• Sarah H

Story of a long haul flight with a toddler

A friend just told me that she's booked flights to New Zealand with her toddler and baby for later this year. It got me thinking about the long haul overnight flight we did to South Africa last year with our then 20 month old and while I was 13 weeks pregnant.


We'd read all the blog posts and tried to prepare ourselves as best as possible for a night flight with a feisty toddler who didn't have her own seat. We had snacks a plenty, a few cartoons on the iPad, stickers, books, bubbles and several changes of clothes for all of us just in case of worst case scenario.


Things started well. People around us were friendly and didn't look too horrified that they'd had the misfortune to have been placed near us by the seating plan gods. For the first hour or so our daughter was in awe of everything and sat pretty quietly.


Then she realised that sitting still on our laps wasn't actually that fun and decided she wanted to move around. I'd known she'd want to wander but had been a bit worried she'd get in everyone's way. Luckily the cabin crew were lovely and patient and didn't mind a knee-high whirling dervish bundling up and down the aisles.Letting her walk up and down kept her entertained, definitely entertained some of the passengers too because she wanted to say hello to everyone and burned off at least a little bit of energy.


Then she did a huge poo. If you've never had to change a toddler's pooey nappy in an in-flight

baby change, I wouldn't recommend you give it a go! Her vest was unsalvageable so that had to be abandoned to the bin and by the time we'd finished there was a pretty big queue outside but we'd crossed another hurdle more or less intact so all was good.


The next challenge was bedtime. Obviously we hadn't really thought about bedtime milk in our snack buying frenzy because I'd just figured we could get some on the plane. How wrong was I?! The only milk they had was in those tiny sachets you get with your coffee. Do you know how frustratingly slow it is trying to fill a baby's bottle with milk from those bloody sachets? I do! Plus they seem to be purposely designed so that it you even attempt to squeeze with a bit of enthusiasm the milk fires out in every direction except where you're trying to put it. After what felt like an eternity we finally had enough milk to give her and thankfully she drank it without a fuss even though I'm sure it must have tasted different to what she was used to.



I use bedtime in the loosest sense in the previous paragraph. Just because we'd put her in her pyjamas and given her milk didn't mean she wanted to actually sleep. She took the dimming of the lights as her cue to up the noise levels with plenty of shrieking and shouting. Our slightly frenzied shushing had no effect whatsoever but luckily a few episodes of Moon and Me calmed things down again.


I sighed with relief when she finally dropped off a couple of hours later even though I was in the world's least comfortable position. I was prepared to sacrifice the feeling in my arm and shoulder and the muscles in my back for what I hoped was a few hour's peace and quiet.


Then there was turbulence.

I ignored the seatbelt sign at first hoping the cabin crew would just let us be but sure enough they came to insist we buckled up. The beast awoke and she was not happy. Cue a mega meltdown while all of us had to stay pinned in our seats. As soon as the seatbelt sign went off and we were able to get up to do some rocking and pacing she calmed down but that definitely seemed like the longest bout of turbulence I've ever experienced. I'm sure the people around us who were woken up by her screams felt the same!



An hour and a half after we'd managed to get her back to sleep and I'd just started to doze off too, all the lights came on and breakfast was offered. At this point she actually did us a favour and I managed to neck a couple of cups of coffee and eat a bread roll before she woke up. She thought the breakfast was great and got stuck in to (my) sausage and egg and yoghurt.


We finally touched down in Cape Town after a very long 12 hours but we were all smiling and my partner and I had managed not to yell at each other too much. The only hurdle left was a short drive to our AirBnb up the coast. Admittedly I was so tired we had to stop by the side of the road so I could have a power nap but other than that it was plain sailing.



The couple of weeks we spent in South Africa were totally magical. We saw and did so many amazing things and watching our daughter grow and thrive on all the new experiences made the journey worthwhile. The travel wasn't what I'd call a fun part of the trip but I'd do it again in a heartbeat for the experience we had while we were there.




In fact we're already thinking about the long haul trip we should take next year before our son turns 2! I mean, how bad can it be right?


Written by Sarah Holmes

Sarah is mum to two little monsters - Skye who is two and a half and Max who is four months. She lives with her partner Kevin and the children in south west London and works as a journalist in her other life. Before kids she and Kevin travelled as much as possible and now they’re determined to try to show the children plenty of the world as well, finances and general sanity permitting!



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