When my sister-in-law moved from Britain to Australia, I was looking forward to holidays in the sun, surfing lessons and shrimps on the barbie. And the reality wasn’t far from that, until she decided to get married in 2016. What was meant to be an exciting and memorable experience turned into something a little more nerve-wracking for us… because we were travelling with our two year old boy.
Our son began his terrible two period when he was about 18-months old and was really perfecting his tantrums, meltdowns and stubbornness by the time we booked the flights. Our apprehension levels were peaking with the thought of a 14-hour flight from Dubai to Sydney and that’s ignoring the 7-hour flight before that.
We’d taken our boy on two long-haul flights before, so it wasn’t his first experience of spending hours cooped up in the cabin. But this one was twice as long with twice as many opportunities to scream the plane down.
The one thing going in our favour was the ample time we had to prepare for the trip. We had learned a lot from our previous flights and although he was younger and more predictable then (ha, as if kids are ever predictable), at least he was used to the routine. And it was this prep that made the trip bearable and almost stress-free.
Although it’s almost impossible for a long-haul flight to pass without incident, he was absolutely golden from the moment we left our house, to the moment we arrived at my sister-in-law’s house, 27-hours later.
Was this a miracle or did we manage it?
Ah maybe it was a bit of both, but I’ll take you through what we did in preparation.
Long before the flight, we talked to our son about the trip and that it would include a long time in two planes. We emphasised the importance of behaving well and this regular discussion did get through to him as he began asking us questions about it. We wanted to prepare him for the journey but also to embrace it as part of the holiday.
Before flying, we bought a number of small rewards, like toys, books and even snacks, which we wrapped up for him to open. We gave him one in the airport and told him that if he was a good boy, he would get more opportunities to earn one of these.
We’ve since evolved this to create a sticker system, whereby if he gets three stickers for good behaviour, he’ll get a gift and this worked really well. We carried this system through the holiday and it got to the point that he would be asking us whether he’d been good enough to get a sticker.
We also got him a pair of child-friendly headphones before we flew, with an adapter so that he could use them to watch the TV in the back of his seat. We actually got him used to wearing these in the weeks running up to flying so that he was comfortable wearing them. He was really excited about wearing these on the plane and as he was used to them it didn’t become a battle.
We also took some books, play-dough and puzzles on the plane as activities, although I was worried that the play-dough would become missiles and he’d target other passengers. Luckily, this didn’t come to fruition.
We flew with Emirates and we knew that they were good with kids. At the start of the flight, they give all kids a cuddly toy that doubles as a sleeping blanket and a sketch pad to play with. The food for kids was good also and they were generous with the snacks they had on offer.
We all suffered with jet lag to an extent although he got into his normal sleeping routine within a day. The wedding went well, although he didn’t like wearing a shirt in 25 degree heat and who can blame him.
We flew home via ten days in Thailand, which broke the journey up. Once again we deployed the above techniques and the little man was excellently behaved. Parents of the year we may not be, but when it comes to flying with children, I think we’re doing pretty well.
I’ve just jinxed us, haven’t I?