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Top 6 Parental Nightmares during Long-Haul Flights

July 20, 2018

 

Here's the thing, being a parent doesn't mean you stop wanting to travel across the world. It just means traveling got a little bit harder. When we were planning to pull a long-haul flight from Manila to Geneva, we knew we were in for the penny, in for the dime. We couldn't pass up the opportunity, even if it means we will be travelling with our then 18-month-old son.  


It was scary at first thinking about the 16 hours stuck in the air with a baby, not to mention the 4-hour lay-over waiting for us at Dubai Airport. But as they say, growth lies outside of your comfort zone. I was confident that with my skill in research, and my husband's saintly patience, we will make it somehow, to Geneva and back again. The fact that I lived to tell the tale means we did. And I am here to share what we learned from our fears in what totaled to 40 hours of long-haul travel between Asia and Europe. 


Worst Nightmare #1 - "Four-piece Luggage and Baby makes 5"

You know it, we know it. Traveling with a young child means you practically bring the whole house plus kitchen sink. We're talking strollers and car seats, and sterilizers and baby bottles and clothes and diapers. Our miniscule 10-kilo baby's stuff could fill 2 big luggage, but it sure is impractical. So we decided to employ some hacks to lessen the load.
 

  • Instead of sterilizers, we brought with us Milton's sterilizing tablets. These tablets you can dilute in 5ml water, immerse the bottles and nipples for about an hour, and then they're good to go again. 

  • For baby bottles, we used Drop-ins. That means we only brought 2 bottles with us, and 8 replacement nipples plus the plastic drop-ins.

  • Diapers we brought was just enough to tide us over for the first 3 days. There are diapers everywhere in the world, and it wasn't worth the hassle to bring specific ones that will take up so much space. We decided to discontinue his cloth diapering while we were traveling, because I am not the kind of Mom who takes joy in washing poopy diapers during our freaking vacation. Sorry not sorry. Same goes for baby wipes. 

  • Strollers are very helpful if going to places with a lot of walking involved. It's a bonus that most airlines will allow you to stow your stroller bag for free (not counting towards your # of baggage or weight). Here's a tip we got from an Emirates employee: They weigh the stroller bag, but they cannot reject it no matter how heavy it weighs. Our stroller bag weighed 25 kilos because we loaded the winter boots and jackets in there, and it was no problemo.

  • Baby carriers are nice, if your back can take it. We brought ours with us, but since my husband and I were both out-of-shape, we could only use it for a few hours at a time. Carriers are fine during lay-overs, especially since we decided to check-in our stroller. But we were also overjoyed that there are free strollers available in the airports if you fly Emirates and that saved our backs. 


Because of these space-saving, lightweight measures, we were able to fit Dylan's stuff in half a large suitcase. It is important you know when too much luggage is just too much. You need to be able to keep track of these things, and not leave the baby behind by mistake, after all. 


Worst Nightmare #2 - 
"My baby started crying as soon as the plane started moving."
 

 

Okay, here's the thing. You just have to accept that at some point mid-air, they will cry and people would just have to deal with it. But your job is to mitigate the situation so that the baby will not cry the whole flight through. Mitigation measures are specific to each child, and what worked for one may not work for the other. You just have to go through it to know about it. Some babies just get plain uncomfortable during the flight because of the altitude. Their ears are built that way, and there's nothing they or you can do about it. I have heard that there are parents who give small gifts to fellow passengers, to sweeten the deal and avoid the dagger looks coming their way once the baby starts to sniffle.

 

But my husband decided that our interventions will be baby-centric. It was such a relief to learn that my child adapts to air travel well, that first time. What we did to avoid the ear discomfort was to make sure he was eating or drinking, especially during take-off and landing. So we gave him his milk, some biscuits and a lot of raisins. He was oblivious to the plane taking off and landing. He even laughed when we encoutered some turbulence. I wanted to cry with pride! My boy is going to be a wanderlad, like his wanderlass Momma!

Worst Nightmare #3- 
"What if my child poops up there?"
 

 

Poop is a dodgy issue. Your child may poop. He may not. Odds are, in a 16 hour flight, he will, so you might as well prepare. Here's what you will need:
 

  • a changing mat, preferably the disposable ones. In the Philippines, the brand Sanicare sells underpads which does the job wonderfully. Now, I chose disposables because you will be placing this mat on top of the toilet, or on the airplane floor if you have too. I am OC about having to use our usual re-usable mat being folded in and placed amongst my child's other things, thus contaminating itself. If you can find organic ones that are biodegradable, all the better, because you need this, OC Mommy. You do. 

  • enough baby wipes. 

  • a bottom spray (we use Mustela). Some parents prefer to wash their kid's butts after a #2. Obviously, you can't do that in an airplane bathroom. So they use sprayer bottles instead. Truth is, plain water will do. You spritz it after you get the gunk out, and the liquid will help make sure you get all of it. But I love how the Mustela bum spray smells, and it is gentle to my son's skin to boot (pun not intended). 

  • of course, diapers and rash cream if you use it.

Now, the hack here is this: I made separate packs per use which includes all of the above. Everytime we need to chage him, I just grab a ziplocked pack containing: 1 underpad/changing mat, a small pack of wipes, dry tissue, a trash bag, and diaper. His rash cream comes in a small bottle which I just grab off my purse. The same goes for his clothes, just in case he explodes a big one. I paired his shirts and pants, bib and socks, and placed it in a ziplocked bag, ready to be pulled out in an emergency.

