Flying with toddlers : Part 2 - Our successful 14hr + 7hr Plane rides to Africa and back.
If my last post of Flying with toddlers Part 1 was for readers to learn from my mistakes, this article boasts of what went well and why. I'm not going to lie. I really feel proud that I did my research, prepared, executed, and it really worked! It feels like a true victory after a brutal beating on the previous round, because not only it was successful, it was more than 5 times longer plane ride(21 hrs total one way!) compared to the last round to Cancun.
Our destination was Zambia, a country in Africa. To get there, we had two choices of 1 stop route since there is no direct flight from JFK. Air Emirates via Dubai, and Air South Africa via Johannesburg. The decision wasn't so hard. Airbus 380 vs. 340. Wifi vs. no wifi. World airline ranking #2(at the time) vs unranked. Plus, who wouldn't want to stop over in Dubai for an extra day? No offense to Johannesburg loving readers, but as a foreigner who hasn't been to either city, Dubai promised much more family-friendly tour sites that can be packed in one day.
The itinerary which we thoughtfully booked with the lesson learned from experience went like this.
NY-Dubai: 11 pm - 13hr flight - arrive at Dubai 9 pm, check in at Hotel, and sleep.
A full day of touring around Dubai, get back to hotel and sleep.
Dubai to Lusaka: 9 am - 7hr flight - arrive at 2 pm
Lusaka to Dubai: 9 pm - 7hr flight - arrive at Dubai 6 am, check in at Hotel, and rest.
A full day of touring around Dubai, get back to the hotel and rest until check out at night.
Dubai-NY: 2am - 14hr flight - 8am arrival. Home sweet home!
Our two children, at the time of Africa trip, was Emerald, 2 months short of age 4, and Daniel who was one month into age 2.
Now, let me tell you, with all those hours of flying, my two kids who had us go through hell on the Cancun trip just 7months ago, set the best example of how we all want children to be while traveling. I want to share what I did so parents who're preparing for a long-haul trip(or even a short one) can get some advice.
Let's start with few weeks before the trip. Few times a day and every day, I've let my kids know what's coming in near future. I've let them know we're going to see world's tallest building, world's biggest aquarium, beautiful beaches, and swim in the hotel pool. Then, once we arrive in Africa, we're going to meet with grandma and grandpa, go on a safari tour to see elephants and giraffes, crocodiles, and much more. Best of all, the plane ride to get there is super fun where you can eat snacks, eat delicious meals prepared by the plane crew just for you, watch endless cartoons, play games, play with toys, and even sleep! All that without moving out of your seat! Then I explained there might be unhappy moments were we have to wait, be in uncomfortable situations, but we can overcome it as a family because mommy and daddy will be with you. It worked. Mothers, you know our child the best. Excite them have them look forward to being on the plane.
On our night flight to Dubai from NY, we bathed them at home right before we leave, dressed them in their cotton pj's did the exact same routine we do every night. Instead of heading to bed, we got on a cab and arrived at the airport.
As soon as we got seated on the plane, I had both of them wear the Psi band, the anti-nausea wristband to prevent possible air-sickness. I had them sitting next to each other, by the window and middle seat, had them make themselves at home in their own spot. Their comfort blankets and pillows were ready, headphones were out, pillows and blankets were all positioned comfortably to prepare for a long night's sleep. Once the plane was up on the air with seat-belt sign off, we pumped up two fly-tots on each of their seats. Two fly tots pumped side by side functioned as a double bed on air at times.
Now, I say double bed on air "at times" because on few occasion, when there was air turbulence during mid-flight when they were sleeping, flight attendants going around checking on everyone's seatbelts kindly informed us that whatever position they're sleeping in, the seat belt has to be crossing their body. So at times, we repositioned the kids to use single bed position to sleep. See below for photo.
On the plane, they slept almost 10 hrs straight thanks to Fly-Tot. We love Fly-tot over other inflatable pillows because the construction is very sturdy. It does not wobble, it doesn't slant nor lose air, and its flat top makes a perfect for a child to lay over the two fly-tots. Pumping is super quick and once pumped soon after being on the air, we only deflated when the landing signal was on. There were many other children on the flight and the feeling of "Thank God that's not my problem" continued as we can hear children crying and throwing tantrums all throughout the ride. One father who was traveling with two toddlers even came by to ask where we purchased this amazing inflatable. Even few flight attendants came by and expressed their amazement on how well my children were sleeping so comfortably on it.
Headphones helped a lot too, especially PURO headphones because it blocked out most of the loud airplane ambient noise. My daughter fell asleep quickly, and when watching onboard entertainment movies, she stayed undistracted.
I've prepared surprise toys and tiny gifts for the long 13 hr flight but since the time they were actually awake was only 3 hrs, I didn't even get to use them! They were just too busy checking the plane, use the restroom, check out the window, eat their meals, play with the toys they brought and the toys the airline gifted to all children travelers. That was my feared 13hrs to Dubai turned out to be an amazing story.
For those who are interested to hear about our 1day 2night layover plus one full packed day layover coming back at Dubai, I will follow up with a blog dedicated to Dubai only!
