As those of you who know me (or follow me on Instagram) are doubtless already aware, four weeks ago I travelled from Canada to the UK with two small children (aged four and almost two). While very pregnant. During a pandemic.
Now, I’ve already written a post about travelling with small children. (I’ve done a fair bit of it.) I’ve also written a post about travelling while pregnant. (I’ve done quite a lot of that too.) But travelling with children during a pandemic was new to me – so now I’m going to write about that.
The airport – departures
We flew from Vancouver International airport and I have to say, apart from having to wear masks and there being screens around the check-in counters, not much has changed. Our temperatures were taken before we went through to security but that was the only time on our whole trip (including changing at Calgary).
I was expecting all groups of passengers to be sent to different queues for security, but actually we were all sent to the same one. Nobody was enforcing social distancing between groups and the people behind us didn’t seem too keen on staying two metres away from us so it was all quite cosy.
Once we got to the gate, passengers were sitting in the lounge as usual, but for the most part were keeping one seat in between different groups. This all disintegrated completely once it became time to board.
As usual, first class passengers, passengers requiring assistance and those travelling with young children were called first. And, as usual, at least half of the people who were not included in this group also got up and decided to form a queue. At first, an attempt was made to keep distance in the queue but when people started pushing in to the deliberately empty spaces, it was abandoned.
There were about five socially-distanced markers on the floor approaching the gate, so once we got to these the passengers spread out once more and we were questioned about whether we had a temperature or coronavirus symptoms or should be isolating.
Upon boarding the plane, I was given three antibacterial wipes to wipe down our seats. This actually made me feel more nervous, wondering whether they hadn’t bothered to do it themselves, but as my children climbed over the seats and touched everything before I’d even had chance to wipe anything down I didn’t really have time to stew over it too much. I was forced to adopt a ‘Que Sera’ attitude – I could do what I could do but children are grubby, disgusting beings, so keeping everyone entirely germ-free was not going to be possible.
We flew with WestJet and we were not offered hand sanitizer or masks, but masks are compulsory on board from the age of two. I was extremely relieved that my son was still a few days away from his birthday. Okay, so I somehow had to keep a 23-month old in the burping position for take-off and landing while having a very large bump, but at least I didn’t have to force a 24-month old to keep a mask on.
Our connecting flight was from Calgary. If you’re flying to/from/through Calgary beware – there are very few shops or cafes open. I couldn’t even get my children some cocoa from Starbucks or Tim Hortons. (And, naturally, no milk to be had on the plane either…)
Before boarding the second plane to the UK, we were asked once more if we had any symptoms etc, but our temperatures weren’t taken again. As we got on the plane, I was handed another three wipes, which again I didn’t really have the opportunity to use before my children touched everything in sight.
I thought that for the long-haul flight we may be given masks and hand sanitizer, but we weren’t. The cabin crew were, however, very keen that my four-year old not take her mask off for a second. She was very good about it (and I took it off when she fell asleep because I didn’t want her suffocating… she put it back on when I woke her up) but for little ones, it’s a lot to ask. Our journey was over 12 hours long, with hours of airport time added on at either end. That’s an awfully long time to keep a mask on, even if it is a lovely comfy one from Maisey Made.
Officially due to COVID (but possibly also due to trying to save money), the food on our flight was fairly dismal. Having checked the website, I knew that there would be no allergy-friendly meals and no children’s meals, so I had plenty of snacks for the children and ham sandwiches for all of us.
To be honest, even if I hadn’t had food intolerances, the meal would have been less than appetizing. A cold hummus and cheese wrap (who the heck puts cheese in a hummus wrap?!) with a brownie and a small side salad, followed by a small Danish pastry for breakfast. I hope that if you fly with someone less ‘budget’ then you would actually be given a decent meal.
The airport – arrivals
We were met by special assistance at Gatwick (because of being so pregnant we arranged for someone to help me with our vast amount of luggage – they have no porters but the special assistance team were willing to sort it out and were fantastic) so I didn’t get to see what social distancing was like in the queues for passport control. I did notice straight away that quite a lot of the police in the airport weren’t wearing masks, which surprised me.
I was also surprised by the number of shops that were open in arrivals after customs. Considering that the majority of people arriving at Gatwick will be required to quarantine for two weeks, should they really be able to wander around Costa or M&S first? But maybe it’s because they know passengers will have been offered little or no food on their flights… Anyway, I decided that we wouldn’t go and catch or spread anything and should just head straight to the car (after a loo break).
And that was the last time we were allowed to go out for two weeks. We are staying with my parents, and the guidance is about as clear as mud, but what we ended up doing was that I stayed at home, with the children, and my parents avoided going out if at all possible. My mum made a few trips to get ‘click and collect’ shopping but other than that we all remained housebound. Thankfully, my parents have a fairly large house with a garden and lots of toys and books, so the children were kept entertained, but I’ve still never been so happy to go to the town centre and do banking as I was in that first week of freedom.
We weren’t contacted at all by the government to check that we were isolating, but my husband is currently isolating at a hotel and has somehow managed to miss three calls – so they are checking on some people.
To conclude, I wouldn’t recommend travelling with children at the moment if you can possibly avoid it.
You have to be hyper-vigilant about hand washing and sanitizing, you will probably have to quarantine for two weeks once you get to wherever you’re going (and once you get back), children as young as two are required to wear masks for very long periods of time and children’s meals or activity packs aren’t available.
In the past, I’ve had help from cabin crew when travelling alone with my children. I didn’t need any this time, but I would expect that they would be less willing (or not allowed) to offer to sit with one child while you change the other’s nappy, or whatever. They certainly didn’t tell me to let them know if I needed any help, which is a first.
Travelling with young children is exhausting anyway, in a pandemic it’s just that much more stressful and there’s more potential for mask- or hand-washing-related meltdowns. My children were very well behaved and we avoided strops (except for spending 15 minutes in the loo trying to convince my daughter to do a wee because she’s terrified of automatic flushes…) but they are very used to long-haul flights and on a different day it could have been a very different story.