the plane when I refuse. To say nothing of all of the details of diaper changes and baggage wrangling I can't as yet picture doing by myself.

As you can see, I'm having no problem picturing the worst case scenario. I'm hoping that you, dear readers, can provide me with a reality check. Le Petit will be 26 months old when our trip is scheduled. Am I nuts? Or is this workable?


Laurie said...

I don't have quite as far as you to travel but I'm borrowing one of these for my flight at the end of the month with my son who is a few months younger than le Petit.

As far as angry passengers, I don't think you should let that keep you from traveling.

I'll let you know how my trip goes!

collectedorange said...

Go for it!

We flew from SF--Paris last summer when my daughter was also 26 months (and only partially toilet trained). Granted there were two of us (and our cat) to distract her, but still it wasn't too bad.

We've flown a lot with her in three years and I've never brought a carseat on board. I would recommend checking it if you need it on the other side. I cannot imagine trying to get through the airport with anything extra.

One thing you might consider that happened to us--we had three adjoining seats with armrests that did NOT rise. I don't know how one could avoid such a fate but it made it really hard for the girl to sprawl out.

We definitely had some hard times--we didn't have a direct flight, and the girl lost her cool by the end of the second flight. The two of us both shed some tears in the final hours, but we survived and I was even complimented on my parenting by the woman ahead of me whose reclined seat in our lap was part of the reason for the hysteria.

So, yeah, there might be some ugliness, but you'll be glad you did it.

Inki said...

We're flying from Norway to the US in 8 days, and we have bought one of the Kids Fly Safe harnesses mentioned earlier (have never flown with a car seat, so no experience there to speak of). Ella is a little younger (22 months old), but we're hoping it will work out well. It will certainly make it feel a lot safer than just having her in our lap with one of those lap belts they hand out (except on domestic flights in the US, where in my experience they figure you will just hold onto the kid if anything happens).
We haven't done this long a trip since she was 4 months old, but we have done a number of 2-hour flights, which worked out fine. I think the trick is to have items that the kid hasn't seen before to pull out of a hat when the boredom gets to be too much. Good luck!

Parisienne Mais Presque said...

Wow, you guys make me feel a lot better. Thank you. And my dad will probably thank you too, because he's hoping I'll talk myself out of this freak out so he can spend an extra week with me and his grandson.

@Laurie and @Inki, please let me know what you guys think of those harness belts once you've tried them. They are very tempting, but le Petit is quite squirmy and I'm a bit afraid he'll work his way out of one in no time. I'm also a bit worried that the strap that goes around the seat back will interfere with the video screen of the person in back, which you certainly don't want to do if you want to preserve in-flight peace on a transatlantic flight. But if they do truly work, I'm ready to shell out the money. My dad has a car seat so we don't have to worry about bringing ours for ground transportation.

@collectedorange - Thanks for reminding me that it isn't such a big deal, even if some tears are shed! I guess I should keep that in mind, and to be honest, part of what is tempting me is the whole mother/son adventure part of it.

And if anything truly embarrassing happens, I'll make sure to repeat the story in front of his fiancée some day.

I'm not expecting le Petit to be anywhere near toilet trained by the time we take the trip. I suppose at least diapers take the immediacy out of that sort of biological need, but changing a toddler in one of those tiny airplane toilets (a task I left to my husband on the last trip!) doesn't sound like fun at all.

Mom in France said...

Hi PmP: We're going to the US for a month in August (Boo 29 months, #2 1 month) and I'm not taking a car seat at all. I guess you could say we're winging it but with such a long visit, we're setting everything up on the other end and taking only the essentials with us on the plane. The good news is that my mom is on Grandmom duty and will be flying with us so she'll be the entertainment for Boo so I can focus on #2.

mamanesq said...

a friend gave me great advice when i flew alone to Barbados: i broke the trip in two and stayed at an airport hotel overnight halfway (2 five hour flights).

i agree with taking as little as possible on board. hopefully you'll get some grandmas eager to pitch in, and for me, the flight crew were very helpful.

I've heard some people take Starbucks cards and hand them out to the near passengers to buy goodwill.

Cloud said...

Hi! I followed a link over from Caramama. I usually lurk when I follow random links, but.... I say go for it. You'll be fine, and most people will be nice. The thing about the internet is that it lets people say things they'd never say to you in person. So if someone IS fuming (and I've never seen evidence of this on my flights), chances are you won't know. I flew a lot on business before I had the baby, and the only passengers I still remember as unbelievably annoying were other business travelers.

