This week we stayed at the first youth hostel of our adventure near Waitomo Caves in New Zealand. It was a joy to be seated in front of a blazing wood burner , watching the three Hobbit films back to back, while Leo made his legendary Pasta Bolognese in the fully stocked kitchen.
I was talking to a fellow traveller from Bristol, and was reminded that there are many travelling tips that I take for granted that are not universal knowledge. Here is one of them:
As a family of four we were lucky, and skilful, enough to secure three seats each on a 10-hour flight back from Hanoi to London Heathrow with Vietnamese Airlines in December 2016. This means we were all able to lie down flat for our last flight home for Christmas – bliss!
Getting these seats was a combination of luck and skill and was the only time all four of us was able to achieve this, not least because most of the aeroplanes we travelled on were smaller. However, if there was ever a journey that we benefitted from a good nights sleep then this was the one.
We had started the day in Singapore and faced a land border crossing, three flights and four countries to enter before we ended our journey back home in England after a 4-month family adventure around India and South-East Asia.
It was early when we walked to the bus station, laden with backpacks, to buy a ticket that would get us over the land border to Malaysia. We knew it was going to be a long day and, with our devices charges and headphones at the ready we were all prepared for the journey to be what it would be.
The first bus was comfortable and smooth, the land border crossing was not. The border is extremely busy and the queues were long and relatively slow. We had allowed 30 minutes of contingency and the time ticked away as we moved slowly forward.
Once through immigration we were dismayed to discover a series of very long queues looping around the concrete columns of the dark, grey and very noisey bus terminal. Time was ticking, but there was very little we could do other than stand in, what fortunately was, the right queue and cross our fingers and hope for no traffic delays. Bus after bus arrived, our queue shortened and eventually we were on our way again.
With the help from friendly locals, we found the stop for our third bus relatively easily and were told it would be leaving soon, so with 40 minutes until check-in closed we opted to wait rather than catching the more convenient and much more expensive taxi.
Our decision paid off and we arrived at the Air Asia Check-In Desk with 10 minutes to spare. This was crucial because if we had missed this flight to Kuala Lumpur then we would have missed our second flight to Hanoi and third flight of the day to Heathrow. (Why we had to travel via Hanoi is a blog post for another time!)
At Hanoi we had a 2 hour stop-over and when we arrived we sat ourselves at the departure gate. After a short while my youngest son fell asleep on my knee and slept through everyone else boarding the plane which made us the last to board. As we got to the back of our plane, where our seats were located, there were many spare seats and one of the hostesses suggested we sat in an empty row. My original seat was also on a row with no other passengers so my son sat there, put his seat belt on and closed his eyes again and I sat in my own empty row. After the seatbelt sign had gone off my husband was also able to move to an empty row leaving my eldest son with a row to himself too.
Four happy passengers, exhausted after a 4-month epic journey, able to sleep flat on the final leg home.
Our top tip is:
Ensure your seats are at the back of the aeroplane because flights tend to fill up from the front and if there are seats to spare then they will usually be at the back.
However, avoid the very back row because, on a budget plane, the seats on the back row often do not recline.
If I am travelling on my own then I always choose an aisle seat in the middle section of the seats, if the plane is large enough.
If we are travelling as a family of four then we tend to play it safe and book a 3 and a 1, in the penultimate back row, which ensures that at least one child gets to sit next to a window and both parents get to sit on aisle seats.
I learnt this tip when travelling backwards and forwards from London to Dubai on the ‘Red-Eye’ when I was returning to the UK for long weekends and needed to get a good night sleep both ways. (On these Emirates planes there were actually four seats in the middle of the plane, so I could even stretch out my legs too).
This one tip had seen us get at least one spare seat between us on 30-40% of all the 20 flights we have been on together this year and often we get two or more spare seats to spread out into.
Note: We don’t pay to reserve seats on any airline. Most long haul airlines let you book seats at the back for free online, well before the departure date. With budget airlines I have discovered that you can either chose seats during online check-in for free, or you can ask the staff at the check-in desk which seats you have been allocated and ask them to be changed accordingly. Sometimes they can, sometimes the plane is just too full to accommodate changes
Bonus Tip: Arrive for check-in at least an hour before it closes means that there is more seat choice (if you haven’t been able to book a seat online for free beforehand) and that the check-in staff are more amiable.
On one AirAsia flight I, unusually, hadn’t bought the checked-in baggage allowance we needed for our return flight and the lady at check-in allowed us to buy it from her for the web price, i.e. the price it would have been if I had bought it when I had bought my ticket. In fact I actually paid less, because I hadn’t realized that I could buy baggage allowance for just one person and use it for multiple bags, which means that we now just buy the 25kg we need rather than the 40kg we were buying when the minimum per person is 20kg!