Makes Travelling with Young Children Bearable
Travelling with kids long haul is tough but Air New Zealand’s Economy Skycouch gave me a little hope that the journey could be bearable when travelling alone with two children.
We set off to see the other half of our family this month on a night flight. Unfortunately, Air New Zealand do not travel all the way to London so we could only get a Skycouch on the flight from Auckland to Singapore which is 10 hours and 30 minutes long. This is the first time I had travelled with both kids who are aged 3 years and 6 months so I had my final nights sleep on the Sunday and got into the mental space that that was probably going to be it until we got to my parents house two nights later.
Having travelled many times with Air New Zealand for business and leisure the service I have received has been mostly great but I’ve also had terrible experiences too. At the baggage drop off a friendly attendant suggested that I ask at the Air New Zealand desk for special assistance all the way through to London seeing as I was on my own with two young children and luggage. This involved someone helping me with bags, getting through customs and immigration quickly and also helping us to our seat. My kids were already tired so I was willing to take any help on offer so we headed to the desk. The lady who greeted us there had the opposite opinion and felt I was not a deserving case. It wasn’t a good start but she came around, helped me out and explained on the way to the gate that shift work left her very tired.
An important point you need to be aware of is that Air New Zealand cannot tell you what seat you have on your connecting flight anymore but they are able to book your luggage in all the way. This has changed since we traveled this time last year so on the second flight I could only hope my travel agent had secured a bassinet seat for me as Air New Zealand could not confirm this. I found this really inconvenient and added to the stress of the trip. I did however, check on my phone at the airport to see my seat allocation on Seatguru.com and it looked like I had been lucky (and I was). The other change is that the luggage entitlement for infants has been removed so you need to pack the babies clothes in with your own. And a further, recent change is that now you also need to pay for snacks on the plane so it is worth packing a lot for the kids.
On the flight it is helpful to know that if you book a SkyCouch there is a pack left in the overhead compartment that includes a mattress and pillows. I did not realise this until we had taken off and my baby was asleep in my arms. I asked for help but apparently the Air New Zealand staff are not allowed to lift items above shoulder height and so they had to find a pack from somewhere else in the plane which took a while. The pack is actually really light weight so if you are a parent on your own and you need to get it down it won’t be a problem.
You are also required to set up the Skycouch on your own by following the instruction leaflet left in the front pocket. So once the bedding pack arrived I was left to work this out. It is fairly straightforward and was only a challenge for me as the baby was already asleep. Basically, there is a button on each seat that realises a foot rest to either footrest height or to the bed height. You push the button with one hand whilst pushing the foot rest back with the other and it pops up. Once you have got the footrests in place it is just a matter of making up the bed up. It would have been great to have had some help with this but I managed and the baby didn’t wake up.
The flight attendants came around to advise that there are approved seating configurations that you have to follow for safety to ensure that everyone is belted on to the Skycouch. I asked what would be the best set up for an adult, child and baby and was told that none of the options would work for me. I was beginning to think that it was going to be a complete waste of money as I could not see an option on the leaflet that was suitable either. I was advised that my 3 year old would be able to lie on the couch whilst I sat up in the aisle seat and held the baby. To be honest, if this was the set up they enforced in the end I would have preferred a basinet seat and saved the money. The only drawback here would be that the 3 year old would have to sleep in a seat but he coped well with this on our second flight anyway.
In the end we compromised that the two kids would lie across two seats side by side and be strapped in whilst I sat up in the aisle seat. This worked really well and also felt safe. I am not sure that this was one of the approved seating configurations but if you look a the leaflet below it would be closest to the first option when travelling as a couple. Everyone was belted in and comfortable and I am grateful that the Air NZ staff were reasonable enough to allow me to find a set up that worked safely for my family.
When we arrived at Singapore the Air NZ attendant at the help desk had not requested special assistance for the remainder of the flight. However, an attendant at the airport spotted me coming off the flight offered to help anyway which was kind. At the airport they were unbelievably helpful, more than you could possibly imagine. They arranged a car to take us to a special assistance lounge where we could leave our bags. This was located next to a cafe, bathroom, playground and windows to watch the planes take off which was ideal! We refreshed ourselves and then a lady came along and took us all the way to our seats. I was so appreciative as they went way beyond my expectations. It was such a great experience and I highly recommend travelling through Singapore Airport if you have kids. Singapore Airlines even arrange special assistance for me at Gatwick which again was exceptional service and we were out to my parents in about 30 minutes.
Our flight departed at 23.50 and my kids were both asleep, in bed, an hour after take off. We skipped the dinner service and asked not to be disturbed and both kids slept for 7 hours and then woke up for some breakfast before taking another nap.
The comfort level for our family set up was superb. The mattress meant the kids did not overheat as my eldest had done in the past when sleeping directly on the seats. They were able to lie flat and be really comfortable. The kids didn’t use the pillows but I did and they were fantastic, a real luxury for a long haul flight. I used a blanket that was provided to all passengers as the cover so the kids had a proper bed.
For myself sitting up, I got a little bit of sleep. I used the footrest to the 60% position which was comfortable and occasionally laid down with the kids mainly to hold on to my preschooler who moves around a lot and I was worried he would disturb the baby. The Air NZ staff were happy to let me do this which was great. I returned to my seat when the seat belt light went on.
After the kids had their sleep they were fresh and bright and had something to eat. The Skycouch then turned into a great play space for the baby and my eldest son sat back and watched movies or played with a few toys he had brought along. We didn’t have to do any of the usual pacing up and down the aisle as both kids were comfortable enough to sleep and had enough room to move around when awake.
Value for Money
The SkyCouch cost me an extra NZD $600 per flight and in my opinion it is totally worth the money if you are travelling with children. Both my kids got a great sleep as they were able to stretch out and lie flat. When they woke up it was a great play space and become a sofa for the rest of the journey. There was a family behind me (two adults with two 18 month old twins) that had been allocated SkyCouch seats but had not booked them. They were offered the SkyCouch, however, they decided not to use it. I don’t think I would risk hoping that a SkyCouch was spare on a flight and that I would be allocated it. It is worth the money to have the peace of mind that for the Air NZ part of the journey, to and from the UK, we are going to be comfortable and able to sleep.
On the way back we have a Skycouch booked on our final flight from Shanghai to Auckland and I am really glad that we do. It’s actually really reassuring to have this last as the second flight is always the toughest. If it was available though, I would book it all the way.