This is a question I always grapple with when booking long haul flights with my family – should I book a day flight or an overnight flight with the boys in tow? Which one is better, easier or less tiring with a toddler and a 4 year old?
On our recent trip, we got to experience both. On the way to Paris, we took a morning (9.30am) flight, arriving into Paris around 4pm in the afternoon. On the return leg, we took an evening (9.30pm) flight back to Hong Kong, arriving around 3pm in the afternoon.
Nowadays, most planes for long haul flights have an economy seating configuration of 9 across (3-3-3). So, Jeff and I were front and back with each of us looking after one of the boys. I made the amateur mistake of booking the seats on the side, so the poor passengers who sat on the window seats next to us had absolutely no means of escape!!!
How did we fair on a day flight?
By the time we got on the plane at 9am, the boys’ adrenaline was pumping and they were psyched to be on vacation. This meant that they were awake, full of energy and active the entire flight!! Thank heavens for iPads, inflight entertainment and my bag full of snacks and candy!
While the boys’ eyes were glued to a screen, I did manage to catch a movie or two (woohoo!!) – this was probably the first time since travelling with the boys that I have watched an entire movie whilst listening to the soundtrack!! I clearly remember 4 years ago watching Argo with no headset, just reading the subtitles, then later wondering why everyone thought the movie was so gripping and suspenseful!?!?
This time, the luxury was that I could have my headset on (despite only on one ear!). This luxury, however, was by no means uninterrupted or peaceful – this was because my other ear was busy taking instructions from Jayden or Joshie: from wanting to change channels; to draw; to comment on drawings or a show; to eat snacks; to drink juice; to visit the bathroom or to change nappies. I think I visited the bathroom on more than 10 occasions!
After the movies and the food trolleys have come and gone, I checked the progress of our flight. What? We were only half way there? And we still had 6 hours to go!?!?! That heavy feeling of dread settled deep in my belly and my thoughts were – “Ahhhh, why is this flight taking so long?!”
By then, the cabin crew had dimmed the cabin lights so I tried to put the second part of my plan into action – nap time! Trying to convince a 2 year old to give up the screen and rest his eyes a little for a nap was near impossible. Luckily, with some urging, Jayden was able to settle in for some shut eye. Joshua, on the other hand, continued with his screen time marathon.
I had hoped that Jayden would sleep longer than his usual nap time because if we were to put him to bed at his normal bedtime when we arrive in Paris, it would be a really really late 3am in HK.
But….no such luck! In fact, he was up and energized after 1.5 hours! A quick check on the flight path, we still had 4.5 hours to go! Aghhhh! This flight was dragging on and on!
By the time we arrived into Paris, we had two very exhausted and grumpy parents with 2 over-hyped kids. It was HK midnight but only 6pm in Paris. To combat jetlag, we powered through by going to the supermarket to grab some dinner and keeping them (and us) awake for a few more hours until Paris bedtime. The sleep torture was all worth it when the boys both woke up the next morning after 8am raring to start their Parisian adventure.
In the famous words of Joshua looking out the apartment window: “Mommy, daddy! Let’s go!! The park is waiting for us!”
How did we fair on an overnight flight?
After two glorious weeks in Paris and the French Alps, the boys were adamant that they did not want to leave France. Unfortunately, leave we must.
The 9.30pm flight was already past their bedtime, but they seemed to want to prolong their trip a little longer. Once on board, the boys savored their inflight entertainment until the cabin lights were turned down. By then, it was way past midnight!
We had set up the “1st Class Kid Travel Pillow” which is designed to fit on the floor between the passenger seats so that the boys ccould spread out in front of them rather than lie across us or other passengers when sleeping. In theory, this was a great idea (we were essentially trapping the window passenger in his/her seat!)
However, our boys were chronic sleep-acrobats! That meant they constantly moved around to find the most comfortable position to sleep in. If not supervised, they would high kick or undercut the passenger next to them with their legs; swing their hands everywhere and use their head (head down like a buffalo) to gain extra inches of valuable seat space.
Jayden’s circular movement around his seat also meant he was tangled up with his seat belt, blanket and the earphone cords! This resulted in regular crying bouts as Jayden just couldn’t get into a comfortable sleeping position.
Meanwhile, Joshua was able to sleep a bit better upright. However, in the dead of night, he woke up from a nightmare and was freaked out as the whole cabin was pitch dark! This resulted in hysterical crying which took a lot of (stressful) efforts to calm him down.
At the end, Jeff was able to get Jayden sleeping without crying while I had to preempt Joshie’s high kicks and undercuts from hurting the passenger next to him. All in all, I may have dosed off in and out for less than 4 hours, while Jeff managed only 1 hour or so!!
This time, since I was drifting in and out of sleep, I didn’t feel like the flight was so long – but with the crying and constant movements, it was certainly more stressful and tiring!!
By the time we got home at around 5pm, Jeff was so exhausted, he went straight to bed for a few hours. This proved a regrettable decision as that nap prolonged his jetlag for a whole long week! As for the boys, the rest they got on the plane sustained them enough until their HK bedtime. As with everything with kids, jetlag was not a problem and they were back at school the next day!
Since our return, Jayden complains every day that he “doesn’t want to go to school!” because “I want to go on holidays!”.
So what’s our verdict?
Jeff was hands down Day Flight. Period.
I’m leaning towards Overnight Flights – maybe I’m harboring the hope that as the boys continue to grow, they will lose the habit of moving around whilst sleeping and learn to stay still and sleep upright! With a day flight, I just cannot get over the fact that I am wasting a whole vacation day travelling!
As for the boys, day or night flights – it certainly doesn’t bother them at all so long as there is a vacation to be had!