You want to know how not to travel, when you have a bunch of kids?
Well, probably something like this:
It is 2011 and we have just been granted Permanent Residence visas for Australia. I am more excited than my husband, because I spent some time in Aus before, and loved it.
We argue back and forth, the merits of flying straight through, versus having a stopover half way. I consult ex-pat forums, where of course, the advice is mixed. Just get it over with, some say. Pick a night flight and you’ll be ok. Have a stopover of at least two or three days, others say.
But what if we have a 12-hour hotel stopover half way, and the kids don’t sleep because they slept on the first flight? That’ll be an extra 12 hours that we have to go without sleep, on top of the 24 hours flying. We’ll never survive.
That turns out to be the clincher. We decide to suck it up and fly straight through. With four kids aged 5 and under, and a three-hour connection time at the airport in Dubai.
I am really excited. This is what I’ve been dreaming of for years.
We head to the airport, and get on the first 7-hour flight to Dubai. It is a doddle. The kids all sleep for a couple of hours. The hubby and I get to relax. So far, so good. Until we have to wake the kids up to disembark in Dubai. Now they are tired and grumpy, having been disturbed from their wonderful slumber.
We now have three hours to sit and wait for the next flight with kids who are frowning about as much as they would if we’d just thrown their favourite toys away.
Then they start to properly wake up, and that’s even worse.
Now I have the three-month old on my lap, and the older three wanting to scatter and meander all over the departure lounge. And they just can’t sit still. And to be honest, I don’t want to make them, because they have a fourteen-hour flight coming up, and will have to sit still for that.
Eventually it’s time to board the second flight. My husband was assigned seats with the oldest three kids, a couple of rows back from me. I have the baby in a bassinet seat. The only problem is that I’m stuck in between two rather tall guys who have obviously booked that row for the extra leg room.
“Ugh, babies,” they complain as they take their seats. Er, yes. If you will book the bassinet rows, you are likely to have to sit next to a baby, and most likely, a breast feeding mother. The lady on the other side of the row, cradles her baby and rolls her eyes, too. Her husband is also a row or two back, having been relegated in favour of the single guys who wanted their legroom.
I speak to a member of the cabin crew.
“I’m sorry, but I need to breastfeed my baby, and I have these strange guys either side of me. I don’t have enough elbow room to whip my boobs out discreetly, and they don’t look like the type of guys who would be able to be sat next to a breastfeeding mother, without wanting to hurl.”
What I am really thinking is somewhat less gracious, and concerns their stupidity in putting rugby player type guys next to nursing mothers. Don’t they have a brain?
Nowadays, I’d probably just whip out my boob, and they’d have to deal with it. After all, they did request that seat. Stupid them. That’ll learn ‘em. Don’t think they’ll do that again.
Back then I was a little more concerned, and was not wanting to put everything on display to guys whose faces would be about eighteen inches from my nipple.
So the cabin crew lady arranges for me to swap seats with another rugby player type, who is in a different bassinet row, ten rows further forward.
I send an apologetic look to the lady with the baby, who now has three guys next to her, but at least she’s on the end of the row and can turn away if she wants to. And I walk up the cabin, leaving my hubby with three wide awake littlies all to himself.
Then we are delayed for two hours on the tarmac, because there is a medical problem on board. The passenger and her husband are offloaded, and the hunt for their baggage ensues. Eventually it is offloaded too, but not before the internal phone in my seat rings, and I pick it up to find a very distressed hubby on the other end.
“I’m not going to make it. Really. I haven’t slept in about 20 hours already, and we’re still on the runway. The kids are wide awake and annoying everyone. I can’t do this.”
Hmm…maybe we should get them to offload our baggage, too, and we can just hang out in Dubai for ever.
Anyway, hubby’s rant is over, and everything settles down again. Our plane eventually takes off, and we try to relax.
