A long-haul flight is an extraordinary privilege. It means you’re travelling further afield than Port Macquarie. And while there is absolutely nothing wrong with Port Macquarie, if I had a choice between that being the reason I was paying $12 for an airport coffee, or the fact that I was heading to an incredible city like New York City (or, in my most recent case, Manchester, in the rainy north of England) or a tropical paradise like Mauritius (I repeat, or “gritty” Manchester), I would probably choose the latter.
A long-haul flight, for the unencumbered, means binge-watching movies, sipping on G&T and the pure pleasure of being unreachable for as long as you are usually asleep.
The exception to this is if you are flying with small children. If that's the case, what stretches ahead is less "me time" and more endurance test. Because what you're about to do is a full day of hardcore parenting while sitting in a confined space, being judged by strangers.
And your inner monologue will chatter away like this....
- I love being on a plane. Because it means I'm not in the airport anymore. In the airport my small people ask me to buy them something every two minutes, and I'm tired of trying to explain queuing to two tiny people who can't wait more than 10 seconds between their request for water and a colourful plastic beaker appearing in their hand.
- Ohhh, that's right. The thing about planes is Other People. Lots of them. In very close proximity. And none of them are related to my children. Which means that none of them will think it's cute when my son starts singing along with Teen Titans The Movie at full volume. "Go Teen Titans, GO TEEEEEEEN TITAAAANS."
- Bugger. And I didn't make up those little apology letters I've seen on the Internet. "Dear Everyone Just Trying To Get Where You're Going - May I say how sincerely sorry I am that I procreated, and that I have a need to transport my offspring from one place to another place. I understand that their very existence is irritating to you. But honestly, when it comes to flying, I doubt their presence is as irritating to you as it is to me..."
- No, sweetie, that's not a kick-drum. That's the back of the seat in front.
- Yes, we're sugar-free. But this a plane and a Chupa Chup on take-off is the only thing between my son being an normal person, and my son screaming that their ears are about to fall off. It's genetic.
- Thank GOD for the lovely flight attendant and her magic package of goodies for the kids. Their interest in opening this mysterious gift will buy us a few minutes' peace, and when you're looking at 14 hours non-stop, a few minutes ain't nothing. (Emirates has 'Fly with Me Animal' toys, colouring books, pencils and a Lonely Planet game pack for older kids, which will also buy you some extra time to yourself, parents).
- Yes, kid, you need to watch the safety video. This is a plane, not a rainy Saturday afternoon. The movie marathon comes with a side of awareness.
- This is going to be fine. They're both plugged into the family movies, they can't believe their luck that the nice woman just offered to bring them a JUICE, and who knows, I might even order a gin and tonic after all.
- Oh, wow, look at all these award-winning movies that I won't get the opportunity to watch.
- Gosh, look at that, I'm WATCHING one. With my G&T. Ching! This is the life.
- Yes, darling, of course I can take you to the toilet. You know, when the lady with the trolley leaves. Where's she going? I don't know darling, just to the other end of the plane I suppose.
- Quick, they've cleared the trolley, grab my hand, let's go! Yes, this a small toilet. Yes, we're up in the air. Yes, that's a funny sound it makes when you flush. Come on, kid, time to let go. This is our new normal for the next nine hours.
- Oh, you want to go for a walk on the way back? That will be fun. Let's try to avoid the man who's been scowling at every parent as they walked on and then rammed his headphones and started watching Footloose from the Classics Collection. Hi, Sir.
- Let's sit back down again. Oh, your brother's asleep. Just climb over him, darling. Try not to knee him in the head... oh.
- Yes, fellow travellers, that's the sound a small boy makes when he's been woken by a knee to the eye. Yes, I know it's annoying. No, I don't seem to be able to stop him right now. Ssssssh, darling....
- Thank God for in-flight entertainment. And the people who have those fancy sound-cancelling headphones. Stay engrossed in Footloose, everyone, he'll be quiet soon.
- Are we nearly there yet?
- Nope, we are not nearly there yet.
- Okay, so if I put this seat-rest up, and I fold my legs up like this, the three of us can try to sleep at the same time.
- So that didn't work. But they might be asleep. Heads on my knees. Well, this is snug.
- No, I don't need the toilet right now, thank God.
- Oh goodie. Meal service. I wonder if I can eat on top of my daughter's head. I WILL NOT WAKE THEM.
- Ooops, woke them.
- Yes, you can watch Teen Titans for the 25th time. Rules do not apply at 20,000 feet.
- Oh, you want to go for a walk....
Any help you can get during a long-haul is golden. Airlines like Emirates give you bassinets for your baby. And over 150 kids' channels on their 'ice' entertainment system (normal family screen time rules need not apply in the air). A kid can even have chicken cannelloni, which is a whole lot better than a pack of stale nuggets.
Really though, the unspoken truth about flying long-haul with kids is that it gets better. A trip to Manchester to make "forever memories" with family is worth 24 hours in the air to me. But the magical thing that's happened as the kids have grown up a little is that the flight became part of the whole experience. Fun, even.