Several people have asked me what it’s like to travel over seas with young children. I mean, the actual traveling. The 15-30 hours that it takes to go wherever we go. So this blog is dedicated to that. I will use this last trip to Abu Dhabi as an example.
Let’s start.. This doesn’t begin the day of travel. This begins weeks before. Planning a major trip with so many little ones takes a lot of thought and execution.
Each of my older kids (3 yrs and up) has their own “plane backpack” These backpacks are used solely for plane trips and dad’s basketball games. They have to have plenty of things to fill many hours, yet not be so heavy that the kids don’t want to carry them around the airport during layovers. I could go into detail the amount of thought that has come and gone into planning what precisely goes in these backpacks. I have learned through trial and error what works and what doesn’t. If you are interested you can ask.. but I won’t bore you here with that list. So usually the first thing I do is head to the store to get some new items for their backpacks. This same trip usually includes items for the diaper bag as well.
I usually pack in a few stages. When we go from a cold climate to a hot climate like winters in Utah and Abu Dhabi it’s easy to fill the bags up with most of the clothing items needed for the stay. With airlines strict rules these days, the key is to take as many bags as you are allowed, making sure each one is at that magical 50 pound mark. I usually go over a couple of bags, but try not to too much.
“Airplane hair” = anything that can last at least 48 hours without getting messed up
The club that Chris plays for purchases the tickets, usually through a travel agency. This causes problems 99% of the time. I can probably count on 3 fingers, the amount of times we have not run into any issues at the airport and I think those times are due to the fact that the club let us purchase the tickets and then reimbursed us. Names being misspelled, first and middle names not being separated, separate itineraries, paper tickets instead of e-tickets, the tickets not actually being purchased, so many things that can, and have gone wrong. This is the reason that I make multiple calls to the airlines previous to our trip and why we get to the airport with plenty of time to spare. We spend on average at least 30 minutes at the ticket counter. We are those people who you hate to get behind. Sorry. But just so you know, it doesn’t help to give us dirty looks.
Grandpa Zollinger (and his mustache) helping keep Beckham entertained at check in.
For our trip from SLC to Abu Dhabi we left our house in Bountiful at 3:30am. We spent the usual 30-45 minutes at the ticket counter. They were able to make 2 of the tickets e-tickets, but the other ones were given to us as paper tickets. The American Airlines agent said “all you have to do is take these paper tickets to the Emirates Airlines counter in Dallas.” Ok.. simple enough. We made it through security, which is always a process with 5 backpacks, 1 rolling carry on (with a laptop that has to be taken out), a diaper bag with bottles and baby food that have to be checked separately, 2 strollers, 7 jackets, 4 shoes (luckily kids under 12 don’t have to remove their shoes, but they do their jackets). If you see a family like us in the security line, just walk the other way because as hard as we try to hurry, you will get impatient, I promise.
We pre-board, drop the strollers at the gate, and get all situated on the plane. Seating arrangement on the plane is a big deal. Kelli Jo and Zoey usually want to sit together. I can’t let Ava and Zoey sit next to each other because that usually causes drama. Beckham can’t sit by Ava because for some reason he loves to pull her hair. If there is someone who has to end up sitting by a stranger this is always a dramatic situation as well. We get it all worked out. The first thing the kids do after getting situated on the plane is take a Dramamine (thank goodness they make chewables now) and put their “sick bags” in the front of their seat pocket so they can be easy to grab (and yes, we have filled many a sick bags). Also, on a side note, each child has a full 2nd outfit in the carry on. I take a 2nd shirt for myself. I learned this the hard way.
Our first flight was 3 hours. We take off at 6:00am and the kids are ready to crash. Some sleep, some don’t, but these first few hours are the easiest of the trip. We make it to Dallas without any drama. Easy peasy.
We get off the plane, make a quick bathroom pit stop and then head straight to our gate for Emirates Airlines. I’m expecting issues at the counter just because there is always something. I am not wrong. They cannot accept the paper tickets that AA (American Airlines) gave us because AA still has control of them. We are instructed to go to the AA counter and have them change the tickets so that Emirates Airlines can take control. We finally get a guy that does this for us. Each ticket seems to be a 15 minute process. I’m standing at the counter dealing with all this and trying my best not to lose my temper. In the meantime my poor mom is wrangling all 5 of my tired little nuggets. Time is ticking away and our flight is starting to board.
He finally finishes and tells me that this “should hopefully fix the problem” *wink* Great, that gives me a lot of confidence (not). I run with the tickets back to the Emirates counter to talk to the guy who was helping us just as the head lady comes over to him and asks “what is the status on the Burgess family because I am ready to bump them.” Apparently the flight was overbooked and she was anxious to get our seats filled. I ensure her that we are here and things should be good to go. The guy is working on taking control of our tickets and again, it’s a process for each one. Everyone has boarded and they are basically waiting on us. The guy says there is a problem. I can feel my heart start to race, my body tense, and I’m about to start yelling. Zachary’s ticket is just an infant ticket attached to my ticket. For some reason AA didn’t do anything with his ticket so even though he doesn’t have a seat, he still needs an e-ticket and it’s still a paper ticket. They then say we will not make the flight.
