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Flying With a Baby Part II: Taking My 15-Month-Old to China

Discussion in 'Trip Experiences' started by vegli, Nov 1, 2014.

  1. vegli

    vegli Hangar Gold Member I

    Oct 12, 2012
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    Exploring the Forbidden City in Beijing – Photo: David Delagarza | AirlineReporter

    Back in April, I wrote about taking my nine-month-old on a series of long-haul flights to New Zealand. I concluded that piece with the rather ominous sentence, “Toddlerhood is just around the corner, and I know that won’t be the same experience.” As it turns out, truer words were never spoken.

    The genesis of this trip was a Twitter post from one of the airfare alert websites: Denver to Beijing on United Airlines. Cheap. Very Cheap. Heck, the miles alone were worth a substantial portion of the ticket – not to mention this trip would push me up to elite status with United. My wife and I had been considering visiting China to see some friends, but we hadn’t seriously thought about going this year. The availability of cheap tickets over Labor Day made us reconsider. Some quick discussions and a few clicks later it was settled – we were going to China for a week at the end of August. Does anyone else get that pit of the stomach feeling when buying plane tickets for a big trip?

    A United Boeing 777 – Photo: [email protected] | Flickr CC

    The next decision to be made was whether to bring our fifteen-month-old son with us. Conventional wisdom seems to be that fifteen months is just about the worst possible age to fly – they are too old to sit still, but too young to pacify with electronics. AirlineReporter Associate Editor and fellow father Blaine Nickeson’s exact words were, “It would be AWFUL. I’d strongly recommend against it.” Other friends told me horror stories of their young toddlers on much shorter domestic flights. No one that I talked to had ever even considered taking their children of that age on long-haul international flights. I myself was firmly set against taking my son along. I’m still not sure how she did it, but my wife talked me into taking him with us. Here we go. Again.

    Before we could travel to China, we needed to secure visas for all of us – my son included. Although the visa process was straightforward, I should note that it was very expensive. Further complicating matters was that unless you happen to be in a city with a Chinese consulate, you cannot send visa paperwork directly to the consulate. A visa agent must be hired to handle the paperwork on your behalf. Between the $140 per person visa, the visa agent fee, and FedEx shipping both ways, we paid nearly as much to get our visas as one of our tickets. China offers a free 72-hour visa for people transiting the country enroute to another country. This was not an option for us, but may be a good option for those who do not need to spend much time in China.

    Wide Awake, 4:30am, at DEN Photo: David Delagarza

    Off to Beijing

    The alarm went off at 3:00 am the morning of our flight – I always end up wanting to go back in time and kick myself for booking 6:00 am flights. We had hoped after being woken up our son would quickly go back to sleep in his car seat – that didn’t happen. Instead, we were dealing with a wide-awake toddler at 3:45 am. Definitely not the way I had hoped to start what would be a very long day.

    We got to the airport and were quickly checked in, but got stopped at TSA because of the milk we had brought for our son to drink. After doing some research, we had chosen not to buy any milk in China, relying instead on shelf-stable ultra-high-temperature (UHT) milk along with powder formula that we brought with us from home. Because UHT milk comes in opaque, non-reclosable containers, the TSA inspectors did not want to let us take it through security. After numerous explosive trace detection swabs and getting the checkpoint supervisor involved, we were eventually allowed to take it with us. However, a week later on our way home, we ended up having to throw the milk away at the the SFO TSA checkpoint.

    Happy family headed to China – Photo: David Delagarza

    The first leg of our journey was a two-and-a-half-hour flight from Denver to Washington Dulles airport. This flight was rough. Flying with a toddler is indeed very different than flying with a baby. My son was not too happy about flying at a time when he would normally be asleep and took every opportunity to let us know that. Milk cups were tossed, toys were thrown, and he refused to sit still. He finally fell asleep – 10 minutes before we landed at Dulles airport.

    I had a sense of dread as we rushed through the Dulles airport to our next flight. The very short 45 minute connection did not help my mindset. We had just experienced what was probably the most challenging flight of my son’s life and we were in for 14 more hours of it. By the time we made the very long walk to the opposite end of concourse C/D, the flight to Beijing was already boarding. We rushed onto the plane – a United 777-200ER – and took our seats in row 25.


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