Imagine how surreal it would be to be sipping Champagne and relaxing on a flight from Singapore to halfway across the world, only to return on the same plane a week later with two small babies in tow. This was Katherine Blair’s* introduction to parenthood when she and her husband, Nico, adopted two baby girls (4 months) from Ethiopia in November. She tells suitcases&strollers about the bizarre situation of being a first time parent packing to travel with children you don’t actually have yet and how air travel changed for her in just the space of one return flight.
How was packing for the trip from Singapore to Ethiopia different from all the other trips you've packed for in the past?
As a seasoned business traveller I am the queen of last minute packing and improvisation in the event that I forget something. This time it was evident that I had to plan ahead a lot more than I normally would. Rather than packing in about 15 minutes the night before flying out, I have been putting together lists, washing everything in preparation and actually packing the bags days ahead of leaving.
I also had to think about volumes of formula, the number of feeds for a long haul flight and strategically packing a nappy bag inside a larger suitcase so that it could be part of our carry on when we returned. I also tried to think about the logistics of what I could feasibly carry on board whilst also carrying two girls!
How do you pack a suitcase for two babies when you've never had children before?
We had no idea where to start, what to take or what volumes of things to take. My first step was to consult several baby forums, including suitcases&strollers, which had pages on travelling with babies. Then I put together a list and doubled it for the two girls.
I sought out heaps of advice from every friend who is a parent and everyone had invaluable words of wisdom. One of the many tips that has stuck with me is to take an extra change of clothes for me and my husband for the flight back in case of accidents. I had planned multiple changes for the girls, but had totally overlooked us! As my friend said: there's nothing worse than being wet or dirty for 10 hours!
How much luggage did you take over with you?
We had a 40 kilogram limit each, so a total of 80 kilograms. The baby suitcases filled two of our larger suitcases! [My luggage for myself was] another suitcase and some carry on.
What did you put in your carry-on luggage on your way back from Ethiopia to Singapore?
Everything that I had read about travelling long haul with children basically said prepare for all eventualities. So we backed 14 bottles which is one-and-a-half days’ worth for feeding the two girls. We were trying to be as organised as possible to ensure the smoothest possible circumstances for us and our fellow travellers.
That said, our mindset was also focused very much on ensuring the girls’ comfort first. We needed to take advantage of all the support on offer from the airline – Emirates were really fabulous with our girls in terms of heating bottles, providing blankets, toys and toiletries. The air crew even took turns holding the girls and several of them had a genuine interest in the adoption process.
[To find the best family-friendly airlines, see the suitcases&strollers story Airlines Compared.]
What were you the most worried about before you got on the plane?
I was most worried that the girls would not sleep and would end up crying or screaming all the way. We had been told that giving them a bottle at take-off and landing would help ease the pressure on their ears which we did. This worked well and we had no problems until 15 minutes out from landing at Singapore when one of the girls would not take the bottle and she screamed the whole landing. To only have 15 minutes of crying was pretty good overall.
[For travels tips on how to flying with babies and kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
How did you cope with the 5-and-a-half hour transit in Dubai?
Rather than spend that time uncomfortably in the lounge, we booked into the transit hotel so we could all get four hours’ sleep before the next leg. Whilst it was not a cheap option, it was well worth it.
Was flying as a brand new parent with two babies harder or easier than you expected?
Overall, it was easier than we expected. I think flying business class made a real difference. In the A380 aircraft there is a cocktail bar which was a great area to hang out when the girls were awake as it is at the back of the top section of the plane and ensured the girls didn’t disturb other passengers.
The flight crew also made a huge difference. They fawned over the girls and ensured we had food, blankets and other necessities for them throughout the flight. The bathrooms are also bigger so it is easier to change babies.
I think we all coped really well. Whilst Nico and I didn’t get to sleep as much as we would have liked, we did actually get to sleep a little.
How was the girls’ reaction to travel different from what you expected?
I was dreading them being unsettled the whole way or not sleeping and being out of sync and not settling when we got home. None of this happened. They slept a lot on the flight and they also slept once we got home and settled into their new routine quickly. We didn’t experience any noticeable baby jet lag.
How has traveling with kids changed your travel and flying experience?
It requires a lot more preparation and logistics than flying without children. Working out how many feeds you expect to have, then considering the “what ifs” of multiple contingencies such as flight delays.
[Travelling with children also] requires a lot more carry-on than travel without children. Previously for a long weekend away I would normally pack only carry on luggage, whereas now the carry on is pretty much taken up with baby things just for the flight and the immediate arrival!
Any advice for other families going into the same circumstances?
The information on sites such as suitcases&strollers is invaluable and I would encourage all new parents to read through it before embarking on any long haul flying with children. It all comes down to being very organised and well prepared for unexpected delays or other contingencies.
There is also an element of simply “getting over yourself” in respect to other impatient or rude travellers who don’t accept children travelling – especially in business class. When one of our girls cracked it in the last 15 minutes of the flight from Dubai, there was one guy that made quite a scene of eye-rolling and huffing. You just have to ignore those people. There are always going to be times when children are unable to maintain poise – they are children; they don’t understand patience or other’s needs as they are fully dependent and their only way of communicating is through crying. If other travellers can’t accept that, it is a reflection on them, not on the child.
[For travel tips on how to survive flights with kids, see the story by suitcases&strollers founder, Aimee Chan, here.]
To find out more about international adoption read the suitcases&strollers story here.
Image: Carolyn Soemarjono from Melia Photography
*Pseudonyms have been used throughout this story