Finding The Happy

Looking for joy in all the right places


bassinet seats

A flight to remember

So yes, we’ve been rather quiet online. Most of September has been spent in the following ways:

  • preparing for Surprise Grandma Singapore trip
  • in Singapore
  • recovering from Surprise Grandma Singapore trip.

And if I have time and energy enough tonight, I’ll cover some of the highlights of our journey. But I thought I’d dedicate this post to my solo-parent flight with Arddun.

Yes, that’s right. Me, my very wriggly toddler, and an almost-full Singapore Airlines A380. Sydney to Singapore, non-stop.

To understand the full extent of this enterprise, you have to understand that we live in Canberra. Which means our day had started with an indecently early wake-up call, followed by 3 hours on the road, and another nail-biting bit where we got stuck in Sydney traffic for half an hour. And that was just to get to the airport.

Couple that with a late and bumpy take-off, and you’ll begin to see how long my day was starting to get.

I think in my heart of hearts, I’d rather relished the prospect of doing the solo-with-Arddun travel thing. It was something our family anticipated having to do this year because we knew how stupid Tony’s workload was going to get by September, which was why he couldn’t join us. But I think it also evolved into something like a rite of passage for me. A personal challenge. Something I’d embraced with all the apprehension and naive optimism of a new mother contemplating labour and childbirth. Right, I’d told myself, I’m going to do this. I know I’ll be able to survive this, because loads of other women have. Eight hours on an airplane with an active toddler. Nothing to sneeze at, but I am creative, I am quick-thinking, and I have a sense of humour.

I’ll skip the bit about the check-in, except to say that I’ll never use Sydney Airport’s luggage trolleys again unless I can work out trolley reverse psychology. I’ll also glance over the take-off (so bumpy that the child on Arddun’s left cried, “Wheeee!!!” like he was in the amusement park). In truth, the first 6 hours of the flight were, on hindsight, uneventful. Sure, it got difficult trying to keep Arddun seated. But it was a huge blessing that SQ gave me a spare seat for Arddun even though I didn’t pay for one, so I wasn’t complaining. And sure, every air stewardess that got babysitting duty while I nipped to the bathroom commented on “how very active” my child was, upon my hasty return.

And yes, we lost at least one crayon within seconds of opening the box and the boy next to us ended up hogging the entire set anyway. The in-flight entertainment failed to capture her attention because the screen was fixed high up on the wall in front of us, and her headphones were too big for her tiny head. Also, all iPhone apps and videos downloaded for her pleasure were drowned out by engine and ambient noise, so In the Night Garden made even less sense than ever. Her nap was cut short by at least half, because the child beside us had given an almighty yell out of the blue. She devoured my lunch since she’d clearly outgrown Rafferty’s, refused all the goodies I’d procured from the Asian bakery the day before, and wanted, NEEDED to drink my tea. And of course, she HAD to use up two diapers by hour 6, which meant already two rounds of changing her in a very cramp lavatory.

But nothing too dramatic. She wasn’t noisy, she wasn’t unmanageable, we were fine.

Enter hour 7, and I smell something seriously suss.

I had been sure to secure our seats the moment I bought our tickets online, so I was able to get the bassinet seat in the upper deck. Which meant the front half of the upper deck was First Class, and then it was Economy, with us on the front row. I’d figured that the fewer the passengers surrounding us, the fewer people I’d be likely to irritate, should my child turn feral.

It also meant, however, that I’d have to walk the entire length of Economy class to get to the lavatories. And this was turning out to be an almighty stink.

True enough, we get in there and I realise that everything has gone everywhere. It’s a miracle my clothes are not soiled, because the poor girl needs a bath. I use up all my nappy wipes, save one. I’m so thankful I packed her a change of clothes, and I am praying the plane doesn’t get major turbulence while I’m frantically giving her a mini-bath from the slow, stately trickle of airplane tap water.

Not fun.

Amazingly, Arddun didn’t try any Chinese acrobatics, and we eventually make it out. I apologise to the queue, and scuttle back to the front.

An apple had been dropped off on Arddun’s seat, as previously requested. Stolen from First Class. How kind.

“Would you like an apple?” I ask my daughter.

“Apper!” she agrees happily, signs “please” very politely, and takes two bites.

And then she erupts like Mount Vesuvius. Top end, this time.

Yes folks, it’s everywhere. On the seats, on the blankets, on the ground, on me. Amazingly, thanks to the wide angle of her projectile spew, she managed to keep herself nice and dry. Lord knows I don’t have any change of clothes left for her. But then, I didn’t pack anything for me either, did I.

