Practical advice for the single parent flying with kids
For some parents, flying with only one adult is simply a part of everyday life – either as a single parent or perhaps as an expat with a partner who cannot always join you.
Whether you are part of the expat summer exodus or you are a single parent looking for the confidence to fly on your own, I have bundled together for you 5 key things to think about when travelling solo.
This post is part of our flying with kids series – catch all our flying guides from that very first flight to dealing with mid-air meltdowns
1. All hail the baby sling
Even if you think baby-wearing is some over-hyped, earth-mother, hippy craze – trust me! On your own, particularly with more than one child, a child carrier will be your number one survival tool.
Day-to-day I am a stroller-lover over baby-wearer due to back-related issues, but when I’m travelling through a crowded place like an airport, it’s essential.
You can’t take your stroller all the way to your seat so at some point children below walking age will need to be carried. Even for the slightly older child who can walk, it’s about physical control – the ability to still use your hands, or move quickly if need be to chase older children. If you have two infants, you could consider double babywearing if you’re brave…
2. Pack light
If ever there was a time to heed this advice, it’s when you’re travelling solo. Restrict the number of toys that children can bring, minimise your own supplies (do you really think you’re going to have time to read a book – seriously?!) and find the most practical way of carrying it.
If you will be carrying an infant on your back, then a backpack might not be the best idea. I personally love the forward-facing Ergo as I can still have a diaper backpack on, and I can fit essentials like documents and my phone into the little pockets in front of me for easy reaching – just remember what metal items need removing so you can sail through security screening without needing to unstrap!
3. You are special
Even if an airline doesn’t specifically advertise some of its family-friendly policies, most strategies for flying are very sympathetic to the single parent’s cause and will try and help the process run as smooth as possible for you.
I have become rather brash over the years now. Whenever I check-in (with or without Gold Card hubby) I will look to the business/premium queue if there are long lines in economy class (not once have I been rejected in this approach – Take the view that you can but ask and be told no).
Use pre-boarding and alert staff
Likewise, as soon as a flight opens for pre-boarding or if there is a separate business/first boarding queue, you are entitled to come forward. Once onboard, make yourself known to the cabin crew and explain you are on your own.
There will be times you need some added assistance from then, like clearing trays early or holding another child while you are in the bathroom (I’ve determined one adult and two children really is the safest practical limit in an airline toilet cubicle).
Use porters and available help
When you are transiting with your luggage, ask for a porter, even if it costs you a few dollars it is worth it to have assistance getting things off the luggage carousel and pushing a trolley, especially if you are already wheeling a stroller or a carry on bag.
See if you can get a golf-cart service between flights or returning to immigration, ask, ask!
NEVER, ever be afraid to ask for help – whether it’s your fellow passengers or staff, only the most heartless out there could possibly deny your request or at least elicit some sympathy.
Do expect that everything will take longer. Never book close connecting flights or run to a tight schedule, this will only add to your stress levels.
This is not the day to try to be super-mum!
4. Strategise your flight in advance
I talk a lot about strategies for flying success because it really can make or break your journey if you haven’t thought things through properly – I never leave any step of the journey to chance.
- Timing yourself for night flights can maximise hours that children will be resting rather than needing to be entertained;
- Direct flights prevent hassles with transits
- Flying off-peak times can maximise the chances that there are spare seats around you to spread out
- Calling the airline booking office to reserve a bassinet seat can free up your lap and your hands during the flight
- Paying a small premium on a budget airline can ensure your seats are all booked together
Mentally step yourself through the whole journey:
- What essential items will you need with you within grabbing distance at each stage?
- Where and how will you control each child at each stage? (Stroller? Reins? Backpack with a harness?)
- When will naps be needed or meals required?
There is a lot of self-sacrifices needed when you’re flying solo. Think about when you will safely and reasonably be able to eat or use the toilet too. If tray service doesn’t seem practical, pack your own snacks. Accept it’s unlikely you’ll get to read a book or watch a movie but do bring your own light entertainment that doesn’t matter if you’re constantly interrupted.
Sleep, what’s that?
5. Don’t forget legal practicalities
Flying internationally with only one parent could run you into difficulties if you are not prepared. Laws may well differ between your origin and destination country – even stop-over countries – about whether one parent can fly without the others permission.
Make sure you are prepared with all the necessary documents and consent forms you need to fly. As you can imagine these laws are not in place to be a pain in the arse but to prevent child smuggling and issues and international custody battles. I would always suggest:
(i) research immigration laws at all ports you will be entering,
(ii) if there’s any ambiguity, get a letter of consent for travel with a minor signed by the absent parent and notarised
(iii) if there are legal custody issues, or if the other parent is deceased consider bringing documentary evidence with you in your carry-on
(iv) original birth certificates in addition to a child’s passport may be required (eg South Africa)
Since first writing this article, I have flown six times now with the Globetrotters by myself. Each time I have grown in confidence, and they too have grown in their understanding of the processes. They have learnt how to transit through the airport, listen to the instructions of staff and be patient (sometimes!) while I am dealing with one of their siblings.
We’ve added a few more practical pointers since we first wrote this in article in 2015 to help our single flying parents:
More practical pointers for parents flying on their own
- Try to sit where children can see out the window and have no direct access to the aisle (this may depend on your party size and seating configuration of the plane).
