16 November 2011

SA2011 take 1: Norwich-Durban with toddler and infant

SA2011 take 1: Norwich-Durban with toddler and infant


Rewind to January 2011, it was time to start planning our annual trip to visit the in-laws in South Africa. This year we would be there for Christmas, but to make things interesting, my wife's brother had just proposed to his girlfriend, and set a date for the wedding at the beginning of November. What should we do? Go to the wedding and forego Christmas? Or leave the wedding and head for Christmas as planned? None of this was made any easier by the fact that my wife was at this point pregnant, due to give birth in September, 6 weeks before the wedding. In the end, the plan was decided: we would fly out on the 2nd November in time for the wedding on the 5th. We would stay in SA until after Christmas, my wife being on maternity leave the whole time. Then, I would purchase for myself a ticket back from SA to the UK to return to work, before heading back south just before Christmas. We would be apart for a month, but at least my wife would have her parents on the spot to help her look after a toddler of 2 1/2 and a small baby.

Baby Amy was born on the 12th September, as planned by C-section, and after some drama relating to anti-DVT medicine and flowing blood failing to heal the wound, my wife came home with Amy. This was the start of the marathon, as her birth needed to be registered, passport photos taken, countersigned, and the passport application sent off and received within the remaining 5 weeks before departure. In the end, all was well and Amy had her little red book permitting international travel in plenty of time.

Eventually, the day came to depart. We booked a taxi to take us the 10 minutes from home to the airport, arriving before the checkin desks even opened. Soon, a queue formed behind us, and the staff came to man the desks.

Our large pile of luggage, wife, baby in Baby Bjorn covered in blanket, and toddler sitting in pushchair.

We soon had our boarding passes, though to Johannesburg, bought our "Airport Development Fee" tickets (£5, doubling in January to £10) and proceeded to security. We were among the first to get here, and we've flown several times before with Matthew so we had our proceedure prepared. Tam went through first carrying Amy and holding Matthew's hand, whilst I folded the pushchair to go through the x-ray, put our other hand luggage on the belt (including the rucksack with 2 laptops in it) and prepared the bag with the baby food and drink to taste. Unfortunately by this time Matthew had wiggled his hand out of Tam's and ran back through the metal detector to me. This was enough to trigger proceedures making him the subject of extra search, but getting him to stand still without crying was hard, especially for Tam holding Amy as the Baby Bjorn carrier also had to go through the x-ray. In the confusion I forgot to take my phone out of my pocket, so I had to be patted down and waved with the wand as well. Through to testing the food and drink, Matt's kiddie juice bottles had to be thrown out, but we were allowed to keep the juice itself if I tasted it and we decanted it into a baby bottle! Eventually we were through, but then we were told we could have been moved to a private room for screening - this would have been fine, and not held up the people behind us so much.

Through into the departure lounge, we tried to give Matt his breakfast of cereal and powdered formula milk, but he was still unhappy - he ended up eating 2 yoghurts instead. It was almost time to board, and when boarding was called we joined the massive queue. People requiring extra assistance were called forward first, but by the time we had gathered our things, general boarding was well underway. We left the pushchair folded at the foot of the steps and climbed up into the "big blue plane" (a Fokker F70!)


We had seats ACD near the back, the 2 on the left of the aisle and one accross the aisle which I had. We had hoped to be able to move to seats on the 2 side behind each other, but the flight was close to full so there were no seats. Normally this is a very short flight (I've done it in 25 mins before) so as soon as we took off, the crew sprang into action distributing cups of orange juice and a biscuit each. Matthew was accross the aisle from me so I opened his juice for him, he's never had this type of cup before with the foil lid, but managed to drink it all without spilling it! By this time we were over the Dutch coast covered in cloud, and we were put into a holding pattern. A few circles later and we came in to land on the Polderbaan, followed by a 15 minute drive to the CityHopper apron. The steps were brought in, the passengers descended into busses - our pushchair was waiting for us, so I picked it up and carried it to the 2nd bus. Tam and Amy got one of the few seats, and we moved to the main terminal.