I had yelped involuntarily, so I think lots of passengers heard. There’s this horrid pause while I’m standing there, wearing spew and a rather wild look. Meanwhile, the curtains part from the back of the plane and the stewardesses wheel our in-flight dinner down both corridors. My access to the lavatories – blocked. No stewardesses on hand to help. Wriggly one-year-old, impervious to the disaster she’d just created and surprisingly chirpy for one suddenly so sick. Clothes starting to stick to my skin in a sickening fashion.

Napkins, nappy wipes, tissues start coming forward from everywhere. My first instinct is to get the yuck off the seats, just in case SQ decide to hand me a bill for chair shampoo.

“Right!” I say, and firmly toss Arddun on to her seat before strapping her in. “Don’t go anywhere, little girl!” She unbuckles herself in 2 seconds. I frantically tear open a paperbag for garbage, and start swiping with my left while holding on to my inquisitive child with my right. Nota bene: the little paperbags they supply on airplanes just in case you feel queasy? Absolutely impossible to tear open in a tremendous hurry.

Someone from the next aisle tells me that I have spew on my clothes. Yes thank you, I’m aware of that, I’m just trying to do one thing at a time please, thankyouverymuch.

A stewardess comes over. How can I help, she asks. She arrives with a humongous paperbag that has two tiny packets of nappy wipes in them. I direct her to the happy child, and ask that she just watches Arddun so I can get on with it. And then I clean everything. And spend lots of time yet again in the lavatory at the back. And apologise to everyone on my way there and back, for spoiling their dinners.

And then I sit in my stinky clothes, now scrubbed transparent because I was stupidly wearing white, for the final hour of our flight. And I thank GOD that we’re flying to Singapore, and not London.

And so yes, that was our flight to Singapore. Thankfully, the flight back to Sydney felt quicker and much easier, even though Arddun didn’t get a spare seat this time. Turns out that Arddun had contracted gastroenteritis before or during the flight, which meant the poor thing was still spewing and pooing all through our first week in Singapore. And then she’d passed it on to me. And we eventually passed it on to our host, Audrey, before scuttling off to my mother’s.

It’s funny – I had been so diligent about Arddun’s food and entertainment that I had brought enough to even feed and entertain the child sitting beside us. But it had just never crossed my mind that she’d be this sick on an airplane. Still, like childbirth, the awful moment eventually passes… and then everything becomes just a Really Good Cringey Story.

Flight school

Okay. So I’m hardly a flying-with-baby pro, yeah? But since I’ve done the deed a couple of times now (to Brisbane, to Singapore, to Sydney), I thought I’d summarise some of my findings. Who knows. This might help someone, some day.

Lessons learnt about flying with a baby…

OOH WAIT. Caveats:

  • Arddun has only flown with SIA (international) and Qantas (domestic).
  • These tips apply to those who are planning to fly economy. If you’re la-di-da enough to afford business class or first, you may read this and laugh cruelly at the plight of us plebeian mothers.
  • Can’t reaaaally speak for babies older than 9.5 months, since that’s how old Arddun was at the time of travel.
  • Scratch that. Can’t speak for any babies other than my own.

Back to – Lessons learnt about flying with a baby.

1. Pack enough, but not a smidgen more

First time mums travelling long-distance look at their wriggling, writhing bundle of joy and wonder how on earth they’re going to keep him/her/it occupied and benign for 8/12/22 hours on the plane in an enclosed space. Also, as mothers are wont to do, we imagine the absolute worst and then pack 150% more. What if she gets diarrhoea? Let’s pack 42 nappies for an 8 hour flight! Throws up on her clothes? Surely there’s enough space in a suitcase for her entire wardrobe – they’re so tiny after all.

And then the clincher: what if she gets bored?

Soon, we’re packed enough for a nuclear winter, and trying frantically to persuade customs that the Ayers Rock on wheels trundling behind us is baby’s hand luggage. (“It’ll fit into the overhead compartment! I swear it on my daughter’s Sophie the Giraffe!”)

But guess what. You’re lucky if you’ll even get to touch your overhead compartment. Because you and your partner will be swimming in your baby’s paraphernalia from all her other bags while ensconced in your teeny-tiny airplane seats. And let’s not forget that certain airlines also provide a blanket. And a cushion. Each. Add that all up, and your shins will have disappeared for the duration of your flight while your baby is happily chewing on the remote control to your entertainment unit.

So yes – prepare for emergencies, but trust that fellow passengers with children are able and willing to help out if the plane crew can’t. Also, as Leila’s mommy recounted to me, emergency gear extends to parents also. Upon the plane’s descent, her little one – sick already with food poisoning – decided to present her semi-digested lunch all over mommy’s shirt. And baby clothes, no matter how comfy and cute, can’t stretch that wide for mommies.

