First and foremost, like I’ve done before on several posts, here’s a disclaimer: I am not a child expert nor am I a travel expert. LOL.
I am a parent and I do have some tips for flying with a toddler, based on experience so far.
I waited until my daughter turned 1, before conquering the wonders of the world as a small and young family. Her first flight was a short one-hour domestic trip. As parents, we were nervous but thankfully all went ultra smoothly. Since then, we’ve gone on several long-haul flights overseas and each had its own story to tell. *cringe*
Why am I cringing? Serik ke? Haha. I can’t deny it was tough. It got more challenging as my daughter grew, as she acquired the ability to throw more and more tantrums.
Let me tell you about our travels as I go through this list:
(This is a pretty long entry; you can choose which subheadings to read!)
Bring along your child’s BIRTH CERTIFICATE to the Immigration Department. They won’t even ask for your child’s MyKid (but do bring it just in case). I think this a mistake many parents make, thinking the MyKid will suffice. But noo.
We made a wise choice of going during the night, ending up to spend a mere 30 minutes for the passport to be ready.
Before you queue up, make sure you make 2 copies of the birth cert to be submitted at the counter.
If you’re a photo freak like me, you’ll be going home flipping through your child’s passport non-stop staring at his/her adorable first passport photo. :))
✈BUYING PLANE TICKETS
(a) Flying with AIRASIA
(i) Going Online for the Purchase of Tickets
We flew with AirAsia — a no-brainer when it comes to snagging the cheapest airfare available. The process of buying plane tickets online was smooth and uneventful. But lo and behold, we were not at a favourable receiving end when we were at the check-in counter the night we were to fly.
(ii) Clicking on the ‘Hotel Deals’ Tab
As I’ve done before, I opted for a packaged deal where the purchase of airfare comes together with accommodation, under Hotel Deals. I understand you get to save money by going this route, with no apparent drawbacks as well, as there are many hotels/apartments to choose from.
The website that offers this type of deal is AirAsiaGo.com. Later, after all the brouhaha, I learned that AirAsiaGo.com is a joint venture company between Expedia Inc. and AirAsia, and hence a separate entity. Therefore any complaints pertaining to an online purchase of tickets must be channeled to AirAsiaGo, in which (regrettably) AirAsia will not be liable for any errors (despite AirAsiaGo.com carrying the same branding and selling air tickets solely for AirAsia).
This is the first set of details you will need to key in on AirAsiaGo under ‘Hotel Deals’:
See what I’ve circled in yellow? I was travelling with a child under the age of 2 and so this part required my full attention. From what I understood, they were giving an option to either have your child in your lap or in a separate seat, in which during take-off and landing your child must be in your lap.
That was my understanding at the time. Beyond this option, it was not expanded with any further details.
My husband and I accounted for 2 seats, and in order to book the whole row (3 seats) to ourselves, I chose the option of ‘In Seat’ for my child.
Once an option is chosen, I proceeded to key in the following details:
…and the online purchase was a done deal (to be continued below).
(iii) Hot Seats
I wanted the maximum amount of comfort for my little family, which is why I had also booked the front row (hot seats). Booking the hot seats meant an additional RM300 per person, too! *sweats*
Despite the additional fee, I did not regret choosing hot seats. My daughter had a bassinet to sleep in (which surprisingly she slept well in!) and we had extra legroom, which meant she was able to flex her legs in proximity without the need to charge the aisles.
(iv) Front Row Arm Rests
Unfortunately, being seated in the front row meant we could flip the arm rests but could not secure them to stay lifted. If your child wanted to lay on the seats, you would have to manually hold the arm rest by leaning against it, which gets tiring and inconvenient. There’s also the risk that it will fall on your child at any time.
BUT if you’re flying with Emirates, sitting in the front row – which has 4 seats – is just perfect. The arm rest can be lifted and secured, but this applies to the middle one only. So if you were to choose seats on an Emirates flight, the safest option is to choose the two middle seats. (More on Emirates later in this entry.)
(v) What it really means when they ask ‘In Lap’ vs ‘In Seat’
Does ‘In Seat’ mean I get an extra seat for my child?
It’s not that simple.
It’s the standard policy for airlines that children under the age of 2 are not allowed to get a seat of their own.
What it means by ‘In Seat’ is a child in a baby carrier/car seat which will then be placed on a seat. (I found this out after our vacation, upon filing a complaint to AirAsia.)
This could have easily been clarified with an asterisk and a note at the bottom when the option was being presented during the online ticket purchase.
It’s pretty rare for parents to bring on-board a baby carrier or car seat. They would prefer to hold the child. When was the last time you saw a parent do this, if ever?
