Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Riding in Planes With Kids

We have just arrived home from our Thailand vacation, and let me tell you, the past 24 hours were not the ideal ending to our tropical holiday.

It all began on Thursday morning, the day when we were scheduled to check out of our villa. Now, in any normal person's world, that would also have been the day that we flew home, but...not so much in MY world.

You see, once I'd gone through all of the trouble of researching, finding and booking the rental house, I just kind of sat back and didn't feel any pressing need to actually, you know, think about HOW we were going to get there and back.

Long story short, by the time I got around to realizing that one must actually book plane tickets AHEAD of time, all of the flights out of Phuket on our friendly neighborhood budget airline were booked on Thursday.

No problem, I thought, I'll just email the rental house company and get us in for one more night. Obviously, the next day I got a response email informing me that new people were coming the afternoon that we were leaving, so one more night wasn't possible.

No problem, I thought, we'll just stay in a hotel for one night and leave on Friday. When we got to Phuket, we had a look around at some hotels and got some ideas where we wanted to stay. I went on a last-minute hotel deals-type website and was able to find a room at one of the hotels that we'd seen on the beach for a very decent price. Booked!

There, that solved that problem. RIGHT?

Well, it might have, if I'd bothered to think about our flight times for oh, say, two minutes and realize that 7:00 p.m was not really the most awesome time to make a 3-hour flight with two small kids. Which clearly I did not.

Spending one night in a hotel only reinforced my low opinion of staying in hotels with our kids. We had to wait 3 hours to check in and were informed that we could NOT, in fact, get a late check-out the next day (which would have really, really helped us out. A lot). What the hell were we going to do between our noon check-out time and 4:00 p.m, which was when we would need to leave for the airport.  OK, we thought, so we'll just leave our bags and go hang out by the pool.

The pool which, by the way, was so crowded that finding two free chairs together was a major accomplishment, so much so that I didn't even feel like an a@#hole when we left our towels on them all afternoon, even when we were sitting in the restaurant having lunch.

We spent the night alternating between turning off the lights and waiting quietly for the kids to fall asleep, and turning the lights back on 30 minutes later with an exasperated sigh and "Oh, for god's sake, let's just read and they'll go to sleep when they're tired enough!" while the kids rolled around, giggling and fake snoring.

Do I even need to tell you that when we woke up on Friday morning, the view from our window was of the gray, windy, RAINY sky? I didn't think so. Because of course there was no way that WASN'T going to happen.

Anyway, we passed the time (with the help of a $30 round-trip cab ride to the mall) and were ready to get on that plane and get the hell home.

If only the plane had been ready.

I know that to most people, an hour delay isn't that bad...hell, most people would probably say, "ONLY one hour? Not bad!" but those people are probably not traveling with kids. Because, you see, in Kid Time, one hour is really about six hours.

The true beauty of our situation was in the fact that our gate was situated RIGHT IN FRONT of the airport spa, so from our seats, we had full view of all of the childless travelers enjoying their delays by reclining in chairs and getting massages or foot rubs by aromatic candlelight.

That was awesome. Or so it seemed for THOSE people. At least I could enjoy the scent of the candles as the aromatherapy goodness wafted out of the door. 

The good news, I figured was that the kids would be so tired by the time that we got on the plane that they would just go to sleep for the whole flight.

Remember that sentence later on so that you can laugh and laugh at me and my delightful naiveté...

The OTHER good news was that we spotted another family hanging around our gate who had 3 kids under the age of four...THREE! We were counting on them to be our Deflect Family- you know, the ones whose kids deflect attention away from ours by behaving equally bad or (in the best case scenarios) WORSE. We figured the odds were in our favor; no family has three kids who all behave well all the time, right? I'm sure there may be some out there, but if there are, I've never seen them.

Finally,  after a few hours of feeding our kids nothing but french fries from the various fast-food establishments located around the gate, it was time to board. (Side note: you know how in the US, there is a push to include all kinds of healthy food options around airports, making it possible to buy salads, fruit and fresh juice for your kids? Well, those don't so much exist overseas)

We got to our seats, and the jackass in front of me immediately reclined his seat as far back as it would go, despite the fact that I was sitting with an almost-two-year-old on my lap. I really, really disliked that man, to the point that I only half-assed attempted to get Skye to stop kicking his seat. I actually encouraged it a couple of times. I may have even kicked it myself once or twice...or five times.

