Hoorah we made it to Ecuador! All in all, the journey went great. In this blog post I want to reassure anyone else flying during the coronavirus with a toddler that it’s not that bad. Here’s what I learnt after flying long haul with three young children during the pandemic.
We flew from Santiago to Miami with Latam airlines, and then from Miami to Quito with American Airlines. As well as my advice below, you can read more general tips for flying long haul with a toddler here and flying with preschool age children here.
1. Last minute cancellations
I was dreading the idea of flying 25-hours with a toddler during a pandemic. So I decided to delay our flight by one month to take advantage of a direct five-hour flight from Santiago to Quito.
In the end, our flight was cancelled and we were given the choice of waiting another month for a new flight route to reopen, or go for a 12-hour journey via Panama. We chose the latter.
Even then, our flight was cancelled just a day before we flew, and we ended up on a looooong haul trip via Miami. In hindsight, I realise that in these crazy times it’s pointless to overplan, and we should have just got the first flight available.
My advice: Consider booking with an agent to ensure you get the best possible route available. And even then, try to go with the flow.
2. Luggage fees
We were relocating from Chile to Ecuador with our children aged two, four and six. It’s winter in Chile and summer in Ecuador. Unsurprisingly, we had a lot of stuff (six cases plus a baby car seat).
Some airlines, such as LATAM (aka Lan Airlines) whom we flew with, are in administration talks. This meant that we had to pay for all our luggage separately, it could not be covered when booking the flight ticket.
The cost of our luggage came to over $800 USD alone. If your flight company is facing bankruptcy issues, check if you’ll need to pay extra for luggage or check in twice on interconnecting flights. Some friends have had to collect their bags on a layover and check them in again for the second flight. As if flying during COVID with a toddler isn’t stressful enough, imagine lugging suitcases here and there!
My advice: beware of possible price hikes and changes. If possible, try to travel with someone who can help you with bags. If you’re traveling alone, book extra assistance before you fly.
I was dreading wearing a mask for such a long space of time. I was panicking how on earth I’d get my kids to wear theirs. In fact, this was probably the bit I was most dreading about flying during COVID with a toddler.
I ended up doing the best I could, and just accepted that it wasn’t perfect. I just don’t think it’s possible to get an energetic two-year-old to wear a mask for long periods of time. People understood that I was doing my best as a parents,and that kids are kids. Nobody told us off, and airline staff were very understanding.
As for my mask, I bought a three pack of very comfortable masks from a Chilean brand called Inara before I left (3 masks for $20,990 CLP), while my husband used KN95 disposable versions bought from a pharmacy. We swapped each mask every eight hours or so.
For my kids, I bought the most breathable type I could find, as well as superhero plastic face shields. Half got broken before we even took off.
My advice: pack plenty of good quality masks!
4. Blankets, pillows & headphones
We’d been warned that the airline would not be providing blankets, pillows, headphones or other extras on our flight, for hygiene reasons. So I stocked up before we flew.
Turns out that all these things were provided, but they had only just been reintroduced on this particular flight. Some friends traveling long haul went very cold and got rather bored on long haul journeys as these items are not provided.
My advice: Check before you fly if these extras are provided. You still might like to consider packing lightweight travel accessories just in case.
5. Food & drink
Latam served one hot meal on our flight. There was no choice or menu, it was pasta with a tomato and cheese sauce. My son suffers from severe allergies, so in truth I was quite relieved to see no seed filled snacks on board. We always take our own food on flights. However, you’d be wise to take extra food if you’re flying during COVID with a toddler or even alone.
Surprisingly for me, we were not allowed to take any drinks with us on board. So after spending $30 USD on water after security, we had it confiscated just before boarding the aircraft. We were allowed liquids in the form of cosmetics, but not water to drink. Thankfully, the airline provided plenty of water on the flight itself, but I wish I’d known beforehand.
My advice: pack plenty of snacks and food. Also pack spare changes of clothes when the chocolate biscuits melt or the fruit pouches splurt everywhere.
6. Airport restaurants
In Miami airport, I’d say about 70% of restaurants were closed. There was a long queue at TGI Fridays. We were lucky enough to find a good, quiet, restaurant just near the Miami Airport hotel. In case you’re traveling via Miami, Viena is located on the 7th floor of the airport, above the airport hotel.
Chances are, you will find some type of cafe open, but if you’re kids are fussy, you have allergies or you’re short on time, I’d rely on your own food as a backup plan.
My advice: check online if airport restaurants are open if you’ll need them. In any case, pack plenty of snacks.
7. Business lounges & airport hotels
Across the world, many business lounges have closed their doors. We’d planned to spend our 10-hour layover in Miami at a business lounge but in the end we opted for the Miami International Airport Hotel instead.
It was a godsend! Rather than running around after our three kids, being told off by businessmen trying to work, we spent just $70 USD for a four-bed day room (it’s cheaper for a half day). We had a safe space to store our bags, we all enjoyed a well needed nap, and we all freshened up over a long bath. If you’re flying during COVID with a toddler and face a long layover, I’d definitely recommend booking an airport hotel if possible.
My advice: If you’re facing a long layover, book an airport hotel in advance.
8. Paperwork delays
In terms of security checks, everything went very smoothly. However we had a lot of confusion with our paperwork. The rules for entering a country during the pandemic aren’t always so clear and they keep changing. My only advice would be to double check you have all your documents and allow extra time.
Both Santiago and Miami airports were very unsure if we would be allowed into Quito. We spent over an hour at Santiago airport, showing airline staff the updated rules according to the Ecuadorian consulate.
On top of this there is the usual paperwork that comes with international travel. In the US, we needed to use electronic passport machines with fingerprints and this took ages. In Chile (and many other countries), you need to show children’s birth certificates with both parents names on them, and both parents must be present or you need a separate notarised authorisation form. I’m not complaining, it’s a good way to stop child trafficking.
My advice: make sure you have all papers to hand and allow extra time.
9. Hand washing and sanitising
Friends had warned me that aircrafts had been out of soap, so I took a 100ml bottle of my own. (As well as hand sanitiser, baby wipes & disinfectant wipes). In the end toilets on our flights were clean and there was soap, but I’d still recommend taking a small bottle of your own just in case.
I was really strict about hand washing. We washed our hands every time we passed a toilet. I’d sanitise my kids hands in between a lot too. Of course washing hands is better than sanitiser for kids, but sometimes it just wasn’t possible.
I bought this more natural hand sanitiser by a Chilean brand called Tumu. I love it as it smells naturally lemony, the ingredients make sense and it’s a brand I trust. It is also safer than another hand sanitizer which I bought from another brand, and smelled strange. In a couple of weeks it had a weird stringy consistency and I threw it away. On this note, always buy your sanitiser from a good brand, make sure it contains at least 60% alcohol and avoid anything with methanol.
My advice: pack a 100ml bottle of liquid soap and a trusted hand sanitiser.
10. Toys and entertainment
I made the mistake of over packing games on our last long haul flight. In truth, movies (Frozen!) were enough. I didn’t want to be flying during COVID with a toddler, carrying around dirty toys or disinfecting them every five minutes. This time, I only took some paper and crayons.
My advice: go easy on the toys.