For most of us expatriates in Malaysia, the summer months mark the big travel period of the year, while school schedules offer extensive travelling opportunities to our local friends at the year’s end.
Regardless of when or where you’re headed, travelling with children has its very own perks and challenges.
Mostly perks are offered by Asian airlines,though.
For most of my friends and I, June, July and August are very special months.
Our daily routine goes right out the window the moment school’s out for the summer.
Some families plan ahead and find new and exciting destinations to visit, book flights, hotels, rental cars and more as soon as they are back from the winter break.
Others, like my family, are more spontaneous and sort of wing it the last minute.
Regardless of the type of travellers we are, irrespective of our destination, if we travel with children we all face similar challenges.
I recalled sitting in the waiting area of our departure gate at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport a few years ago when my children had reached their early teens.
The boarding announcement came over the PA system: ‘The plane is now ready for boarding. All passengers with small children please board the aircraft now.
‘All other guests please remain seated until their section is called.’
I couldn’t help myself and told my children jokingly,‘Well, I guess you have just outlived your usefulness as travel companions’.
They no longer qualified for advanced boarding. But was I really joking? Not entirely. Of course, taking flights with little ones can be stressful.
I have to admit though, navigating Asian airports and planes with kiddos have its perks, some of which I would sorely miss from then on.
I remember flying in and out of Hanoi International Airport with two toddlers for instance.
Not only did we get to board and disembark first, but we also had our own personal umbrella-carrying, shade-providing airline assistant escorting us from the runway to the terminal building.
God forbid the two little ones got too hot under the tropical sun. It made us feel quite regal.
What a rough awakening it was, to be told by the check-in staff at the European end that our stroller was too ‘uncomfortable; for the baggage handlers to carry.
Our babies have spent countless moments in the cockpit with the first officer (at least I hope it was not with the pilot himself) and hours wandering the aisles of a plane in the arms of a lovely flight attendant while my husband and I enjoyed our meal in peace. We were so pampered.
Quite the departure from the European airline staff’s habit of refusing to assist with a sick child, by reason of enjoying their tea break.
All Asian airlines we booked always provided us with goodie bags containing diapers, cream, talcum powder, wet towels, changing mats, toys, you name it.
Since the young ladies in uniform were all too eager to carry our children for us, we pretty much strutted on board first, and hands-free. Economy class felt like first class.
In contrast, I got used to being ordered ‘belt extension on, now’, or ‘out of the bassinet’, and once even a crude ‘sit!’ by some semblance of an old continent sergeant major in cabin crew attire.
A far cry from first class, stow-away class, more like.
All grown up now, our children no longer warrant special treatment by airline staff. We don’t get priority boarding anymore, and my son won’t get to sit on a pretty attendant’s lap either (tough luck,that).
While they don’t get to proudly carry their little pink goodie bag any longer, they do have the exquisite privilege of schlepping my hand luggage instead (again, tough luck).
With that, I’ll admit, they haven’t completely outgrown their usefulness as travel companions.
In grateful memory of all the special perks of travelling with children on Asian airlines, we will forever give preference to these carriers over the cold efficiency provided by other companies.
The writer is a long-term expatriate,a restless traveller,an observer of
the human condition and unapologetically insubordinate