Flying to Australia with four children may be every parents worst nightmare, but I promise it is not as bad as it sounds. So, if you are thinking of making the trip down under, it is definitely possible, even with little ones. We have done it twice now, the first time our children were 11, 8, 6 and 4. We then flew, again, a year later. We chose night flights on both occasions, the idea was that we could wear the children out during the day before the flight making them too exhausted to moan.
The first time we flew to Brisbane via Dubai. I was as organized as I could be. My biggest fear was that the children would get bored, begin bickering, and end up having a complete melt-down on the plane. I had visions of the children screaming until their faces turned blue. Us, their responsible parents, would be unable to calm them, resulting in all four children running up and down the aisles screaming and throwing themselves on to the floor. Hearing and feeling distressed by these four monsters, the other passengers would press their hostess call lights in unison, and the flight attendants would be buried under a sea of complaints and requests to have us thrown from the aircraft. In response to this, all six of us would be fitted with both terrifying and reliable parachutes and evacuated from the plane into the ocean without so much as a compass to help us find our way. Needless to say, I was a nervous wreck.
In response to my fears, I did what any normal parent would do, I spent a lot of money on a lot of brand new treats. I armed each child with a trunkie for their hand luggage. About three weeks before we were due to fly, I hid their trunkies in the top of our wardrobe and filled them with brand new toys, books, colouring pens and then bought snacks at the airport to sneak in for a surprise snack too. My theory was to give them lots of new and interesting things to postpone their cries of “mummy I am bored” because we all know that a child’s own cure for boredom is to annoy the brother or sister to the left of them that is not bored by any means possible, usually a quiet pinch or elbow followed by a loving smile in their parents’ direction to mask their mischievousness. In their box of goodies I included things like Lego, activity books, mini-games such as: connect four and shut the box.
I hear your thoughts, “this sounds like a fantastic idea,” “what a clever mother she is, I must copy these tricks.” Don’t. After intercepting the delivery man at the front door, and whispering at him like a crazy woman because I couldn’t let the children, who were in the other room, see the treats he was delivering otherwise the whole flight would be lost and consequently, the entire holiday ruined. After smuggling the packages upstairs and fearing for my own life after tripping up the stairs and then calling to the children through my own tears of pain, “it’s ok, carry on watching the film. Please, don’t come through.” After successfully getting all the way through customs and onto the plane without one child taking a sneak peek even though they had ridden them all the way through the airport. The plane takes off, the seatbelt sign removed, I am incredibly proud of myself as I declare “right, shall we get your trunkie’s down?” they all don’t even look up from their screen’s and just respond with a disgruntled “no thanks.” Not once did they look in those damn trunkies, not once! They stayed in the hand luggage compartment above our heads the entire flight.
Another problem that a parent with a large family is faced with on a long-haul flight is the best seating arrangement. This is because a row is either made up of three or four seats, when there are six of you this means you need to be split up in some way. After much deliberating we decided that two rows of three one behind the other would be best. The idea was to have an adult in the middle with a child either side of us limiting the amount of touching, poking, hitting, kicking, kneeing, spitting and breathing on each other. Hoping that this would keep the flight as calm as possible. This, unlike the trunkies, was a success. The children were able to rest their heads on us equally, preventing any screaming of “I want Mummy, you have more of her!” It also allowed us to help each child equally without reaching over the other one. The only downfall was when we needed the toilet and the children were asleep, trying to creep past them like a ninja without waking them, at times, was impossible. It is also nearly impossible to get comfortable with a 5-year-old and 9-year-old sprawled out on top of you, but it was all worth it because we had no fighting and the children managed to sleep.
