Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Ten hours, two kids, one plane

We're back from two weeks in Seattle.  Two pleasant, worthwhile weeks which still passed too quickly for me and in somewhat of a haze, thanks to a bad head cold and the usual dose of jet lag.  I'm homesick, yet glad to be back. Mademoiselle is stuck on Pacific Standard time and waking us up for two solid hours every night, yet Le Petit has been sleeping well from his first night back in Paris.

In the wee hours of the last few nights, as I've been trying and failing to calm a jetlagged baby back to sleep, I've had a few thoughts on how to survive long-haul plane travel with small children that I thought I might share.  Just in case anyone wants to visit us here in Paris, you know.

Tips for the twelve-month-old:

  1. Any toys you bring will be far less interesting than any random non-toy objects you manage to dig up.  Mademoiselle spent roughly two minutes of the ten-hour flight playing with the bag of toys I carefully selected.  She spent at least a half an hour ripping apart the in-flight magazine.
  2. The most alluring object on the whole plane will quite possibly be your plastic water glass, and this only because it breaks into sharp pieces when mouthed.  Hide it and instead distract baby with an empty water bottle.
  3. Watch the hours tick down with optimism.  Count every ten minutes as a victory.
  4. Order the white rice, and let baby eat it off your tray in handfuls.  Avoid the marinara sauce.
  5. Nurse baby without worrying what other people may think.  Chances are they won't care, since after all, your kid isn't screaming. (And think to wear a discreet nursing top to make things easier.)
  6. Rest assured that as long as the airplane cabin is pressurized, it is physically impossible for anyone to open the exit doors and throw your family from the plane.
  7. Distribute Cheerios slowly, wisely.
  8. Smile appreciatively at anyone willing to hold baby's attention with hand motions, songs, silly games, and goofy facial expressions.  (Pay it forward: remember to make goofy facial expressions at the next grumpy baby you see in public.  Their parents will be grateful.)
  9. When things get tough, flee with Baby to galley area at the back of the plane.  There you have room to pace and bounce, and there's usually a bored flight attendant all to happy to help you distract baby.  I spent a total of a couple hours hiding out there with Mademoiselle on the flight back.
  10. Keep yourself hydrated, especially if you're nursing, and keep baby hydrated.  
  11. Fly Air France. Seriously. Flying with kids is no fun, but every time I've had to cross the Atlantic with tykes in tow, the in-flight personnel of Air France have made me feel welcome, understood, and well-taken-care-of.
  12. If all else fails, let your toddler pace up and down the aisles (following closely behind, of course).  It will annoy your fellow travelers far less than screaming, after all. 
  13. Thank your fellow passengers. Smile. 
  14. Think of it as quality time with your baby. (This may be the very best advice I ever read on the subject of flying with small children, found on some random internet forum.) Yes, you're in close quarters, at 30,000 feet, squeezed unhappily into an uncomfortable seat, but... you love this little person.  And rarely do you get to devote so much time just to keeping them happy.
  15. Remember, eventually you do land.  And then you'll only have the jet lag to contend with.
Tips for the four-and-a-half-year-old:
  1. Explain what to expect.  Make it sound exciting, but warn them that it's also a bit long.
  2. Don't promise a window seat if you're not absolutely certain you'll have a window seat.
  3. If you're bringing the iPad, spring for the full version of Elmo's ABCs and not the free "lite" version that only has the letters A, B, and C.
  4. Bring snacks.
  5. Bring water.
  6. Bring patience.
  7. Bring crayons, not markers -- no caps to lose, and they're less likely to stain your pants if they fall in between the seat cushions.
  8. You may expect them to be rational and grown-up, but they're only mostly rational and grown-up.  Expect some whining and squirming.
  9. Do your best to remain rational and grown-up yourself when faced with whining and squirming.
  10. Rest assured that as long as the airplane cabin is pressurized, it is physically impossible for anyone to open the exit doors and throw your family from the plane.
  11. Bring a kid-friendly pair of headphones, or a headband to help the airline headphones stay on your kid's head.  I didn't do this and le Petit ended up holding the headphones against his ears with his hands for most of the flight, which added to the squirming.
  12. Thank your fellow passengers.  Smile.
  13. When all your efforts to minimize seat-kicking fail, remember that as long as your kid isn't screaming, the person sitting in front of them might not mind.  (The kind person sitting in front of Le Petit on the way over said as much.)  If possible, seat your kid behind another kid.  And remember #12.
  14. Think of it as quality time with your preschooler.  Put your heads together and do some coloring.
  15. Remember, eventually you do land.  And then you'll only have the jet lag to contend with.
The flight back was far easier than the flight over, mostly because both kids slept a bit.  Unfortunately neither one of my kids can lull themselves to sleep just because the cabin lights have been dimmed, but both did sleep when it was "time" (according to the whichever time zone we were leaving).  This meant Mademoiselle had a nap on the way over and both a nap and the beginning of a night's sleep on the way back, and le Petit caught two hours of sleep at the tail end of the flight back.