As we were preparing for takeoff, I got Skye settled, began singing her some night-night songs and got her to ALMOST fall asleep. That, apparently, was the perfect time for Kaia and Jabiz to get out the travel Shoots and Ladders game and start playing.


Needless to say, Skye bolted upright and took an immediate interest in their game. That interest was immensely bigger than any interest that she had in sleeping. I realized right then and there that the chances I had of getting any sort of rest on that flight were slim to none. Mostly none. But at least I realized it early on. Because bitter realization trumps bitter disappointment every time.

So, skip two hours ahead, and Kaia finally fell asleep about 40 minutes before we were scheduled to land, and Skye finally fell asleep....never.

However, the two bright spots about our flight were that Skye was at least tired enough to just kind of sit there on my lap, shredding the inflight magazine, and that our Deflect Family did not disappoint- their kids alternated 10-15 minute screaming fits every half hour or so, which allowed me to unclench my shoulder muscles and stop worrying about what my kids were doing.

This went on until the magical time that occurs about 30 minutes before we end any flight. That time is known as The Time When I Just Don't Care Anymore. I love that time, because I know that even if my kids start screaming and won't stop, or start jumping up and down on my lap, it won't last more than 30 minutes and I stop caring. Seriously, I JUST DON'T CARE.

This time has been shortened down over the years, starting with the year we traveled to the US with Kaia when she was six months old. We arrived in Hong Kong on our way back to Malaysia, and the flight home was only three hours. I declared at the Hong Kong airport that after the 15-hour flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong, I No Longer Cared What Happened. Seriously. I honestly thought to myself, "It's three hours, what's the worst that can happen?"

Apparently, the worst that can happen is that your six-month-old will proceed to scream inconsolably for no reason during the ENTIRE three hours. I quickly realized that I DO, in fact, care what happens for three hours. Three hours is a HELL of a long time. So, you know, I've had to pare that time down a bit.

Luckily, Skye was so tired by the time we got off the plane that she voluntarily climbed into her previously-unused-during-the-entire-trip-because-she-refuses-to-sit-in-it stroller and we had a relatively quick and calm airport experience. I knew there was a reason why we brought that thing, besides using it to hold my carry-on bag and purse while I tote Skye.

So, the main lesson that I learned from this is that night flights kind of suck, and should be avoided whenever possible with small children. Had I realized this, I would have tried to get a morning or early afternoon flight out the day after and spent another night in the hotel. I am glad to be home, though.

OK, so what lesson have YOU learned from traveling with kids?


  1. It's funny how Riding in Cars With Boys is the title of a reasonably good movie, whereas Riding in Planes with Kids is the stuff of horror films.

    Oh how I laughed at your 'Deflect Family'. Then I stopped to think about how many times we have probably been someone else's Deflect Family and suddenly it wasn't quite as funny anymore...

    For me, riding in planes is not the trickiest part of the equation. That part is reserved for those miserable hours before you actually get on the plane: the check-in-and-wait period.

    Lately, Griffin's favorite thing to do during that time is run.
    Much faster than I can run to chase him.

    You know how you judge people whose kids are running riot at the airport? We are that family.

    Griffin's propensity to run riot was especially interesting when he ran through customs when coming in to Bali one time. Eventually, he came back, but, having waited for ridiculous amounts of time to get a place in that sodding customs line, I was not going to risk losing it by chasing after him!

    (as an aside, this was also the flight where Miles left the huge wads of Indonesian Rupiah we had stockpiled over the years in the seat pocket of the plane, meaning our spending money diminished considerably. It was a miracle divorce did not ensue after that trip I tell you)

    I would like to suggest a couple of caveats to your Never Fly At Night rule:

    Firstly, never fly on Tiger Airways. Ever. They consistently change flights, and delay take-offs, so there really is no point flying with them at all. Particularly when delays take decent flights and turn them into night ones.