A few hours later, the cabin crew bring out the landing cards. When you fly to Australia, each passenger has to fill in a card with their details and also letting the authorities know if they have anything to declare. I tell my hubby that I can’t fill them in, because the baby is in the bassinet which prevents me from getting my little tray table out.
“But,” I tell him. “We do have six cards to do, so perhaps we should do them before we land, to save time. I can swap seats with you for a bit if you want me to do them.”
“No. The girls have just fallen asleep. I can’t move. And I’m not filling in six cards. Surely it’ll just be one per family.”
Well, I don’t think so, and I say as much. But he’s tired, and stressed, and the oldest child has not slept yet and doesn’t look like he’s going to any time soon, and it’s quite clear that these cards are not getting filled in before we land. Big mistake. Huge. As we will find out later.
We spend sixteen hours in total on that plane, and my oldest child sleeps for only twenty minutes. The others manage a few hours. My husband manages none. Me either.
Eventually we land, and file our way into the airport. Hubby fills in the landing card for himself, and is absolutely determined that it’s one card per family, so internally shaking my head I follow him to passport control with the kids in tow.
They send us back. “Sorry, it’s one card per person.”
Okay. We walk back to the desk where we can fill out the cards, and we start writing. The kids are beyond tired, and are rolling all over the floor, crying. Loudly. My husband and I are about to start crying, too. We haven’t slept in 36 hours, and now they want us to fill in one card each? It’s too much. At least, it is when you’re about to keel over on the spot.
It’s amazing what lack of sleep will do to a person’s brain, and their usual good sense.
“That’s it. I wish we’d never come,” said my husband. “Let’s just get on a plane and go back home.” Bahaha! Yes, ok then. Let’s get back on a 24-hour (plus layover time) flight, and spend the next 36 hours awake, too, just so we don’t have to fill in these stupid cards. You know, the ones I thought we should do while we were still in the air. The ones, which admittedly, my poor hubby couldn’t do, because he was so busy pushing the kids’ feet and knees down off the backs of the seats in front, the whole time. Sixteen hours of constant foot removal, one kid then the other, almost like playing a rather large piano, only with feet and knees instead of keys. The kids were only trying to get comfortable, but the people in front didn’t see it that way.
Actually the kids were really good on the flight. We were just undone by the stress of trying to make sure they didn’t annoy anyone else.
We finished the cards. By this time, the entire plane load of people have gone through to collect their luggage. We are the only ones left in the whole place, except for two immigration officers who are waiting behind their little booth to check our passports. All the other booths have been vacated, too. At least the kids can roll around to their hearts’ content now.
We eventually make it through to the luggage carousel, where our lonely suitcases and car seats are still making their solitary way around and around. Fortunately, we have rented a massive car, which takes all of us and our luggage, without a problem at all, and we start driving.
After 25 minutes, I have to take over because hubby is falling asleep at the wheel, but at last we make it to our friends’ house. They tell us to go and sleep for a bit, and within 20 minutes everyone is comatose.
At least we made it. And we didn’t get on the plane back to where we had come from.
We now fly with a 12-hour layover time, and we sleep and eat at a hotel in between flights. It works fantastically. We keep the kids awake watching movies on the first flight, and by then they have been awake long enough that they will actually sleep at the hotel. Then they are rested enough to behave beautifully on the second flight, and are happy to watch the same movie ten times over.
In fact, since then we’ve always had comments about how excellent the kids are. One guy said to me once, “I’ve got to be honest; when I saw I had to sit near your kids, I was really concerned. But they were awesome. I didn’t hear one sound from them, the entire flight. I was pleasantly surprised.” Well, I do like to pleasantly surprise people. But it would be a lot harder, maybe impossible, without a proper rest half way and a whole lot of in-flight movies.
At least after that one awful experience, where hubby and I had lost the plot just as much as the kids did, we learned our lesson. And since then, it has always gone pretty smoothly. I’ve also taken it upon myself to fill in any landing cards while we’re still airborne.