In previous years, on arrival at AMS we've had an hour or two to visit the baby room, feed children and let them have a sleep before heading to the JNB gate, however this time we needed to go straight there, despite the inbound being only about 15 mins late. Bizarre, perhaps the JNB flight time was brought forward this year. Anyway, we headed to the gate, this time at a G gate instead of the usual F pier. People were already heading through security into the holding room. This time, though, security was a breeze (despite having to throw away the bottles of water we'd bought in Norwich - d'oh, should have drunk them!) and we were soon waiting to board. After a few minutes of looking out of the window at the plane, families were called to board, of which there were a few. Looking at our seats, we were allocated 36ABC, standard seats by a window, despite me emailing a few weeks before to request the baby bassinet location, and that email being confirmed by reply. Still, we sat down and arranged our things. A stewardess saw us, and said that she would see if we could move to the bulkhead seat, so Amy could use the bassinet - we were very thankful at this, and a few minutes later she beckoned us forward.

Matty studying the safety card.

We moved, and brought all our bags to the locker over the centre seats (one side was taken by the demo lifejacket and a stack of blankets). Total load was probably around 65%.

The obligatory legroom shot.

Takeoff was on one of the nearer runways, and was surprisingly gentle. Once the seatbelt signs had been switched off, we got Matthew the first of his toy bags. We had arranged about 10 small cloth bags, each with a few small toys or activities in, so that periodically we could get one out and entertain him for a while. I forget the order, but some contained small jigsaw puzzles, others finger puppets, some pipe cleaners, Bob the Builder character toys (his current favourite) and some wind-up jumping toys, and books. By this time the crew started distributing the special meals, of which Tam and Matthew both had gluten free meals. Tam took hers and ate (by now Amy was fast asleep in the bassinet) whilst I fed Matthew. The main meal consisted of chicken pieces in mushy peas, with mashed potato, with a salad and fruit salad, and some GF bread. Being the carnivore he is, Matt ate all his chicken, and nothing else. Not even would he eat the fruit salad, even though he normally likes fruit, so I gave him some rice cakes and raisins. Soon enough, my own meal arrived, which was almost identical but the chicken was in a curry sauce with rice. Very impressive, despite its small size.

Amy sleeping soundly in the bassinet

The crew came round and took the rubbish away, by which time it was Matt's normal afternoon sleep time. At home, he would sleep from anything between 20 mins to 3 hours after lunch, so we were hoping for a long one :) We got his sleeping bag and put him in it, gave him his dummy and bear (he only has these for sleeping now) and thought how to arrange him... By which time he had put his head on the seat and fallen asleep!

Matt's unusual sleeping position

He stayed there for about 1/2 an hour, before stirring, so I was worried that was all the sleep he would have, but he seemed still drowsy so we laid him on the seat curled up, the seatbelt around his bottom to stop him falling to the floor, and he slept for another 2 hours. Result :) During this time Tam watched a film on the IFE and I took a walk around.

View of the rear cabin on the 772.

Wing view, over the Sahara somewhere.

There was a small tray set up near the rear galley with some drinks and snacks for people to take if they liked, mini Mars bars, sweets, ice creams, juices, fizzy drinks and water.
Matt then woke and had some of these sweets, and watched some of the children's programmes on the IFE, interestingly he was quite happy with the headset, unlike last year when he refused to use it and watched in silence. This time he had leaned to put up with the minor discomfort to have the benefit of the music and talking! Also around this time a snack was handed out, bread with jam for the GF meal, and a cheese sandwich for normal meal, along with ice cream. The icecream was coffee flavoured, which I hate, and also had biscuit pieces in, so none of us could have it. I was somewhat disappointed in the sandwich, it was nice enough but what a reduction in service from 12 months before when the 2nd meal was an actual meal.

Another few hours later, and another service began. This time it was another full meal (my fears over the sandwich evaporated!) Again, the GF meals came first, a vegetable risotto. Tam ate and enjoyed hers, but Matt didn't want any of his at all. Thankfully we'd brought some Marmite crackers for him, he usually has a light meal at tea time of crackers or sandwich, which he ate happily, but still he refused all the other items, including the yoghurt that he normally likes. I ate his risotto, and yes it was very nice! Then my own meal came, a piece of pizza with the same accompanying items. It too was nice, small, but then ok as I'd eaten Matt's.

