Big Families and Long Flights!
Every other year my large brood embarks on a journey to my in-laws which includes a 24-hour flight. This is a trip year and with take-off quickly approaching, my anxiety levels are on the rise. A few weeks ago, while flying home solo from a conference and enjoying the peace, I was struck by a horrifying thought – the next time I board a plane it will be with them …my five children. Traveling can be stressful for families of all sizes, so you can appreciate the gravity of this undertaking for a family the size of mine.
The mayhem begins at the airport with the inspection of passports times seven as the children play “dart around the line-up”. Later, as we board the plane, I am greeted by the rows of passengers physically recoiling in their seats at the sight of us. Their facial expressions speak volumes – “if there is a God, please make this hideous family walk straight past me and to the back of the plane.”
But I have learned a few survival tips along the way. If you too want to avoid the urge to throw one of your children out of the airplane window, I suggest you take heed:
1) Be prepared, but also prepare the airline for your family:
• Long before the flight date, I send a letter to the airline with my list of requests and expectations. It is a list that might be described as cheeky and demanding. I’ve included requests like bypassing lines and expecting airport assistance at all times. I communicate my child-sized meal requirements and inform them that the double stroller will be with us until we get to the gate. I ask that any issues with my requests, be relayed to me by a certain date. And I bring a copy of the letter with me when we travel;
• If you need a wheelchair, request one. On our last flight I was a few weeks post-surgery with my fifth c-section and there were many privileges that went along with having that wheelchair;
• If you have an infant, demand a skycot. There are never enough to go around and the squeaky wheel gets the grease, so get squeaking;
• Book your seats strategically. In a row of three seats, we book the aisle and the window. Hopefully the middle seat remains unreserved, leaving you with the extra space to stretching out the little ones. If it does get booked, the passenger will normally happily trade with you;
• If you are bringing a toddler along, bring a car seat. Strap it into the child’s airplane seat to give them somewhere safe and comfortable to sit, eat and sleep.
2) Don’t get caught short:
• Pack like someone is going to vomit or get the runs for the entire duration of the flight and you will be well-prepared. For me, that means I pack clothes that will fit several of them. If I bring gender neutral size 5 clothing, in a pinch most can wear them. Aside from dressing in layers, each child packs one spare outfit in a plastic freezer bag. Generic sizing allows for flexibility;
• Hand out the pull-ups. A 24-hour flight is no place for accidents. Even my older children have to be pretty persuasive to get out of wearing a pull-up on a journey of that length;
• Need help getting children to go to sleep? Learn your drugs and don’t be afraid to use them – with the guidance of your friendly neighbourhood pharmacist, of course!
3) Food and Entertainment:
• Bring food. I don’t think my children have ever eaten anything served on a plane, other than a piece of bread; even those kid friendly meals have a bit to be desired;
• Invest in a hand-held video game for older children. Gadgets are a mother’s best friend on a long flight. For the smaller children, have a bag of tricks handy. Periodically pull out something new and entertaining like stickers or books;
• Find yourself a young backpacker to help you on the flight. Slip the backpacker a few bucks and you’ve got someone who will happily play crazy eights and do colour-by-numbers for hours.
My ultimate survival tip is to take a deep breath and remind yourself that at the end of it all, it’s really only one long bad day. We can do anything if it’s just one day, right? No matter how the flight unfolds, my experience is that I’ll arrive at the baggage collection exhausted and emotional and be met by an angel. She’s normally found in the form of an elderly woman who touches my arm and tells me that my children are gorgeous and so well-behaved. I know she really means she considers herself lucky not to have been seated near us on the plane. But in the bleary, travel-aftermath, it’s exactly what I need to hear.
*Julie Cole is one of the founding mom entrepreneurs of Mabel’s Labels Inc. and the proud mother of six.