What was I thinking? When looking at the Etihad Airways' schedule of flights from Abu Dhabi to London Heathrow, I chose to fly out on the 02.40. At the time, I thought that taking off in the dead of night would mean a sleeping baby as opposed to some seven-and-a-half hours of curious, slightly hyperactive wanderings up and down the aisle. It's only now, as I'm compiling a list of "essentials" for the flight, that I've considered the flip side and my stomach has done a little flip of its own.
What if baby, having already been asleep for six hours before take-off, decides that the bright cabin lights and smiling ladies ever-in-attendance are there for her entertainment? Instead of sleeping she wants to get up and look around just as my fellow passengers are trying to get down and doze, and the more I try to pat and rock her to sleep, the more she objects.
Small children are generally about as welcome on an airplane as an overflowing toilet, but even worse than the prospect of public condemnation is that fact that our fate is out of my control. Whatever happens on the flight, as in most scenarios with a small baby, it will be more about luck than judgement.
This knowledge does not stop me from trying to formulate a coping strategy. I call upon the wisdom of a friend who took a 13-hour flight to Melbourne with her toddler and a DVD of Yo Gabba Gabba! for company. Afterwards, when I asked her about the experience, she said: "Well, I didn't die." Survival being the benchmark of success to which every parent should aspire.
It turned out that by the time that the plane was in the air, drinks were served and the lights dimmed, her daughter was past the point of sleep and "a bit hysterical". The air hostess who had asked if there was "anything at all" that she could do had retreated to the galley. Only the DVD player proved a useful ploy in the endless hours that followed; that and the odd, soothing dose of Calpol when distress reached fever pitch.
One of my friend's greatest strengths and, as it turns out, a parenting survival tool, is her ability to look on the bright side. "It's OK if baby is awake when other passengers are sleeping," she tells me. "The aisles are free and there is no queue for the toilets." Although probably more telling is the fact that she recently decided against a holiday in Sri Lanka, switching to Thailand instead, because the flight times are more baby-friendly.
My baby is too interested in meeting new people and exploring to watch a small screen so I have discounted the DVD player for this trip. I will, however, pack a couple of new toys to distract (more in hope than expectation), snacks, milk and Calpol just in case sore ears and teething prove a bad combination. Night over, there's breakfast to worry about, administered one-handed to a reluctant eater, trying not to scatter meal trays ... One thing's for sure, I can't think of a better way to start a "holiday". Bring on Passport Control.