It turns out there is an upside to travelling with a fractious child, writes Eloise Gibson
Short of being the President, I've often wondered how to get around those awful sweaty queues at US Immigration.
Listen up, parents, because I have found the answer.
Take one feisty toddler.
Coop him overnight in a tin tube, forbidding him to run, jump or make noisy plane sounds.
Refuse to pay for a separate seat for him even though he is too big for a plane bassinet, ensuring he will chafe on your lap all night and no one will get any sleep.
Feed him only milk and Le Snaks (he will refuse all other food). Apply four times the recommended toddler screen time. Stir.
Let the hysterical tiredness simmer, then place your toddler in a long, hot immigration queue lined with enticing — but forbidden — alarmed doors.
Finally, ensure each parent is carrying 107 pieces of hand luggage so they are properly distracted and grumpy. Melt.
Panic powerlessly as the wails begin to escalate.
Now watch the envious-but-relieved faces around you as you are ushered, red-faced, to the front of the queue. Voila!
This wasn't going to be a travel horror story — honestly — but it's the bordering-on-farcical moments that stick in your mind.
Gathering up our scattered teddies in shame, it was easy to forget that the very same toddler had been a model child for the 13-hour night flight, a big ask given the hour-and-a half car trip to the airport and two hours of check-in he had suffered before boarding.
We were let on the plane ahead of all the other passengers to find our amazingly spacious bassinet-row seats, well worth the extra $50 they cost to book.
The stewards barely glanced at our hand luggage, all 214 bloody pieces of it, probably assuming rightly it was mostly food and kid guff.
Unfortunately, kids aren't allowed to sleep in the spacious foot-room in the bassinet row, so our hefty child was perched on our knees and found the situation not to his liking. The downside of the bassinet row is the armrests don't go up, meaning he couldn't lie flat on us.
By the time he arrived, tetchy and exhausted, it was too much to be told to he had to stand still and be patient for a further 45 minutes.
Still, there are lots of consolations from toddler travel. Three strangers helped us with our bags when things started to get hairy in the queue at San Francisco, before the immigration queue marshal stepped in. ("Ma'am, did you pinch the baby?" was his only dry comment).
People wave at kids. They hand back dropped items and politely feign sleep when your child is talking nappy contents 30cm from their pillows.
Our son is great to explore with. Honestly. He smiles at everyone, starts random conversations and brings out the best in taxi drivers and security people. Just not always the best in his parents.
Which is why, for my next US trip, I am packing the toddler and an electrified cattle prod. Strictly for expediting immigration queues, you understand.
And a hip flask of gin, for Mummy.
Top tips for flying with kids
Under-2s are free on many airlines, but older infants (too big for a bassinet) must sit on your lap. To decide if you can handle this on an overnight flight, set up two kitchen chairs side by side and sit down next to your partner. Try to settle your child to sleep on your knees. To make it realistic have a trolley bump his feet and randomly sweep a torch beam over his face.
• If you are travelling long-haul, think about booking a two-night layover.
• Pack heaps of food to bring out in desperate moments. Forget being parent of the year for a day: sugar and salt are your friends here. A bottle of milk is soothing during take-off and landing.
• Forget the recommended child limits on screen-time. Scientists never meant them to apply 10,000m up in the air.