“Above the clouds, freedom has to be endless” is a line from a famous German song I love. If you ask my daughter, she probably would wholeheartedly agree, because the thing she remembers most from our last flight two years ago: “I could watch as many movies as I wanted.” But what was total freedom for her, was a mere survival strategy for me while flying long-distance by myself with three kids under the age of 5. Yes, it is as terrible as it sounds. Yes, you can do it. So, here comes the incomplete list of what might help you to get through the long hours of traveling through the air alone with kids.
Attitude - There is no way around it, it will be stressful. Don’t have any illusions. Before flights I usually explain to my kids why it is important that they listen to me at the airport so that I can count on them. Once we are on the airplane, it will be more relaxed. Depending on your kids’ age this pep talk may not be super effective, but it has always really helped my kids know what to anticipate and what I expect of them. Kids are also usually very excited about flying and the trip, make use of the excitement as much as possible as this can turn everything from waiting in line to running to the gate into a positive experience.
Carrier, Car Seat etc. - Most airlines allow for a car seat and/or stroller to be checked-in for free when traveling with kids. You can bring these directly to the aircraft. Think ahead about what you will need at your destination and how you want to transport smaller children within the airport. I like a carrier, because I feel more flexible and have my hands free.
During the flight - The first time flying with my kids by myself, they started crying simultaneously during Take-Off. A neighboring passenger with kids offered me lollipops and these not only saved my flight, but those of all other passengers as well. What had I been thinking, just packing boring everyday snacks? Since then, I pretty much throw all everyday rules out the window during the flight. As long as they don’t disturb other passengers and will help to get us all through in one piece they can do as they please.
Help - If you are traveling alone with your kids, look for a friendly face near you as a potential ally. Someone you can ask to keep an eye out while you clean up a dirty diaper. Despite otherwise indicating movie scenes, airplane toilets are claustrophobic for one person, don’t try to squeeze everyone in there. I never had a bad experience with fellow travelers or personnel. Most have been incredibly kind and helpful.
International Travel - If you travel alone with your kids and there is a second custodial parent, prepare a minor travel consent form. There is a good reason, you might get asked for one (and it happens). You can find one online at: https://www.us-passport-service-guide.com/minor-travel-consent-form.html#minorconsentform.
Layover - If you have a long layover, make a plan of what to do. Consider giving your kids each a small budget to spend, we’ve found that shopping tends to kill a lot of layover time. At some airports there are kid-friendly spots, like small play structures. Also, look into the cost for airport lounges; I had never considered it until my Dad suggested it for a six-hour layover. These lounges usually include a buffet and drinks and it honestly brought so much relief to be in a more secluded place while we waited for the next flight.
Nausea - It can happen to yourself, it can happen to your kids. Have something to clean yourselves up and extra clothing easily accessible. Put a couple of trash bags into your carry-on luggage. These are handy not only for such situations!
Packing - My kids love to be able to pack and bring their own little backpack on a flight. I usually give them the expectations (one book, one stuffy, one toy etc.) and they can choose what to bring. Otherwise, I prefer to pack very little, even if you can check-in suitcases, it’s important to have the feeling that you can handle all the luggage.
Sleep - Don’t count on it! Yes, it is nice to book an overnight flight, so the kids can sleep. Will they do that? Yes, but only right in time for landing. Don’t worry too much about the flight times. It usually doesn’t work out the way you planned and there is going to be jet-lag either way.
I don’t want to give the wrong impression with this article - I have not regretted a single flight with my kids, despite stress, lack of sleep and crying. We love getting to see family, but it also gives us the opportunity to see the world with them and that is just magical.