Flying internationally with small children isn’t high on my “fun with the kids” list. In fact is more like slow drawn out torture, over what seems to be endless hours. My husband is Italian and his entire family is there so we’ve visited twice with our children in the past few years. During our first trip my oldest was turning 2 and my younger son was 9 months old. This past summer my oldest was turning 4, my younger son was 2 1/2 and my daughter was 6 months old. So, we’ve experienced a little bit of everything!
One of the most beneficial aspects of flying to Europe is that the flights are overnight. On both trips we fed the kids dinner at the airport, put them in their jammies and boarded the plane with blankies and loveys in hand. We’ve been lucky. My oldest son doesn’t sleep well on flights (just like his mamma) but he’s usually well-behaved and happy to rest and watch TV/movies. So, another must for flying is a DVD player. We borrowed a portable DVD player from a friend (both trips) and I bought a bunch of age-appropriate $5 movies and shows from Target. We’ve been in a few planes that don’t have the individual TV screens, so we like to be prepared. It also came in handy during our trip because my kids were less than enthusiastic about watching cartoons in Italian.
One thing that was useful to us was the airline’s bassinet. When you fly internationally with a baby you can request a bassinet. It basically gets attached to the bulkhead wall in front of your seats with a soft leather lid that you can attach in case of turbulence or a moving baby. On our first flight my 9 month old slept in it, and then more recently my daughter enjoyed the bassinet. One nice advantage to the bassinet is the additional leg room you get in that row with the bulkhead. My older son sprawled out on the floor with a few blankets to sleep while we flew, while my other son took over his seat so he had 2 seats for sleeping. In fact, when we landed in Rome I had to wake up two of my sleeping children!
Now, flying back to NY is a completely different story. Both flights back were torture. The day starts with an early wake up and an hour drive to the airport. We tried to transfer my sleeping tots into the car without waking them but that didn’t work (for either trip). Oh, and my oldest gets car sick….especially because my husband only drives with a stick shift when we’re in Italy, so this past summer as we’re about to park at the airport my oldest vomited all over himself and my mother-in-law’s car. Lovely. Thankfully he was wearing my nephew’s PJ’s which we just left there with my in-law’s. We changed him into his clothes and headed for our gate.
The flight itself is long. And the time change makes it feel even longer. You leave Italy late morning and arrive in NY early afternoon but you’ve been awake and traveling for hours and hours. For our flight back we always pack more toys, snacks, diapers, water, patience, understanding, and compassion. Oh, and the baby carrier. That was probably the smartest thing I did. We couldn’t get the bassinet on either of our flights back to NY so after the fist torturous trip I brought it this more recent time. The baby was only 6 months old so when she was awake I had her facing outward and then flipped her around so she was facing me to nap. I wish I had done that on our flight back the first time around.
When we only had the two boys and we flew home from Italy the boys were both sitting on our laps. However, you need to be separated by an aisle because of the oxygen masks, (they can’t have a 4 oxygen masks allocated for only 2 seats). So, I was on the right side of the plane with one son and the bag of snacks while my husband was on the left side of the plane with our other son and the bag of toys. It couldn’t have been worse. Oh, except that we couldn’t get to each other without walking all the way to the back of the plane and crossing where the flight attendants were. I wont’ get into all the details but after about 5 or 6 hours of flying with neither of the kids napping, lots of crying, and endlessly walking up and down the aisles I felt like we weren’t going to make it. The only time I had ever felt that way was while giving birth to my oldest and I was trying to think of ways to get out of it. As if I could have someone else deliver the baby! Well, here I was….feeling the same way. Thankfully I dug deep and found the strength to make it through the last few hours of the flight. When we landed I still believe the passengers applauded extra loud because they knew my family we be off the plane and out of their lives soon.
When my kids were just 2 years-old and nine months old it was really tough. This past trip was much easier. The baby was young so she napped often and didn’t even realize we were on a plane. And my boys were old enough to entertain themselves with toys and movies. My 4 year-old did get in trouble for pushing the flight attendant call button too often but that was hardly worth getting upset over. We survived.