Traveling with our grandchildren was a bold move, but I am happy to report that we survived to tell the tale.
Traveling from New York to Paris every summer has been part of my DNA since I was three years old when my French father and American mother started the annual family trans-Atlantic tradition. Having followed in my mother’s footsteps by marrying a Frenchman, it was no surprise then when I initiated the yearly pilgrimage to France with our three children.
This began with no other than Bébé Voyage co-founder Juliet Perrachon when she was about five months old continuing with our son Olivier at eight weeks old and our baby Victoria at three weeks old. I survived these trips mainly solo, as my husband had to work.
When Juliet intimated that she would welcome our well-earned expertise in this department to bring her bébés to Paris this summer, we said “Why not?” After all, Felix is a sophisticated five-and-a-half-year-old and Alexia will be three in October. Plus, my husband was going to be with me this time.
We gave this no further thought until our friends, some of which have joined the grandparents’ club, either questioned our sanity or praised us for our saintly sacrifice for the well-being of our Millennial children. Some even pleaded, “Don’t you dare tell our kids that you are doing this as they will want us to do the same!”
Here then is my tale of two trans-Atlantic trips from a grandparent’s view. Just don’t get us into trouble with your parents if you ask them to do the same for you! Although times have changed, for me, flying with our grandkids was like traveling back into time. It’s like riding a bike–you never truly forget!
Paris-New York June 26
My husband had booked us on a late-night flight with the low-cost Norwegian Airlines which we had liked overall when traveling sans bébés. Now, with two little ones in the mix, it would be a different story which unfolded as soon as we stepped into Terminal 1 at JFK. It was 10PM EST. The kids were predictably already dead tired. We were welcomed by sheer chaos at Norwegian with multiple flights all scheduled to depart within the same two-hour window. With no pre-checking available on this airline, we had to do so at one of the jammed kiosks. This line was nothing, however, compared to the humongous queue to check in our bags. After wading through an endless maze of luggage, I finally got through to a representative who took pity on us and let us check all our bags. Our misery though was far from over.
Upon reaching the gate, we discovered that there was virtually nowhere to sit and that the flight had been delayed an hour. We were not boarding before 12AM…By this time, Felix had passed out in Alexia’s stroller while she was tearing through the terminal in full form. At this stage, though, we were somewhat relaxed. I had changed Alexia into her pjs and we even found a friend we could commiserate with!
The next onslaught was when Norwegian announced that we were boarding. As priority boarding with small children was apparently not their MO, we had to push ourselves through the crowd to board. I ended up in the middle seat anchored by our little cherubs while my husband was in the aisle seat across the row. Despite all the chaos, Felix was miraculously still fast asleep. His sister, on the other hand, was busily exploring the kid entertainment options before settling on a cartoon and eventually falling asleep. In the end, my husband and I both slept as much as we probably would have without the kids in tow. They were great.
Not so great was waiting for about 45 minutes after landing in Paris for buses to ferry us from the plane to the terminal. Thanks to an ongoing heatwave, known by the French as canicule, everyone was hot, exhausted, and anxious to get off the plane. Things improved markedly after exiting baggage claim when the kids saw their French grandparents who were waiting for us. All the misery of the last few hours seemed to dissolve. Before we knew it, the kids left were happily off and ready for their new adventure in Normandy. Felix was particularly excited to see his little cousins. My husband and I breathed a sigh of relief and headed toward Paris for a long sleep!
August 2–Paris-New York
“So–please explain why are you doing this again?…” was the endless refrain echoed by family and friends as we discussed our return travel plans to New York. The long and the short of it is that: we were happy to give Juliet one last break to focus on Bébé Voyage. Plus, we really enjoyed our time with them in France following their sojourn with their French grandparents. I also always say that air travel with kids is a bit like childbirth–once it’s done, you soon forget and go for another!
After a fun and leisurely two-day trek from the Alps to the Paris airport via Burgundy, we felt rested and ready to brave our journey back to New York once again on Norwegian. Although not perfect, this time the check in process was smoother than at JFK. We were also less tired as we arrived mid-afternoon (versus 10PM) for a 6PM departure. We even had a little down time to settle down at the Star Alliance lounge. Not so good was the wait at the gate where there were yet again ridiculously few seats allotted for passengers. As with our outgoing flight, the boarding process took what seemed like forever. Amidst the chaos, we somehow figured out how to board earlier than most. Still, this was far from ideal.
The flight itself was fine and the kids were mainly kept busy with in-flight entertainment. Alexia also loved filling in her Princesses sticker book, as did I! One positive point for Norwegian–they served the kids their meals first which is a great help. Felix slept for a few hours, but little turbo-charged Alexia held out until just before landing…
We touched ground ahead of schedule, but lost that bonus as it took almost an hour to deplane. Why? There was no jet bridge and, yet again, we had to wait for buses. Getting off the plane and down the stairs was quite the ordeal for both my husband and me as we were each carrying a sleeping child and way too many bags.
Grandparents’ Take Away
The kids were really great in flight. Sometimes, I felt that my husband and I were crankier than they! It was also quite a bonding experience between grandparents and grandkids.
What I Would Do Next Time—Avoid Low-Cost Airlines
Norwegian is a decent low-cost airline with brand new planes (e.g., Boeing 787 Dreamliner) and the in-flight experience is good overall. However, I don’t recommend it with small kids because the check in, boarding, and deplaning process are just too painfully chaotic. Not to mention the deplorable jet bridge situation…
Should Your Parents Take Your Kids Overseas?
In the right circumstances, this can be a positive and memorable experience for grandparents and grandbébés alike. Assess your own parents’ energy level before contemplating such a trip. However fit, grandparents, are generally 20-30 years older than when they traveled with their own little kids. Lugging exhausted toddlers and young children can be really hard on sore and stiffer limbs… If they haven’t traveled with you when you were little, this may be just too much at this stage. If your parents are not up to it now, the good news is that they may when you are children are a bit older.
Air Travel with Small Kids Today–Better or Worse?
I only traveled with our kids in economy, but we had some amazing flight experiences. When traveling to London with a 17-month-old Juliet, British Airways assisted me in every possible way—from boarding to retrieving our luggage and even getting us into a taxi—basically what they do now with the elderly and handicapped. Upon boarding, the flight attendant had us on her infant and toddler list and offered me baby food, emergency diapers, and help with warming any bottles. Another time, Virgin Airways offered the kids ice cream when boarding. Back then, all airlines distributed kid entertainment packs and airline pins on the plane. Moreover, they provided cots for babies–always.
Despite some challenging experiences, flying was overall easier mainly because the airlines were more sensitive to the needs of young traveling families. From my standpoint, the only upside today is the inflight entertainment system–when available–which is way superior to anything we had then. We all managed catch up on some movies!