Getting away for a family holiday is a great idea, right? Well, it can be. When it involves flying long haul with a toddler, it can bring some very unique challenges …
1. Clearing security turns even the most zen parent into a frazzled mess
The airport's fast-track queue for families and those with special needs is ironically the slowest line, as it takes so freaking long to unpack and scan every single item of baby paraphernalia. The rules of the conveyor belt are never the same (belts and shoes on or off? Ipad in its own tray or left in the bag?) so you inevitably get it wrong, leading to more delays. Baby milk and liquids need separate scanning, sometimes by a special little space-age machine which wooshes it away as you're left wondering if it's been contaminated with some terrible radiation.
Then for some reason the security staff think your toddler looks like a terrorist, triggering an individual search and a major tantrum. You try to deal with it as you watch your multitude of bags and baby items pile up and overflow at the end of the conveyor belt like some extreme episode of Supermarket Sweep.
And you haven't even boarded yet...
2. Travelling light is something that does not apply to you
No matter how much careful planning you've done, the sheer volume of water, milk, food, clothes, nappies and toys needed to survive a long haul flight with a toddler means you have already filled two carry on cases. Throw in a travel cot, pram and car seat and you've got more luggage than a Kardashian on an overnight stay.
3. You become a hypochondriac
Normally you let your kid play around in the dirt, but in the overcrowded economy section, where every passenger seems to be coughing and sneezing and no tissue etiquette is being observed, you become paranoid your little one is going to contract the latest global superbug. As a result, you go overboard with the hand santiser and wipes.
4. You live in constant terror of the "Fasten your seatbelt" sign
There is nothing a flying parent dreads more than the illumination of the "Fasten Your Seatbelt" sign. The sadistic captain turns it on the instant you have finally settled your overtired baby in the bassinet or coaxed your toddler into sleeping across your lap. Within seconds, an unsympathetic flight attendant is at your side loudly insisting you remove the baby from the bassinet or buckle a seatbelt around your toddler despite your desperate pleas. Cue waking already overtired children and a lot of screaming.
5. You turn down all the food and drink services on the flight
Free food and alcohol sounds like a dream, but not to the flying parent. For starters, the food and beverage cart and chirpy cabin crew equate to high risk of waking sleeping children. There's the rattling of the trolley, clattering of cutlery and shouting over you with the different varieties of wine available. "Move along lady! I've got a sleeping child across me with no room to put down the tray table, of course I can't eat!"
6. You relish going to the toilet … alone
If you can persuade someone to watch your child for a few minutes so you can go to the toilet, you'll savour every peaceful, quiet second as though you were on some kind of luxury retreat –
even though you are, in fact, in a filthy, unhygienic cubicle with men's urine swishing around your feet. You may even idly wonder if you could escape down the flushing toilet.
7. Clock watching
Never has time moved so slowly as on a long haul flight with a toddler. Even though you try not to look at it, your eyes are glued to the little countdown clock on the "Time to destination" screen – and it never seems to go down and, due to some evil time trickery, sometimes even goes up! What do you mean only five minutes have passed? We've watched three Peppa Pigs since I last looked at you!
8. You will get to know every hidden nook and cranny on the plane
Like an intrepid explorer, you will follow your toddler around the plane and discover every millimetre of the flying vessel. You will be astonished at the number of hidden cupboards in the various panels, play with the steward's phone, and test the special fold-down seats used for takeoff and landing. You may also have a mini panic attack when you realise your little one is swinging off the handle which releases the door in an emergency exit situation.
9. Screen-time is life saving
At home, screen-time is carefully restricted, but in the sky you don't care if your child's eyes turn to squares. On a flight, screen-time can be the difference between your child sitting on your lap for takeoff and landing or running wild down the aisles.
It's survival of the fittest in the air and your concerns about too much TV left the plane on a parachute long ago.