Independent Families: 'Any tips for flying long-haul with a baby?'
Saturday 27 May 2006
Q. We are travelling to Sydney for a wedding in October with our 12-month-old daughter. We want to leave from Manchester and after the wedding go to New Zealand; we have four weeks. Do you advise having a stop-over, and if so, how long is beneficial? Where would be a good place to stop? And are there any airlines that are particularly good when travelling with a small child?
Sandra Chemney, by e-mail
A. Flying long-haul with tiny children is a modern form of torture. Who needs thumbscrews and racks when you and your baby can be strapped down in a narrow metal tube, surrounded by tutting non-parents, and then hurled through the stratosphere for 24 hours with nary a CBeebies or a ballpool in sight?
Having said that, there are ways to ease the pain, and choosing the right route is one of them. In my opinion you should try to get there with just one stop. From Manchester, two hubs allow you to reach Sydney with a single change of plane: via Dubai on Emirates or via Singapore on Singapore Airlines.
Think about time zones before you choose. Babies don't get jet-lag as such, but they can be very stubborn about adjusting their sleep patterns. So, bearing in mind that your final destination is a full nine hours ahead of BST, you'd be wise to allow for a week of disrupted nights. It may be easiest to get to Australia a week before the wedding, giving your daughter time to get used to this new, topsy-turvy world.
As a transit point, Dubai is better for camels than babies: the temperature in October can hit 104F. Naturally, all the luxury hotels and shopping malls are air-conditioned, but I would argue against a stop-over in the Middle East.
Singapore is a more pleasant and child-friendly proposition. Changi airport itself is a pleasure to visit, with six gardens, two play areas, a cinema and a rooftop swimming pool. If you fancy sleeping, a double room at Terminal 1's transit hotel costs S$64 (£22) for six hours; call 00 65 6542 5538 to book. Alternatively, the Premium lounge in Terminal 2 costs S$30 per adult (£10) for five hours, which gets you free showers, snacks and drinks. An extra S$30 buys three hours on its "napping couches"; under-twos are admitted free.
Singapore Airlines (0844 800 2380; www.singaporeair.co.uk) is one of the better airlines for small travellers. Like most long-haul carriers, it allows families with young children to board first, will warm bottles or baby food, lets you take buggies up to the plane, and provides cots if you are able to secure a bulkhead seat. More unusually, staff can supply toys, wipes and bottles, and are trained how to carry and soothe infants, change nappies and sterilise bottles. But where it really has the edge is the fact that you can you reserve cots and bulkhead seats when you book, rather than taking a chance on nabbing one at check-in.
Whichever airline you fly with, I strongly recommend that you pay the pricier child fare - rather than the sit-on-your-lap "baby" price - and so get an allocated seat. Bring or hire an approved car seat and you can strap your baby in comfortably. Regulations demand you move her onto your lap for take off and landing, but as suckling is the best way to relieve pain in a baby's ears, you'll probably want her there anyway.
Along with all the usual kit, bring a full change of clothing for yourself and your baby; snacks; small toys you can bring out one at a time; and a baby blanket or sheet for blocking out light. Make use of early boarding to set up camp and find out which of the toilets have changing facilities.
Flying with Singapore Airlines gives you the option of starting your return journey in Auckland, rather than returning to Sydney first. Return fares from Manchester to Sydney and returning from Auckland in October are £912 per adult, child £684, baby (without a seat) £91. You can travel across the Tasman between Sydney and Auckland on one of several airlines. Air New Zealand is offering a fare of A$324 (£140) for adults and A$21 (£8) for your daughter in October. This short hop takes just three hours; by then, you will be well used to being in the air. The flight from Manchester takes 13 hours, arriving at Singapore 6am local time, allowing for a sleep in the transit hotel before taking an 8.30pm flight to Sydney. This next leg lasts six hours, arriving at 5.30am - your daughter should still be wide awake then, and with plenty of exposure to daylight and a lunchtime nap, may be willing to go back to sleep by nightfall. Just make sure you avoid flying on Tuesdays and Thursdays, when an extra stop is made in Zurich - adding around two hours to your journey. Send your family travel queries to Independent Parent, Travel Desk, The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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