I promise we will one day get off the topic of holidaying with babies – I assume that day will come when we fail to find an excuse to go on holiday again and / or run out of money. But bear with me on this one as I have many words of wisdom to impart on the subject of flying transatlantic alone with a baby – some might sum this up by saying “don’t”, I might provide additional enlightenment on this frankly pessimistic outlook and instead say “maybe don’t risk American”.
A single 10 hour flight across the Atlantic would be too easy, no, Elphie and I had to add another short haul 1.5 hour flight to make sure we had covered all bases for flying alone with an infant. The incentive for this insanity was an opportunity to spend quality time with my matron of honour, Julia, who hoping for a chilled out few days with me last summer as I started maternity leave was instead treated to unanticipated week 0 chaos. This was too good an opportunity to miss to get to hang out with her for ten whole days, something we hadn’t had a chance to do for a decade!
I was a bit nervous before heading, my first flight being during the day and hence likely to involve a lot of Elphie entertainment as we all know she ain’t a great napper. But she’s been pretty much fine on all her other flights so was confident it wouldn’t be that bad. My concern was about the seating arrangements – I had rung up American Airlines before flying and been told I could not book a bassinet in advance and would have to do it at the airport. This made me more nervous as being by myself in a bulkhead with a bassinet or equivalent to put madam down in was one thing – sitting with her on my lap for ten hours was entirely another!
Our first proper long haul flight as a family was surprisingly ok – we arrived in Mauritius feeling quite relieved that it hadn’t been a disaster. After the usual confusion over time zones (was it three or four hours’ difference? Had the plane landed an hour early?) we managed to navigate the shiny new airport and Pip got to experience his first forward-facing car seat on the way to the hotel. However, the flight was rather different to Elphie’s in several ways…
Pip is at the stage of trying very hard to be mobile, which means he gets quite squirmy after a while sitting in your lap or strapped into a seat. No matter, we thought: he will be able to happily roll around on the floor of the plane with his toys.
Thwarted! The minute we set him down, the flight attendant scurried over to inform us that this wasn’t allowed as the oxygen masks didn’t stretch down that far. Apparently this is BA rules for all planes and all routes. “But my friend’s baby sat on the floor all the way to Rio…?” “Pah!” he replied and that was that. We then put Pip in his reclining seat for a bit, then after an hour or so of handing him toys and picking up said toys from the floor he seemed quite happy to sit in my seat while I stood up and Mr Cath supervised. Which will all probably be a nightmare on the day flight home, but in this case our plane took off at 3pm which meant it was only a few hours until…
Fred has been visiting Rio for a few years now and always suggested I find a way to come along. When I was working it seemed crazy to give up my limited holiday allowance to explore Rio by myself while he worked, but while on maternity leave this is no longer an issue as I have all the time in the world and a companion (we are ignoring my unhealthy bank balance for the purposes of this post). But I had been avoiding it – Rio in my mind was a dangerous city full of druglords and thievery around every corner; how could I put myself and my baby into that environment? With four days of Fred working, I was worried we wouldn’t leave the hotel room. How wrong I was.
So how did we get on in Paris avec bebe?
When I booked our Eurostar tickets, they pretty much dismissed the fact we were bringing a baby and I didn’t have to provide his passport details or anything. I was therefore fully expecting to be seated amidst businesspeople and canoodling couples who would not take kindly to little ‘uns (I’d read this article recommending the family carriage too late – our seats had already been assigned). As we entered the train, Mr Cath immediately saw a French ex-colleague of his who was sat awkwardly by himself in a bay of four seats, with a family of four. Yes, four people between three seats. As it happened, he appeared to have the wrong carriage rather than us as it was absolutely chocabloc with young families, watching videos on iPads, marching up and down the aisle and strewing crumbs everywhere. So I’m unsure whether the man who booked our tickets did register our family status after all, or whether it was just good luck that we were amongst our own kind.