    Secondly, I think night flights are the only way to fly when the flight is for 10 hours or more. This is because on an overnight flight, there is at least SOME chance they might sleep, unlike a day time flight, where you get no rest whatsoever.

    And to make you feel better (because that's what I think the whole point of this swapping stories of our kids thing), be grateful that you are not the parents of this troublesome child:

    We were on our descent after an 11 hour flight home from NZ when Griffin started to cry. He complained of being hot, so I took off his jumper. Literally as we touched down, I picked him up and he vomited all over me. I asked for someone - anyone - to get me an airplane sick bag. Miles thoroughly destroyed TWO trying to open one (seriously, who can open those things in a rush?!), while Griffin vomited again, this time managing to fill up my shoe.

    Vomit-soaked, we were the last people off the plane. It was hideous.

    Or perhaps you would prefer to hear about the time I flew back from NZ with the 2 kids on my own (what the heck??), and Griffin decided to have a major temper tantrum as we were going through customs. He wanted to be picked up, but I couldn't carry him, AND the passports AND our carry on bags, ergo he wailed at the top of his lungs. At one point, I could be seen attempting to walk, with Scarlett in one hand, laden down with bags, dragging a screaming Griffin, who was clinging to my leg. It made for an amusing scene for the other passengers, that's for sure.

    All I can say, is that it DOES get better. On our flight to Cambodia, we had people congratulating us on our well-behaved children. Admittedly they were probably octogenarians who were likely hard of hearing, but that is by the by.

    When are you next coming to visit?

  2. We are coming in one month! I am very excited about that, and I think we're staying near you, at the Grand Mercure Roxy Hotel.

    Thanks for the comment, and the stories- you give me something to look forward to, in about one year when Skye will hopefully calm down enough to watch a movie on the flights.

    I would never judge a family for chasing their kids, given the fact that we took turns tagging each other in to chase after Skye in the airport. And I seriously bring her stroller with us for the sole purpose of holding my bags while I chase her or carry her. Because she sure as hell never SITS in her stroller...

    I agree about the overnight flights, those are great. But I am never going to take any flight that gets us into an airport later than 7:00 p.m again, unless there is literally no other alternative.

    Though, now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure that we are arriving in Singapore at 9:30 p.m...but that is ONLY because we wanted to fly in on a Friday after school so that we could have the whole weekend to spend with friends! See the sacrifices that we make for all of you??

    I hope that you're feeling better!

  3. Oh, and I'm pretty certain that we have served our time as the Deflect Family for several years. Especially when Kaia was young and we'd have to walk her up and down the aisles of planes for hours at a time...I KNOW that there were many families on those flights who said to themselves, "It could be worse, we could be THOSE parents! At least we're sitting down."

    One time, I was on a flight with Kaia when she was a year old, and she sat on my lap, wiggling and fussing the whole time. It was only a 2-hour flight, thank god, but the whole time I was stressed and just hoping that she wouldn't go into Meltdown Mode. Across the aisle from me, there was another mom who had a daughter the same age sitting on her lap, as well...except that HER daughter seriously just sat there calmly during the whole flight. She did not move, just SAT THERE! And I don't think she was dosed up on Benadryl or anything, because she looked pretty alert.

    And I have seriously never wanted to hit someone out of jealousy as much as I did that woman. I couldn't even bring myself to look across the aisle for fear that I would throw something at her.

  4. I had to laugh at your experiences - (I am sorry, but I had to). I spent many years travelling with 4 small children, all within 5 years from oldest to youngest, by myself from HK - Sydney -HK when there was no back seat video entertainment or kids packs, or ipads, or portable dvd players. I have blocked out most of the nasty (and now funny) experiences, but I know that I did resort to drugging the worst offender in the family - so much so that I thought I had put him in a coma. Guilty of bad mothering on that day!

    We were always the deflect family due to adhd, add personalities being a high ratio amongst the 4.

    I used to board the plane looking like a pack horse with diaper bags, entertainment, books, soft toys etc

    I relished the day when I boarded with just my hand bag - I felt liberated I tell you!

    It does get better! They do grow up and now I miss them when I travel by myself.