The online purchase was made without any hiccups, so there was no concern on our side that an issue would arise. However, at the check-in counter on the day we were to fly, the AirAsia staff informed us that we could not be checked in because my daughter’s date of birth in the online booking did not match of that in her passport.
A big “HUH?”
He told us to proceed to the Service Counter to get this discrepancy rectified.
The queue at check-in was already very long, and now we had to endure another long queue at the Service Counter.
It was a weird night at KLIA2. First, this unexplained discrepancy with regard to my daughter’s birth date. Then, while we were lining up at the Service Counter, a guy in front of the line screamed at another guy standing next to him; two individuals who clearly did not look like they came together. Perhaps someone got impatient and budged forward. The whole check-in area came to a momentary standstill when this happened.
At the Service Counter, the lady staff told us that based on my daughter’s date of birth – which indicates an age under 2 – I would never have been allowed to proceed with the ‘In Seat’ option.
If the ‘In Seat’ option meant placing the child in a baby carrier/car seat, what she said doesn’t make sense. Get me?
-system fail-system fail-system fail-
*pulls hair again*
The lady staff checked our online booking and to my huge shock, she read to us my daughter’s DOB that was apparently keyed in during the online purchase.
It was wrong. WRONG WRONG WRONG.
Different date, different month, different year. It did not resemble my daughter’s actual birth date at all.
Clearly, I did not pen down the wrong date of birth of my own daughter. I don’t overlook the conveyance of critical information when it comes to procedures that requires accuracy — like buying airfare!
The fishy thing was, the wrongful DOB had made my daughter over the age of 2, enabling me to proceed with the option of ‘In Seat’.
What’s going on?? Seemed fishy, honestly.
For us to be able to get on our flight, we had to make a payment for the airfare of an infant which was RM300++.
Boy, was I furious for the inconvenience. What was supposed to be a simple procedure turned out messy.
The system clearly needed to be checked and rectified.
(vi) ‘Empty Seat’ Option
If you’ve ever flown with AirAsia, have you heard of OptionTown? This is another separate party that enables you to purchase an empty seat at a nominal fee, so that you can get the whole row to yourself. You can buy an empty seat under this entity, at a nominal fee of RM100++.
The moment you make payment, it is NOT guaranteed you will obtain this extra seat. They will only notify you via email (the only method of communication with OptionTown) several days before the day of your flight whether you’ve been given an empty seat.
If you are given one, the system will choose your seats. If you’re planning to use this option, you would have to make a decision whether to select your preferred seats on your own before confirmation is given, as back-up (without an empty seat). This would require another fee.
Extra stuff, more money. Flying with a low-cost carrier: You lose some, you win some.
Thing is, this option was NOT made available or introduced when I was purchasing the tickets online.
OptionTown had only advertised their facilities in emails I received AFTER payments had been made, as a banner at the end tail of the email.
AirAsia has a policy of not allowing strollers to be kept in the cabin, even if they can be folded to be compatible with the overhead storage size. Strollers can only be brought until the door of the plane, at which point must be left behind to be stored elsewhere. If given a choice, I would prefer to have the stroller kept in the cabin because when handled by others, it always come back bruised a little. :'(
The correct procedure would have been the following:
- Book and pay for 2 adult flight tickets for hubby and myself (RM – depending on destination)
- Choose the option of ‘In Lap’ for my child (RM300++)
- Choose to sit in front row/hot seats (RM300/per pax = RM600)
- Try my luck my getting an empty seat under OptionTown (RM100++)
After the trip, I lodged an official complaint to AirAsia.
As I’ve mentioned above, they’re ‘not liable’ for any errors because the purchase was made under AirAsiaGo.com, a separate entity altogether.
I thought it was important for me to highlight the matter because anyone else could repeat my mistake. All they need to do is FIX THE WEBSITE. It’s not that difficult.
It took a couple of months for me to get a reply to my complaint, in which AirAsia agreed to refund me on my daughter’s ticket, because we had basically paid for an unnecessary third adult ticket. At the time this entry is published, I am still waiting for the refund team to get in touch with me. (My trip was in May 2017)
The main goal of the complaint was not so much to get a refund, but in hopes that rectification and improvements are made promptly where necessary, so no one repeats the same mistake. We are all laymen; if there is an ‘airline or aviation language’, we prefer you use common and simple language with us instead, please.
If you’re a parent reading this and about to embark on a trip with AirAsia, I hope you take heed. Let’s save ourselves from unnecessary expenses, inconvenience and DISTRESS!
