We were preparing for our recent trip (to Okinawa), and I just wanted to share a conversation we had at the breakfast table.
Wife: "When do we have to check in?"
Me: "9AM at the latest"
Wife: "So if we get to the airport at 0845 we should be OK?"
Me: "Well... (not wanting to be too contrarian when she has a terrible headache and the kids are noisy)."
Wife: "Well what?"
Me: "Perhaps we should check how long time it takes to get to the LCC terminal."
Wife: "Says here there is a bus that takes 5 minutes and it runs every 3 minutes."
Me: "From the station?"
Me: "So not only do we need those 5 minutes, we also need to get from the station two floors underground to the bus stop."
Wife: "So we should still be OK."
Me: "What if the kids want to go to the bathroom when we get off the train?"
Wife: "Will 0825 be enough?"
Moral of the story: Do not underestimate the margin you will need when traveling with kids. And remember to bring extra towels.
As you know if your kids have started moving around, and you started pottytraining, they will want to go to the bathroom more often than grandma (who will still have to go twice as often as you). And they do not walk as fast. Even as grandma, who does not walk as fast as you either.
Even while your kids are in diapers safely strapped into their stroller, you need to check their diapers while you have access to a toilet with decent changing facilities. Preferably before security and passport control, but there are some airports (like Bangkoks Suvarnabhumi airport) which do not have changing facilities. Anywhere. Gives a new meaning to the phrase "gate change".
A toilet break is something you have to plan for, but there are other things that can happen. Our daughter stopped, mesmerized, in front of the fish tank in Naha airport. Sure, those fish tanks are worth looking at. And if your kids are Disney fans, the fish tanks are full of Nemo and Dory. She got so fascinated she did not hear us call, and my wife did not see her from the other side of the fish tank. Luckily, a security guard spotted her and noticed the similarity between her and her siblings, and alerted my wife.
But that took five minutes (although it felt like forever). You have to figure that into the margins of your time budget. And you have to include time for transfer. Both at the airport and in any train stations in between.
If you are driving, by the way, you have to add quite a bit to the margin. The parking at the airport can be really far from the actual airport. And the rest rooms on the road are much more limited than the rest rooms in the train stations in between.
You will need that margin. When we landed in Okinawa, the plane was 45 minutes late. Does not sound like much, but considering we has 1.5 hours between flights, and it took almost 30 minutes to get out of the plane and the bus from the LCC terminal to the regular terminal, you realize we had to rush. Literally. Lucky we had sent the luggage in advance, as I recommend people to do in Japan.
Of course, that plane was late, too. So we did not have to rush, and we could have bought a much better lunch for our kids. They even had time to go to the toilet, which is a much better idea than trying to go in the plane. And if you have kids in diapers, you know what I am talking about. Changing diapers onboard is no fun, and Naha airport has separate changing rooms, with a feeding room attached (for breastfeeding).
The lunch was really not bad considering I had to buy it in an airport convenience store. Expensive but surprisingly worth it, Okinawa food is that good. Now I bought sushi (which was actually very good, but had wasabi in it), and onigiri (which they ate). If I had had some more time, I would have bought something better, or we would have had lunch in the restaurant, which is what we usually do. Even though airport restaurants typically are horribly overpriced and the quality is not very good. But if your kids are hungry enough, they will eat anything. Although if they are too hungry, they will get grumpy. And if they are tired too, they are no fun to be around.
If I had known that we would come in so late, I would have booked a later flight. Morning flight are not usually late, but that this was Friday before the Japanese Golden Week should probably tell you something. Keeping track of the local holidays is a great way of keeping track of potential delays. Before the Chinese new year, nothing leaves on time. Like Thanksgiving in the US. When you book, check that too. Especially if you are on a low-cost carrier and plan to continue on a later flight, because they do not care. That is one of the few advantages traditional airlines still have: If you are changing planes they will try to get you onboard the next leg.
But the holidays were not the only reason for delays. There was weather, too. This was a day of unusually strong einds so the planes could not take off or land as they usually do, which meant congestion on the runway.
The websites of the airports can be helpful in many ways, but they can not tell you if there will be delays. They could tell you if there will be weather conditions which will affect your trip, but usually they just P a link to a weather site. In case of the two big airports of Tokyo, the weather forecast is from a Japanese site. Well, for Narita airport. Haneda does not even have weather forecasts on their website. Local weather sites are accurate for sure, but probably not in a language you can read, if you are a visitor. You are better off using a global website and setting it for local weather. Another advantage of that is that you can get the weather at your destination, too.
There is one more delay you have to take into account, and that happens both before and after checkin. It is the customs check, and the cash return, if you are trying to get taxes back.
If you buy things in regular retail stores, you can get back the sales tax, or value added tax. Those are not the same thing, but for the tourist who is trying to minimize the damages, they could be. Because the tax back system works the same way. It is even run by the same two or three companies everywhere.
You have probably done it yourself. You need to get a receipt from the store (who will check your passport), and the store is supposed to seal your purchases so you do not use them before you leave.
When you get to the airport, you show the sealed goods to a special customs office (which you may have to look quite a long time for), and they stamp the receipt. You check your suitcase, get your boarding pass, and after passport and security control, when you are in international territory, you go find the tax back cashier window.
As you can figure out, there will be a long line there, and a long line at the customs office. At least ahead of popular departures. Since you can get quite a lot of money back (the VAT in Sweden, for instance, is 25%), it is worth doing. What is worth buying, however, is something I have to talk about another time.
I am Wisterian Watertree, recently moved from Bangkok to Tokyo, with a brief visit to Honolulu on the way. I write about travel, especially with our three beautiful kids (two girls and one boy, soon turning four and a half - yes. they are triplets). Travel is education and fun rolled into one, and if you are like me, that is something you want to give to your kids. If you want more tips and want to find out when I will publish something, get it from my email list. If you want to be personal, drop me a note on email@example.com, or if you want general tips, follow me on Twitter @wisterianw.