This week is a busy one but should end on a high note: on Friday I am travelling with the kids to Geneva, Switzerland! We are all very excited for this unexpected family trip: Geneva is a city the children have never seen and the trip itself is going to be different from our usual family travel experiences: this time, my husband cannot join us so I am gong to fly alone with the kids.
This is not the first time I have taken a flight alone with them. My parents live in Rome and I try to bring the kids there as much as I can, but it is the first time I am going away alone with them to a place other than home. I am looking forward to it, I am excited, I am confident we will have a good time, but I also know it will be a little more tiring than many other times. I, therefore, decided to put together this list of tips on how to fly alone with two children: it is my way to make sure that I have taken everything into account and also, I hope, will constitute good tips and advice for parents planning to fly alone with more than one child at a time. I have tried to cover different ages, but my experience is mostly about travelling alone with one baby and one toddler or two toddlers, so this is the age range best covered in this post.
I have tried to cover different ages, but my experience is mostly about travelling alone with one baby and one toddler or with two toddlers, so this is the age range best covered in this post.
How to fly alone with two children: pre-flight
When to fly
A stress-free flight starts at the time of booking, so if you have flexibility about when to travel, it is worth doing a bit of research to see what days are the least crowded. As a general rule, off-season and mid-week flights are less popular (and cheaper) so keep an eye out for school and national holidays to avoid the sea of vacation goers.
Watch out for special events in your destination people might be flying in for. Sports events, big concerts and anything that is likely to attract an excited crowd is also likely to make your flight more stressful: big groups of friends travelling together are almost always noisy and self-absorbed, making it harder for you to rely on the generosity of strangers if needed. I find Skyscanner a great tool for selecting the best flight as it gives a range of dates before and after your preferred one to compare fares (and therefore gauge crowds).
If you have several flights to choose from, take into account your children routine and when they are most likely to sleep. For long-haul, I find night flights are better as at least one of the two will fall asleep, while for short haul I prefer the morning. I tried many times a lunchtime flight thinking it would match my baby’s naptime, but it always backfired: the baby would sleep in the car ride to the airport and be wide awake on the plane! There is no rule on this and you are the best judge of what might suit your children, but don’t believe people who tell you ‘they will just sleep’ – they might very well not sleep at all!
Airline and seat selection
Not all airlines are created equal: some are very family friendly, but policies vary immensely so it is worth checking in advance if any provisions are made for families travelling with kids. Good questions to ask are: are families given priority at boarding (if not, I recommend paying extra to get it), can you bring your buggy or stroller to the gate, are there bassinette rows for babies, are you guaranteed seating together? A fantastic resource about family friendly airlines is Baby Globetrotters and if you are in doubt, ask the airline themselves.
Make sure you book seats beside each other and choose wisely row and location: I find aisle seats not far from the toilets the best as inevitably one or both of your kids will ask to go (more on that later)
How to pack for outnumbered family travel
You might think that packing is irrelevant to the topic of travelling alone with kids but I believe the opposite: the one thing you need when outnumbered is free hands and numerous, bulky bags or rolling suitcases that will need minding and lugging around are a shortcut to guaranteed stress. I believe backpacks are by far the best kind of luggage for family travel: get a max carry-on size one for you and two small ones for the kids and you are guaranteed free hands. Not having to check in bags will also speed you up on arrival as you won’t have to entertain over tired kids while waiting at the luggage carousels. If you are unsure about the best luggage for kids, you can start here to evaluate the different options
If you are not sure you can pack carry-on only with kids, have a look here for some ideas.
I find backpacks a great choice also in the case of checked-in baggage: pushing a stroller, holding a toddler’s hand and pulling a rolling suitcase at the same time is stuff likely to trigger a nervous breakdown fast! If you are worried about straps getting caught, choose a travel backpack as opposed to a traditional vertical loading one. I find osprey travel backpacks great: pick a model that allows you to zip in all loose ends, making it very much like a suitcase.
