MADE BY MEMBERS • September 2021
Editor of fellow online magazine The MotherHood, Amy Brotherton lives in London with her children and husband. She hadn’t seen her family in the USA in more than two years but, thankfully, that recently changed. This issue, the transatlantic traveller tells The Club all about her journey to America – and what pandemic-era trips are like with the kids in tow. Let the high jinks ensue...
Today is the day. After months of planning and ten days of quarantining to make sure we pass our pre-flight Covid-19 tests, we are beginning our journey to the USA to visit family we haven’t seen in more than two years. My two kids, who are five and eight, are so excited they’re bouncing around the flat clutching the three teddies they painstakingly selected to bring on the plane singing, “Fit to fly! Fit to fly!”. This jingle, I can confirm, has been on repeat since we got confirmation that we’d passed the Covid-19 tests.
Car jammed with suitcases and we’re off – ridiculously early – to the airport. My husband always insists we leave super early “just in case”. We weren’t able to check in online (we assume because of the extra Covid-19 related checks*) so he was adamant we arrive at least four hours before our flight time.
*Editor’s note: Once a customer’s Covid-19 travel documents are verified, they are able to check in online. This can be done with the VeriFLY app. Using the app is optional, but not using it and having verification performed in advance will mean having to check in at the airport.
Top tip for driving to the airport with kids is to book the Meet and Greet parking. It’s truly money well spent. You drive into the short-term parking lot at Heathrow and unload, then hand your keys over to someone on the parking team who moves your car to a designated lot while you simply walk to departures. The kids practically burst out of their car seats, sprinting around the car park before arguing over who gets to push the baggage trolley which they’ve decided to see as an F1 vehicle.
We all put on our face masks and it hits me we will be wearing these for quite a long time: probably the longest we’ve ever worn them. Will the kids manage? So far, so distracted. Plus, their masks have tiger print on them, which they love. Roar.
No queue at check in (what? No one else arrives four hours early? Huh), which starts the spread of a smug smile across my husband’s face. The kids now get to do one of their favourite tasks, which is helping hoist the bags up on to the conveyor belt and shout, “Bye-bye bag! See you soon!” We then drop their car seat bags at the large baggage department and head to security. Party of four – each wearing a backpack, a mask and hungry eyes. We dodged breakfast to get out the door early and avoid any car sickness with the kids.
It’s very short queues at security: a welcome sight. Both the kids and I set off the detector and have to step into the body scanner pod (which my son had said he hoped he’d get to do – dreams do come true) and then get body pat-downs. Is it a theme park? Is it a spa? No, it’s airport security. And we’re through.
After a wander in the surprisingly bustling airport terminal we decide to eat where we always eat, Pret. It just has something to please the whole family. It’s as busy as it usually is, and you still have to stand hovering over the tables waiting to pounce when one becomes free. We slowly graze on a bonkers variety of food and drinks. Our gate hasn’t been posted yet. There’s a Heathrow security guard sitting next to us on her break reading a book entitled How to Own the Room. The kids have inevitably chosen more than they can eat, so we wrap up their leftovers to have on the plane later. Finally, the departures board reveals our gate and we mosey on over.
“No, you can’t have that giant bag of sweets.” “No, I’m not buying those snacks, as we’ve just eaten.” “If you want that, you can put it on your Christmas list.” “Yes, it is cute but you have so many teddies already.” “Haven’t you read that book before?” “Ooh, yes, those sparkly stilettos are pretty, but they’re for adults.” This, everyone, is the sound of a mum in an airport with her kids. I did manage to get myself two books, though, which I vow to actually read while we are away!
Last family toilet visit, near the gate. We go through when families with children five-and-under are called. Masks still on, we still try to maintain some distance with the other families beside us even though I realise we’ll all be sitting inside a plane together for nine hours soon enough. The kids are now desperate to get on the plane, asking every few seconds when it will happen. I tell them to enjoy standing up while they can, do some stretches. Son stretches his eyes by rolling them at me.
We’re on board, every nook and cranny of the seating area instantly explored by the children. This cabin looks new and tidy, and we’re pleased to see good-sized TV screens. The cabin layout is three rows of three seats, so we’ve got the three middle seats while my husband sits across the aisle. It works out well as we are book-ending the kids, and the aisle separation doesn’t hinder things, really. Both of my kids have flown since they were newborns and it seems a breeze compared to the earlier years. Now they love the video games – classics like Pac-Man – and the kids’ TV and film selection is fantastic. And let’s not forget the flight map – they check that frequently.
The flight crew are so friendly – one brings the kids these cute little bags with activity books and crayons in them. I know we’ll keep the bags: they’re so good for stashing sports gear in or taking toys to the park. The drinks trolley comes by and, like adults, my kids order a drink they wouldn’t normally have on the ground. Cranberry juice fiends at 35,000 feet. And we love those little Penn State pretzels for snacking. My kids get the veggie lasagne, a side salad and a pot of fruit crumble. After the meal detritus is cleared, the rest of the flight becomes a blur of screen gazing, game playing and loo trips. Wrapped up in the provided blankets, cocooned in the now darkened cabin, it dawns on me that the kids have been wearing their masks so well – removing them to eat, then putting them back on without complaint for the remainder of our flight.
We arrive in Dallas as a hazy sunset begins. The kids are tired but wired. As we say goodbye to the flight crew, the Texas heat wraps us up in a big sweaty hug and we step on to the sky bridge. We’re back, baby. Back travelling the world, seeing far-flung family and feeling grateful for the ability to be able to do so. My kids handled the long-haul flight remarkably well and, after flying for years with wriggly toddlers, boy did I appreciate the ability to sit back, relax and enjoy my flight, too!
Mum of two Amy Brotherton is editor of The MotherHood, an online magazine featuring the best of what London has to offer families. An American who has lived in London for more than 15 years, Amy loves to explore new places with her family.