Flying with children is not for the faint hearted, whilst I’ve never done a return flight to Cape Town, I have a few other experiences to share with you based on my many experiences of flying solo with small children!
My Experiences Of Flying With Children – you can’t make this stuff up!
The first time I flew with my eldest daughter, she was 15 months old. We were on our way to the UK from Zimbabwe with a one day stop-over in Johannesburg. I didn’t even have a stroller then as the plan was to buy one in Johannesburg en-route. My husband was also flying to the UK, but funny enough he booked himself on a completely different airline and route – no, he will never live that one down! I was scared, but excited and determined. The trip itself was fine, the only ‘bad thing’ that happened was when she slipped off her seat, fast asleep, in the middle of the night and landed on the floor – Yup! Bad mom! I felt the judgement hard, and don’t think I will ever forgive myself. Fortunately she slept through the whole thing!
Flying Solo – A Mom Of With Two Little Girls
The next flight I remember taking was when we left Zimbabwe to start our new life in South Africa. My husband was already in SA waiting for us so I had to do it alone! My eldest was just two years old (2 years and one month to be exact) and my youngest was five weeks old. Yes. Five Weeks Old. I was emotionally devastated to be leaving my parents, sad to be leaving Zimbabwe, and terrified of starting a new life in South Africa. There was nothing for it but to plan!
I had the baby in her carry pouch in the front, with a backpack on my back containing the typical ‘baby bag’ contents as well. The plan was that this would leave my hands free to keep hold of the two-year old! It worked, sort of. I made use of the ‘parents with children get on first’ service. This helped a lot as I managed to get the two-year old in her seat next to the window and effectively trapped her in there.
Then I managed to take the back pack off, and then the baby. The air-hostesses were lovely, but as I finally sat down I realised my breasts were leaking. Yup! Typical right? There was nothing for it but to subtly attempt to breastfeed my tiny baby whilst the rest of the passengers were walking past me, boarding the plane, starring with pity and shock! I used a baby-blanket to cover myself and her but it was more scary trying to protect her soft little head as everyone jostled past than anything else.
By the time I actually saw my husband in the OR Tambo Arrivals Hall, my knees nearly buckled! Relief was an understatement!
That wasn’t the end!
The worst flight I remember was almost a year later. My eldest was almost three, my youngest was one, and we were heading back to Zim for an extended stay, just the three of us again. I had three huge suitcases of luggage – because kids need lots of clothing, my laptop bag, hand bag, and hand luggage plus a stroller.
Now, the Zimbabwe International Airport must be the only one in the world that I am aware of that does not bring the stroller you checked at the door of the plane upon boarding, to the door of the plane when you disembark. Noooo … in Zimbabwe I had to carry the one year old, keep hold of the three-year old, carry the laptop bag, hand luggage backpack and my handbag all the way through customs and wait for the stroller to come off the luggage carousel. You don’t even get to the trolleys until you are through customs.
I then had to push the trolley which was full of our luggage, with one child perched on top (don’t judge), and also pushing the stroller which the one year old was practically climbing out of. When I pushed it all through the doors into the arrivals hall I will never forget the face of one of the anxious relatives (not mine), she looked at me and just said “You are very brave”, and I replied in the moment “No, I’m stupid, never again!”.
That Was A Lie!
I did do it alone again. Twice actually. One of those was the strangest flight ever! We flew from Zim to Johannesburg again, then had a connecting flight to Kathu. Upon boarding that flight I realised that the girls and I were the only passengers on the plane! That was surreal, but I have to say, relaxed! At least I didn’t have to worry about any of the other passengers getting irritated by the kids or have to keep telling them to shush. It was a tiny plane too so I just let them pick whichever seat they wanted. When we got there everyone who was waiting for other flights was shocked that it was just the three of us getting off. My husband still jokes that he chartered us our own flight! Sure! Whatever! lol
The Waste Of A Trip!
The last time I flew alone with the girls was two internal flights. The first was from East London to Johannesburg, where we then had to get a connecting flight to Bloemfontein as that’s where we’d left my car. I then had to drive back to Welkom. That was a looong day! Next time I will just drive, it would actually have been quicker in hindsight.
Whenever we fly with my husband, it’s never quite as eventful. There’s a reason we only have two kids, one each!
As you can see, I have a lot of experience flying solo with my girls. It’s not something I choose to do. The early days before they can walk are actually not as bad as you think. The hardest years are when the children are between one and four. They are so excited. Getting on the shuttle bus is exciting, then getting on the plane, then finding their seat, then fighting over who gets to sit by the window, and “Why do we have to have our seat belts on, mommy?” or, “Why can’t I have another packet of crisps at R25?” Ummm … because!
Here are my personal top tips when flying with children:
- If you kids are small enough to suck a dummy or drink a bottle, then try to get them to do this as the plane is taking off and landing as the sucking motion helps them to not get blocked ears. For older children either a piece of chewing gum, or even a sucker sweet.
- Don’t take hand luggage or a hand bag if you can manage it. The less things to carry in your hands the easier your life will be. Take ONE bag for everything, preferably a backpack or satchel! Remember you will always have to take the laptop out of the bag when you go through the security in the airport so be prepared.
- Don’t drink fizzy drinks. The gas is doubly gassy and can leave you feeling uncomfortable, also abstain from alcohol. Whilst we might all want to drown our sorrows or take the edge off the stress, save it until you’re off the plane and someone else is there to share the responsibility.
- Keep them strapped in their seats if you can, the judgement received from fellow passengers when your sleeping child falls off their seat and doesn’t even wake up, is harsh!
- Don’t forget your documents! Especially if you are travelling solo and outside the country! I strongly advise you to check the South African Home Affairs website for the necessary requirements for travelling with children! The list is long and you can’t afford to miss anything!
- Take something to keep them busy. I find the best is an empty A5 size notebook and a few coloured markers or crayons (nothing that is permanent!). These are useful in the waiting area before getting on the plane, as well as in-flight.
- Take some snacks for them, the inflight food is not always ideal for kids so take a few of their favourite crisps or cheese biscuits or dried fruit. Just make sure you know the rules of the country you are flying into – I take no responsibility for any food products you might attempt to take into Australia … for example!
- Try to limit their liquid intake. I’m not saying don’t let them drink anything because flying make you very thirsty, but after the initial obligatory tour of the bathroom facilities you don’t want to have to go back and forth five times, especially if you are flying solo with more than one child. Those toilet cubicles are teeny tiny!!
- Board first and get off last! I can’t be more clear about this! Use the ‘travelling with kids’ card to get on first so that you can organise them before you have to start fighting for overhead luggage space. When it’s time to get off, wait until the rush has died down. It’s not worth the squash. Kids are short compared to us, and can easily get trampled in the stampede!
- When taking an iPad or tablet, don’t forget to charge it fully, and to take a pair of earphones for them. I’m not sure what will make you more hated by your fellow passengers, a child that cries the whole flight, the one that kicks the chair in front of them, or the one that blasts their favourite nursery rhymes!
What Do The Experts Say?
Travelstart have some awesome tips for flying with children. Below is a short video with some personal stories of other frequent flyers.
Here is a helpful Infographic you can pin to keep handy for the next time you are considering flying with children.
My next flight is over Easter, solo again. I’m looking forward to it this time. The girls are counting the days already! And the best thing, I don’t have to worry about a pushchair at Harare International Airport!
This post was done in collaboration with Travelstart. If you are looking for Cheap Flight From Johannesburg To Cape Town, Travelstart have some awesome deals on at the moment which also provide you with the flexibility of booking on different airlines based on your ideal schedule!