 

For the 16 hour flight, I made 4 of these packs. We didn't get to use any of them though, because my lovely son did not poop at all. Not once during the flight. Not once during the lay-over. Both to and from Europe. Don't worry, he had nice ones upon arriving in our destinations, but I think you will agree. I won the kid lottery with a baby who can hold his poop together for the long haul, hallelujah! 

Worst Nightmare #4 -  
"What if my child gets bored, fidgets and throw a meltdown?"
 

 
First of all, know that you could do all the preparations and still have a bored child mid-flight. It depends on the child, and as the Mom (or Dad), you know what would hold our child's interest the best (and longest). What I did was to prepare Busy Bags for my son. I may have gone a bit overboard on this one. I made 4 different Busy Bags, as I was thinking 1 for each leg of travel will be needed. Each busy bag had at least 6 different activities inside. Yes, I was that kind of annoying Girl Scout Mother who pulled out all the stops. It was my first time trying to hold my son's attention for hours and hours straight and I wasn't sure what would work. So I made these:

Although I am super proud of my preparation, it turned out I didn't need all of those toys. There were things that held my son's attention longer, and it was a learning moment for me. That first long-haul flight informed me so much about what my child's proclivities are and it is still useful to me months later. There were toys he was too young to appreciate, and only started playing with them recently. But all in all, I call it a success. 

Another very useful option is a media tablet. For parents who do let their kids have some screen time, this is a no-brainer. But my husband and I are from the Moderation Team, so we only let our son use the tablet for a limited amount if time. The standard is 2 hours max per day, and we tried to stick to that while traveling. If we could do away without the tablet, all the better. But because we live in the real world, we also know that screen time is our secret weapon in our prepared arsenal of fun. Here's a link to which apps I let my son use at this stage.

Walking around the plane is actually very helpful for both you and the child. We are supposed to stretch our legs anyway, so why not bring the little one with you? It's also a great way to win charisma points (the child, not you) because only misers could resist your darling's adorable smile and wave while walking down the plane aisle. The problem here is how to get your child to go back to your seat after a walk-around. Our strategy? Cookies. :D

Also do note that the different air carrier companies have their own versions of children's kits. Emirates gives the kids a bag with crayons and an activity kit, plus a convertible soft toy/blanket. They give this at every flight, if your kid is adorable enough {I am kidding, they should give this out every time regardless). It gets boring though because it is the same kit over and over again. Still, it was a nice freebie for our son.

Worst Nightmare # 5 - 
"What if the airplane serves terrible food?"
 

 

Firstly, yes. In-flight meals were never haute cuisine in any dimension of this universe. At most, it is acceptable because it came with the fee you had to pay for the ticket. But your child may not like it. Emirates allows you to pre-order baby food online, upon buying the ticket for no extra cost. What I learned is that you have to ask for it because they certainly did not give it to us automatically all the time. I was baffled during the Manila-Dubai leg when they did not provide food for my son, when I remember clicking the baby food option. But like a ninny, I let it go. I brought enough food for him anyway: raisins, biscuits, his formula milk, baby food in sachets, yogurts, even fresh fruits. When we landed in Dubai, we made sure to eat more substantial food. Then to my surprise, my son was served baby food in the next leg of the flight, so I knew I didn't make a mistake. On the way back, my son was even served fish and fries, which he devoured. On the last leg back to Manila, we didn't get baby food again, but I let it slip because my son slept through the entire flight anyways.

 

My guess is, flights coming from and to Manila are biased and crappy, that's what. We were treated well enough in the Europe leg of our trip, but it was when we were riding a Manila plane when we didn't always get the service the passengers deserved. But I couldn't whine too much because there was a Filipino flight attendant in our last leg who made sure we got a whole row (4 chairs) so that Dylan can lie down flat between our seats. Bless you, good sir, and may your troubles be light. 

Worst Nightmare #6 - 
"What if I don't get my under 2 year old a seat and I get deep vein thrombosis during the long haul-flight?"
 

Hard.Better.Best (Photos documenting the different ways we managed our tot as a lap child)


Thrombosis is an exaggeration, of course. But it does sound kind of difficult to have a lap-child through a 16-hour flight, yeah? But hey, we managed. We didn't get the seat because we knew the money would go a long way during the trip instead. There were 3 of us, so managing 1 tottering toddler wasn't that hard. Well, barely. But it is do-able, definitely. Some parents out there even fly solo with 3 kids, their odds stacked against them, but they pull through. You will too. But if you are lucky enough to be traveling with your husband or other family members, brief them about the possibility of needing to take turns with the baby. I tapped out twice or thrice during the whole trip. But he knew the deal and he readily took it on. The parent will not be expected to make decisions while on tap-out. We survived being lap parents this way.

Just know that if your child is under two, they will still probably want to sit on your lap for most of the journey anyway. A seat comes in handy when taking off and landing because of the safety measures. My son did just fine with a child's seat belt linked to mine while he sat on my lap. It was also a plus that some of the flights we boarded weren't full so the attendants were nice enough to let us use the middle seat for our tot to sleep on lying down. It was heaven sent. I'd still do it if we can do it again. But if you have the money, then get the seat.

 

At the end of the day, the trepidation we had was bigger than what we had to actually go through. I guess expecting the worst, we over-prepared and small annoyances became mere blips in our radar which was built for exaggerated catastrophes. I have a feeling that yours will be just fine too. Chin up, Mom and Dad. The best time of your lives awaits!

 

photocredits to : Reddit, Getty Images

 

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