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Article Words : William Gray | 01 August

Taking the kids to New Zealand

Children's long-haul endurance lasts only so far. Thank goodness for brilliant cabin crew, says William Gray

A pot of yoghurt was my downfall. I should have realised it had all gone far too smoothly.  Did I really think we’d get to New Zealand without at least one major wobbler?

At check-in, our four-year-old twins, Joe and Ellie, seemed peacefully resigned to the looming 24-hour flight from London to Christchurch. My wife, Sally, and I had done everything we could to keep things calm: favourite toys, comics, a McDonald’s. And things got even better when we were upgraded to business class – no queues, free biscuits, no tantrums.

Enthroned in their voluminous seats, Joe and Ellie delved into goody bags, drank juice and watched cartoons on their personal screens. The 11-hour first leg of our journey passed like a short-haul hop.

Body clock goes 'boom'

It was during the transit in LA that things started to go pear-shaped. Queuing at immigration, jet lag hit them, and the twins were revolting. Time to play our trump card: snazzy hand-held computers. Plugged into their Leapfrog Leapsters, Joe and Ellie endured the transit-through-hell. Just.

It was 2am local time when we boarded the second Air New Zealand flight, and the twins’ body clocks were ringing the dinner bell. Billy the friendly steward (and a father of seven) rustled up a snack; Joe promptly fell asleep, but Ellie resisted for another three fractious hours.

With two hours to go before landing, I felt slightly smug that we’d managed to get this far and remain relatively sane. Then I blew it.

Helping Ellie with her breakfast, I innocently peeled the lid off her yoghurt. She snapped. Big time. She wanted to peel that lid off and nothing I could say or do would put it right. Globules of yoghurt and irate screams bludgeoned the other passengers. Some adopted the brace position.

Thank God for Billy. “Oh no!” he said. “Daddy didn’t touch the yoghurt pot did he?” Ellie nodded her tear-streaked face and held up the offending item, which Billy immediately swapped for a huge plate of sausage and egg. At last Ellie was placated.

We arrived in Christchurch at sunrise. We had made it, thanks to Billy. And if you were wondering that things might have been a lot worse had we not been upgraded, you’d be wrong. On our return flight in economy, Billy recognised the twins and greeted them by name. The crew was just as attentive as they were ‘up front’. All we had to remember was not to tamper with Ellie’s yoghurt.

Long haul with the kids: survival tips

 - Prebook a 'meet-and-greet' service with Purple Parking. You drop your car off at Departures at any of five UK airports; they park it for you, then make sure it's waiting at Arrivals when you return. Prices start from £88

 - The Leapster Multimedia Learning System (available from Amazon from £24.98) is an interactive handheld games gizmo that not only takes the boredom out of flights, but also teaches children aged 4-8 essential maths and reading skills.

 - Arriving in New Zealand early morning, your children will be flagging, but try to resist the temptation for a nap. Help their body clocks readjust by getting outside, doing some moderate exercise and drinking plenty of water. A gentle day in the local city park, such as Christchurch's botanical gardens, with its excellent children's play area, is ideal.