There is no doubt that flying with kids is not an enviable task, and when you’re faced with travelling on your own, it becomes even more daunting. It’s hard to even contemplate coming out the other end unscathed and ready for a ‘relaxing’ holiday, but it can be done if you follow some simple tips.
Prepare. Some of the more practical things you can do to make the flight run more smoothly, is to pack plenty of entertainment, bring plenty of food and drink and arrive at the terminal early. Also check out the airport before you travel. Heathrow and Gatwick have family security lanes and some terminals have kids zones with soft play and more for the kids once you have gone through security. I have often missed these not realising they are there so check BEFORE you travel or ask at the airport.
Make your seat reservations early. This sounds like a pretty obvious tip, but it is well worth taking note as an early booking will guarantee you get seats together. If you’re a parent travelling alone, this is very important as you do not want to be seated in different areas of the plane. If you have left it too late, however, and are unable to book seats next to each other, you can explain your situation at check-in or, as a last minute resort, to the stewardess when you board. This will probably cause you and/or the staff a lot of hassle and waiting around so it’s best avoided!
Splash out on priority boarding if you book with a cheap carrier or charter airline. If you can afford it, it is well worth paying for, especially with young kids: If you are anything like me, it will make a big difference to your stress levels when boarding. This also has the advantage that you will have time to get you and your children settled on the plane and store your hand luggage safely in the over-seat lockers before the crowds rush onto the plane.
Choose your seat position wisely. Consider seat location and amenities offered by the airline you are travelling on and choose seats near the staff area, the bathroom or aisle seats if either of these are important to you and your children tend to be restless. Find out where the power ports are located – crucial if you’re relying on electrical entertainment such as DVD players, game consoles and other gadgets to keep your children amused. Just remember to always bring headphones – other passengers will not appreciate the constant droll of your child’s computer game or DVD player for several hours on end.
Befriend the flight attendants. This might sound odd at first but travelling alone on a plane is hard work and we forget that the flight attendants are there to help. Making sure you have at least one person who is aware you are travelling alone is a good move, especially if you are on a long-haul flight – for safety reasons as well as practical reasons. It will make life easier if you need to make a toilet trip or leave your seat for any other reason.
Keep the children entertained. This is the hardest task of all as a solo parent – you only have one pair of hands so it’s well worth preparing a few games or crafts which the kids can get on with once you’re air borne. A great game, known as ‘build a story’, can keep kids amused for hours with everyone adding a sentence onto the story. Make sure each child has their own rucksack for the plane filled with top trumps, coloured paper and crayons, or a piece of string for cat’s cradle, all of which take up little space but go a long way. You could add a travel activity pack as a surprise which can be bought cheaply before you travel rather than at airport prices. It might be wise to invest in a DVD player and headphones if you are facing a longer journey – it has saved me on many a trip when I ran out of either patience or energy with my toddler daughter. If your kids still complain about being bored, get them to ask the flight attendant if there are any free activity packs (or sweets) to be had!
The two key things to remember when flying solo with the kids are to prepare your journey and to ask for help. In fact, you will be surprised how many people offer their help when they see a parent struggling down stairs with a young child and luggage in hand.