Frankly, it is not the most comfortable airline to fly with, but it’s easier to the wallet when compared to other airlines. If you’re travelling with a small child, do keep this in mind.
(b) Flying with MALINDO AIR
Malindo provides a moderate level of comfort, with the only drawback of not offering (nor by any other third party) the option of buying an empty seat.
Unlike AirAsia flights, Malindo isn’t always fully occupied. You’re lucky if the flight isn’t full, you can roam freely at the back (where it’s usually deserted on a non-full flight) and you can easily switch seats.
(c) Flying with EMIRATES
THEY HAVE THE BEST ECONOMY.
It’s a whole lot pricier than the above two carriers, but it’s worth it, especially if you’re travelling with a toddler.
Choosing Seats = NO extra charges
Choosing Front Row Seats = NO extra charges
I love Emirates.
Plus, they have free gifts for the little one. 🙂
(The boxed plane set you see in the second picture is only available for purchase, though. Hehe.)
If you’re lucky, you get to experience the double-decker A380 jet. Just royal lah. Haha.
Although the flights aren’t usually completely full of passengers, it’s always wise to secure your seats beforehand. Once you’ve bought your tickets online, you will need to wait for an email confirmation before you are able to select seats.
(i) Here are some tips to choosing seats on an Emirates flight:
1. Selection of seats is mostly complimentary except for the front section of the aircraft, which requires an additional fee of RM180.
Since I wanted the luxury of a small space for my daughter to enjoy, I was only eyeing for the front rows.
2. A baby icon seen means bassinet territory, which further means — EXTRA LEGROOM! It’s also better to choose seats in the front section of the aircraft, for minimum impact of turbulence.
3. The image above depicts a 777 jet. If it’s an A380 airliner, Economy will look like this:
Do you see the space gap in the middle (orange box)? That’s where the staircase is, leading to Business upstairs. Initially, I thought my daughter could play at the stairs (without barging into Business), but they close it up with a queue rope right after take-off.
Anyway, we were seated at the front row behind the stairs and it wasn’t a bother at all.
We flew Emirates for our last holiday and for both trips to and fro, we managed to get the front row to ourselves. Both flights weren’t full so movement was fluid and people switched seats to get more privacy.
Also take note that when you’re travelling with kids and want to sit in a row with extra legroom, your only option is the middle seats. Aisle seats with extra legroom are usually located at the plane’s emergency exits, hence those travelling with kids, pregnant women and passengers who are disabled are not allowed to be seated here. The online system doesn’t always alert you on this, so take note!
Emirates do allow strollers to be kept in the cabin overhead, as long as they are small enough. Yayyers!
✈FREE & EASY ITINERARY
Maintain a relaxed day-to-day itinerary when you’re travelling with a small child. Your days are unpredictable; you never know when your child will decide to throw a tantrum or will suddenly feel under the weather. You don’t want to exhaust him/her out anyway.
My husband and I weren’t too ambitious with our vacation agendas, although it is pertinent that you list out things to do and see beforehand. Don’t forget to research the places you’re about to visit; make sure they’re child-friendly!
It’s okay to have only one highlight per day.
Gone were the days when you were child-less and your journeys seemed endless and timeless.
I remember when I was a student and a tourist in London.
We moved as a group and made our mark at almost every single attraction and landmark in the busy city.
We walked and walked, and only resorted to public transport.
I walked until I got blisters. I walked in my boots in the darkness of 5am until I couldn’t feel my toes.
All for Boxing Day. For shopping. Sanggup.
We truly got to experience London, in the cold winter of December.
Several years later, not too long after getting married and before becoming pregnant, London came a-calling again. This time, I went with family and nephews and nieces.
It was different.
The pace was slower.
The number of places visited were lower.
The challenges were bigger.
While public transport i.e. the tube was the most convenient mode of transport, it’s not all that true when you have strollers. We took the London cab a lot, which ain’t cheap.
I wouldn’t recommend tagging along in a tour group if you’re with small children, as you’ll be bound to their schedule. We know our kids have their own schedule and it definitely won’t sync with anyone else’s.
✈FOOD FOR YOUR KIDS
(a) F&B brought on-board
The perks of travelling with a small child (yes, there are perks!), is that airport staff are not as fussy or rigid with what’s in your luggage, like the diaper bag. I’ve travelled on several different airlines and none ever interfered with what I had to bring for my little one — namely water and milk. If I was not with a small kid, these liquid items would have definitely needed to be thrown out.
If they do ask you questions, explain the purpose of having the items brought with you, i.e. for your child.