2. Food

A few tips squashed under this headline as follows:

  • Airlines do provide baby food, but in SIA’s case it went from goo for 4-month olds straight to Aussie Day Breakfast for toddlers. Arddun was in between both food types and allergic to 75% of the toddler’s platter. So BYO to be safe.
  • Pack all your baby food in the one hand carry, if you can. That way, you can tell customs it’s all in the one place, and it’ll speed things up for them and you. They’re pretty accommodating where baby food is concerned – they just want to know where it all is.
  • Word of warning about bringing along baby food in glass jars. We had 2 such jars given to us at the last minute, which we took along in the nappy bag. One broke into smithereens during the flight, and wild rice pudding went everywhere. Not fun.
  • It might have been a health and safety thing for SIA, but they needed a 20-minute head’s up to heat up Arddun’s food each time. I suspect they were letting the jars sit in hot water, rather than nuke them. So if your child is the type to go la-la-la-GIMME-FOOD-I’M-DYING-HERE-SCREEEEEAM in 2 seconds… you might want to get the ball rolling ahead of time.

  3. Pram

Check with your airline to see if you’re allowed to wheel your pram to the gate. SIA allows it, but Qantas didn’t. Also, some airports provide strollers for use in the check-in area. But your child might need to be older, bigger, and able to sit upright without assistance.

4. Bassinet

Okay. The lowdown on bassinet reservations.

The infant’s ticket is usually attached to the mother’s, if the mother is travelling of course. This means that Mommy is entitled to the bassinet seat (conditions apply) while Daddy… it remains to be seen.

Now – most airlines now let you book your seats online. But in SIA’s case, I was able to claim the bassinet seat for myself and Arddun… but not the empty non-bassinet seat beside me for Tony. This proved a very frustrating situation because that meant we had to be separated.

Spoke to Ryan’s Mommy and she said that she had a similar experience when she flew with another airline (I forgot to ask which). In our case, the only way to get everyone sitting together was to speak to a human at the airport check-in. (No – you can’t sort it out with customer service on the phone either.) By then, of course, all the bassinet seats were long-gone… and so was my good humour.

As for bassinet allocation – some airlines do it first-come-first-serve (like SIA), but other airlines do it by age, where the youngest get priority. In such instances, you could get bumped from your bassinet reservation even though you had succeeded in booking one. So check with your airline.

Bassinet sizes – they say they can take children up to 1.5 or 2 years… but really, you’d be struggling. SIA has apparently the biggest bassinet of them all – a whopping 77cm long. Which is still a squeeze. Still – the reason you’d want to score a bassinet seat isn’t so much for the bassinet as the leg room. See point one about baby gear and look, no shins.

Use of bassinet – You’re not supposed to change nappies in them. A ridiculous idea to begin with, some might say. Except after changing your baby’s nappy in the plane’s lavatory, you could moonlight in the Beijing circus troupe with your newfound contortionist skills. And guess what. Every time the no-seatbelt sign comes on, you have to take baby out of the bassinet whether he’s sleeping or no. Every time.

In case you’re wondering, no you can’t book the seats next to the emergency exits to score some crawling space. They’d prefer you’re not juggling baby and 21 bags while flinging aircraft doors wide open. Can’t think why.

5. Pacing the corridors

Is hard, because you only have a tiny window when you’re not getting in some flight attendant’s way. I don’t know how else to comfort you on this score, except to say that there is usually a small alcove next to the flight attendant’s galley in the middle of the plane where you could pace on the spot to get your blood moving, and jiggle bubba to sleep.

On our flight to Singapore, we had the misfortune of sitting near a portly couple who hated the idea of a mother (me) standing in front of them to jiggle her child to sleep in a pouch. But I couldn’t help it – they were seated next to the emergency door and the spot in front of them was the only one I could use to get out of everyone else’s way. Otherwise, I’d bump into the queue for the lavatories, or get in the way of the flight attendants.

Anyhoo. After some very pointed and snide remarks about how I “really should return to my seat” and “shouldn’t be here in their spot”, both of them decided to max out their extra $50 worth of legroom by stretching legs as far as possible so I would keep tripping over their cankles. I don’t know what kind of ugly childhood they had growing up that would scar them to the point of deliberately trying to TRIP a mother with her 8-month old, but I went back to my seat and sent Daddy out with the pouch and baby instead. Same thing happened to him, so he accidentally on purpose kicked them back.

Moral of the story: hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst. Many people may roll their eyes when they see you bamboozling your way down the narrow corridor with clapping baby dangling on one hip. And you know, deep down, that you understand exactly how they feel.

But rest assured that as with all unpleasant days and moments, this too shall pass. Just breathe and hug your baby.

Blog at

Up ↑