My Grandparents emigrated out to the Middle East with their two daughters (my Mother and Aunty, aged 5 & 7) in the 1950s. Flying to the Middle East in the 1950s was my Granny’s first ever flight and experience of travel outside of England. I loved hearing her tales of life out there. What an adventure long haul travel must have been back then!
Recently, I have been thinking about where my next long haul adventure will take us. The logistics of long haul travel with young children plays quite a large part in the decision making process. This has got me thinking about what it must have been like for my Granny, all those years ago, embarking on her first flight with her young children. As I am taking a little trip down memory lane I thought I would share with you what I have learned about how long haul travel has changed over the past sixty years.
- Then – No in-flight entertainment systems and most definitely no seat-back TVs. If they were lucky and their parents had had the foresight to plan ahead, children were given colouring books, pencils, a small pack of teddy bear toys from Woolworths and a book to read. My Grandmother told the tale of how her girls (my Mother and Aunty) were given an airline pin broach to play with by one of the air hostesses, which was a complete highlight for them – no health and safety in those days!
- Now – If you are flying anything over six hours then it is almost a guarantee that you will have a full in-flight entertainment system at your disposal, complete with a personal seat-back TV. A huge range of movies, kids programmes, music and games at the bare minimum will be provided for each of your discerning little travellers. Many airlines such as Virgin Atlantic also provide ‘kids travel packs’ stuffed with goodies to keep the kids quiet. Failing that, most parents are pretty savvy these days and will bring a whole host of toys and games as well as an ipad or two so that boredom really isn’t going to be an issue.
- Then – My Granny tells me that children were not catered for in any way. I’m sure we have all heard the age old saying that “children should be seen and not heard” – well nevermore was this true than whilst flying apparently. Not only were children expected to be quiet and well-behaved, there was no such thing as a children’s menu so children were expected to eat was put before them. Baby changing facilities were unheard of. If you did travel with your children, not only did you have to contend with all of the above but you also faced a long haul flight enclosed in a cloud of cigarette smoke. Smoking on planes was the norm in the 1950s. I can’t begin to imagine how claustrophobic that must have made the experience.
- Now – These days, airlines have got flying with children down to a fine art. Baby changing facilities, children’s menus and even special Kid Backpacks (Virgin Atlantic) packed with goodies are the norm these days for long haul flights. People do not expect young children to sit still and be silent for hours on end and unless your little darlings are kicking the seat in front of them, you are unlikely to receive anything more than an understanding smile from your fellow passengers when things get a bit noisy. Oh and you don’t have to breathe in toxic cigarette fumes for eight hours. Bonus.
- The Experience
- Then – Back in the 1950s, air travel was something that most people had not experienced. High flight costs and a general lack of interest in foreign travel left long haul flights out of reach for most people. If you were one of the lucky ones then you would have been unsure what to expect, what to pack or how to plan for it. Not the ideal situation when travelling with children. Once aboard the flight you would immediately be faced with a firmly segregated class system; FIRST class and SECOND class. If you were to find yourself in a SECOND class seat and dared to venture into the curtained off FIRST class section then you would be made to feel very inferior indeed and quickly escorted back to where you came from. Not too dissimilar to 1950s society in general I imagine! Meals were eaten with three ‘proper’ courses on bone china plates with linen napkins whether you sat in first or second class. It was quite an event I’m told!
- Now – Flying is a common occurrence for many families. If we didn’t know what to expect or what to pack then there are endless resources (namely the internet) at our disposal which will quickly point us in the right direction. Although flight costs can still be high, many families feel able to save up and afford them, which puts air travel well within reach for the majority of us. Class systems on-board still do occur but without the social stigma of the 1950s. It is highly unlikely that anyone would make you feel inferior for sitting in an economy seat these days. Sadly in my experience, meals are no longer eaten on fine china plates with all the pomp and ceremony that they deserve unless you are sitting in business class or above. On a long haul flight it is however still usual to be offered a hot meal and several snacks and drinks.
There are always going to be challenges to face when taking on long haul travel with little people but writing this post really makes me realise how easy we have it these days. There are so many brilliant countries and places to visit in this big, old world of ours that it seems a shame to limit ourselves to places within a 2 hour flight time. Having survived long haul travel alone as a single parent I can say for sure that it is definitely both doable and enjoyable if you are organised about it. I hope that you enjoyed my little trip into the past and hope that it might persuade you to get those flights booked if you have been sitting on the fence, wondering if it is possible.
Wherever you are off to this summer, be it home or abroad, I wish you very happy travels.
This post is written in memory of my beloved Granny who passed away on June 25th after 97 long, exciting and much loved years with us.