Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Travelling with babies

For Easter this year we headed over to England to spend a long weekend with my family. It was fantastic - lots of fun and good food, and it was great to spend some quality time with the family I don't get to see very often.

Unfortunately, it also meant sitting on a plane for one-and-a-half hours each way with a restless, fidgeting baby.

My little globetrotter
This wasn't the first time Lydia had been on a plane. In fact, it was her fourth trip to England in less than a year. I first took her to England in June last year, when she was a tiny baby of just seven weeks. On the flight to England on that occasion, she slept for the entire journey. On the way back she was awake, but calmly laid on my lap without making a fuss.

Her second trip, for my brother James' wedding to Kelly (see this blog entry), was at the end of July 2011. By this time, she was three months old, and had obviously developed a lot since the June trip. Once again she stayed calm on both flights, although we had to work hard to keep her entertained by playing with her and reading her the in-flight easyJet magazine.

The third time Lydia got on a plane was in December when we went to England for Mockmas ("What is Mockmas?" I hear you ask - all is explained in this blog entry). That, my friends, was not a fun flight. Lydia was very squirmy, and it was a struggle to keep her from screaming and crying. The flight back was much better, although she was still a bit restless.

What we learnt from these past trips was that it is incredibly important to make sure your children have something to do on the plane, something to keep them busy for the duration of the flight. Give them food, toys, games, whatever. Just give them something. Oh, and it doesn't hurt to cross your fingers and pray for them to be good.

Bearing this in mind, my wife Christelle and I were not necessarily looking forward to the flight to England for Easter. Lydia has grown up a lot since her last time on a plane; at Mockmas she was not yet crawling, whereas now she loves the independence of moving around wherever she wants on all fours. That meant getting her to sit still for the full ninety minute flight was probably going to be a much tougher challenge now than in December.

Tougher it certainly was. We stopped in a shop at Geneva airport to buy some colouring pencils and paper so Lydia would have something to do on the flight, and also brought some biscuits for her to snack on. Unfortunately, after boarding and taking our seats we were informed that our take off would be delayed by at least fifteen minutes to do a queue of planes waiting to depart. That meant Lydia would have to sit still for even longer than planned. Oh dear...

And, of course, Lydia wasn't happy. She understandably wanted to move around, as that's what she does the whole time she is awake. At her age she cannot understand why she isn't allowed to get up and move around, so naturally she moaned. We gave her a pencil and tried to get her to colour on some paper, but I think she is too young for this at the moment (she is only eleven months old) so it didn't keep her interested for long.

After that we fed her some biscuits, but that only brought a temporary ceasefire. Once she had had enough of the biscuits, the moaning started again. She cried, screamed, wiggled, squirmed and kicked at us, with my wife and I taking it in turns to have Lydia on our lap to share the burden.

I purposely avoided looking around at any other passengers on the plane as I knew we must have been getting a good few tuts and stares, with people muttering "Why can't they shut their baby up?". These kind of people are - generally speaking - inconsiderate idiots. Do they seriously think parents can flick an off switch on their baby's back to stop the crying? Or turn down a volume dial somewhere? Parents are often helpless to stop a baby crying, and can only resort to cuddles, food, drink or toys (usually a mixture of all of these) in often futile attempts at restoring peace. I remember once seeing an old-ish French woman on a flight telling a frustrated mother to stop her baby from crying. Another, more understanding passenger then told the old-ish woman to "fuck off". Well said sir, although the profanity wasn't strictly necessary.

When the flight finally landed and we trudged off to get through customs and collect our suitcase, we were pretty knackered. Lydia hadn't slept during the flight despite it being during her normal nap time, so was irritable and restless. I think it is safe to say we did not enjoy that particular flight.

The weekend with my family was fantastic. On the Friday night we had a drinks and a meal out with my friends while my parents looked after Lydia, giving Christelle and I the perfect way to unwind after such a rough flight. All throughout the weekend we had the nagging reminder in the back of our minds that we had the return flight to come on Monday, and with it the likelihood of once again being trapped in a tin can at thirty thousand feet with a whiny baby and the disapproving looks of many fellow travellers.

The return flight was once again at a time when Lydia should be enjoying her afternoon nap. However, given our experience on Friday we didn't hold out much hope that she would actually sleep on the plane. Lydia isn't a baby who falls asleep easily, and almost never falls asleep anywhere apart from her own bed.

As we took our seats on the plane, we fed Lydia some grapes that we had bought at Luton airport, in the hope that she would remain calm. Having eaten quite a few grapes (well, I say eaten, but what I really mean is she sucked out the juice and then spat the grapes out), she then began to show signs of being irritable once again.

Christelle and I exchanged a glance where our tired eyes both seemed to say "oh no, not again". Chris pulled Lydia onto her nap and sang gently in Lydia's ear, whilst also making sure Lydia had Globear (her favourite teddy bear) firmly in her grasp. Lydia continued to making little frustrated moans for a while, and then - all of a sudden - a miracle happened.

Lydia fell asleep.

She was on Chris' lap, in a plane, with lights and noise all around. But she still fell asleep.

From our point of view, this was a landmark moment. Totally unexpected, but thoroughly appreciated.

Despite us being seated behind a young girl of maybe three or four years old who screamed loudly at her parents on a very regular basis, Lydia slept through the entire flight, waking up just before we landed.

She was then as good as gold for the rest of the trip back home and until she went to bed in the evening.

Sometimes you just cannot predict how a baby will behave during a flight. Lydia has now been on a total of eight individual flights, of which she slept through two, sat calmly for two, squirmed and whinged through three and cried loudly through one. It really is a mixed bag.

I would like to offer some advice for anyone travelling with babies, but it really depends on the personality of the baby. If you have a baby who is generally calm and quiet, who can happily entertain himself with a toy for an hour or so then it is much easier; all you have to do is bring a toy with you, plus some food in case it's his meal time. If you have a baby that can sleep easily in any situation or location, then that's even easier - just do what you do to get him to sleep and you can then relax through the rest of the flight.

If you have a baby like Lydia who is active, interested in everything going on around her, and struggles to fall asleep if they aren't in their own bed, it can be a nightmare. Bring toys, food, drink, games or anything else that might hold their attention for a few minutes at a time. If there are two of you travelling with your baby then take it in turns trying to keep the baby entertained, to share the workload.

Most importantly, prefer yourself mentally for the worst case scenario of a terribly whiny, screaming, squirmy baby. It will help you to be ready for the battle for tranquillity, should it happen, and it will also help you feel truly surprised and grateful if the opposite happens.

Having said that, I'm still not looking forward to our next flight with Lydia in June...

3 comments:

Kris Landt said...

good luck with your next trip; it will get easier. just stay prepared with fun stuff for Lydia to eat and do, and keep ignoring impatient passengers (who seem to have forgotten that they were once screaming children, too).

Dazza said...

Yer! I always get to sit next to the baby on flights. Recent back from Lanzarote and Valencie. 5 Hours of someone else's screaming kicking child is hell lol

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