Long haul with an 18 month old Joseph. What the actual fuck was I thinking? You know those little toddlers you see charging around the park. Extremely vocal, extremely boisterous, utterly adorable but you’re utterly grateful that your small person is not that wild. No fear for themselves or indeed no fear of anything. Well that’s Joseph.
Not far behind this whirlwind you will find me. Trying to seem like a totally cool, in control yet zen, relaxed mother but secretly body slamming the swings to stop them decapitating my baby and try-scoring-style diving onto the floor to provide a human crash pad as he calmly steps into the unknown again. Yep this is Joseph and I, working in harmony to keep him intact, like two streamlined stuntmen. I knew it was going to be a tough nine hours. I wasn’t wrong.
Why do it then, you may ask?
Well selfishly there was a 24 hour flight between my baby brother and I. As he planned to be in the States it seemed logical to meet him there. A family holiday with us spending time with my brother. It was worth the flight. I had lots of advice before we left. Lots of new toys, sticker books, tiring him out before the flight, filling the iPad with every episode of Peppa Pig known to mankind. I was set, I was prepared, I was nervous – my other half was more nervous. We knew it would be hard work but we just wanted to survive the experience without pissing (too many) people off. We’ve all been sat next to ‘those’ kids on a flight.
I’m not going to lie it was bloody hard work.
If there was ever a person with the least risk of experiencing deep vein thrombosis from being inactive on a flight, I believe it was me. I truly wish I knew how far I’d walked during those nine hours! Joseph was wild with excitement. His eyes were popping out of his head and he had that slightly manic look at about him which never bodes well in toddler terms. The temper tantrums were plenty but were swiftly intercepted with snacks, the Spider-Man figure or the iPad!
Here are my top survival tricks for flying long haul with a toddler:
All the advice says buy new toys and bring them out sparingly throughout the flight. This works to an extent. My bag was stuffed with lovingly collected ‘new’ toys mostly bought from nearly new sales or charity shops for Joseph to get excited over. I had jigsaws, a bag of small cars and trains, a bag of dinosaur figures, sticker books, a rather effective fake iPhone. All things that were probably classed as 3+ but I knew he would love. Some worked better than others in distracting him for more than three minutes.
The emergency equipment
Every parent should have something they absolutely know will calm the toddler in the middle of an almighty meltdown. For us it was Spider-Man and Iron Man figures borrowed from my 7 year old nephew. Joseph is obsessed with these older boy toys. Spidey and Iron Man hid in my rucksack until that tantrum that threatened epic proportions arrived. In Joseph’s case it was after we stopped him charging full pelt at the curtain separating us from business class for the 47th time and narrowly missed landing
a. in the food trolley
b. In the lap of the British actress who played Moll Flanders.
I seriously didn’t want the shame of peeling his sticky banana fingers off of Moll Flanders’ pristinely dressed bosom so out came Spider-Man and Iron Man to save the day.
Without question, stuff your bag full of whatever it takes. I had all the organic, child-friendly crisps, yogurts, fruit shapes etc etc. I also had Mini Cheddars and the dessert off my in-flight meal tray on standby! Your child will probably eat more random stuff in that day than ever before but hey, whatever it takes!
The iPad has always been one of Joseph’s weaknesses. He thinks Peppa lives in it. On a day-to-day basis we try to limit screen time. If he can’t see it he doesn’t ask for it. On this flight I wouldn’t have cared if he’d watched it for nine hours! I knew he wouldn’t be fobbed off with it for that long so it was therefore brought out for take-off, landing, seatbelt signs and so forth. The last two hours of the flight he was truly flagging and sat in my lap watching it for a long time. It was a peaceful two hours except I didn’t move an inch in case he sensed my movement and suddenly remembered how much fun running up and down the plane had been.
