On Flying with our Toddler Son for the First Time

"Nanay, Tatay, look, there's a map!"

That was Akira, pointing down to the islands he was looking at from the window. It was his first time riding an airplane but judging from my level of excitement, it was as if I was the one who was a first-timer.

It was my annual two-month school break and Christian and I decided to go on a long-term trip just like our pre-pandemic backpacking trips. But with a two-year-old in tow, we knew that we would have to ditch our old ways of qué será, será kind-of-travel.

With travel restrictions in the country due to the pandemic slowly easing up, we decided to spend three weeks in Boracay to basically master the art of doing nothing. So, why Boracay? Well, aside from it being one of the best islands in the world, it's generally convenient to bring a small kid ‘coz food is easily accessible, the beaches are kid-friendly, and there are cheap accommodations for long-term travelers.

As for our flight, we chose Cebu Pacific Air ‘coz they have daily flights to Caticlan (Boracay) and they offer seat sales throughout the year (they fly from Manila to Boracay 16 times daily). We booked a flight around noontime so it would be easier to go to the airport 'coz crazy metro traffic.

We arrived at the airport three hours before our scheduled flight and although it may look like we were too early, believe me when I say that if you’re traveling with a toddler, all delays must be anticipated so it's better to have time to spare rather than stress yourselves with lack of time.

We were immediately assisted by a Cebu Pacific Air ground staff when we reached the check-in counters. She then mentioned the three steps we had to go through for checking in on our flight.

Step 1 was the starting point where we needed to queue, there weren’t as many passengers during that time so we proceeded to the next step.

Step 2 was the self-check-in kiosk where we encoded our booking reference number to get our boarding passes and bag tags. You may also do this by scanning the QR Code on your phone or a printed booking itinerary.

Step 3 was the bag drop area wherein we weighed and sent our bags through a ground crew. In our case though, we were assigned different seats when we checked in online so we asked to be seated together, which they obliged.

It took us almost ten minutes to do all these steps. We queued on the special lane on the bag drop ‘coz we were traveling with a kid. With more than two hours to spare, we roamed around NAIA's Terminal 3 to show Akira around and answer his hundreds of questions like what a normal toddler usually does.

He specifically enjoyed the shops where he saw and tried trolley bags made for kids which you can actually ride around with.

We also saw a kids play area near our boarding gate but he loved the walkalator more. He was so fascinated by riding it that we needed to tell him we'll be late for boarding if we didn’t get into our gate in time.

Boarding went smoothly. We were the first ones to be called since we were traveling with a child. We just needed to show our identification cards (birth certificate for Akira) to the ground attendant who scanned our boarding passes swiftly.

As we were taxied onto the aircraft, Akira couldn't keep his eyes off the huge yellow airplane—as he called it. Actually, the bus itself was filled with families with kids that I guess were also traveling for the first time like our son. I'm so happy to see these pandemic babies go out of their comfort zones and explore the world. I hope and pray that this is truly the start of safe family travel for everyone.

Getting inside the aircraft was a new experience altogether. It was as if I’m experiencing everything for the first time 'coz I'm too excited for Akira. Health protocols were strictly enforced and on our end, we didn't remove our face masks all through the duration of the flight.

Akira got the coveted window seat and he insisted that I tell him the story of the aircraft information card in front of him. He was also curious about the goings-on outside that he kept on asking us what the luggage carrier truck he was seeing was called (we searched online and learned that it's called a tug). He also listened intently to the safety procedures of the flight attendants.

When it was time for our take-off, Akira was extremely quiet and obviously extra sensitive to his surroundings. And then we flew. He didn't cry but rather joined the uber-young crowd who were blurting out their ooohs and aaahs in unison.

I read somewhere that if your child will be riding an airplane for the first time, you should give him a new toy or a book to keep him busy. For this trip, I bought Akira a few toy airplanes which he immediately played with. When he got bored with it, he just looked out the windows and saw the clouds and the maps as he would call them.

The flight was smooth and I wasn't surprised that Akira didn't throw any tantrums. It might be since we didn't allow him to have any gadget since birth so he's not bothered if there's no wifi or if he's stuck with the same toy for an hour. 

When it was time for us to leave the aircraft, he said his goodbyes to the flight attendants and went down the ladder.

When we got down, he then asked if we were already in Boracay because he saw a beach from the airport. Christian and I laughed, we told him that we still needed to ride a bus, a boat, and a van to get to our hotel. He was confused but he kept on walking.

We spent twenty two blissful days in Boracay and I was so happy to see Akira experience things that he only sees in books or on TV. Going back to Manila was as easy as getting on the island.

We eased our way from the hotel to the airport and got to Caticlan Airport in no time. We once again queued on Cebu Pacific's Special Assistance lane and were assisted by the ground staff.

Our flight back to Manila was a stark contrast from what we experienced when we left. And I'm talking about Akira. As soon as we settled in on our seats and read the aircraft information to Akira, he fell asleep.

Christian and I were trying to wake him to let him see the clouds and the islands during the flight but he fell into a very deep sleep.

We took that chance to do our pre-Akira travel kind-of-thing in the plane, like being uber competitive in the inflight game and trying to figure out the islands that we were seeing from the window. 

We landed back safely in Manila while Akira was still in dreamland.

I remember vividly how my old self would react to loud kids in an airplane ride—I would look for an empty row of seats away from the kids, transfer there, and cocoon myself until we arrive at our destination. My friends wouldn't ask me why, they just know that I'm not really into kids.

Fast forward to today, give me the row where all the kids are and I could tolerate even a long-haul flight with them. Life is funny, I know. Traveling with our son actually changed the way we travel by ditching our backpacks and tugging along our trolley bags. But one thing's never changed, we're happy as long as we're together
whenever, wherever.

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