The next problem I felt I had to solve was how to prevent jet lag. Thousands of questions that I had no answer to, Google had no answer to and even my Mum had no answer to. The questions swam around my head before I went to sleep each night. They tormented me with “you will never solve me” on repeat in a croaky witch’s voice ringing in my ears. Do I encourage the children to sleep on the flight as much as possible? Do I try to get them straight into Australian time as soon as we step foot on the plane? Do I limit their sleep? Do I wake them for food? Do I encourage them to cat nap and wake them up after an hour or so in the hope that this will wipe their sleep pattern clean? The only problem is with four very excited children how would I get them all to sleep at the same time? What do I do? Basically, when we arrived in Oz we had lost a day it was first thing in the morning but bedtime back in the UK. We decided to try and wipe our slates’ clean. I thought the best way to do this would be to grab bits of sleep, every few hours on the plane, in the hope that when we land our bodies’ would be so confused, we could just start all over again. This is what we did: we let the children fall asleep whenever they wanted to, sometimes resulting in missing meals, but that was fine because they feed you so much on those flights that they didn’t need to wait long until they came around again. I would love to say that I have an answer to jet lag but instead, the result of our plan was (drum roll please) that we were jet-lagged for three days!
When I say jet lagged I don’t mean, “Oh, I am slightly sleepy I think I will go to bed at 8 pm instead of 9 pm” Oh no, this was tiredness like we had never experienced before. We all decided to keep as busy as possible (by we I mean me, this was all my idea and I sold it as the answer to our prayers) when we got back to the house the excitement kept us going for a while. We all unpacked and went for a swim in the pool. After that, it was time to go food shopping, by now it was probably about 11am. The boys and I decided to sit down while hubby and the girls were still getting showered and dressed. After sitting I remember nothing! I don’t remember closing my eyes’, I don’t even remember blinking. All I remember is waking up on the sofa and everyone else was sprawled out on the sofa too, snoring. It was getting dark outside. I was so cross with myself because I had not followed my own plan! I got up and made my way to the kitchen. Hubby had done the shopping while I slept, I must have been completely out of it. I was devastated we were never going to get acclimatised.
I prepared tea with a new plan in place, a late night and a lay-in, fingers crossed. It didn’t happen like that. The boys were so tired that it was impossible to wake them. However, the girls, Mike and I managed to eat tea and go into the pool. It got to 10 pm, the boys were still fast asleep and the rest of us joined them. I would love to say that was it but the night was a nightmare! The boys woke up at 11 pm hungry for tea, they finally went back to sleep at 1 am and the girls woke up for breakfast at 3 am. This went on for two days but by the third day, we were all back in line with Australian time.
When we repeated the flight this year, I was much more relaxed. The children still brought their trunkies’, but instead of filling it with treats, they had a few snacks for takeoff and landing, a pillow, blanket and a change of clothes in case of any accidents on the flight. Although I was less obsessed with keeping them entertained my obsession with combating jet lag was still alive. This time I thought I would encourage them to sleep, we had a different stopover to last time which meant we were doing the longest flight first. It was amazing, both the youngest and oldest had a full 13 hours sleep on the way to Singapore and the rest managed to have between 6 and 10, brilliant. I felt very smug with myself. I was patting myself on the back for definitely conquering jet lag this time around. Er, no! When we landed I would love to tell you that we were jet lag free, this wasn’t entirely the case, but we did feel a lot better than the first time. We managed to stay awake until 6 pm, that alone was an improvement, but for four days we were up at 4 am ready for breakfast. By the fourth day it felt like we would always be in bed before 7 pm and up before the sun but suddenly it all clicked and everyone was in sync.
So, if you are planning a trip with children down under, my advice would be to try not to over think it. The staff on board know what they are doing which means the children are not going to get bored. My children have said they would rather fly to Australia than drive from Suffolk to Cornwall and so would I. It is less hassle and, for us, less bickering! You will be jet-lagged so make sure you are staying in Australia long enough so that losing a couple of days won’t matter. We stayed for three weeks the first time and well, the second time we moved here. Don’t pack too much, you really don’t need it. The flight is so much easier than you are imagining it, and the time really does fly by (excuse the pun). It’s so worth it, so if you are considering it, stop considering it and do it!