Travelling to Japan With a Toddler – The 10 Hour Flight


The day had finally arrived. After a sleepless night, during which I spent 8 hours pondering my own sanity for deciding to embark on such a ludicrous adventure, it was finally time to do the last-minute packing and prepare ourselves to leave. It was time to face our 10 hour flight to Tokyo.


The drive to the airport was remarkably quick for a Sydney weekday afternoon. We had given ourselves plenty of time, but with no traffic and an extremely fast check-in and security screening process (we had been warned that this part could take hours!), we found ourselves sitting in the transit lounge with a couple of hours to spare.

We had been told to arrive at the lounge early, as priority boarding would allow us on to the plane first. Perhaps they didn’t mean quite this early…


Empty departure lounge, Sydney Airport
Hello? Is anyone here? Are you sure this is the right place?


Boarding Time

At 8:30 pm we boarded the flight, a full hour later then Hannah’s usual bedtime.

ANA’s priority boarding policy meant that we were some of the first people aboard. This gave the vastly sleep deprived little girl an opportunity to survey her surroundings. She took in the new setting with surprising grace, especially for someone whose unflappable sleep routine had been so wildly disrupted.

Sleep, What is That?

I was already convinced that Hannah had abandoned the concept of sleep. She had happily made friends with a three year old in the departure lounge. The two of them had been drawn together by some magical force of the universe and they had torn through the departure lounge like two inseparable whirlwinds. At least Hannah would be worn out and ready to sleep on the plane (I told myself in a warm and fuzzy state of delusion).

I could see the worried look on the faces of the other passengers as they began to file on to the plane. An old lady shot a look in Hannah’s direction, then thoroughly examined her ticket, just to make sure she did in fact have the awful luck of a seat across the aisle from an excited-looking toddler. The scan of her ticket revealed the terrible truth, and so she decided upon shooting intermittent, filthy glares in Hannah’s direction as she settled into her seat.



As the plane began to taxi, we coaxed Hannah up onto her seat and strapped her in ready for take-off. She was fairly happy to comply, so it wasn’t a difficult task. We had been blessed with perhaps the best possible seats in economy – the bulkhead row. On top of that, the most wonderful man in all of ANA had organised for the whole row of three seats to be ours, even though we had only booked two seats (Hannah was supposed to travel on one of our laps).

It was extremely kind of the man to organise this for us, as he had told us that there were only six spare seats on the whole flight.



Room to spare in bulkhead row on 10 hour flight to Japan
Room to spare, with three seats in the bulkhead row

This, to me was even more valuable than an upgrade to Business Class would have been. Hannah had a whole seat to herself. I really can’t imagine how her travelling on our laps would have played out, although it now sits in the back of my mind that that scenario will likely play out on our return journey.

Hannah handled take-off well, and soon enough she was happily sitting in her seat and listening to Spotify through her Puro Sound Labs headphones. Of course, I was insanely jealous when I eventually got round to putting on my own el-cheapo headphones after the dinner service. As it turn out, I didn’t get much of an opportunity to use them anyway…



Puro Sound Labs Headphones
Puro Sound Labs headphones and Spotify. A match made in heaven!




Hannah was served her own special “baby” dinner before the full meal service began. She immediately rejected the miscellaneous pureed vegetable that was placed in front of her, then set about proving how personally affronted she was by its very existence. This was not overly surprising as she had already eaten a full dinner and a mandarin (two days earlier we had been convinced that she disliked mandarin, now it is her favourite fruit).

The adult meals were then served. Hannah’s distain for her own meal was quickly replaced by a burning desire to consume the best bits of her mother’s meal as soon as it arrived. Within seconds Hannah had located a fork and was chowing down on the salmon. She then gave a few longing glances in the direction of my marinara, but I was far more selfish than Emma and I ate all of my meal myself.


The Hilarity of a Delirious, Sleep-Deprived Toddler

It must have been 11pm by the time dinner was done, and Hannah was well and truly past it. I don’t blame her at all, I too was feeling like I wished it would all be done with. We placed Hannah in her Grobag, put on her Sleep Spotify playlist and waited for the miracle of sleep.

