What’s it like on a long haul flight with two small children? Emily Martin has travelled to Australia and doesn’t think she can ever come back
We live in Australia now. Not because we want to particularly, though it is lovely. Delicious prawns the size of your head, actual parrots living in standard roadside trees and warm sunshine at last beaming through our brittle British bones. It’s great. But no, we have to live here now because we came on holiday here and there is absolutely no way we are ever getting back on that aeroplane home. Never. No.
When the UK cohort of our large family came home one day last year to find pretty envelopes on our doormats, the calligraphy inside joyfully asking that we “Please join in celebrating the wedding of dearly loved family member and dearly loved long-term girlfriend”, we at once rejoiced!
And then the family imagined vividly what the journey to this Antipodean wedding would involve, with all the small children, and the bags (oh the BAGS).
And then the family had to urgently sit down, shut our eyes tightly and pinch the bridges of our noses.
However, after some tears, a punch up, a near divorce and a good bit of old fashioned family can-do, gung-ho, let’s go for it chat, we all booked flights, marked the date in our diaries and poured ourselves some large glasses of wine.
A 24-hour flight then loomed. I’d done it before alone as a young, childless person and had decided then that it was quite the worst, most unnatural and violent start to a holiday I could imagine. Excruciatingly boring, uncomfortable, emerging from the airport with dry vacuum-packed skin, shocked and feeling like I’d been slapped by a giant.
But I’m a mum now. I’m toughened. It would just be one, long and terrible day and let’s be honest, we’ve all had loads of those just sitting in our living rooms.
Each morning, as take-off day came nearer, we’d look at our baby boy getting stronger and noisier and think about how the day was soon coming when we were going to have to hold him in a chair for 24 hours, within a narrow aluminium tube from which there would be no escape.
If you too are embarking on a long-haul flight soon then here is what I now know.
One: If you have a small baby then be aware that they don’t get a seat. That’s why their ticket is free. You have to hold them on your lap. So book the bulkhead seats right now, with the extra leg room and the little cot that sticks on the wall, or else… Good luck, brave traveller.
Two: Don’t look at Business Class as you get on the plane. Do not look at the seats and do not look at the people. You can’t go in there and the people don’t care about you. The curtains are swiftly drawn. Get over it quickly.
Three: You need to entertain your children from the first minute until the last minute. Break the time down into chunks and then produce something age appropriate and regularly from a magical bag of fun. Food, toys, games, magazines, presents. For my baby this had to be in five minute chunks, so we only needed 264 separate things to entertain him,
I must say at this point, publically to my daughter, Girl, you are the most amazing 5-year-old ever to have boarded a long-haul flight.
As I fussed over her, “Darling, do you need water? Fresh socks? Teeth brushing?” she would just lift one earphone, “Sorry Mummy, what?” and then say, “Oh, no thank you I’m fine.”
Flying with her was like sitting next to a well-travelled business executive. She just plugged herself in and got on with her things. Breaking only to have her meals or watch a movie before somehow falling asleep kneeling and face down onto her seat.
But to my son, Mummy does not shine the spotlight of glory on you here today.
He wriggled and raged as we passed him back and forth and walked him up and down, people smiling at us and saying, “How old?” as we chased him down the aisles and apologetically woke them up/knocked over all of their stuff.
Sometimes the baby would sit for a few seconds to eat something or watch something, press the call button for the 98th time or smile at the person behind who I gave an early exit to saying, “Honestly don’t feel like you have to smile at my baby because you really will end up wishing you were dead” to which she gratefully went back to her book and ignored his advances from then on. I envied her.
Anyway, eventually we got to Australia. And here we are to this day. Jet lag has subsided and the journey is just a terrible memory. Plus we all had a wonderful time at the wedding so no regrets. But seeing as we’re never going home, we’d really better start looking for schools and jobs.