8 Sanity-Saving Tips For Flying Solo With Kids (From A Globetrotting Mom Of Three)

“Tis the season to be jolly…” that is, unless you’re counting down the days to a long-haul (or even short-hop) flight with kids.  I would never say I’m an expert, but having clocked up a few thousand miles, many of them solo with my three nippers in tow, I have a few tips and tricks that (hopefully) will make your air miles zoom by a little easier.

Bulkhead is not king! Ahhhhh… the bulkhead seat. I’ve spent many a sleepless night wondering whether I should creep out of bed to change my seating allocation over these hot ticket seats. Yes, there’s a box to put your baby in but you’ll meet many a mom who has Just. Managed. To. Put. The. Sleeping. Baby. Down. Only to be forced to scoop them out moments later thanks to turbulence. But the even bigger con is that you’re then stuck with one of those funky tables that comes out of the armrest and an armrest that is hard-wired in the down position. I’d take kid-in-lap and the opportunity for their legs to spill over into Dad’s seat any day.

Be prepped (and pack an iPad). I know… I’ll be teaching you to suck eggs next, but bear with me here. I always liken the long-haul flight to labor. You make a plan. You prepare for it meticulously. But then, you have to step into the experience, stay in the moment, and know that IT WILL END. Long-haul flights suck when you’re a grown-up. So they super suck for kids. I now ignore all those people who say ‘take wind-up toys’. You look like such an amateur trying to find anything smaller than a remote control on the floor, in the dark, under all those blankets and muesli bar wrappers. Stickers kinda work. Magic-pen books too. For about five minutes. But honestly, most kids are just happy to have your undivided attention for the next however-long. When does that ever happen? And if that ain’t good enough, the iPad is a strong runner-up.

Oh and that extra Ziplock bag. Pack at least one extra one gallon ziplock bag (something will inevitably get covered in puke, food or poo). And while you’re packing all those extra diapers per-hour-of-flying and emergency onesies, throw in an extra t-shirt and pair of leggings for you. A girlfriend of mine disembarked in first class pajamas after a particularly bad case of stomach flu afflicted her son on a flight from NY to NZ. Not sure if she kept them, but my how we’ve laughed over that one ever since.

Embrace the undiscovered joys of the back of the plane. Nearly every single flight I’ve taken has at least a row of seats at the back that are empty or very sparsely populated. My two premier spots are right next to the serving hatch (where you can catch the aircrew’s eye for bottle heating, an extra cookie or a spare mini Sauvignon). Or my personal favorite, about three rows from the back; inevitably you’ll have other families around you, easy access to the bathrooms, somewhere to go when you need to stretch your legs, and if luck will have it, an extra seat next to you. I’ll also always ask at check-in if they can they block out the seat next to me (if the flights not packed they’ll normally do it). Sure you might be last of the plane when you land, but let’s face it, you’re going to be the last one standing at the baggage carousel waiting for that carseat/stroller/whatever oversized monstrosity you checked in anyway so what’s the rush.

Say no to drugs. For the record, I don’t drug my kids. Unless they have some underlying condition or a steaming head cold, you’ll probably find you don’t need to. By all means, bring Tylenol if they’re teething. But they’re probably only going to fuss if they’re tired and frankly, that’s why everyone else is given earplugs and headsets when they board. And I guarantee you, there’ll be some other poor soul with a much fussier baby than you if you’re relaxed and calm about flying.

Day flights are the new night flights. Again, I take a controversial approach here too. I was definitely in the ‘best to fly at night’ camp. Catch the baby when they would normally sleep and hopefully get some shut-eye too. Two things ruined that for me. The first was when my oldest son was about eight months. I was in the bulkhead and after many hours of traveling he finally fell asleep in the bassinet and I snoozed off too, until I woke with a startle to find him STANDING UP in the crib in front of me. I’m not sure I’ve slept much on flights since then. The second was when I was seven months pregnant with my daughter. I was flying solo with my oldest from NY to London. I chose a night flight hoping we would both sleep.  But when she didn’t, I had an incredibly stressful time worrying we would wake everyone else up (and that I’d get a DVT in the process). Now I put us all on planes in the morning, when we’ve already slept, are fresh, excited and everyone else on the plane is too.

Be first on last off. I always used to lag back during boarding, thinking that the less time on the aircraft with my baby, the better. That was kinda dumb. Inevitably I’d get on, with my massive backpack and little (or multiple bundle) and when I finally got to my seat (at the back of the plane… where else?) there was never any overhead locker space left. Now I get to the front of that line: I board, settle my kids in their seats and stuff their toys, spare diapers and wipes in their seat pockets and stow my baggage overhead.

Accept help, no matter how it presents itself. If a stewardess asks if she can find a movie for my daughter – ‘Yes please! That’s great!’. If an old lady asks if she can hold my baby so I can pee with only two in tow – ‘Oh aren’t you wonderful. Thank you so much’. Gone are the days of suffering quietly and trying to do it all by myself. Let your kids do their own PR as they walk down the aisle. Smile graciously and accept any and all praise you may receive. You have comrades in arms on that plane. Other moms, dads, grandmas and grandpas who all know how tough it is are on your side, rooting for a good flight and crowing for you (or commiserating with you) when you finally touch down. And if you manage to flag down a ride at the other end, take it. I jumped on one of those golf carts once in Sydney and was escorted to the front of the immigration cue by the driver. Woo hoo!



3 Comments on 8 Sanity-Saving Tips For Flying Solo With Kids (From A Globetrotting Mom Of Three)

  1. Martha Rubin
    January 28, 2014 at 8:36 pm (4 years ago)

    This lady is supermom – how does she do it?!!

  2. lou
    February 7, 2014 at 2:41 pm (4 years ago)

    awesome tips – refreshing to hear from a real person but shhh i’m in the say YES to drugs camp

  3. Jennifer Ward
    March 10, 2014 at 3:57 pm (4 years ago)

    I tried drugs, and honestly, they don’t work. But if Benadryl did work, I would probably be the first person to use it. BUT, I agree with absolutely everything else in this article and learned quite a bit from the section about sitting in the back. I never thought of that, but will definitely be there on my next flight.


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