[written at 3:45pm local time Saturday afternoon]
I am in a foreign city, looking out at a skyline of white and grey buildings, animated signboards and moving cars as I type this. The cosy apartment is quiet, adorned only with the muted sounds of traffic, the light snoring of the husband and the heavy breathing of the kids as they nap. It is the most peaceful 15 minutes I have had over the last two days as we took two semi long-haul flights and a night stayover in an airport hotel in making our way here.
We are in Seoul.
As the plane was landing yesterday we were greeted (very luckily) by a heavy snowfall. The kids’ very first snow sighting! My daughter’s eyes lit up and she started humming to the tune of “Let it Go” (because of the snow, get it? :)) The air was cold and crisp and as the cab drove us to our destination I observed how the place seemed strangely familiar with glimpses of landmarks seen only from dramas and people spoke the language which I so frequently heard spoken at the lunch table with my husband and his family every Sunday afternoon.
The flight here was interesting to say the least, now that we are travelling with a toddler who has just turned (“terrible”) two. We did not expect an easy journey and we did not get one either; not with a child who would not stay buckled in his seat, whinged for juice and chocolates every 15 minutes and demanded to sit with Daddy one minute and Mommy the next. We survived though and at least for now I can still say that it has not put me off travelling for the next 5 years.
For moms and dads who will be flying with a restless child in the near future here are some lessons which we learnt on our way here and things that worked for us:
1) Call up the airline and pre-book your seats early especially if you are flying in a larger group. There were four of us and for the longer leg flight from Singapore-Incheon we were able to get the four seats in the middle which made the trip easier than the 3+1 seating arrangement we had on the Perth-Singapore flight.
2) Airplane toilets are small, and the space would seem even smaller when you have to change the soiled nappy of your squirming two-year-old in there. Be prepared with all that you need before you go in, together with a toy that would distract your kid while you go about cleaning him in a cramped uncomfortable space. And go right before the long queue that takes place each time after the stewardesses clear all the meal trays – they are always kind enough to make way for you when you walk down the aisle with a kid in tow.
3) Lollipops saved our sanity, more than once. Initially I brought them to get the kids sucking on something on the way up and down so that it would help relieve the ear pressure; however every time my son became a little crazy and screamed to be let out of his seat (when the seatbelt sign was on) we would offer him one and he would relent. And as one lollipop would leave him contented for about 10 minutes, that gave us the break we needed to recharge for the next challenge.
4) The in-flight entertainment system did nothing for our restless two-year-old (worked wonders for the four-year-old). What worked better for him was a tablet with pre-recorded favourite shows and age-appropriate games which kept him occupied for a while.
5) If you are doing a long haul flight consider booking in flight times that would allow you to spend a night in a transit hotel and recharge (for you and your kids). Despite my pre-conceived idea of what a transit hotel would be like the Ambassador Transit Hotel at Terminal 3 of the Changi Airport actually turned out pretty good. The room was clean and spacious and the hotel was right next to the food court. The best thing is that you do not have to clear customs and pick up your luggage which gave us another hour to sleep in the next morning before catching the final leg to Seoul.
6) Go on the flight prepared, with the mindset that you probably will not get to watch a whole movie nor eat your meal in peace – if the kids happen to fall asleep for a couple of hours (which they might) then consider it an extra. Just try your best to be conscientious of people around you but also realise that you might come across unsupportive aircrew or difficult passengers who would balk at being sat next to children on a plane ; if that happens just ignore them and remind yourself that there is nothing wrong about travelling with your loved ones and that you are there on a holiday to have fun.
7) And finally, parents, if you are travelling on Singapore Airlines, have a Singapore Sling. They do them unbelievably well and it makes the whole situation more bearable.
Final note, I have not travelled on anything other than MAS and SIA for international flights with my children because from all that I read online SIA seems to be the preferred choice for parents. I have to say that they have not let me down to-date and what makes it better is that you get a lot of other families travelling on the same airline which means that you do not end up feeling like your child is the only one causing a ruckus and that there are at least 10 other families who are in the same boat, ahem, I mean plane.