Thursday, October 30, 2014

Tips for parents handling toddlers alone on (multiple) flights

Last week, I made a trip not many Daddies will make, not because they cannot handle it (because I believe many can), but because they either will rather not take the risk, or will not be allowed to by other members of the family.

I took Noah back to Sarawak by myself. It sounds simple, but it's more complicated than it looks. There are no direct flights from Bangkok to Sarawak, taking the easy way out in terms of flight timing choices means I had to transit at KL via a famous budget airlines, which meant my luggage could not be checked through the whole trip. Furthermore, I had to visit 2 cities in Sarawak. It finally translated to a mammoth task of bringing Noah on a 5 day trip which involved 5 flights, 3 cities and more than 24 hours of travel time (including transit).


Noah extremely bothered by the loud announcements at the airport

Having brought Noah back to Bangkok in one piece, I think it should be time to share with other parents my personal tips to handling toddlers alone on such daunting trips.

1. Be fully prepared in advance, don't play games with time

To be extra cautious, I made sure every leg was checked-in online. I went to the airport early and once I got my boarding passes, went through the immigration and located the boarding gate without delay. I would rather reach the boarding gate and relax there with my child than to risk missing the flight if anything went wrong during another activity far away from the boarding gate.

Use the same airlines to complete your journey if possible, as they will be more willing to help you if anything screws up during transit (can also check the luggage through if not a budget carrier). If like me, you have no choice but to use a budget carrier over multiple legs, make sure you allow ample time (at least 3 hours) between flights in case your first flight delays. It's better to be safe than sorry.

Flight 1: Bangkok to KLIA2

2. Choose the right seats

Even though my son is 2, my budget airlines incredibly seated us apart for 2 of the 5 flights. This forced me to pay extra to ensure we sat together. This is a very big reminder to everyone taking budget flights, if you did not check this properly, you might have a lot of unnecessary negotiation to do on the plane itself. Not good with a potentially cranky kid in tow.

My other advice is to not have the child seated by the aisle. Firstly, an aisle seat could give him/her the freedom of getting off the seat and start walking along the aisle (not what you want if it is not your choice). Secondly and more importantly, I would not want to run the risk of him/her getting hit by an unknowing passenger or even the push cart along the aisle. It will also reduce the chances of him/her getting hit by a falling luggage from the overhead compartment to zero (yay).

Flight 2: KL to Sibu

3. Prepare a good carry-on bag

Try to spend some effort preparing a bag which contains all the essentials for you and your child. If you forget anything, don't fret, most airports will have shops to sell what you need (unless you forgot your passport or wallet of course). A simple checklist will be as follow:

- Passports
- Boarding pass (if checked-in online)
- Wallet (money, credit cards and insurance cards)
- Snacks
- Water bottle
- Pen (to fill in arrival/departure cards)
- Mobile phone
- 1 book for your kid (just 1!)
- Extra battery or power bank (you do not want to lose communication at any instant during the trip)
- Little toys (I brought a little car and a turtle soft toy)
- Carrier (if your toddler likes to be in it)
- Extra clothes and diaper (bring 2 sets if possible)
- Tissue and wet wipes

Flight 3: Early morning flight from Sibu to Kuching



 4. Travel light

What? After that bloody huge list I gave above?

Yes! I had everything in my slingbag and my bag did not weigh over 4kg. Note 1 missing item in the list, the laptop. The smartphone is more than capable of addressing our emailing needs and if you are going to be the one and only caretaker for your toddler throughout the entire trip, you probably will not have time/energy to be at your laptop anyway.

You need to travel light because your toddler is heavy, and if you have check-in luggage your hands are going to be full in between flights.

Flight 4: Afternoon flight from Kuching to KL, sleepy-eyed Noah snoozed for the entire hour and a half

5. Keep the kid well-rested, full and hydrated

As I have shared in a previous post about bringing a toddler for a staycation, I have to emphasize again the importance of keeping your kid well-rested, full and hydrated. Diet training can resume tomorrow. If your kid wants only fries, cookies and cupcakes, my suggestion is not to let them go hungry.

I was fortunate enough that Noah sleeps pretty easily on planes as long as he's tired enough. It kept him in decent spirits throughout the long journeys and I recommend that you do your best to find a suitable environment for your kid to sleep as well.


6. Keep an eye on your toddler at ALL times

I can never forget my wife's warning. In one of our discussions leading up to this trip, she told me, "We cannot afford to lose him."

I shuddered as I read it, and it reminded me to be extra vigilant. I am usually a very trusting person, but we really do not know the dangers lurking around the corners of international airports. Losing contact with your child, even for a split second might result in irreversible regrets. So my final reminder is that, your phone can wait, your messages and emails can wait, Mark Zuckerberg will always be there. Treasure every moment with your child and use it as a precious opportunity to build an even stronger bond with him/her. Don't lose sight of your kid, it's not worth it.

Flight 5: KL back to Bangkok. His worst-behaved flight of all, but it overlapped with his bedtime so it's understandable.

During the descent of our final flight of the odyssey, Noah suffered a major breakdown. He started wailing for Mummy and refused to sit on his seat and put on his seatbelt. All of a sudden, the plane went through a period of the worst turbulence I had ever experienced in a plane (trust me, I've sat in a lot). Noah finally relented and sat motionlessly in his seat, holding my hands tightly. After 10 minutes of roller-coaster style excitement and shrieks of fright from fellow passengers, I could finally catch my breath.

Impressed with Noah's great behaviour, I thought to myself, "Maybe this has been the very best training for Noah of the importance of putting on a seatbelt in the plane." Then I looked at him again, close-up. He had long fallen asleep! So much for the training!

In any case, I hope my experience will help you in some way or another. Just be prepared, and everything will be ok. Happy flying!


PS. Noah, if you ever get to read this, Daddy wants to say thank you to you for being such a great boy during this very tiring adventure. We could get through this more because of your good behaviour than my competence as a Dad. I hope our bond has gotten stronger along the way, and here's to many more father-and-son escapades in the future!



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