Tuesday, 28 June 2016

MEL to LHR with Etihad

Well we made it to England in one piece... barely. 25 hours of transit time with a nearly one-year-old is not fun, in case you were wondering.

We arrived last Monday at Melbourne airport just before noon, a good three hours before our flight to London, and were given the good news that we had bassinet seats. The airport was actually really quiet, which I wasn't expecting as it was the start of school holidays in some, but not all schools in Victoria. This was the first trip where we brought a stroller with us to the airport (previously we just took a baby carrier). As a gift for Ella's first birthday my parents got us a Mountain Buggy Nano, which is an awesome stroller for travellers. It's super lightweight (under 6 kgs) and folds up small enough to fit on the carry on luggage compartment on most planes. We were able to take the stroller right up to the gate, quickly fold it up, and then take it on the plane with us. Very handy! We're really happy with this stroller so far, and would recommend it to anyone that travels a lot with small children.

Once we cleared airport security we got some breakfast and coffees and let Ella roam around a little. This part of the journey was pretty stress free and I was feeling almost relaxed about the next 24 hours.


Ella next to the Mountain Buggy Nano
Ella exploring Melbourne airport - Andy looking concerned!
Well that all changed once we got on the flight. We flew with Etihad, our first time doing the journey with this airline. We chose them over some cheaper options because they have a reputation of being very family friendly, with a designated "Flying Nanny". On the Etihad website the description of the Flying Nanny states:

Do you ever wish that more help was available with children on long-haul flights, so you can sit back and have a little "me time"?

Why, yes, yes I do. That would be amazing. Unfortunately, the Flying Nanny did not live up to expectations. I definitely did not think someone would come and take care of Ella for the whole flight while and I slept and watched movies. But I did envisage someone coming over and and introducing themselves as the Nanny so that we would know who to ask when we needed help. This didn't happen at all, I have no idea who the Nanny was, and the crew in general were pretty rude and unhelpful on the first leg of our flight, from Melbourne to Abu Dhabi.

This leg was 14 hours long, and we were in an older style plane so the seats were pretty narrow and uncomfortable. We had the bulkhead seats which give you extra legroom, so we could put Ella down to play there. But it wasn't long before she was trying to crawl out into the aisle, and was not happy when we stopped her from doing this! Our seats were a window and middle seat, with a very tall guy sitting in the aisle seat beside us. He no doubt paid a bit extra for his extra legroom seat, and was probably pretty disappointed to see that he had a couple with a baby sitting next to him. To give him credit he was incredible patient with us as we got up out of our seats often to get things for Ella or to walk her around the plane. 

About four hours into our flight the food service was finished and the lights were dimmed, and it was what would be Ella's regular bedtime. So we thought it would be a good idea to get the bassinet set up and try and get her to sleep. This worked like a charm for us when we flew with her to Canada at six months old, and she ended up sleeping about seven hours straight through the nighttime flight. That was not to be this time! An 11-month-old is very different to a 6-month-old and once we finally got the bassinet set up (after asking a flight attendant three times for this) we tried putting Ella in and discovered she was pretty much the same size as the bassinet. It looked like she was laying in a little coffin, and was definitely NOT going to sleep in there! We did leave her in for a few minutes and all we could see were her little arms and legs kicking about, trying to get out of the bassinet, which was kind of hilarious. Totally beaten, we picked her up and let her sit in the bassinet which she thought was hysterical. 

In the end we just tried to make her comfortable sleeping on Andy's lap, and she did, fitfully, for a few hours. But 14 hours is loooong and it was a pretty stressful experience. Ella was overtired and bored and there was not much we could do.

Tired baby at Abu Dhabi airport
Arriving in Abu Dhabi was a relief, and we found a quiet, empty lounge to let Ella crawl around in while we took turns freshening up in the washrooms. Not much to say about this airport, I wasn't a fan but we didn't really explore much. I find airports with low ceilings (like this one) somewhat stifling; after a long flight you sort of want a nice, airy airport to somewhat disguise the fact that you are inside for more than a whole day. There is a kids play area somewhere in the airport that we might check out on the way back, but didn't this time as we were all so tired.

Anyway, 3.5 hours later we boarded our second flight, another 8 hours to London Heathrow. This time we were in a new plane, an A380, and boy what a difference it made! It was spacious and the seats were wider, and as an extra bonus we had an empty seat beside us. Score! Also, the crew on this flight were SO much better. We still didn't know who the designated Flying Nanny was but a lot of them were super helpful and great with Ella, playing little games with her and making her giggle. We also had an older lady a few seats over who was smiling with Ella and took her and played with her for a while, which Ella loved and was a nice break for us. Ella still didn't sleep well on this flight (we didn't even bother setting up the bassinet this time) but the attention of the crew and the atmosphere on the plane made it a much more tolerable flight. And 8 hours is significantly shorter then 14.

We arrived at Heathrow at about 7am London time and made it through customs quickly, meeting Andy's dad who was there to pick us up. Ella was very tired but gave Dave a big smile which made us think she recognised him from all the FaceTiming we do. It's about a 90 minute drive from the airport to Andy's parent's house near Portsmouth, and it was lovely to arrive to a "home" instead of a hotel or something. 

Once we settled in, Andy's parents took Ella for a walk so she would have a nap, and Andy and I had showers and then took our own nap for a few hours. We then spent the afternoon in the back garden, catching up, eating ice cream, and blowing bubbles. Ella was so much happier being in the fresh air and crawling around exploring this new space. She has actually adjusted quite well with the time difference. I think that not sleeping much on the plane sort of paid off as she was so tired by the time it was evening in England that she feel asleep straight away at night. She's not yet slept through the night but is basically sleeping at the right times.

We've had a busy week since arriving and I'll update about that in the next post. Needless to say, I am dreading our flights back. I'm racking my brains to think about what we can do to improve things in a few weeks. A few new toys perhaps, and we didn't use the episodes of "The Wiggles" we had downloaded on the iPad, so perhaps we will try that. Any ideas would be gratefully received!

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