Friday, January 05, 2007

Surviving transatlantic flights

Having made several transatlantic flights from US to India and back with two kids ever since they were born (or even incubating), I've endured the bad and worst of air travel. Recently on our way back on the new American Airlines direct flight from Delhi to Chicago, we were stuck in the kind of thick fog that even make Delhiites raise their eyebrows. This resulted in a five hour wait in the airport, a four hour wait to take off in the plane and a 16 hour flight back.

Here are some lessons collected over the years that might help others braving international travel with kids.
  • If you have two kids, avoid sitting in a row in the middle 4. Apart from being claustrophobia inducing, these seats reduce your options in terms of moving around, separating cranky kids and sharing games meaningfully. Opt for 2 seats and then 2 more behind next to the window. If you can, get on the right side (boarding) side of the plane because it makes it easier to load up. For planes that have 3 seats in a row on the sides, the last few seats where the plane tapers off are sets of 2 and excellent because you get extra space to set up your stuff.

  • Try to get seats in the back of the plane. This shortens the distance to the bathroom and puts you in striking distance of any open snacks the attendants put out. There are some cons however: its shakier in the back and the meals come to you last.

  • On long direct flights a portable DVD player (and associated DVDs) is not worth its weight to carry. There is plenty of in-flight stuff to watch and kids are great at torturing their parents by watching the same stuff over and over again anyways.

  • Plan to spend time with your kids. Nothing will make their flight more enjoyable than the undivided attention of either Mom or Dad. Pack books you can read to them, portable board games you can play with them and topics you can have them write about. Since you can get very tired on the flight, make sure you rest up big time beforehand so you can engage fully with the kids. Nap on the flight only when they watch or play with something on their own.
  • Regardless of what other parents tell you about drugging your children (benadryl, brandy - yep, heard that too), avoid giving your child sleep medicine. I've found that if your kids miss the medicine's "sleep window" by even half an hour (entirely possible if Ben 10 is showing on the in-flight Cartoon Channel), things go awry.

  • Always pack one set of sandwiches for everyone. Regardless of anything! Be sure to pack vegetarian sandwiches because meat will tend to spoil and reduces your options in terms of when to use them. Avoid using dairy based butter since it tends to spoil in heat. If you love tomato sandwiches, make sure you use thick bread and get most of the pulpiness out of the tomatos so that your sandwich doesn't become soggy.

  • Along with sandwiches, always pack some snacks. Again avoid things that mighStat spoil in heat like cheese. But crackers are good. So are chips. Chocolates that don't melt work really well too. My suggestion is that you pack an assortment of nuts like almonds, pistachios and walnuts. They don't spoil and are a great, unmessy power snack.

  • You'll almost always run into situations where your kids might not be awake or hungry enough to eat a served meal. Don't force them to eat if they don't feel like it - its the best way enroute to an upset stomach or a bad experience on a flight (and boy, will you need everyone in a good mood). Now, unless you eat every morsel on your tray, you can find things to save for snacks for your kids (or yourself) for later. Anything packaged like bread rolls, crackers, cheese, a sealed fruit tray can be safely tucked away to be pulled out later when the munchies hit. Be sure to also save the condiment packages since they can help a crusty bread go down easy.

  • Explain each step of the travel process to your kids, e.g. boarding, passenger checks, take-off, meals, landing, immigration, baggage claim so that they understand what is coming next and why. This should be done regardless of their age until they understand the entire process. Less frustration this way.

  • Since baggage claim can be the final straw that breaks the camel's back (why are our bags always the last to show up?), get your kids engaged in picking and tying colorful ribbons on your bags when packing. These ribbon serve as identifiers when the bags roll out and your kids will actually look forward to baggage claim.

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