Before I had kids, I dreamt of a bohemian life where I would travel with babies strapped to my back, on happy adventures as we jetted across the globe.
After having kids I realised that nothing strikes fear into the heart of a parent more than catching a long haul flight with babies and toddlers.
Parents who have done it speak in hushed tones, swapping stories of poo explosions in tiny bathrooms, of restless toddlers terrorising strangers and standing up the back of the plane patting inconsolable babies until they wanted to cry themselves.
I have done it a few times with varying degrees of success. There have been moments of utter terror, as my toddler had an epic mid aisle meltdown in a moment of exhaustion and frustration. He lay on the ground kicking all those who dared to pass him and scratched and bit me every time I tried to pick him up.
There have also been amazing moments, when on a recent overnight flight, both my kids slept soundly for five hours while every other baby on the flight wailed and yelled all night. I almost felt guilty. But it was a delicious smug sort of guilt.
There are a few important factors in making flights as comfortable as possible for your family and those around you. The rest is in the hands of the Gods.
It’s about survival, and you just need to do anything you can to get through to the moment when those wheels hit the ground.
The first almighty hurdle is the airport. Check-in and customs are excruciating for little kids, the only bonus being that if your baby chucks a major wobbly, the ground staff might give you a good seat out of pity.
The first thing to do is to find a play area in the terminal. There is usually something to play on that will help distract them from pushing duty free bottles of booze off the shelves. If you can tire them out in a play area, it might pay off later on. I only say might – kids get super human strength while in mid air and anything is possible.
Food is key. Kids hate plane food. But if you haven’t pre-purchased a hot meal for them, they will inevitably see someone else’s and want it. So you need loads of options. You also want loads of treats, but not too much sugar, because sugar and confined spaces are a deadly combination. I find a lollipop as you ascend and descend can be a good thing, especially if kids are nervous fliers or have ear issues.
Entertainment is equally as important as food. Screens are great, but make sure you bring your own kid sized headphones. The adult ones tend to slip off a lot and this can be infuriating. (You can actually buy the little 2 pronged thingamys to convert your one pronged thingamy which fit into most plane entertainment systems.)
Entertainment will probably not be an option for you. You will have to watch the same episode of Bob The Builder for three hours, sneaking a jealous glance at the woman next to you watching a new release while sipping on a red wine.
One day that will be you. But not today, my friend.
Books work too. But a five minute story doesn’t kill much time. On a long flight, time is your enemy, and fifteen minutes can feel like an eternity.
If all else fails, go for a walk. There are people to talk to, high five to give and other kids toys to steal. But be aware; those friendly faces from the first couple of laps tend to start faking sleep after the third or fourth lap. This is when toddlers often find it fun to poke sleeping eyes, which rarely goes down well.
Another crucial ingredient is comfort. There is a beautiful moment when little kids yawn and lean back on you. All that screaming and throwing food has really taken it out of them and if you sing thirty rounds of Twinkle Twinkle, they might just fall asleep. Be ready. It seems like a lot of bulk at the airport, but pillows and little blankets become truly magnificent items when kids actually go to sleep.
Finally, you need masses of patience, no easy feat when you’re sleep deprived and bored silly.
The most important thing is to keep trying. One day you will be the smug parent with two kids asleep, a book and a glass of bubbly.
*This first appeared in Nick Jr Parents Blog