Traveling with Toddler

The last update that I reported was a bit of hesitation regarding the flight to North America. No one really wants to travel with a 16 month old; but knowing that we’d get to see friends and family kept us motivated.

In retrospect, we didn’t have much to worry about. On all of our flights, X handled himself well, and was as good as anyone could hope for. Our flight from Sydney to Vancouver was with Air Canada, and couldn’t have been nicer. The lady at the check in counter was friendly and happy, she went out of her way to find us a stroller that we could use in the airport, and didn’t mind checking on a few seating options for us.

While we were traveling in cattle class, the flight was largely empty, and the check-in counter had done what they could to ensure that everyone had at least an empty seat beside them, if not a whole row to themselves. Sarah, X and I were lucky enough to get a private row, in which Xavier had enough room to stand up; lie down; and play happily. He slept (mostly naturally) for a good 10 of the 14.5 hours we were in the air, and played quietly for the rest. Between the bag of toys/books/shiny things that we brought, and the 9 hours of In the Night Garden that we had queued up on the iPad, he had plenty to keep him entertained.

His next two flights – Vancouver to San Francisco, and San Francisco to Reno – were maybe less eventful. Both of these trips had been luckily booked during nap time. Xavier got hugely excited at the airport (Kid loves planes) and then crashed during the actual flight. 

Our trip back, however, was less pleasant. I can’t blame Xavier though, it was mostly a combination of wishful thinking that didn’t pan out, and traveling on a co-share with United Airlines. A few days before the trip, we’d check the flight online and there were loads of empty seats. However, when we got to the airport, the flight had somehow changed to be completely over booked. While we were waiting at the gate, at least 21 people were wait-listed for the flight. We had hedged our bets when we booked the ticket, and grabbed the less desirable seats at the back of the plane where the rows are only two seats wide, knowing that at least we wouldn’t have to share a row with a toddler unfriendly person. So it could have been worse, but we’d hoped it would be better.

The downside with those seats turned up just after dinner. I’ve never been in a place where so many bowels moved simultaneously. There were 8 toilets for ~250 passengers, and a queue 5 people deep for each of them. The flight stayed that way for about an hour following each meal service, and got worse as the trip continued. Toilets jammed, people made a mess, and United has a lovely policy preventing their attendants from cleaning the lavatory. Next time I travel on a 747, I won’t book at the back, but maybe a few seats up from the back.

I think the real shocker, though, is that if you travel United with a child in a lap seat, that child’s meal is not included in the airfare. If you travel Air Canada, it is, so no one had told us in advance that there was no food for Xavier on the plane. As we got on, I’d asked one of the attendants if X could have a bun to munch on during take off, and he shared this tidbit with me, prefixed with “This is NOT Air Canada.” So, I jumped back off the plane while Xavier and Sarah found their seats, and ran through the terminal to find some baby friendly food at 11pm. When I got back on the plane Xavier was already asleep. He stayed that way for 11 hours.

I guess I still really don’t have that much to complain about. The food was bad, the seats were cramped, the attendants were angry, the plane smelled bad, there was no food for baby, and there was a medical emergency requiring a doctor a few hours into the flight.

But, we had a row to ourselves, we did get X food in the end, the smell kept my appetite low, all of us got some sleep, and there was a Doctor on board so we didn’t have to land in hawaii.

The entire experience was still taxing, but not as bad as I’d expected. That said, I don’t see us making a trans pacific flight part of our regular family schedules.

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