The 2nd gluten free meal.

By now it was almost time to land. The crew came and picked up the remains of the meals, and everything was stowed. Landing seemed to take an age, but we couldn't see much as the windows were so far away. Tam said to me "how much further?" just as we landed with a bump. Almost no ear popping, but then JNB is at a high altitude. We were amongst the last off, picked up the pushchair in the airbridge, and headed to passport control. Between us we were 2 South African passport holders (Tam and Matt, both dual) and 2 British only (myself and Amy, whose SA citizenship we will sort out on our return) we headed to the SA passport queue, only to be waved to the Crew and Diplomatic queue - probably because of the baby. We were all stamped in in moments, and headed to the baggage reclaim. We had just arrived when our bags started arriving. Good timing! (we had brought a car seat, and were meeting Tam's uncle at the airport with our other car seat, so both children could be strapped in securely. The infant baggage allowance is only 10kg, no extra car seat, so the day before I'd been off to buy a large bag that the car seat would fit in, so we could then pack more clothes etc around it.). We were out into arrivals in no time, and couldn't see Tam's uncle anyway. A quick phone call revealed he was there, we just hadn't seen him, so we easily met up.

When we originally booked the trip, we were going to stay with Tam's brother and family in Centurion, near Pretoria, so the next day's flight I booked from Lanseria, Johannesburg's 2nd airport, on the other side of the city but equidistant from my brother-in-law's house. However, he and family had gone down to Durban a few days previously. They had still offered their house, but it would involve picking up keys from his wife's parents, and all that that entails with extra house visits, and it was already almost 11pm, very late for Matt. So we arranged to stay with Tam's uncle in Benoni, very near JNB but a lot further from Lanseria. We headed to the rental offices to pick up our car. It was a VW Polo, more Golf sized for UK readers, but was still a push to fit everything in, but we made it - 4 people, 3 large cases, 2 car seats, 4 hand luggage bags and a double pushchair! We headed to Tam's uncle's house, 10 minutes away, and when we got there, put the children to bed and crashed ourselves, especially as he was leaving at 9am (7am UK time! bearing in mind it was now gone midnight) the following morning to go to Durban himself.

We were woken up at our request, showered, got the children up, and packed the car, as Tam's uncle too locked the house and headed back to JNB. We started our jouney to Lanseria, via Sandton City shopping centre for drinks, snacks, and some local Pay-as-you-go SIM cards for our phones, so we could use the cheap calling and mobile internet (and sat-nav) functionality without costing a bomb. The road from Sandton to Lanseria is not exactly a motorway, but it is well signed from the N1 Johannesburg orbital motorway, and I had a mental map anyway, so we we eventually arrived, and left the car. Checkin was a breeze, and Kulula even cable-tied our bags closed, for security.


We went through security here, easy as Amsterdam (why is it only UK regional airports that are so pedantic?) into the departure lounge with its single gate - our gate was downstairs (or rather, down a very slow, but interior door-less lift). On the apron was a BA liveried ATR, and some biz jets, until we spotted an arrival - the Europcar logojet Kulula has. I'd been on it once before (not surprising as Kulula only have 7 planes), making it only the 2nd aircraft I've been on more than once (since I started noting regs).

ZS-OAP on the apron

There were good views of the apron, only it is a shame the there's not much traffic to watch! We watched the incoming passengers disembark, and soon it was time for us to board. As before, we left the pushchair at the foot of the steps, and boarded by the rear stairs. This flight was quite uneventful, calm. We bought some drinks and biltong from the BOB, with which Matt re-acquainted himself with the dried meat, and also played with some more of the toy-bags - plasticine this time, and a sticker book. Load was probably around 80%, flight was on time, and our bags came off the carousel together at Durban. We headed to the car rental offices here to pick up our car for the weekend, this time something a bit bigger, a Hyandai i35 SUV.

Overall these flights were satisfactory, shame about the pre-booked bassinet not being allocated - for the return I will make sure to phone them, and also check at checkin. Food on board KL was very good, free, but portion size could be improved. Kulula's BOB offerings are ok, despite being branded Woolworths, a department store food hall.

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