- Arrange to be picked up from the airport by friends/family or a pre-order a driving service at your destination to save fighting with taxi queues.
- Try to have things like local currency cash on you before arrival so there is nothing to wait around for at the airport or extra stops to make before your ultimate destination.
- If you are really nervous about solo travel, some airlines also offer assisted services during stopovers and arrival (at an additional cost) that may put your mind at ease, at the very least give you an extra pair of hands.
I won’t deny those early flights on my own felt scary, but I will continue to fly solo with the kids when Mr Globetrotter is unable to join us.
Come check out the Travel Advice section of the website for more great tips on family flying, how exactly to book the best seats and how to conquer the jet lag.
What are your top tips for flying solo? I’d love to hear about your adventures and what you definitely will or won’t be doing ‘next time’?!
© Our Globetrotters
14 thoughts on “Invaluable tips for flying with only one adult”
I am planning to fly solo with my one year old internationally (15 hours and 7 hours layover then 2.5 hours flight going and coming 20 hours flight including connecting flight) and I’m sooo nervous and scare that how I’m going to manage as my kid doesn’t like to be sit in one place and because of Covid this is the first time he will be traveling this long. Do you have any suggestions?
Flying with a one-year-old is an immensely challenging age no matter the conditions!
They will not need to wear a face mask but giving them as much room to play as possible is helpful. Have you booked them their own seat or as a lap baby? Some airlines offer extra space seats to give you more wriggle room with a toddler. They will no longer fit the bassinet, but the bassinet row can still give you more legroom.
Use those layovers to your advantage to keep your tot active when space will allow. And try to tire your toddler for that first long leg. Don’t miss our suggestions for the best one-year-old travel toys https://www.ourglobetrotters.com/travel-toys-for-1-year-old/ and stock up on a lot of small snacks.
As we suggest in the article, do let the airline staff know that you’re traveling solo and I’m sure they will lend an extra hand like when you need the bathroom.
Our baby travel tips post also has lots of helpful guidance that will cover this age group too for helping you plan before and after your flight. https://www.ourglobetrotters.com/tips-for-flying-with-a-baby/
Don’t panic, it’s only a small time in your life, you’ve got this!
Keri thanks for all your advices.
I will traveling solo with my 3 years old boy. My biggest question is how to go to the restroom if the baby is sleeping. Have you been in this situation ? What did you do ? The idea of Leaving him alone in his seat really scare me
In this case I always rely on the airline staff. Always let them know upfront you’re flying alone and ring your buzzer if your child’s sleeping, they can wait and watch over until you’re back from the bathroom. Just not when they’re in the middle of dinner service etc they should have no problem doing that
Love the post! I have solo travelled with a baby (YES to the ergo!!) and toddler from the US to Europe before and definitely have grown in confidence (though it’s kind of like giving birth, you look back feeling triumphant but soon have forgotten how tiresome it was. Probably for the better..) People are so helpful! They’re at an older age now, so every time its a new discovery of what works.. Two questions: Do you recommend my 4 and my 7 year old daughters wearing their own backpack or am I going to end up with three back packs? I would like to have them wear their own, but probably should keep them as light as possible. Also will an umbrella stroller be handy for my 4 year old or an extra burden? She hasn’t used one in a year or two, but I’m wondering if all the walking at big airports will end up having me carry her (and the three back packs, LOL) I could always use the stroller as a cart for the hand luggage?
You are right it definitely does get easier but that first time is scary as hell!
I definitely make my kids carry their own bags – they are now 8,6,4. But keeping it light is key. The littlest’s back pack is about half the size of the other two! Yet they will insist on cramming them with toys. My suggestion would be to still put anything big and heavy in your bag – I’ve worked out best to leave the ipads in my bigger back pack also my son loves carrying is huge atlas book with him – I am sadly going to have to make him ditch it this summer! things like colouring, soft toys fine to carry on their own.
If you are not using a stroller at home I would ditch it for travelling too – that said it will be my first summer this year travelling solo and no stroller so I could be wrong!! But I am really trying to lighten my load. I still need to carry car seats too so I know I have a lot of bulky luggage to deal with at check in, and the airports I transit through have free stroller services if need be. Consider if its needed for your onward travel too, if just for the plane part of the journey, try and do without.
I have been in this boat, too, and traveling w/ kids by yourself is not easy! I second all these tips. I also recommend going easy on your “rules.” When I fly with my kids without my partner, I let my kids eat french fries and watch TV. It’s all for the greater good!
Thanks Catherine – absolutely rules need to be changed and flexed for your situation – whatever will get you through with least amount of pain.
Wow, the thought of solo flying fills me with fear so respect lady. As for your tips, they are really great – i’d not even considered the legal side of things, so that was really interesting! Great post and thanks for linking up to #TheList xx
Thanks Hannah, once you’ve done it once it’s like taking off a bandaid! Thanks for stopping by
Will be trying double baby wearing this time….. wish me luck!
I will indeed! There was a big enough gap with my first two I didn’t need to do this but definitely intrigued
I’m really enjoying your posts Keri, so so very pleased I found you! 🙂
Thanks Shea, lovely to have you on board ~ hope I can help you more in the future too