Let me just preface this article by mentioning that red-eye flights are the bane of my existence. That may sound harsh but anyone who knows me understands whole-heartedly that I am not a morning person, so when I say that even in the best circumstances I don't appreciate a red-eye flight, I really am being honest. Now let's just add a 2-year-old and a six-month-old to the mix and I was terrified to complete this challenge. As unpredictable as children are in the comfort of your own home they seem to magnify any sound and annoyance when crammed on a quiet airplane.
Since we needed to complete our New York City challenge as well, we figured that pairing it with the red-eye flight challenge would be beneficial. BabyTravels is obviously too little to understand what's going on, but we started preparing ToddlerTravels for this flight about a month in advance. At dinner we would mention our next trip coming up was to a big city to get her excited. Then we would go over the routine of the airplane trip getting there. We had it set. She knew she would have her backpack with her favorite sleep items and a snack that she was only to open on the airplane. She would first have a snack and then it was "nap-time." This way she understood that she was expected to sleep on the plane.
Things started out pretty smoothly. We got through security with a breeze and found our gate quickly and efficiently. Reid took ToddlerTravels to burn off some extra energy and we waited patiently to board the flight. I should mention that I opted to put my children to bed at home before we left for the airport. Our flight left at midnight and I just couldn't justify it in my head to keep them up. They both had at least two hours of sleep before we woke them up and put them in the car. I could tell that some of the other children that were on the flight with us had not had the luxury of a few hours of sleep because they were cranky.
Both kids were in good spirits as we boarded the plane. ToddlerTravels, not being able to stand the suspense any longer, broke into her backpack immediately and devoured her snack of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and fruit snacks and started to look sleepy. BabyTravels downed a bottle and passed out in my arms before take-off. Reid and I glanced at each other and nodded in agreement that we've got this in the bag.
Of course as the flight wore on it became more and more apparent that we indeed didn't have it in the bag and the dim realization that our first day in New York City was going to be awful loomed over our heads. ToddlerTravels was finding it impossible to fall asleep. To her best effort she tried, just was not succeeding. She was far too over stimulated. Perhaps putting her to bed backfired on us and maybe the other parents had the right idea about keeping their kids up.
ToddlerTravels finally fell asleep with about one hour left of the flight to go. Which meant she got three hours of sleep that night, which also meant Reid and I got one hour of sleep. We landed with the quintessential red-eye and a headache to match. We weren't sure how we were going to face the long day ahead of us with check-in at our hotel not being until 3 p.m., but we dragged all our belongings and lethargic children off the airplane and headed towards the Big Apple.
Some tips for bringing young children on red-eye flights:
We do think it was helpful for ToddlerTravels to prepare her in advance. We even sat down the night before with pictures and role-played what would happen. She was really excited to go on the airplane — maybe a little over-excited.
Bring along your child's favorite security items (blanket, pacifier, stuffed animal) or something they sleep with every night so that they understand that they are expected to sleep on the airplane.
Help them be as comfortable as possible on the airplane and understand that they might not fall asleep right away. Don't get stressed out or you will end up stressing them out as well.
I'm not an advocate for giving a child medicine to get them to sleep on the airplane. But if it's something you are going to consider, please talk to your pediatrician first. Sometimes these medicines have the opposite effect on children and end up making them high-strung.
Hilarye Fuller lives in Salt Lake City, where she stays at home with her two young daughters and pens the travel blog DottingTheMap. For more information on 12 in 2012 Challenge, and for tips and reviews visit http://www.dottingthemap.com