Illustration: Jayde Perkin


How do you do 18 hours on a plane with two small children?

Valium, iPads and, er, bumbags, says Robyn Wilder. At least, that's what she's hoping

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By Robyn Wilder on

I’ve never considered the tropics as a holiday destination – Aruba, Indonesia, Paraguay, Brunei; these are not natural choices for me, partly because I’m terrified of even quite small insects and partly because I can develop heatstroke from glancing at a lightbulb. But I can be talked round from those aspects.

The real problem is that, in my dotage, my existing anxiety disorder has been joined by an awful terror of flying.

It wasn’t always thus. As is the way with many brown persons of British heritage, long-haul travel to visit family was a regular feature of my childhood. I used to look forward to plane journeys, carefully selecting books, movies and TAPES to play in my WALKMAN (I am old) to accompany me on my long trip. I loved the rush of take-off and the tiny plastic knives you got with your meal.

I can generally keep it together on short trips but, every minute that I’m in the air, my mind replays that scene in Lost where Oceanic Flight 815 comes apart and all the passengers get sucked out into the sky

But, for some reason, flying now scares the bejesus out of me. I can generally keep it together on short trips but, every minute that I’m in the air, my mind replays that scene in Lost where Oceanic Flight 815 comes apart and all the passengers get sucked out into the sky, still alive and screaming and in their seats. Even tiny plastic knives can’t help with that.

And, in one month, my family and I are flying to Indonesia for a family occasion.

We – that is, my husband, my three-year-old and my one-year-old – will be in the air for a total of 18 hours. I’m bricking it, but I’ve looked into alternatives and I’m afraid arranging some sort of convenient kidnapping is out of my price range. So, I’m just having to deal with it. This is my plan.

1 I have purchased a bumbag

I have purchased a gaudy gold bumbag shaped like a pineapple, to carry everything I need to hand – Sudocrem, lip balm, phone and boarding pass. Every time I start to go loopy because there’s a bit of turbulence, I am going to look at my bumbag and remind myself that no one on Oceanic Flight 815 had a bumbag shaped like a pineapple. Hey, you have your mantra; I have mine.

2 I am reading up on the reality of flying

Did you know that you’re more likely to die in your bath than on a plane? That 95.7% of all passengers survive a plane crash? That turbulence isn’t as bad as it feels? Don’t correct me, please – these are facts I’m clinging to.

3 I am meditating

I normally hate meditating. I tend to focus unhappily on the dusty smell of the floor or a stain on my trousers, but apparently the Headspace app has a specific “fear of flying” segment, so I will be listening to that 24 hours a day thankyouverymuch.

4 I am preparing activities for my kids

Here is the hierarchy of people who enjoy small kids being on long-haul flights: 3) Everyone else; 2) The kids’ parents; 1) The kids. An alternative hierarchy: 1) No one; 2) No one; 3) No one. So, to keep everyone as happy and occupied as possible, I’m downloading enough kids’ shows to the iPad to drain the National Grid; taking toys, sweets, and colouring books to whip out every hour or so; memorising the anatomy of a plane, so I can create a treasure hunt, and buying a couple of these inflatable cushions so we can extend our seats and have a little play/sleep surface for everyone.

5 I am preparing activities for myself

Recently, I started counselling and, when I told my counsellor about all the activities I had lined up for my kids, she simply said, “And what about you?” I didn’t have an answer because it honestly hadn’t occurred to me. I just thought I’d throw myself at the flight, hope it worked out and maybe have eight gins and tonics if it got hairy. But she’s right – I need to plan for myself and my anxiety. So, I’m going to channel my inner child and download a shit ton of podcasts, audiobooks and trashy reality shows to occupy me. And, for when my panic ramps up, I’ll return to the meditation apps and go nuts with an adult colouring book until my anxiety quietens.

6 I am going to pretend not to speak English

In case people get all up in my face about why I’m bringing kids on a plane. Because they will. I can do this; I’m brown.

7 Valium, prosecco and formula

If everything fails, I can fall back on these old faithfuls (formula to avoid sedating the baby) and leave everything up to my husband. Because, if I’ve tried the previous steps and they’ve all failed, who can blame me for checking out? Besides, an unconscious wife is always better than one shouting, “OCEANIC FLIGHT 815! OCEANIC FLIGHT 815!” until they take her away.

Wish me luck!


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Illustration: Jayde Perkin
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