I want to thank the Italian grandparents who sat across the aisle from us on the way over and kept Mademoiselle happy for the last hour of the flight with games of peek-a-boo and an involved conversation in the universal language of Baby. I am also grateful to the three flight attendants on the way back who talked for hours with me and with Mademoiselle as we hung out in the back of the plane.  One of them earns my particular recognition for bringing me a giant bottle of water, "Because," she explained, "you're nursing, madame, and you shouldn't get dehydrated."  You rock.

Anyone else have tips for traveling with small kids? 

Or for helping a baby get over jet ag? 

Or for throwing a festive impromptu family party at two o'clock in the morning because, after all, you're all awake anyway?


Claudia said...

Welcome back! I bow to you for doing this with two kids. Was your husband along, too? If not, you deserve a trophy and a new washing machine.

I have been so very grateful to the passengers who love kids and have no problems entertaining them. One even read stories to my DD over the back of DD's seat.

Your tips are great. Nothing to add there.

Ann Wyse said...

Hi there - Can't quite remember how I found your blog anymore - but I've been reading for a few months. And I love these tips!

We've also had good luck with ice cube playing on longer flights. About 30 minutes of luck, which can seem like an eternity.... But I think you have to okay with getting water on stuff. (Which I am, but I realize that not every parent is.)

jen said...

Your comments about headphones are key: we have kid size headphones and never get on a plane without them. also, STICKERS. There's nothing good about it but you are right, they can't kick you off and eventually it ends. I also recommend planes that (in the US) have TV as well as bringing your own videos. its true, my kids have watched a lot of awful TV that way, but cupcake wars kept my daughter enthralled for about 2 hours one flight.

Parisienne Mais Presque said...

@Claudia - I should clarify that my husband was with me (Ten hours, two kids, one plane... but two adults!) because otherwise I would've been far too much of a wimp to attempt it. But I do know of a mom who recently went from Paris back home to Mexico with a one-year-old and a three-year-old and my reaction was exactly like yours: that woman deserves a medal!

@Ann Wyse - Ice cubes, that's a great idea! I have no problem getting water on things. And 30 minutes DOES feel like an eternity, which is why I was so happy with the in-flight magazine...

@jen - there were some good TV shows for le Petit, which I encouraged him to watch as many times as he was willing. It turned out to be a much better distraction than the iPad. Maybe if I'd paid to load the iPad with better games... but I get the feeling that le Petit just wanted to veg out in front a screen and not necessarily interact (which I can definitely understand, I kind of feel the same way on a flight). Where did you find your kid-friendly headphones?

paola said...

Thanks for reassuring me with point 6(&10). I am absolutely terrified of flying so that one has definitely crossed my mind, once or twice.

I don't envy you. I flew with my then 19 month old 30 odd hours to Aus and it was torture. Both my unmedicated labours were less painful. And I am not exagerating.

I recently repeated the trip with the same child (now 5) and it was like flying alone. She spent her waking hours in front of her entertainment unit and I was able to sip cheap Aussie plonk in utter peace. It really does get better as they get bigger.

Cloud said...

It sounds like you did great on the flights. We had a 30 minute play session with empty plastic drink cups once, and that made me very happy!

We haven't tried the long flight yet- our longest has been LAX to Honolulu. We have friends who have flown from Brisbane to LAX multiple times, and they swear by a bag of basically disposable toys, all new to the kids.

Samantha said...

I can't remember the brand of kid headphones that we have, but I know you can find some online from Sears or Fisher Price or probably just on Amazon. Most of them are kid-sized and have a lower volume limit.

Parisienne Mais Presque said...

@paola - I'll believe that that was worse than unmedicated labor. 30 hours?? You are one brave woman. I was done at the end of 10, and I've pretty much decided I won't go home with a kid under four unless I can get a direct flight. I know, I'm a wimp.

@Cloud - I was wondering if you guys had made the trip yet. There is a strong argument for waiting until the kids are over five and are both easier to travel with and appreciate the trip more.

@Samantha - thanks!

Good news -- as of last Friday, we're all back on GMT+1, including Mademoiselle.

My husband was so exhausted from the week, which for him combined stress at work and sleepless nights, that he was more tired than I've ever seen him by Friday. He reports he could barely walk straight coming home on the Métro (and thank goodness he wasn't driving). By nine o'clock on Friday night everyone in the household except me was asleep, and my husband slept straight until 10:30 the next morning... waking up a new man.

Anandi said...

We got our kid headphones from Maxell on for less than $10 and they're pretty sturdy. They fit a 2yo.

And what is it about toddlers and Cupcake Wars? T and I both watched it for 2 hours on the way back from Iowa.

I can only hope our 10 hour flights between Seattle and London go as well ;)