We’re walking through a gargantuan terminal in Dubai airport. Searching wearily for somewhere with decent food to keep us going into what will be the early hours of the morning for us. We’re at that point in a lengthy journey where sugary treats no longer appeal to us at all. Our bodies are craving good old-fashioned carbs. We’ve just finished a 7.5 hour flight and are awaiting a further 4.5 hour flight to take us to our (almost) final holiday destination. A woman passing by suddenly stops and turns to me saying “Excuse me!”. I brace myself for some kind of complaint, but to my relief, she’s merely making a nice comment. “Your baby was so good on that flight. I was sitting in the row behind you!”. I have just about enough energy left for us to exchange a couple of pleasantries, then move on in different directions. “That was easy for her to say”, says my husband, mournfully rubbing the various bruises that the Rascal has inflicted upon him during that flight where he was being ‘so good’. I agree, but am also very thankful that the only people that had to suffer our toddler on that flight were us. After all, we’d chosen to get on a flight with him. We deserved to suffer! Tired as we were, it was lovely to get some positive feedback from a stranger.
Long haul flights really are a terrible idea with a toddler. Unfortunately they’re also a necessary evil depending on where you’re hoping to holiday. I had been absolutely dreading these flights since we first talked about them. I hate long haul flights. I can’t sleep on them. I don’t like the food, the cramped quarters, the inconsiderate passengers I am inevitably seated beside. I hate the utter exhaustion, and the inability to do more than doze uncomfortably despite it. The only thing that could possibly make it worse is having a bouncing toddler on your lap. What was I thinking? Once the flights were booked, I tried to stuff the fear and dread of what the experience would be like into a small box and avoid thinking about it at all. As the journey grew closer I desperately put together a large bag of snacks and distractions in the hope that would make it all a bit less of an ordeal. Homemade books and finger puppets, etch-a-sketch, slideshows of people and places, anything that might possibly entertain a grumpy toddler for a few minutes. Ultimately, it was something that we were just going to have to suffer through. At the end of it all, a wonderful holiday beckoned. The fact that we’d have to go through the same ordeal to get back home again was unfortunate.
The first leg of the trip wasn’t bad. It went pretty well in fact, and I was delighted that we got through it without too much damage and no embarrassment. We’d barely dipped into the bag of diversions that I’d brought with us. The Emirates staff had all been pleasant and helpful. The Rascal took his midday nap a bit late and snoozed peacefully on top of me. When he woke up there was a spare meal for him to eat, and a couple of games on our entertainment centre that kept him engaged popping balloons for the remainder of the trip. He had great fun overall. Us, not so much. Toddlers just don’t sit or stand still. We were being repeatedly kicked and slapped as he moved about exploring the fascinating new environment. When he slept, it was uncomfortable supporting all his weight and keeping stray limbs out of the way of food trolleys in the aisle. Still, a successful flight overall. No disapproving stares from other passengers. No wrestling a screaming child while others winced at the racket. Now, after a bit of food, the Rascal was happily racing about the airport terminal driving his cars everywhere. He looked reasonably happy and content, but you could see the slight edge of tired hysteria in his eyes. It was so far past bedtime for all of us by now. We were on borrowed time at this point, and still a long long way to go.
Sure enough, the second leg was absolute torture. The guy in the window seat on our row declined an offer of switching to an exit row seat for some unknown reason. Yes, he chose to stay sitting beside a tired toddler instead of stretching out in comfort. We were not very happy with him. Nor would I feel any sympathy for him if his slumber was disturbed due to the tired toddler. The flight still had a few empty seats here and there as we took off. The couple in front of us wisely relocated themselves for better TV screens. After a brief discussion, Daddy commandeered one of their seats to give a bit of extra space for our sleepy toddler who did NOT want to be awake any more. He also insisted on being held in extremely awkward and uncomfortable positions (for me) while he did sleep. Agony. He kept waking regularly during the flight and screaming his head off, disgusted at the bright and noisy environment he was expected to sleep in. I frantically rocked and jigged him, and paced up and down until he nodded off again. Glared at my blissfully sleeping husband as I passed him by for the umpteenth time, struggling not to drop my wriggling, shrieking bundle of anger. Thankfully this was the shorter flight, and eventually we found ourselves on the ground in Male airport. Rascal spent a bit of time in the sling trying to wake himself up properly. Slings are brilliant for getting through an airport with a sleepy child and still having free hands for holding bags and filling out forms. Thankfully there was enough hustle and bustle around us to keep his interest and help him forget he’d been roused from a lovely deep sleep.
Our first impressions of the Maldives weren’t very impressive. A brisk pass through Male airport. A standard, uninteresting place. We sailed through customs and immigration swiftly – fast-tracked by the considerate staff. But we had a bit of a wait for our sea plane to the island that was going to be our final destination. We lounged about in an air-conditioned lounge waiting hopefully for our ticket numbers to be called. Rascal perked up a bit in the cool air and began exploring, though not too far as he wasn’t overly enthusiastic about the super-friendly staff attempting to engage him in conversation. He politely took the Mars bar that one staff member generously offered him, held it as if it was something dirty (or dorty, as Rascal likes to say), and handed it over to me with a “get rid of this rubbish for me, will you?” expression. “Tank-oo”, he said to the man and wandered off in search of something better to play with. Rascal has yet to discover the wonder that is a wrapped chocolate bar. For now it’s just a rustling object of little interest. I was happy to dispose of it for him though.
It took some time, but we were finally called to queue up beside a small seaplane in the baking heat with about ten other people who were also anxious to get the travelling over with. We handed over our luggage and clambered aboard the small craft looking forward to an aerial view of the islands. Rascal was extremely excited at the sight of the noisy propellers starting up. Massive jet planes are all well and good, but this flight was a bit more real for him. The engine’s roar was so loud that I could barely hear his shrieks of delight as we started moving. Lucky for us, the racket didn’t bother him in the slightest. We took off across the blue ocean, slowly gathering speed. Shuddering and bouncing over waves, faster and higher, until at last… we dragged ourselves up into the air. We left Male behind us, shaking off some of the travel tiredness along with the water droplets running off the plane. The seaplane banked and headed towards even brighter waters and clearer skies. Excitement spread as all the passengers as peered through tiny windows to catch a glimpse of what was ahead. Our holiday was finally about to start…