Flying long-haul with a toddler: It's a nightmare, but hell is other adults

We're halfway into our 14-hour flight when my toddler makes a break for business class.

The slightly stained curtains limply dangling between business and economy might represent the invisible line between class, privilege and comfort, but to my two-year-old, it's a chance to play peekaboo.

I set off in hot pursuit, catching him just as he reaches for the curtain. Kicking in protest, he narrowly misses a sleeping giant covered in tattoos; instead he elbows me in the chin, I bite my lip and my mouth fills with blood.

I'd already survived doing a European long haul with my child when he was a crawling at 10 months old, but that was nothing compared with the indignity of flying with a toddler.

See: I flew more than 20 hours with a 10-month-old baby. Here's what it was like

You pay full airfare once they hit age two, but you're still effectively dealing with a baby: changing nappies on a plane change table no bigger than a meal tray, a kid's meal chock full of sugar and a child who is at a developmental stage where they test boundaries: hitting, crying and basically melting down every few minutes simply because they want to get off the damn plane.

You can throw all the money in the world at gadgets to make the experience better: blow-up cushions and black-out bassinet covers, bags of presents and iPads encased in foam shapes that resemble small alien creatures. But take a kid out of their routine and stick them in the air for 24 hours, and it's going to go south at one point.

For us, it happens in Dubai. Our inbound flight is late, our connecting flight already boarding when we land, and our kid is not here for any of it.

We become that family you always see (and hope to avoid) in airports: the ones with overflowing bags with stuff falling out, with the kid screaming in protest and running off, knocking things over and occasionally being dragged partially on the floor. You know, those people: the parents that snipe at each other, question their life choices and both look like they're about to burst into tears. To add insult to injury, we do this while we're penned into a minuscule pre-boarding area with 200 of our fellow passengers watching, praying and hoping we're not seated near them.


Now, I'm aware there's a section of society who think children should be strapped on the wings of the airplane rather than destroy the serenity of their economy-class flight. But quite frankly, despite our stellar showing in Dubai, other passengers can behave a hell of a lot worse.

Take our flight over from Sydney. Before we'd even left the gate, I'm horrified to see a random hand push through the gap in the seats from behind and pinch my kid: a drunken Brit who'd had one too many in the departure lounge and thought she had some right to physically grab at my child for her own amusement.

"I just thought he'd like to play a game," she cries as the situation ends about as well as it does when a stranger touches your child for their own gratification.

My point? Between passengers that recline their seats, open their window when the cabin lights are dimmed, walk around barefoot with stinking feet, swear at staff, start punch-ups, throw tantrums over not getting their meal of choice or, in this case, get drunk and can't keep their hands to themselves, kids really aren't all that bad. They're just being kids. Hell really is other adults.

When we finally, thankfully, land 14 hours later in Sydney, a cheerful retiree sitting two rows behind us claps my husband on the back.

"Oh, you had a kid there! Didn't hear a peep! Well done buddy!"

My two-year-old gives him a smile and a high five.

My husband and I give each other a look.

Of course, the fun isn't over: at the baggage carousel, it transpires that Emirates had lost our suitcase. Honestly though, I really didn't care. Dante could keep his nine circles of hell. I'd survived four long-haul flights with a toddler.

The writer travelled at the expense of her own patience and sanity.

See also: No, I'm not going to apologise for flying with a baby

See also: No, I'm not giving up my window seat so your family can sit together