“It was a catastrophe” I admitted when a friend asked me how our last flights to New Zealand went. After a more detailed story the friend commented that the only thing that did not go wrong was that nobody threw up. A pretty good summary; all planes late, all connections failed, three nights waiting for hours by the gate for a plane to take off (you know those times when you need to wait only 20 more minutes… for about 17 times?), an airport to get back on track after a tornado, our luggage to be located (lucky we had to wait so long at the airport that the luggage was found before we continued) just to be rerouted or to get a hotel, two family members in fever, one with a penetrated ear drum, hours spent on international calls to reorganise connections, rental cars and hotels, and a desperate half an hour jog to make the last plane that was about to leave ten minutes after we landed. That was the only one we actually made.
For the first time since flying with kids I took a book along. The plan for me was to read when kids watched a movie, then some crafts like I usually do with kids on flights, meals and sleep. But after the first night I was too tired to even consider reading: I had slept 45 minutes and we hadn’t even left Helsinki.
The first night our children were excited to be allowed to stay up till about midnight, when the plane was about to leave. Towards 2am they were less excited and more tired. They got some 3 hours of sleep in the hotel where the other one developed a cold and fever. We consulted a doctor who said there is no medical reason not to fly, got some medicine and found out that no travel insurance will reimburse anything if we cancel due to a cold (the fever doesn’t make a difference). He pretty much slept for the next 24 hours, watched some kids programmes but entertaining him was pretty easy (carrying him and carry on luggage more of an act of an octopus).
With the healthy child we played with Playmais (excellent on trips, light and not messy), built a farm with paper animals ready to be folded (I bought them from Tiger and they served well all the way to Christchurch) and she did some fashion designing. But both kids were too tired to create imaginative games with cars or Barbies. Of course she also watched some children’s programmes. But this child, who usually is good at unwinding herself couldn’t in the airplane, she was far too tired. We tried a few things to help her relax but the one good way to get her to relax (followed instantly by sleep) was to put classical music on for her. Classical music, what a life saviour!
At the airports we encouraged the healthy child to walk and explore (among others the Christmas trees at the Hong Kong airport), utilised play areas and also read for both kids, played domino and a couple of other easy games (which also may help when waiting at a restaurant for food…).
In some ways this trip to the other side of the world was still easier than the ones we’ve done before: the first time we had a 4,5 month old baby and by the time we got to Amsterdam we had gone through 3 of the 4 changes we had backed in the carry on luggage. The second time we had a 2,5 year old and a 1 year old that would not stop walking. Goes without saying that they did not sleep at the same time either, and I guess the highlight of that trip was when we, at the gate in Bangkok at midnight, were told by the staff we couldn’t board and were rushed to a hospital with a child that out of the blue started to throw up and would not stop.
But kids seem to know when we really need them to step up: this time, even with three extremely late nights and long airport waits, our children, in my opinion, behaved well. We tried to always explained the next bit and what we expect from them, and they obliged. Of course it helped that it was exciting too. I was happy to hear a stranger at the security check compliment the kids on their good and brave behaviour. It made them proud and I’m sure will help them focus the next time too. Of course they went a bit crazy at times trying to climb a few things not meant for climbing and running like maniacs were there was the floor space for it, but that was all right, they are kids, and they stayed in line when we needed them to.
So, honestly, no huge tricks there, just the right state of mind, simple stuff to do, a few things to choose between, doing them together when kids wanted or needed it, helping them unwind, staying calm and telling kids what was about to happen, and they did it. It all went so well, that we are hoping to organise time off for Australia in 2017…
PS In Auckland we found some Magic Colouring Books and they would be excellent for flights – simple but exciting with the surprise turning up when colouring with the same marker all the time.