We've flown a few times with our toddler, and have had really nice people around us, including one lady who begged for a turn holding her (her kids were in high school). Of course, I have yet to dare the 12 hour flight to visit my Hubby's parents in NZ. Our longest flight was a 5 hour flight to Hawaii. However, last time I did the LA-Auckland flight (while 7 months pregnant- long story), there were heaps of families doing the 24 hour London-LA-Auckland trek. I don't recall being disturbed by anything other than my need to pee every 10 minutes and the swelling in my legs. I don't think New Zealand children are just better behaved. I think that in general, as long as the parent(s) are trying, the kiddos won't end up disturbing other folks too much. You may end up exhausted, though! It is hard work to plan everything out and then manage the airport and airplane ride.

Anyway- some practical stuff: if you want to go with a carseat and want to be sure your carseat will fit, get a Sunshine Kids one. They are the slimmest- they're what families with triplets use because you can get three across in a backseat. However, they are also about $280 (US). They fold and go in a carry bag with a shoulder strap. But they are also pretty heavy- I make Hubby carry mine. I've seen other people rolling car seats on little wheels like a luggage cart- you can find those at One Step Ahead. They are online.

I've heard that the harness belts might not be safe to sleep in, but the person who told me this is a bit of a worrier, so definitely do your own research on that one.

For entertainment on the flight, we have coloring, new books she hasn't seen before, some old favorites that I know she'll read over and over, and whatever toys I can round up that don't seem likely to be too noisy or prone to becoming painful projectiles. She has always done great. For a long flight, I'd probably also let her watch some Elmo or something on my laptop- but I wouldn't bring that out until close to the end of the flight. Batteries only last so long, and the tantrum when Elmo went away might not be worth the peace he'd bought before the batteries died....

And take lots and lots of food. For both of you.

Parisienne Mais Presque said...

You guys are so cool! Thank you, thank you! I'm sitting on all this information and hoping to make a decision next week.

@Mom in France: A toddler and a one-month-old. You are a braver woman than I. (I'm a wimp and I know it.)

@Cloud, thank you for all your detailed information, it's very helpful. I'm thinking of buying a netbook with a DVD player, not just for the trip but for blogging in the Métro (okay, as a not-so-easy-to-justify toy) and it would be useful for Elmo on the plane. Elmo who I'm growing fond of despite myself.

Inki said...

We're back from our trip to the US with a 23-month old, and here are our experiences:
* The KLM flight attendants on some of the flights were unwilling to let us use the harness for take-off and landing, having us use just the lap belt instead, since they haven't finished their testing of the harness yet (it's been FAA approved, but being European, KLM wants to do its own tests too). Not a big deal, we used it for much of the rest of the flight, and the people behind us were not bothered by it. Not sure if you would be flying Air France or an American airline, but something to be aware of.
* About sleeping, you may have an easier time than we did. Our girl is not happy about taking naps when things are happening around her, so we spent a lot of time with her smiling and waving at people around us, with us wondering how come she wasn't tired yet. We've learned before that the only way to get her to sleep on flights is to restrain her in our laps and let her cry until she goes to sleep, not the best way to make friends with fellow passengers. But like I said, you may have an easier time if Le Petit doesn't mind napping as much as our girl does.
* Having a seat for the kid was very valuable! Since E is not quite 2 yet we had to go to some effort to get her a separate seat (calling KLM 5 times before finally getting someone who was willing to book that!), but it was so worth it for the extra space and place for her to sit while eating etc.
* If at all possible, order the child's meal when you book the flight. At least on KLM, they brought that a good 10 minutes before we got our meals, so we had time to get her set up with her food before we were distracted by being served ourselves. Make sure you take a look at what's there before you let him leap into it though - one of her meals had a whole Snickers bar in it in addition to the sandwich and cookies! I like to snag those for myself ;-)
* For E, having the personal video screen was fascinating. She does not watch a lot of TV/video at home, so that could keep her attention for a while!
* Make sure you have an opportunity for both of you to sleep when you get there :-) For us, coming back to Europe has been worse sleep-wise than going to the States was. We were amazed at how well she got over the jet lag when we were there, but expect that the first night may involve some waking up.

Good luck! We had a great time seeing everyone, and we're very happy we went, but I understand it would be different with just one adult.