My husband and I recently decided to pack up our lives in Northern Ireland and move back home to New Zealand with our boy, Charlie, and seven-month old identical twins Tommy and Henry.
Our journey included a two-hour drive to Dublin followed by three flights spanning three countries and 30 long, long hours. Yes it was hell, and yes we’re still married, but here’s what I wish someone had told us before we boarded the plane.
Find out your airline’s carry-on baggage allowance, then ignore it
When we checked-in at Dublin we had a carry-on bag filled with enough food and ready-to-drink milk for two babies to last 48 hours or so.We hadn’t been told or read anywhere online that carry-on luggage had a weight limit so when someone at the check-in counter weighed our bag and, without blinking, told us we had to halve the weight I almost passed out.
Rather than face a long-haul flight with minimal supplies for our twins, we did what any right-thinking parent would do in our position. We left the line, rummaged though our bags and pretended to throw things in the bin before calmly queuing at a different counter. She didn’t even weigh the bag and we were on our way.
Know your airline’s bassinet policy
We found out the hard way that each airline has different ways for babies to sleep in bassinets on the plane. We flew Emirates, which requires you to place your baby on your lap with a seat beat around its waist each and every time the seatbelt sign goes on for turbulence. Every goddamn time. So every time our twins were snoozing soundly and the seatbelt sign went on, we had to wake them and set them on our laps. Same goes for toddlers, they have to be on their own seat with seat belt clicked in each time the sign lights up – and that’s a lot during a 30-hour flight. I’ve since learned some airlines have bassinets designed so that the baby can stay in it when the seatbelt sign goes on. I strongly recommend you find one that does the latter.
Use, but don’t lose, a stick pram
You can use a stick or collapsible pram, in the airport and take it right up to the gate with you. The airline will put the pram in the luggage hold for you. A warning: the airline might tell you they will check the pram right through to your final destination, but don’t count on it. We found that every time our plane landed the ground crew would bring up all the prams and car seats and dump them on the floor right by the plane’s door, so hang out there with the flight crew in case your pram comes up.
Prepare to get separated
We only found out once we were on the plane that air safety regulations prohibit two babies being seated in the same row so one twin had to go to one row with their daddy and one twin with me. At one point I looked across the darkened cabin to see my husband clutching a crying baby while silently weeping. The flight attendant, bless her, brought him a glass of wine in a plastic cup.
Pack a breastfeeding pillow
Your one ‘must-have’ item, even if your baby is bottle fed. We used it to prop the twins up in lines, on airport floors, to sleep on, for us to sleep on, or simply just to hug for comfort at the 19-hour mark. If it’s a cheap one you can always leave it behind at the end of the flight if you are sick of lugging around so much stuff.
iPads, chocolate and gel stickers
Your job as a parent is to get your toddler through the flight by any means possible, and if that means shoving chocolate buttons in their face every time they grizzle, then for god’s sake do it. Same with screen time. I downloaded a bunch of Charlie’s favourite shows onto our iPad and it kept him entertained for hours. He also took a heap of great photos on my iPhone that are precious memories for us now.
Kids’ gel stickers (found in any $2 shop) are another great distraction tool. Plonk your angel in the window seat and they will happily stick and peel off stickers for hours.
Pack changes of clothes for mum and dad for the flight
Because you will get spewed on. And that’s just the start.
Don’t be a martyr
I am usually a bit cautious about strangers picking my kids up, but let that go when traveling. With three babies and only two adults the act of making flight connections would have been all but impossible if not for the kind souls who carried our kids, our bags and our sanity. If someone offers, let them.
We used disposable nappies, bibs, bottles and teats, burp clothes, everything, and used nappy bags to bundle up all our rubbish. Flying is messy for babies and you don’t want to be carting around a bag of soiled stuff through customs. Use it and bin it.
Forget about the other passengers
Traveling with young children is a bit like breastfeeding in public for the first time – at first you worry about what other people might think and then after three seconds you care only about yourself and your kids’ needs.
So forget all this BS about handing out sweets and apology-in-advance notes to your fellow fliers, or caring about what they think.
Babies cry, toddlers cry, you will never see these people again in your life. Focus on you and your family because, honestly, the other passengers will almost certainly not care one hoot what’s going on with you and the kids.