SIDE NOTE- I have flown with children so many times. I learned very early on that the worst thing you can do is be rude or impatient with any airline worker (at the counter, on the airplane, etc.) Being rude to them NEVER helps your situation. Being nice however, can help. They will feel like helping you out a lot more and really do appreciate it. I assume they must deal with lots of unhappy and impatient people. So one of my rules while traveling… always be nice to the airline employees.
At this point, however, I broke my rule. I got loud and furious. I stated my points very directly. I was not rude, but I was not playing nice anymore. I was not going to miss this flight. The lady finally agreed to do an override on Zachary’s ticket since it was just an infant ticket and let us on the plane (maybe being nice isn’t always the best way to get what you want). We boarded the plane with every single person staring us down. I didn’t care, we made the flight and right now, that was a point for us. We get a seating arrangement worked out and get all situated and settled in for the long haul. 15 hours.
Anyone who has flown with kids can attest to how unfun it is. Luckily my kids have been doing this their whole lives. Kelli Jo and Zoey are expert flyers and barely even need anything on a trip like this. Ava is getting better, but still can be quite needy. Beckham is 16 months old and is in the bracket of ‘worst flying age.’ Zachary is 2 months and is still young enough to not be too bad, but just needs holding and attention the whole time. Planes that make these long flights have bassinets that hang on the bulk head wall. These get booked early and since Chris’s clubs like to book our tickets right before we leave, we rarely, if ever get the convenience of a bassinet. This flight was no different. No bassinet.
Just so you can maybe imagine what a 15 hour flight would be like…… imagine going to church. You do get to go in whatever clothing you choose. You go in, sit down, and are expected to basically stay in that seat the whole time. You need to be quiet and respectful. If you need to get up and go to the bathroom, that’s fine, just do it without disturbing others. Instead of listening to a speaker, the other people are usually trying to sleep or read or watch movies.. but the idea is the same. Be quiet and sit still. Then imagine this church meeting lasting for 15 hours!!
You get served 2 meals. This happens a few hours after take off and a couple of hours before landing. Parents of toddlers don’t usually get the luxury of eating because a tray of food just sitting there on your tray table is fair game to be thrown every which way. Because of this I come prepared with a lot of snacks so that if I don’t get to eat a meal, I don’t starve. 15 hours with a 1-year-old on an airplane… that’s why the title of this blog is what it is. You can’t expect anything less than that. And that is usually what it ends up being. On our 15 hour flight, Beckham managed to sleep a total of 2 hours total! Not that he wasn’t tired. I remember at one point I looked at our flight status and we had 4.5 hours left. My very first thought was this..”oh wow, we are getting close.” That’s how messed up these flights are. You think you are getting close and it’s almost over when you are 4.5 hours away.
Somehow (not sure how, but somehow) you make it. The plane finally touches the earth again and you breathe a sigh of relief because it’s almost all over. Everyone makes it off the plane. Another pit stop at the bathroom for diaper changes (because changing a baby or a toddler on a changing table the size of a lunch tray in the airplane lavatory is just not fun). One more long line at passport checks and you feel freedom close at hand. Another line and more waiting. The kids are bouncing off the walls and the littles and beyond consoling. Once it’s our turn, we make it through these checks fairly quickly just having to answer a few questions. Getting so close to the end we head to baggage claim. The sight of your bags is a lovely thing. This time however, there are no bags to see. Not surprising since we just barely made the flight, our bags did not. This means a trip to baggage services to fill out a report. We will call them tomorrow for a status update. For now, it is what it is and 2 hours after landing, we just want to get out of there. Home stretch…. this is the best part of the whole trip.
Walking out the doors to all the waiting people. There is usually a barrier of some sort.. a small gate type fence, a glass wall, etc. This airport has a glass wall that extends 30 yards or so. Chris was waiting for us on the other side of this glass wall. Kelli Jo and Zoey were so giddy as we walked out the door. I spotted him first so I showed the girls where he was. Their faces lit up and I swear I saw Kelli Jo’s eyes tear up. They sprinted the 30 yards and ran around the wall to meet him. They jumped into his waiting arms and hugged him like it was their last hug ever. That right there makes it all worth it and I let the special moment sink in. I let the kids get their fill and then get my own loves from my husband whom I have missed so much.
We have a little over an hour drive to his apartment in Abu Dhabi. Since we don’t have car seats, we are forced to hold the 2 boys on our laps in the back seat. We pull into his apartment a mere 26 hours after leaving our home in Bountiful. I have slept a total of 5 hours in the last 48 and just want to crash on any flat surface. It’s 2:00 in the afternoon and we have to tackle the next task at hand…. Adjusting our bodies to an 11 hour time difference and getting over jet lag.
Jet lag with babies and young children is a whole other blog so I’ll spare you from that right now. At this point we are just happy to be safe and sound and finally reunited as a family. Totally worth it.
So, just as a warning, if you ever complain to me about how difficult a 3 hour flight is across some states or how that 1 hour time difference from Day Light Savings has messed your kids schedules up, you will understand why the only thing you will hear from me is a very audible scoff.