Here’s the thing. When you take a redeye (or any flight) to Europe, you lose five hours that you will not get back. Not until it no longer matters at least. That means that even if everything goes perfectly to form, you have to find a minimum of five extra hours of sleep for your kids. Of course, being low on sleep means your family is more susceptible to potential catastrophes.
Last time we came to Europe with M, she was 18 months old, we had a great flight in Lufthansa first class, and I still slept for 16 of the first 24 hours in Germany. Subtract two grandparents and add a one year old baby: that was our situation in London for the first three days of this trip. Here’s how we dealt with our travel mishaps.
I’m not going to review the flight too much except to say that Delta One stands as a pretty solid business class product. The seat and bed were comfortable and the Westin comforter/pillow a nice touch (though not necessarily game changing). The food did not impress, it was maybe a step or two above economy food, but I am a sucker for ice cream sundaes and the wine was solid.
The flight attendants and service really stood out. They were friendly, attentive but not too in your face, and great with the kids. Overall they seemed to handle the entire cabin deftly and with ease. One flight attendant even took H for a tour of the cabin for 30 seconds before landing – we got a LOT accomplished in those 30 seconds!
Sleeping with kids on the plane
One thing we did not anticipate was how much M wanted to play on the plane. She takes great naps on planes but hasn’t flown long haul for a year or so. We went through her regular bedtime routine and put her seat into its lay flat position but she basically played by herself lying down until Jess finally transferred her over so they could sleep together. I’d say M got around three hours of sleep, Jess one and a half max.
H was my problem for the most part. He slept better than expected. I had to put him in his carrier to rock him to sleep during the meal service (which ran an hour past his bedtime). He fell asleep eventually and when the cabin lights were dimmed I put him down in an empty, fully reclined seat. Having a half filled cabin was great.
The only issue with having H in a separate seat was I couldn’t sleep myself. The seatbelt doesn’t quite fit around him. Well, it does, but he can escape easily. They would have happily let us bring his car seat on but it won’t buckle into a business class seat (shoulda flown coach, the back was empty!). So instead I just accomplished my normal “catch up on movies I wanted to see in theaters but we chose to have kids so I only watch movies in theaters 2X a year” thing.
Zootopia, lots of fun. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, meh but got the “seeing this on a plane” boost plus I’ll watch pretty much anything with Tina Fey in it.
At some point I had to transfer H to my seat and I slept for about 20 minutes with him on top of me. I’d say he got about four hours overall on a six hour flight: decent.
Remember to take all belongings with you
We took the fast track lane through customs so that was pretty straightforward, though we were definitely starting to feel it. The kids to their credit were hanging in there but I could tell they were pretty tired. Adrenaline only accounts for so much.
I bought roundtrip Heathrow Express tickets – if you buy them months in advance they are pretty cheap (like £5.50 each way). It was super crowded for the 15 minute ride to Paddington Station but the kids continued to hold it together.
We made our way up to the taxi stand, taking one of the few elevators that exist in London train stations. As we were entering our taxi, we realized we had forgotten one of our backpacks on the train. BUGGEEEEEERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR! I almost lost it at that point. Steam must have been coming out of my ears because the taxi attendant told me to relax, haha. Good advice.
I ran, literally, back down the platform looking into every single train car for the bag. When you are tired it is quite tough to remember exactly which car you were in besides “the middle.” At some point one of the Heathrow Express attendants said, “Can I help you, crazy person?” I explained my plight and she went into an office and came out with a backpack.
She needed me to correctly identify the luggage tag on the bag. My mind flashed back eight hours to check in when my wife said, “Hmm we should probably tag and put at least your e-mail address on this backpack”. JESSICA YOU ARE A SWEET GENIUS.
Over at the taxi stand, the kids once again held it together and soon we were on our merry way.
Status pays off
Even after all of that we got to the Hyatt Regency The Churchill by 9:30 AM, way too early for check-in. I had a confirmed Diamond Suite Upgrade due to our need for two rooms. Of course, all of their suites were filled with (probably fake) Diamond members like myself. Still, they graciously allowed us to take breakfast in the lounge. Pretty smart business: costs them nothing and makes us feel special.
By 10:00 AM H was about to lose his mind so I took him for a walk outside. He did the “freak out while you are putting me into my car seat and then fall asleep in literally 15 seconds” thing. One kid down. M colored with Jess but by 11:00 she was soon going to lose it as well.
At this point Solhi (sp?), my new favorite Hyatt employee, came over and said we looked so sad and pathetic that he decided to upgrade us to a slightly larger suite so that we could spare the lounge any potential meltdowns. I’m paraphrasing. Dude is the man, though. The bigger suite was nice but not necessary, getting into it at 11:00 was life saving. We were about to go out on the town just to spare people from the aforementioned meltdown but that would have been brutal on the adults in our family.
We got into the room and three of us passed out while the fourth acquainted themselves with the room. I literally do not remember who stayed awake – M maybe? Best not to ask questions.
Sleeping with kids with jetlag in a hotel
Nothing to sugarcoat here: the first night was rough. Like “hey it’s our first night in the hospital with a brand new baby and we have no idea what we are doing and we are too stupid to let the nurses take her for the night” rough.
We actually spent a full day out on the town. Probably should have taken it easy but oops we’re horrible parents. Nobody was going to sleep in the hotel room that afternoon anyway, strollers were the way to knock them out (it worked).
