Surviving A Long Haul Red Eye Flight With Twin 3 Year Olds

Long Haul Flight With KidsWe’ve taken quite a few long haul flights with Aurora and Jasper before.

We’ve flown coast to coast across the US several times now, and round trip to Ireland in 2012.

We flew to and from New Zealand last year, including back-to-back red eye flights on the way home.

While all of this experience makes us a bit more confident, we still never quite know how the kids will handle all that time on a plane.

The added complication of leaving in the middle of the night definitely tests our family travel savvy. Here’s the story of our most recent long haul red eye with kids.

Planning to go to Boracay

We decided to make Boracay our first destination in the Philippines.

It’s an island paradise of white sand and stunning clear blue water.

Boracay seems pretty easy to get to at first glance.

In a nutshell: fly to Manila, then short flight to Boracay.

We found a reasonably priced direct flight from San Francisco to Manila and almost booked it.

It was about 1 a.m. though so we decided to get some sleep and go through the long process of entering passport numbers, frequent flier numbers, and all the other required information in the morning.

Well, overnight our thrifty nature took over and by morning we had decided to instead take a one-stop flight through Taipei, Taiwan.

It added several hours to the journey and left San Francisco in the middle of the night (12:30 a.m.) but the connection would save us over $600.

The next leg also presented a choice.

Since you can’t fly directly to Borcay from anywhere, you must fly to the adjacent island, Panay, and take a boat.

On Panay there are two airports “close” to Boracay: Caticlan and Kalibo.

Caticlan is far closer to Boracay, being just minutes from the port where you catch a boat. Kalibo is about 2 hours away by road, but is served by more low cost air carriers and tends to have cheaper flights.

Conceding to our thrifty nature again we found a bargain AirAsia flight to Kalibo that saved us another couple hundred bucks over a flight direct to Caticlan.

Waiting for the BART train to the airport.
Waiting for the BART train to the airport.

So at this point the “fly to Manila, then short flight to Boracay” nutshell description had expanded to:

  • fly to Taipei (leaving San Francisco at half past midnight)
  • hang around Taipei airport for 4 hours
  • fly to Manila
  • fly to Kalibo
  • take some type of ground transport for a couple hours from Kalibo to Caticlan
  • take a boat to Boracay

Getting a little more complicated, but manageable. What’s a little layover? And boat rides are fun right?

So full of confidence we were dropped off at the BART station by our gracious host in San Francisco, and began our journey.

The Red Eye Flight to Taipei

The train to the airport in San Francisco was fine minus a somewhat scary drugged out homeless guy cursing loudly most of the way. The kids didn’t seem to mind though, and certainly were too excited to sleep despite the hour plus ride.

The midnight-thirty departure also turned out to not be too big of a deal. Aurora and Jasper were tired of course, but held it together pretty well even in the super long check-in line (check in online Matt! Check in online!).

We had put them to bed at their normal time, then woke them up to go to the airport, which I think was key. Even though they didn’t get much sleep it wasn’t like we were trying to keep them up 5 hours past their bedtime.

Just before midnight - waiting to board.
Just before midnight – waiting to board.

We got some good news when we boarded the plane. We had either misread or misremembered the flight duration to be about 15 hours, but the pilot announced that it would be more like 13 – great!

How To Get To BoracayAurora was up for a while contentedly reading the Hello Kitty catalog which was funny since it was well after 1am! Jasper passed out almost immediately.

Never one to pass up a meal I enjoyed my second dinner and then joined Jasper in dreamland for most of the flight.

It felt like the shortest 13 hour flight ever and we woke up with just under 2 hours to Taipei!

We played some games before breakfast. The flight attendants had passed out some tiny Rubik’s cubes earlier in the flight which were a big hit.

We also drew lots of pictures on the kids’ “Boogie Boards” which are like electronic chalkboards. We got these specifically for this trip and they have been amazing. The boards claim thousands of “refreshes” (erasing the screen) before the battery dies – we’ll see how long they actually hold up.

Breakfast included chicken porridge with some sort of brownish powder flavoring packet that looked and smelled suspiciously like fish food. It was called “Fish Floss”.

My seat neighbor across the aisle encouraged me to mix it around in the porridge so I gave it a shot, and it actually tasted quite good! Jasper, Aurora, and Kat were not as impressed.

Chicken porridge with "Fish Floss" seasoning.
Chicken porridge with “Fish Floss” seasoning.

We landed in Taipei with a full 4 hours until our flight to Manila. Lucky for us the Taipei airport is amazing for kids and had loads of places to hang out and explore.

Each gate waiting area is essentially its own attraction.

For example, one is decorated like a movie theater with theater-style seats and big screen televisions to match.

Another is a history of flight museum with hot air balloons the kids can climb around inside, planes hanging from the ceiling, and informative displays on the walls.

Hot Air Balloons in Taipei Airport

There’s also an orchid garden and shops of all kinds.

Our favorite shop was the Hello Kitty store. The store itself was of course full of adorable pink memorabilia which Aurora was fully familiar with from her hours of studying on the plane.

Hello Kitty store on the way to Boracay.

But even better than the store was the adjacent Hello Kitty themed play space. It had a small climbing structure with slide, rainbow-colored stadium-style benches around a television playing kids anime cartoons, and a Lego table.

This play area was our savior, and thankfully was open even at 5am when we arrived. Aurora and Jasper burned off energy running and jumping, and made some friends with other kids their age.

Playground at the Hello Kitty store in Taipei.
Playground at the Hello Kitty store in Taipei.

We grabbed a quick meal before getting on our next flight as we weren’t sure if they’d feed us.

We couldn’t decide if it was breakfast or lunch. It was 7 a.m. but we’d already had breakfast on our last flight at about 3:30 a.m.

We ended up going with lunch and ordered some delicious steamed buns that came in cool little bamboo baskets.

Lunch in Taipei

On to Manila

The long layover went by pretty quickly and we were heading to Manila before we knew it. Overall this part of the journey to Boracay, which we worried most about, was quite painless.

In the next post we’ll cover the final legs from Manila to Boracay. That’s when things started getting exciting!

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