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