over the ocean and through the skies: surviving air travel with a toddler
Despite plenty of practice over Munchkin’s first year of life, S dreaded our current trip stateside. With the possible exception of her first trip overseas with Munchkin when he was just 7 weeks old, she had not experienced this acute a level of pre-departure stress. Munchkin had just started taking his first independent steps when we last took him on an airplane, and we had a rough time on the flights. That trip was to Lisbon — a four-and-a-half-hour non-stop flight for vacation. This time, not only did we intend to take Munchkin on a much longer flight, but we also took advantage of the trip home to bring our dog back to the United States, which added several layers of travel anxiety to the mix.
S prepared for the worst. D’s insistence that we stick to the no screen-time rule until Munchkin turns two notwithstanding, she downloaded a multitude of kid-friendly apps and games onto her iPad. S mostly sticks to the no screen-time rule as well, though she cheats occasionally when he wants to be up for the day at some ungodly hour just before dawn and she can barely unstick her eyelids. It’s an option of last resort, but S wanted to make sure we had recourse to it for the ten-hour flight across the Atlantic.
Munchkin surprised us. If anything, he fussed even less during what ultimately wound up being a 20-hour trip than he does on average during a typical day at home. He was a bit cranky at the outset, but largely because we had to keep him confined while we checked in our dog.
Compared to all the hoops we had to jump through to get her out of Nairobi and into Chisinau, bringing her home turned out to be a breeze. Our vet had furnished us with the requisite paperwork, the vet at the airport hardly even looked at her when he did his inspection, and we were able to check her crate as oversize baggage, meaning that she was waiting for us with the luggage as soon as we passed through passport control.
We got an unsolicited but much appreciated upgrade to business class on the first leg of the journey, so the short flight from Chisinau to Istanbul was a breeze. We were supposed to have a 90-minute layover, but our flight to New York was delayed, which actually proved to be a blessing in disguise. Munchkin typically goes down for a nap around 1pm, and he was showing signs of exhaustion as we cleared security in Istanbul. As soon as we were through, we put him in his stroller and he napped for an hour while we waited to board our second flight.
The departure from Istanbul was a bit of a disaster. Not only was our flight delayed almost two hours, but we also sat on the tarmac for an hour-and-a-half after boarding before finally receiving clearance for takeoff. D kept Munchkin entertained by sitting him on his lap and reading all of his books several times over, but there is only so long a toddler can sit still, and Munchkin’s patience ran out just as the plane finally started taxiing. He did not want to be confined by the silly child seat belts airlines force on their youngest customers, and lost it.
To his credit, that was his only bit of crankiness in what proved to be almost 12 hours stuck inside the same airplane cabin. We read his books; he ran up and down the aisles, flirting with the stewardess and making friends with the other passengers.
Eventually, of course, we reached the hour at which he normally heads to bed. Once he started showing signs of exhaustion we tried to get him to lie down to sleep, which was much easier said than done. We put him into the bassinet with a bottle, but he is so big now that he barely fit and couldn’t lie down without bending his legs. After the first bottle, he sat up, reinvigorated, and S spent the next twenty minutes unsuccessfully attempting to wrestle him back into the bassinet while he tried to climb out of it.
He thought it was great fun, so we took him out. As long as he was in a good mood, D didn’t mind wandering the aisles with him some more. The second attempt was no more successful than the first. This time S cradled him while she gave him a bottle, but his eyes popped open again as soon as she transferred him to the bassinet. Giving up, S took a nap herself while D went again to play with Munchkin.
D finally got him to fall asleep on the third attempt, but it was a fitful sleep. After an hour he stirred and, unable to get into a comfortable position, started crying. D managed to get him to fall asleep in his arms for another 45 minutes before he awoke again. Barely awake, he crawled from D’s arms to S’s and mercifully fell back asleep on top of her. It wasn’t entirely comfortable for us, but we managed to get him to sleep through the last 4-5 hours of the flight.
The next battle is overcoming jet lag.