Which brings me onto the plane
The plane is an amazing place for a toddler. Long aisles with all those people to gabble to. Metal trolley and ladies pushing them that need to be pushed past. Curtains just asking to be body-slammed. And then, there’s the running. All the wonderful running they can do up and down and up and down. I’d considered this before flying and knew that as soon as Joseph realised he could run up and down my life would suddenly become harder and that’s all he would want to do. So the aim was to distract him from realising this for as long as possible. After take-off and before everyone needed the post-drinks trolley loo trip I spent 45 minutes hiding in a loo with Joseph. After nappy changing we had a great time playing with the sink, looking in all the cupboards and passed a good amount of time taking all the paper rubbish (sick) bags out of the cupboard and putting them back in. Hygienic, probably not. Passing nearly 1/9th of the total flight time with minimal disruption to the other passengers, absolutely. Mum win right there (After I antibac-wiped the life out of him).
A good few hours was then spent playing with toys, watching some Peppa and eating and then he was starting to get extremely tired. Somehow We managed to force him in sleep and he slept for nearly 2 hours. Exhausted, I slept too whilst daddy made sure Joseph didn’t roll off me. (Top tip: take a normal sized pillow on the flight. Whether it’s a baby or a toddler the child will sleep on the pillow on, across you. This worked a treat for us. The pillow being cooler and more comfortable for both of you.)
So after sleeping we had about 4 1/2 hours left of the flight and 2 1/2 hours of that were spent running up and down the plane. I’m sure this was monumentally annoying for passengers who repeatedly saw Joseph and Joseph’s mummy pass them yet again. I let Daddy off the hook of this block of time as I knew he needed a rest as he had to drive when we landed. I read somewhere that surviving long haul with a toddler was really about putting yourself in the mind of the toddler. Once you do that it becomes easier. And it did. Once I accepted that the most fun in the world for him right now was exploring (doing sprints) up and down the plane I just relaxed and embraced the moment. Stopping him from doing what his toddler mind wanted may have made some passengers be slightly less annoyed by him for a millisecond before all hell broke loose and he started protesting. Letting him explore with me on his heels whilst sensibly intervening when it came to things like the aforementioned business class break-in or the food being served (cue another 15 mins playing with the sick bag drawer in the toilet) it was tiring for me but hey it passed the time and Joseph was as happy as a kid in a sweet shop.
And so we made it and survived.
I’d concluded that 20% of the passengers were lovely. They’d smiled at me as I passed their eye line yet again. They laughed at Joseph’s infectious, cheery babbles. Some played peekaboo with him. Some just gave me an understanding wry eyebrow flicker which spoke a thousand words. But there was a good 80% who literally couldn’t do so much as make eye contact, in particular the people surrounding us and the flight crew. I imagine we were unlucky as I’ve heard great things about flight crew and children but I don’t think one member of the crew asked us once if we needed anything for him or checked if we were okay, which I did find strange. And as for our plane neighbours maybe it just wasn’t their way to be friendly to strangers with a noise inducing toddler. I’m not going to stereotype anyone, I totally get it. Nobody really wants to sit near babies on a plane but it did sadden me that even when we apologised upon leaving for any disruption they still weren’t friendly.
In the great scheme of things all Joseph’s ‘loud’ moments were intercepted with fun distractions within seconds so they really had got away with it lightly! But like everyone says – who cares you’ll (hopefully) never see them again. So as the plane touched down and skidded to a halt my other half and I caught each other’s eyes and breathed a sigh of mutual relief. We had a wonderful holiday and it was all totally worth the travel effort.
Two weeks later there was the night flight home. And that my friends is a story on a whole other level. Luckily we can laugh about it now!
Liz is a first time mum hurtling towards her late thirties. Once surviving a high-power career on a mixture of caffeine, adrenaline and Sambuca-filled Saturday nights she is now one year into her new-found path as a mummy to Joseph and still trying to pretend she’s cool whilst watching Peppa Pig far too much. You can read her blog
Image credit: Liz Ormesher