Same for Africa! Africa within itself deserves several blog posts with different topics, but I'll see if I can trim it down to one since I've shared some through care box blog.
Flight from Dubai to Zambia was at 9 am, 7hours long. Morning flights are unfavorable, but we had no choice. We once again reminded the kids early that morning that we will be flying to meet with grandma and grandpa, and all the safari animals are waiting to see them. Psi bands were on, headphones were ready. Fly tot was pumped. My secret gift toys saw the light, onboard entertainment cartoons entertained them for an hour or two, and they napped for about two hours, and meals were served. Another easy breezy flight.
The flight from Zambia to Dubai was at 9 pm and it was only for 7 hours to Dubai. We get a short night sleep, but what was great was Air Emirates' free Dubai Connect system. If you book your flight through the Air Emirates and Dubai being a layover city, and if your layover wait time is 8 hours or more and less than 24 hours, they provide you a free hotel and a free transportation to/from the hotel, and free meals! We couldn't pass this awesome opportunity and made it happen. We arrived early in the morning in Dubai, took the transportation to a nearby hotel, and caught up with more sleep. After a good few hours of nap and rest, we went out for another day trip to Dubai.
Our flight from Dubai to New York was a very late night. Well, early in the morning the next day to be exact since it was 2 am flight. Since this time around the flights was closer to each other than outbound, we wanted to make sure kids have a chance to move their muscles and work out. So we spent the whole daytime at the hotel pool. All day at the pool, dinner, night tour at the Gold market in Dubai was enough to get them ready for a good night's sleep. Again, Fly-tot was put to work, and it did its magic one last time. 11 hours of sleep in total on 14 hours flight. Another win.
Spending a daytime at a hotel pool in-between the two long flights Em and Dan sound asleep on the return flight after an active day spent in the hotel pool.
Let me recap and add to some crucial points from above that really made big difference on this successful long-haul flight experience.
1. Get their minds ready I
- Get them excited for the exciting adventure.
- Also inform them about possible obstacles(waits, hot temperatures, long rides, etc), and that we can overcome it together as a family.
- Have them prepare for the obstacles themselves. Have them pack their own toys that they're going to play with when there's a long wait. Have them choose which movies/tv shows they want to watch when they are bored.
- I bought a children's flying book that shows what happens in the airport and read with them. This helps children to understand what's coming up next, and they actually get excited and pays attention to things in the airport and what they're doing now and what they're going to do next. (From check-inss to security to waiting for boarding, etc.)
2. Get their minds ready II
- Start training kids early - to sleep on the plane. I'm not kidding. Sleeping well on the plane is the best habit any child or adult can have. It physically prepares them for a new adventure ahead of them.
- Schedule flights so they can sleep/nap on the plane. Overnight flights are the best!
- Prepare them to sleep - whether it's their comfort blanket, stuffed animals, favorite pj's, favorite socks, strict routine before sleep, etc, set the mood and expectations so they know they're expected to sleep. Multiple occasions of sleeping on the plane will build up in their system eventually and it'll form a habit.
3. Prepare for motion/air sickness.
- Not being sick on the plane or long car rides makes a world of difference on kids(adults too!). We had children wear Psi band whenever possible and even had Dramamine Kids pills and Motion-ease bottle ready in our first-aid bag as a backup.
- Like I mentioned from the Part 1 of Flying with toddlers, especially if your children are prone to motion-sickness, do your best to get seats right on top of the wing, or toward the front of the plane if center wing seats are unavailable.
4. Products we could not have lived without.
- Fly-tot. Need I say more after all the writing above? Fly-tot saved our trip.
- Psi band. Surprisingly, they're very comfortable. Once you have it on, you really don't think about it. My almost 4 years old daughter had it on the entire flight hours. Why I like Psi Bands over other similar product is that it can get wet. Imagine you have one of these bands on and spill juice or milk. Or food smears on it. If you wash it, either you have a soggy wet band on your wrist, or just can't use it. Ugh. With Psi band, it's just simple as a wash with soap, tap tap! It's dry. Lastly, Psi Band is one-size fits all. No need for different sized bands. It can be shared with the family members.
- Puro Headphones. We love them. They limit volumes to a safe limit(85db) so parents can be at peace and not worry about headphones hurting children's sensitive ears. Even when the volumes are limited, there is no problem with using it on the loud plane, because it blocks out most of the ambient noise. It's comfortable, very sturdy and light, and as you can see, it's the best headphone design I've found in kids' headphones out there (IMO). Most importantly, my two kids have no problem having it on their head for hours!
Let me wrap it up with a note to parents who are preparing for their next trip with toddlers. My above success came from past experiences, a lot of researching, and preparing, but also with some lucks. My advice above might not work perfectly like a math formula on your trip because all children are different and all situations are different. But one thing that stays the same is that children will learn and grow from the experience, and the best move as parents are to give them the opportunity to experience, learn, and adjust from it. Family travels are the best place to start. Short, long, close by, far away, a big family or small family, luxury or budget, it doesn't matter. What matter is that through traveling children are encouraged to face new adventure and new obstacles and when such are experienced and overcome as a family, you can only imagine what positivity will grow in the children's mind. That's the main core value of our business too: To encourage parents to travel with kids!