While I’m talking about food here, it’s recommended that you nurse/bottle-feed or give the pacifier to your little one during take-off and landing, to avoid pressure and discomfort in their ears.
(b) Food served midair
There are no kids’ menu when it comes to midair meals, but if your child is able to take solids, it won’t be an issue.
If your child has started eating but not totally on solids yet, you can stock up on homemade puree and bring along with you.
If your child is over the puree phase, you can opt to bring instant cereal/porridge which is prepped by just adding hot water. My daughter outgrew these instant (and very organic) meals practically on the third day, because they’re not as tasty as ‘real’ food. You may want to look into jazzing up the very healthy meals with chopped bananas, veggies, etc. When my daughter was in this phase, I bought some instant baby food sold by BabyEatsByJustlixa. You can find them on Instagram @babyeatsbyjustlixa or visit their store near Mutiara Damansara.
(c) Food while on-the-go
Don’t forget to pack along your child’s favourite finger food and tid-bits. They’ll come in handy whether on-the-go or in the hotel room. I find it easier storing them in a ziploc rather than a container, which will take up less space.
✈ONE LAST CHECK-UP/CALL WITH THE PAEDIATRICIAN
For a final piece of reassurance, give your child’s paediatrician a call or a visit before you embark on the long-awaited holiday. Even if your child is healthy inside out, it would be a good idea to get medical advice (if any) before you embark on a holiday, especially overseas. Inform your child’s physician of the place you’re heading to and he/she might have some useful tips/recommendations.
The last thing a parent wants to see is a sick child. During our last holiday, my daughter fell ill on the last day. Thank goodness it wasn’t the day we were to fly back home, as our flight was the next morning. My husband and I sacrificed the whole day to stay put in the hotel to let her recover and recuperate. I was lucky that my sister was travelling with us, who is a medical doctor by profession. She diagnosed my daughter to be having a viral infection, which was the same diagnosis given by the paediatrician upon returning home.
Her body temperature spiked after breakfast. We checked her temperature with the thermometer I had brought along, which indicated she had a mild grade fever. She was also developing red spots and rashes on certain portions of her body, which kind of looked like an allergic reaction. My sister told me that when small children fall ill, their body reacts like this. Different than the looks of chicken pox, measles, dengue or even hand foot mouth disease — thank God! The thoughts that were going through my mind, urghhhh!
My sister offered to run quickly to the pharmacy to get kids’ paracetamol. She asked what type of medication to buy — whether taken by mouth or administered through the bum. Knowing my daughter, she will NOT take medication by mouth. She’s smart like that. So I decided on the latter, which turned out to be a very good choice. My daughter gave no fuss at all, except for some squirms.
She wasn’t eating or drinking as much, because she was feeling uneasy, as we all do during a fever. We kept offering her food, water and milk as it was important she be kept hydrated.
By the time we were back on home soil, she had pretty much recovered. Thanks to my sister and paracetamol that is. On hindsight, whenever we travel, this is a must-bring item. For further reassurance on her condition, I called the hospital to book a slot with the paediatrician. As I’ve mentioned earlier, he said my daughter was having a viral infection and that if he had known we were travelling to the middle east (ie Dubai), he would have given my daughter a jab for meningococcal, the same vaccination required for going to Madinah and Mekah for umrah.
I felt bad. Why didn’t I think of that? Was I not thinking in the best interests of my daughter? It probably wasn’t totally necessary, but a good precautionary step for small children who are more susceptible to infections and diseases.
We always learn something new. Time to take heed.
Lastly, besides packing your child’s attire and food, have these essentials handy too:
1) childrens’ paracetamol
3) a mentholated topical ointment (like Vicks)
4) nasal aspirator (or the like)
5) cream to medicate rashes
6) other medication that your child may need
✈SOOTHING A CRYING CHILD MID-AIR
If your child is crying non-stop or struggling to sleep while in the plane, I find it helpful to carry him/her and hang out for a while in the lavatory. With strangers out of sight, your child might find it easier to shut those tired eyes.
If nothing works, don’t panic. A crying child mid-air is normal, due to the different environment. Ignore any irritable looks given by other passengers because they have no right to do that anyway. A person who expects zero disturbances in a flight should just opt for a private jet. Heheh. However, always be on the alert if your child requires medical attention.
Don’t give up in calming your child down and don’t get stressed. Try everything you can and always make sure your child is comfortable and feeling loved. ❤
✈OTHER THINGS TO PACK
Besides the essentials (clothes + diaper + bottles + etc), don’t forget any other items for the comfort and benefit of your child, such as:
2. [Designated] pillows
Use your parental instincts and you’ll be fine. 🙂 Bon voyage!