Still, these kids were a minimum of five hours short of sleep and thus super overtired. H especially was feeling it. From 8 PM-1 AM he essentially slept 45 minutes and then wanted to play for like 45 minutes. We did not let him play, and he let us know his displeasure. With force. At 11 PM I realized that if I put him in his carseat and pushed him back and forth in the room he would at least stop voicing his displeasure.
At some point I was just lying on the couch pushing him back and forth while deliriously dreaming about making better life and travel decisions. At 1 AM I had the hypothesis that it was his normal bedtime so he could probably be put down normally. Even a broken clock is right twice a day and I nailed that one.
The next day he went down for good at midnight, the day after at 11 PM, etc. etc. We’ve actually pushed our kids’ bedtimes later than they would sleep at home; I think next time we come to Europe we’ll just start with that mindset. Go to Spain, for example, and you don’t have to adjust your kids’ bedtimes at all!
M handled the jetlag pretty well, except when she woke up the next day:
She’s got a fever…and the only prescription…is more playgrounds
Travel stresses the body out. When we planned to travel with two kids for 2.5 weeks, I figured the easy money was on one of them getting sick. H had a cold the week before we left, so naturally that kicked in for his sister around when we arrived in London.
M definitely had a fever, we purposely left our thermometer at home to save space so we’re not sure to what degree (oops). We’ve seen enough fevers to get a sense of when they are really bad. Considering all M could talk about was going to museums and playgrounds, we determined she was not that bad off. Judge us if you must.
The fever in and of itself had little effect on our time in London: M still wanted to see everything we had talked about before arriving. It’s indirect effect was a much whinier kid than we are used to and much more bribing than we are comfortable with. Compromises were made, french fries were given, toys were bought. Sigh.
We did take her to playgrounds every evening, and in a weird way it helped. It improved her spirit and also helped us to gauge her energy levels. I probably would have been more worried if she had NOT wanted to go play. Of course, keeping her out at the playground later didn’t help H’s jetlag situation.
I think that’s the real challenge with two kids. Dealing with H’s jetlag and M’s fever should have been no problem separately, even in our sleep deprived state (we’re parents we’re used to that). The combination made it tougher. You just make do.
Considering I have the time to write 1500+ words on this, you can probably gather that things have smoothed out. We made it to Scotland and the Isle of Skye with a much better adjusted son and a still whiny daughter. Said daughter’s fever broke this morning so I’m hoping that means she will revert to her normal “not incredibly whiny but whiny enough to remind us she is three years old” state tomorrow.
Averted disasters notwithstanding, London was actually pretty awesome. We actually left thinking we could have spent an entire week there, especially at a kids’ pace. Next time.
Thanks for indulging me this overly long description of stuff that went wrong our first few days. Jess’ has started using a fun new refrain she asks me every time something goes south on this trip: “Wanna do this again?” As of right now, the answer is definitely yes! Some thoughts on how we handled London with kids in the next post.
Other Posts in this Series
Preparing to travel with two children under four
I loved this post, and am loving the series! Thanks for sharing. As a new parent who’s still stressed from going to the supermarket alone with my 2-month old (it’s happened once so far), I’m inspired and encouraged by your trips. I totally want to do this with our kid, but am currently facing the want vs. can actually handle conundrum. Still, one can keep trying to convince oneself!
I’m a pretty new reader–after listening to you on the Observation Deck podcast. Love to read about you traveling with your family! I took my daughter to Tahiti for a month when she was 11 months old. It scarred me so much that I didn’t take my kids on another international trip until this summer, when my son was 4:). It’s amazing how much difference a year or two makes. My kids slept (in coach:) for both of the red-eyes (to Tahiti again) and were pretty awesome for most of the trip. Around day 20, though, my 4 year-old was definitely done with not sleeping in his own bed. Kudos to you for making it work to take your kids to awesome places!
Thanks for listening Cynthia! Which island did you go to in Tahiti? That’s where we took our first trip alone after our first kid – props to you for taking yours! Did they enjoy it?
A month is a long time 😀
Great post! Loving all the UK stuff.
I think this winter was the first time we went on a trip without someone getting sick (my daughter is 9!). It was just something I got used to. The worst was Christmas before last when H had a fever and collapsed as we were exiting the plane in heathrow. So, they called a medic and we had to be monitored to be allowed on our connection, but they did say they would accommodate us the next day no charge. When she threw up in the lounge we decided to stay overnight in London. This turned out to be a bad idea, because it seemed to have been a fluke and London was no better than Munich with a sick child. Oh and the confusion caused them to lose one of our suitcases, which never was able to catch up to us until a week or so after we got home.
Once our kids were 3+ I’d give them melatonin at bedtime when we got to Europe. This seemed to help, I think.
This is what I actually think works the best: book a nonstop flight as late as you possibly can. My husband and kids flew to the UK a couple of weeks ago. Leaving ORD at 9:55 PM, arrivingMAN at like 11 am. They never had much jetlag. You’re actually tired when the plane takes off, so you maximize sleep on the plane. And it’s late enough in the day when you arrive that you have a chance at staying up until an hour that’s close enough to a normal bedtime.
Heathrow express tickets caught my eye… what are those?! Flying into London in december with my (at the time will be) 3 year old and staying directly in the city center…
Heathrow Express is pretty great – 15-20 minutes straight to Paddington Station. If you buy 90 days in advance it gets super cheap: https://www.heathrowexpress.com/tickets-deals/prices-fares