Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Flying Alone with A Toddler

As my husband was expected to be out-stationed for work, few weeks ago I made a bold decision to go back to my home town in Indonesia alone with Naomi during this lonely period.

This decision didn't come easy on me though. After days of contemplating whether I could travel to Indonesia alone with Naomi, not see my husband at all for few weeks, live without steady internet access in Indonesia and so on; eventually, the thoughts of seeing my family and friends again plus gorging the Indonesian food galore in my home town won. My fingers clicked the ''CONFIRM PAYMENT" button on AirAsia's website and our tickets to Surabaya were bought. No turning back.

Naomi has travelled by air before but back then, my husband flew with us. Two days before our departure day, despite the relatively short flight of 2.5 hours that we're about to have, I experienced massive stress and anxiety. I fretted over Naomi's behaviour in the airport and inside the plane again and again. For days, my brain tried so hard to figure out what to pack my hand-carry bag so I wouldn't have much trouble carrying it whilst carrying my 12kg toddler on the other hand. I could not decide whether I should bring my laptop or tablet too during this trip (in the end, I decided not to). My fear of travelling by air solo with my toddler grew exponentially as hours went by.

The night before our fly day to Surabaya, I could not sleep well. I literally woke up once every few hours because I overly dreaded the morning when I had to fly with Naomi alone for the first time. I forced myself to get some good sleep that night but I just could not. As I tried to get myself into a good night slumber, my alarm rang and it was already the time to head off to the airport.

My husband helped the light-headed me handle my luggage and check us in in LCCT Airport. Thank goodness, I didn't experience much problem until we boarded the plane. Naomi got a little fussy in the airport's gate area and wanted to walk around but somehow I managed to distract her attention and she was not that resistant when I carried her on my arms.

I bought the front seat at the plane (1A) so both Naomi and I would have more space for our stuff and us. And who knew the whole row was for us! Moving on, although overall Naomi behaved pretty well inside the plane, she struggled to walk around inside the plane several times whenever she saw the air-stewardess busy walking around. However, I somehow successfully made her stay put with me by offering her cookies, toys and kids video on my iPhone. She didn't cry during take-off and landing and mostly slept during the flight. When she was awake, she even played peek-a-boo with the pretty flight attendants. Hallelujah! What I feared the most didn't happen and I was so proud with my little tyke.

My minion got so tired inside the air plane.

In short, I can confidently say that my first flight alone with Naomi was a breeze as I didn't encounter many horrifying problems either in the airport when I arrived to Surabaya. Good thing that Juanda airport has lots of porters who can assist travelling mother like me with my heavy luggage.

Unfortunately, when we flew back to Malaysia on last Monday, things didn't run as smoothly as I hoped. Everything felt like a living nightmare ever since I arrived to the check-in counter in Juanda Airport. The queue at the check-in counter before me was extremely long because about a dozen of foreign workers from Indonesia did a group check-in. The airport was so hot and Naomi whom I carried inside a baby sling got really bored, cranky and sweaty too. My toddler, who seemingly gained weight during her visit to my parents' house, wanted to jump out of her baby sling many times so I had to use extra energy to hold her tight. On top of that, I had to make sure my 15 kg luggage and hand-carry which contained our passports, tickets and money were safe with me. By this time, my shoulders and arms already got really sore.

Next, as we waited the plane to board, Naomi refused to sit still and didn't want to be carried either. She decided to be hyper and unleash her mighty energy by walking around the waiting area which was full of people. Some of these people gazed at me with a look of pity because at that time I believe I already looked like a mad woman. I was tired, sweating like a pig, sporting a crazy hair and clearly impatient. My left arm and shoulder were incredibly painful from carrying my girl and my right arm had to bear with the heavy hand-carry everywhere we went.

As if my headache in the airport's waiting area was not enough, I smelled poop from my little girl who was busy wandering around. I hastily peeked inside her pants and great, I saw a large amount of very runny poop all over her bottoms and diaper. I quickly carried Naomi and dashed to the toilet. When I saw the long queue at the ladies' toilet, I pitifully asked the janitor guy to let me immediately use the toilet for disabled people and thankfully, he let us in. I don't want to share more details of what happened inside the toilet when I was cleaning Naomi's bottom because it was really frustrating. One thing for sure, cleaning one playful energizer bunny's bottoms is so full of drama. Period.

After we came back from the toilet, I just could not wait to board the air plane and really looked forward to sit down. All my muscles were screaming from pains, I had throbbing headache and was just beyond exhausted following my daughter walking around and climbing all the unoccupied seats in the gate area non-stop.

Fast forward, we finally boarded the plane to Kuala Lumpur but I was not able to purchase the front seat again because Tiger Air doesn't allow mother with kids/babies to sit in the front rows. Duh! The best hot seat we could get was at the second row and it was equally crammed as the standard seats. Fortunately, the ladies sitting next to us were really kind and loved playing with Naomi. Anyway, I supposed Naomi was really tired from her epic adventure roaming the airport's gate area and she dozed off not long after the plane took off.

Arriving to Kuala Lumpur.

Two days after our arrival to Kuala Lumpur (re: now), I still suffer from muscle aches all over my body similar to those you get from doing vigorous yoga poses. In addition, I can't exactly remember how I managed to keep my daughter, hand-carry and heavy luggage out of the LCCT airport safely all by myself.

Oh, did I mention that my daughter and I had to wait my husband for almost 30 mins in the airport after we touched down? What a horrible come-back.