I too put my headphones on and began perusing the choices of movies. I am so far out of touch with movies these days that I didn’t even recognise most of the “New Release” titles. There were a few Pirates of the Caribbean movies, although my great sense of patriotism means I had to veto the movie due to our national outrage over the star of the movie’s canine shenanigans (not really, I just didn’t want to watch it).

Finally I settled on a Fast and the Furious movie. I had no idea these were still being made! All I can tell you about the movie is that in the first 30 seconds, someone mentions “Ford parts”. That’s it. That’s all I saw of the entire movie. Why..?



Hannah was definitely ready for sleep, but a drawback of her military-like sleep routine at home is that she is not accustomed to falling asleep in strange conditions. Hannah likes a nice firm mattress in an enclosed cot. It is what she has had her whole life. She can sleep in a car seat at a stretch, but the thought of sleeping anywhere else is entirely foreign to her.

The sleep playlist had done its job, but the toddler now faced the daunting task of putting sleep into action. She tried so hard to settle in her chair, but it was no good. She quickly squirmed her way out of her seatbelt (that filled me with confidence in its ability as a safety device) and decided instead to try the floor.

That also was too uncomfortable, so she instead decided that playing until she physically passed out was the only option left. However, walking around in a sleep bag is hard work, and so she soon became frustrated and she had one or two falls.



Grobag in lap
The Grobag is a must-have for helping with sleep on the flight

Eventually, Hannah chose her seat as the best option. After a quick (15 minute) game of The Chair is a Slide (a clever game Hannah made up, in which one uses a Grobag and an aeroplane seat as a makeshift slide) Hannah settled down to sleep. Until she pooped. 15 minutes later.

Emma and I decided that changing a delirious toddler at a slightly turbulent 3000 metres in a tiny capsule of a toilet was a two-person job, so the three of us headed off towards the rear of the airline in search of the change table. Fortunately the change was completed quickly and without further incident, and soon enough we were back in our seats.

By this time Hannah had gone full zombie – her eyes were open but there was nobody home. We zipped her up tight and after a little tossing and turning, she was finally asleep.

Emma and I entered a zone of not-asleep-but-not-really-awake. It is the kind of resting state that leaves you feeling like crap and completely unrested. Occasionally I fully dozed.

At various points during the night, Hannah became restless. She was unable to roll over, so there was a lot of shuffling about as she tried to get comfortable again. I was sure she was going to fully wake up at one point, but thankfully she found a way to get comfortable and settle in for a few more hours sleep. In total, Hannah probably managed about five hours of sleep, which I think is pretty good for a toddler on an overnight flight.


Time to land

About an hour out from Tokyo, the flight crew turned up the lights to allow everyone to wake up before landing. Hannah was quick to stir from her slumber, and just as quick to set about ensuring that everyone else on the plane was also awake. Despite the excellent five hours of sleep, Hannah was still less rested than usual, and she was not happy about it. For the first time on the flight she kicked up a loud fuss.

This of course drew a few disapproving looks from the equally grumpy old lady from across the aisle, but I didn’t really care. The poor little bub had kept it together for most of the flight and it was now time to wake up anyway.

Hannah was pretty unhappy right up until the point when we landed. We had strapped her into her seat ready for landing, which she had tolerated fairly well; however, a flight attendant came over and insisted she sit in Emma’s lap for the decent.

I had to wonder whether that was the safest option as I watched Emma desperately try to keep hold of the active toddler who was now trying her best to squirm out of her mother’s arms. A hard landing surprised Hannah into silence, and it gave Emma a chance to fully test her ability to stop a toddler from flying out of her arms and into the wall in front of her. Emma passed the test well!



Finally, we had arrived! The journey was over and it had gone as well as could be expected. We had landed in Tokyo, ready to begin our Japan adventures!


Sign at Tokyo Airport
A sign at Tokyo Airport. Note the abundance of English writing


The process of clearing customs was fairly painless, although there was probably about another half hour of waiting in queues. Hannah handled that remarkably well too, she sat patiently in my arms and even insisted on being put town to stand patiently in the line at times. I could not be more proud of the way she handled herself.

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