Air travel for kids in India
A quick trip to Europe, for once without my darlings, gives me plenty of scope to ponder on the challenges of travelling with children. I’m so used to having to manage toilet trips (and occasional “accidents”), requests for weird and wonderful snacks and drinks, an irritable baby and a fractious toddler on my travels, that flying solo feels like an absolute luxury.
Although India’s airports have improved enormously since I arrived here a decade ago, they are still pathetically under resourced for anyone travelling with children. When I was a single girl around town, my primary concern was inevitably the state of the duty free shopping experience, which in India was always a sad shadow of its European counterparts. Now, my main obsession is the lack of baby changing areas, the dirty toilets, the non-existence of child friendly menus at the (thankfully now respectable) number of eateries.
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I travelled from Mumbai to London alone a few months back with my two boys. The fact that there is no baby changing facility in the entire airport is in itself shocking. I ended up having to balance the baby on my knee, trying to avoid actually sitting on the dirty toilet seat, while attempting to keep my toddler from touching the surfaces, on which I could almost see the germs festering. I got his dirty nappy changed finally, thanks to sheer willpower, and ended up having to leave it on the floor next to the toilet, wrapped in a nappy bag, as there were no bins in sight.
On landing back into Mumbai, the situation was even worse. The toilet close to the baggage claim is not even clean enough to take kids into. As a result, one woman resorted to changing her baby on one of the hard plastic benches dotted randomly around the place. She looked apologetic, embarrassed and vaguely traumatised, but the poor woman had no choice. Her baby was howling and its nappy was obviously full.
In contrast, travelling in Europe and the US with children is a delight when it comes to sanitary facilities. Big, nicely lit baby changing rooms playing soothing music, with complimentary baby wipes and disposable soft covers for the little one to lie on. Feeding rooms with rocking chairs (yes, really) where Mum can feed her baby in peace. Play areas for children, where energetic toddlers can burn off some of their energy.
India and Indians love children, and it is ironic that the powers that be don’t think it necessary to make their little lives easier when they are leaving and arriving into the country. Perhaps the popular view is that women, as always, will just find ways to manage. Maybe it has taken so long to get the basic facilities (eat, drink, check in) up to scratch or at least to a basic level of acceptability, that the “luxuries” are still a figment of someone’s imagination. Probably, and more likely, these “benefits” are not considered important because they don’t result in additional revenue, so they are relegated to the bottom of the pile. That explains the Thai foot spa and the fancy Bollywood themed restaurant (which has no baby changing facilities either).
I have heard a rumour though that the masterminds behind the new glittering Mumbai airport terminal, which will open shortly, are going to great pains to ensure the entire customer experience is seamless from start to finish. Apparently this does include cognisance of the needs of nursing mothers, babies and children. I am prepared to be pleasantly surprised on this front, but I won’t believe it until I see it. Until then, I’ll just have to suffer Mumbai airport’s horrible facilities, and keep my fingers crossed that my children don’t have any little accidents while leaving or arriving into the country.