Last but not least, here are some useful tips for you, mothers, if you plan to travel by air alone with your very active kid.
  1. Zzz time is the best. If possible, try to book a flight that is around your child's sleep or nap time. This way, your potential problem in handling active toddler will be much reduced as there is big chance that your little one would be sleeping during the flight. By the time he or she wakes up, you are not that far from or maybe already land to your destination.
  2. Travel light. Remember you got only two hands to carry your kid and your hand-carry bag, make your kid's feed, show your passport and tickets to the officer, etc. I decided not to bring my own hand-bag during our recent trip because I could not imagine how I could handle another burden on my shoulder. Instead, I neatly placed our passport books, money and tickets in Naomi's industrial sized diaper bag, together with her other zillion necessities for easy access.
  3. Bring lots of snacks and toys when you brave air travel in solo parentis. I brought toys that didn't create any noise for other passengers and lots of different snacks that wouldn't produce much mess for Naomi inside the plane. The main goal is to make your kid as quiet as possible throughout the trip.
  4. Charge, charge, charge. If you intend to entertain your kid with songs or videos on your smart phone or tablet, make sure your gadget's battery is full to amuse your kid throughout the entire journey.
  5. Sling over stroller, perhaps? I could not foresee myself folding and lifting a stroller all by myself in the airport. I also reckoned that Naomi would highly likely reject sitting quietly in her stroller; thus, I dropped the idea of bringing a stroller with me to the airport altogether. I chose to wear a baby carrier/sling all the time in the airport just in case my arm got really tired from carrying my kid; only then I would rely on my sling, hence my shoulder, to carry my child. I don't know about you but personally, it was just more convenient for me to walk around with a baby sling on.
  6. Get some space. If you have extra budget, consider buying the hot seat in the budget airline. You will really appreciate the extra leg space you get from sitting at the very front seat.

How was your experience in travelling solo by air with your toddler or baby? If you have any more tips to add, feel free leave them in the comment below.

2 comments:

  1. Haha, i can totally relate to your article as I recently travelled solo from Kota Kinabalu to Penang, KL-Kota Kinabalu with my hyperactive 13 month old son (an average of 2.5 - 3 hrs flight time as well). I had travelled solo with him when he was younger (5 months old then) but on this trip, there were lots of drama.

    There was a storm when we were about to leave KK, so planes were delayed causing a massive backlog of passengers in the airport, there was hardly any space to move ... and you'd think that people will give up their seats for a mother carrying a toddler but nope, doesnt happen in Malaysia! Oh, on top of that, someone stole his brand new shoes which I had absent mindedly left on the check in counter ... i was so upset!

    To make matters worse, the air-conditioning in the airport was down ... i had to sit on the floor near the immigration counters cos i was so tired and sweaty from juggling my toddler and two heavy carry-ons (mainly his foodstuff and toys). One immigration officer kindly directed a portable fan towards us as my toddler was getting cranky by then cos it was near his bedtime. Thank goodness he slept throughout the flight :) your advice on timing the flight near baby's naptime/sleeping time is spot-on! I always try to do that!

    I totally agree that a stroller is not a good idea when travelling solo. I brought lotsa non-messy snacks like raisins, biscuits and cut-up fruits to feed my toddler on board. He didnt care much for toys as he occupied himself pulling out in-flight mags, barf bags and opening/closing the food tray.

    Passport is always placed in an easily accessible pocket in the diaper bag and water bottle/pacifier/wet wipes are always in the outer pockets of the diaper bag. Strategic placement of vital items in the diaper bag is a necessity!!! Ive stopped carrying a handbag since having a baby as i now dump all my stuff in the diaper bag :) I also find that its always necessary to have an extra change of clothes and a small hanky in his diaper bag

    His pacifier and bolster are very important as they calm him down and former alleviates the pressure in his ears. I also always bring along a shawl on board that doubles as his blankie and also a nursing cover (im glad that im still partially breastfeeding as i can't imagine having to carry the flask/bottles/formula and having to attempt to make a bottle of milk without any help)

    Extra leg space on Airasia is heaven-sent (especially the first row ... did u know they actually increased it to RM40 from RM30 recently? What a rip-off) but after a few bad experiences travelling on Airasia, i try to travel on MAS (which sometimes turn out even cheaper than Airasia) if my budget permits. Airasia's customer service is non-existent (there was another drama with my check in baggage on the way home and to cut a long stroy short, Airasia staff does not show any sympathy/is inflexible in making small allowances for passengers with kids) ... I generally find MAS staff are better trained in handling the needs of passengers with kids (at least MAS strictly enforce their policy of allowing passengers with children/old people to board first)

    Oh, always remember to ask for infant seatbelts cos on hindsight, i now realised that the first few times when i travelled with my then infant, the airline crew did not offer me the infant seatbelts (i was uninformed then :( but had grown wiser with each trip)

    Great tips, Christine! They are invaluable to mothers who would like to attempt to fly solo with their baby/infant :) and i'm still amazed by my sister who always travel solo with her toddler from UK to Malaysia!!! After all the dramas that happened during my recent solo trip, i told my husband im not travelling solo with my toddler again!

    PS: Your daughter's gorgeous!!!

    -Ee Pei-

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    Replies
    1. Hello Ee Pei!

      Thanks so much for sharing your story. Apparently you had a worse day travelling by air with your child than me :( Sorry to hear that.

      Yes, the front seat is so expensive. I had to top up like RM 40 for the front seat alone but I thought it was a good investment so I just paid! I was not given any baby seat belt in AirAsia but Tiger Air gave one.

      I really don't know if I would do all this again. I am just mentally not prepared. Maybe I'll just wait until my daughter is at primary school age then I take her traveling solo again!

      Cheers,

      Christine

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