MEL - SFO with an 18 month old

We've made it to California! We have spent our first week in the Lake Tahoe area, about 3.5 hours north east of San Francisco. It's Christmas Eve and the snow has been falling for two days straight, so we are certainly going to have a white Christmas for the first time in years!

Ella was a super star on the plane. We flew with Qantas from Melbourne to San Francisco via Sydney. We arrived at Melbourne super early, at 8am for an 11:30am flight. When we checked in we were put on an earlier flight, and also told that we didn't have a bassinet for our flight from Sydney to San Francisco. Momentarily panicked, the flight agent told us that was because they put us in a row of three with an empty seat in the middle - amazing news! An empty seat beats bulkhead/bassinet seats any day, especially now that Ella is way too big for the bassinet anyway.

Our flight to Sydney was quick and painless as Ella slept the whole way. It was timed perfectly with when she would normally have a nap. We then had a 3 1/2 hour stopover in Sydney, giving us plenty of time to get through immigration, have some lunch, and let Ella run around the airport, hopefully burning some energy before the 13 hour flight to San Fran. Her favourite activity was pushing around our carry on luggage: 

Very helpful, thanks Ella!
Loving these "dogs" at the airport!
Last Christmas we went to Toronto for Christmas to see my parents, and we flew from Melbourne to LA for the first leg. We were in an A380 plane which I loved, it was so much bigger and airier than older planes, the seats have more legroom and on Qantas flights they have space at the back of the plane with snacks available for the whole flight. Not bad for economy! I assumed we would be on the same type of plane, but unfortunately Sydney-San Francisco is not nearly as popular a route and we were instead on a 747, which seemed so much more cramped and old in comparison. I had to remind myself that complaining about flying on an older plane when you get to go to California for Christmas is definitely a first world problem, so I probably shouldn't get too annoyed about it.

We boarded the plane early with the other families with young children. Whenever I read tips on flying with children a common recommendation is to wait until the last minute to board so that you have the least amount of time on the plane possible. But I disagree, I like boarding early and getting all our "stuff" organised on the plane while there are no other passengers around. As the plane started to fill up, we held our breath, hoping that we did indeed have an empty seat in our row of three. We gave each other a huge smile and did a silent fist pump as the captain announced that the cabin doors were shut and we were preparing for take-off and the seat between us was still empty. Major win! 

Ella definitely burned a lot of energy in Sydney airport as fell asleep in Andy's arms almost as soon as we took off. As soon as the seatbelt sign went off, Andy carefully lowered Ella onto the empty seat between us and, lo and behold, she stayed fast asleep. Andy and I couldn't believe it, what an amazing start to a long haul flight with our very active toddler. I tried to watch the Louis Theroux Scientology movie, but this (old) plane was very loud and I found it hard to hear, so I just gave up and read my book (The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty - perfect holiday reading). I have very low expectations about being able to watch a movie when we fly with Ella now anyway.

Fast asleep in her own seat!
She woke up about 45 minutes later, and we spent the next five hours or so entertaining her: reading books, colouring, eating, walking up and down the plane, and of course letting her play on our phones and the iPad. Ella is just about getting to the age where she will watch a little bit of TV. She loves The Wiggles, so we downloaded a few episodes before the flight for her. I hopefully bought kid headphones as well, but there was pretty much no way she was leaving those on her head. The loudness of the plane came in handy at this point, as we could put on The Wiggles at a very low volume where Ella could hear it but other passengers couldn't. I also downloaded a Bubbles app and a drawing app, each of which killed 10-15 minute at a time. I find that breaking a long flight like this into 15 minute blocks of time can help with the tedium of it all. 

Once it was about 9pm (Melbourne time) Ella slept pretty well for about five hours. We probably spent about an hour trying to get her to sleep, she kept fighting it and we would have to walk her up and down the plane trying to tire her out. Once she did fall asleep Andy and I did our best to shut our eyes and rest, curling ourselves around sleeping beauty, who took up not only her free seat, but about half of Andy's and mine as well. About 2 1/2 hours before we landed the crew turned the cabin lights on, so all hope of any more sleep was lost, but by this time in a long haul flight the worst is over and you can handle a couple more hours knowing the end is near. All in all, Ella was an excellent little traveller; though I'm not sure how things will go if our flight home is full and we have to have the little darling on our laps the whole time!

It took us ages to get through immigration, but that was sort of our fault. There were two lines, one for citizens and one for other visitors. We joined the visitors line, but it turned out that because I am Canadian and Ella and Andy were travelling on their ESTA visa waiver for the second time, we could have joined the citizens line. I feel like that was very poor signage, but at least we know for next time. Luckily we had one of my favourite travel accessories with us, our Mountain Buggy Nano stroller. It folds up to be small enough to take as cabin luggage on the plane, so we don't have to check it in. That way we can have it all the way up to the gate and during stopovers. Once we got off the plane Ella was super tired and went to sleep in the stroller, and she was out the whole time we were in the immigration line, which was about an hour. If we hadn't had our Nano one of us would have had to carry her that whole time and she probably wouldn't have slept so well. 

When we finally got out of the arrivals area my brother Mike was waiting for us, Starbucks in hand. It was the biggest coffee I'd seen in ages; I always forget about the giant sized coffees in North America! Mike lives in Campbell, just outside of San Jose in the heart of Silicon Valley. In fact he lives around the corner from the eBay headquarters. It was about a 45 minute drive to his from the airport, where the grandparents were waiting impatiently for their little Ella to arrive. It was very cute to see Ella smile and giggle when she recognised her grandparents. (Or maybe she was just excited to see the stars from her favourite FaceTime TV show...)

Andy and I quickly showered and then we were off for Lake Tahoe, where we have spent the past week. This post is already long enough so I will continue the next post with our three days in South Lake Tahoe.


Anonymous said…
Keep this going please, great job!

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