Traveling with Kids (An Infant and Toddler) and Living to Tell the Tale

Travelling With An Infant

Just barely. First let me say that given that the journey from San Francisco to India is about twenty-four hours there is no way to make it easy. Not even first class would help. (Ok, it would help some). But in general, traveling with kids, a three month old and a three year old, across the world can cause you to age ten years at least. And that’s if you are under forty. It rises exponentially after that.

What didn’t go so well:

Two connections:
Two connections with an hour long connection time each.¬†Essentially we booked through Lufthansa.com, to start on United from San Francisco to Frankfurt, to transfer to Vienna on Austrian Airways and on to new Delhi on Austrian as well. When I called ahead for seat assignments as all parents jockeying for airplane bassinet seats do, I had to call each airline individually because they were unable to assign seats on their “partner” airlines. Finally, when we did get to assign seats, they change them ay the airport anyway!! There’s two hours of my life I will never get back.

The bassinet offered us on United was a joke: a “floor” bassinet which is a plastic box esentially that you put on the floor under your seat. Have you been on a regular United flight recently? There is barely enough floor space for your feet let alone a twelve pound baby!! My favorite part was when the stewardess brought the thing over and asked me where I was going to put it, as if I were responsible for it’s ludicrous design!

On Austrian the situation with the bassinet was even more frustrating. We didn’t get a bassinet seat but then neither did anyone else. The bulkhead row with the wall bassinet seats lay empty while I lost all sensation in my arm due to the weight of my daughter’s head.

Another example of where the Star Alliance “alliance” fails is that the baggage allowances vary so that going on United my husband was allowed three bags at 70 lbs but coming back on Lufthansa he is only allowed two bags at 50 lbs (same status, less clout). Hmmm.. That certainly makes packing (not to mention shopping) an interesting exercise.

Finally, they couldn’t print us boarding passes all the way so on both our (short) connections we had to stop at ticket counters. For our infant United couldn’t find the ticket at all,’as it was booked on Lufthansa.com! Go, team!

Enough about them, back to us.

One thing we didn’t do very well was pack our hand luggage. With two strollers, two kids, two laptops, a breast pump, and a suit carrier I wanted to consolidate diaper bags into one, which ended up being a fairly large wheelie carry-on. This meant that everytime we wanted something from the bag (every 5 mins or so to entertain a restless toddler) we had to get up and retrieve it from the overhead compartment.

To put things in perspective, It could have a lot been worse: our flights could have gotten delayed, we could have missed a connection, our bags could have gotten lost, someone could have gotten pooped on (me) or cried all through the flight (in all fairness, that would have been me).

What we did well:

Keeping an adult to kid ratio of 1:1.
Being outnumbered when traveling with an infant and toddler is suicide. And instead of each handling a kid the whole time, we gave each other time off and the other adult handled both kids. iPads, stickers, food, alcohol (jk, kinda) everything was fair game when it came to making it through your two-hour time slots unscathed.

Comprehending the inevitability:

Not going was never an option for us. We firmly believe in travel as critical for children’s development and are adamant about them spending time in India, where we grew up. So we never went down the path of “Why are we doing this?”. Our motivations were strong so our spirits kept up which I suppose is half the battle.

Picking a non-US carrier for most of the journey:
On a one-hour flight on Austrian we were offered a puzzle for Karam, a squeaky duck for Kimaya, a cocktail and a delicious snack. On a ten hour flight on United we were offered one full meal (breakfast was a stale Danish and banana), charged six dollars for a glass of wine and told to put our child in an unusable plastic box. I thought longingly of Singapore airlines and it’s luxury 16-kilo weight limit bassinet with a mattress and blanket and little stuffed toy. The babies have spoken and the verdict is in. I would fly from San Francisco to New York via London to avoid flying a US carrier. It’s all about knowing what you want and the best airline to travel to suit your needs.

Ensuring our seats were desirable to facilitate easy swapping:

Given that we had to do some maneuvering on all flights to sit together, we ensured that we picked window or aisle seats so that people would be enticed to change with us. One lucky chap got my husband’s economy plus seat AND avoided having to spend next hours next to a bouncing toddler and squirmy infant. Clearly was his day!

What I learned from this trip:

 Travelling With An Infant – Kids’ headphones are great (yes, Karam’s headphones are Hello Kitty but he is three and doesn’t know the difference) but they will make your child talk louder.

– Something about America makes people mean and intolerant. On our San Francisco-Frankfurt flight our children were scowled at and in general not encouraged to be seen or heard. On Austrian from Frankfurt to Vienna and on to Delhi people (mostly men) smiled and played with the baby. Or maybe United put everyone in a bad mood. That I would believe.

– Special mention to the awesomeness of the new Indira Gandhi International Terminal in New Delhi which was built by my father-in-law and is finally worthy of India’s status as a budding superpower in the world.