Find more family travel packing ideas on my Pinterst board!
How to fly alone with two children: the day of the flight
What to wear
Again, you might think I am going on a tangent here but choosing the right clothes for you and your children can make a big difference in how stressful the flight is. For you and older child: choose slip on shoes to pass security quickly, avoid wearing belts or bits and bobs you will be asked to remove and that will keep your hands busy. If you are a mom, avoid jumpsuits: Kim Kardashian looks amazing in them when strolling through airports, but she sure doesn’t have to wrestle with them in a cubicle toilet of economy class while watched by two pairs of little eyes! As much as possible, get outfits your older child can do and undo alone: my husband always puts my daughter in dungarees that she cannot button up herself: not a good idea when alone with two on a plane, no matter how cute they look.
For baby: comfortable clothes, not complicated to do and undo or to take off in the case of leakages or accidents. Onesies are super cute but I find two pieces easier to manage.
Getting to the airport and check-in
Getting to the check-in desk can be stressful, especially if there is a long line. If you can, enlist the help of your partner or a friend to drive you there and help with the kids while waiting in line. Make sure not to rely too much on them: they will not be allowed past security and you will be alone on arrival so if you can’t manage alone, you need to find a different set-up.
Depending on the airport, provisions might be made for families with kids: I noticed often in Dublin airport I have been given priority check in when alone with the two kids, but do not count on it: always ask and anyways allow for extra time. Be aware that often self-check-in terminals do not process baby bookings: check beforehand or print your boarding pass at home.
Stroller, carrier or both?
Depending on the age of your kids, consider your options. I find a stroller always useful: nothing makes it easier to travel with two kids than having the option of strapping one in, happily on their pushchair. We often travelled with a Maclaren Quest and found it excellent. Usually, you are able to use it up until the gate and it will be given back to you on arrival, at the plane door, without having to wait for it at the carousel. If you are considering buying a travel stroller, the most comprehensive guide is by family travel expert ‘Where is Sharon’ here
I also find baby carriers great: my two favourites are Babybjorn and Ergobaby , both very easy to handle. Unfortunately, for safety reasons they will have to be removed at security and go through the x-ray machine. The same goes for the stroller: choose one you can open and close alone with ease.
A word about double strollers. I know many people travel with a double stroller but I find it immensely impractical on my own. Unless you have a very clever one that can be folded quickly and fits into the x-ray machine, they might be more hassle than help: mine had to be separated in two pieces AND have a wheel removed before it could pass…. Think carefully if it is worth it: where will your kids be, while you are fidgeting with that? If the answer is: running around messing with security equipment, you might want to think again.
My paragraph above may have given away that passing security is, for me, the most stressful moment of flying alone with two kids. If you have two very young children it is a moment that requires some planning, but I feel the advice about dressing clever and packing I gave above goes a long way to making it easier. The main thing you need to worry about it where your kids will be while you close the buggy. My advice for this is:
See if there is a family-friendly line. This usually means there will be other parents waiting who can lend a hand, more people able to manage a non-cooperative-stroller and more arms to hold the baby or your toddler’s hand for a couple of minutes. If help is not an option, I find a harness can be a good way to keep a toddler nearby and if you really don’t know where to put your baby, put a tray on the floor and get them to sit in it! It might not be the most orthodox thing to do but it works and it’s just for a minute anyway: if you have their blanket, use it as a layer between the tray and your baby.
Waiting for boarding
I used to love airport duty free shop and their endless rows of sophisticated perfumes in beautiful bottles. Now I consider them a very special corner of hell: my kids (possibly all kids?) do not make for an easy shopping experience and I inevitably get frazzled, worried the might break something and out of pocket because they will find something they want to buy. I am not a ‘you want it / you get it’ kind of parent, but it is difficult for little kids to understand frustration so I prefer to keep temptation away. I find the easiest way to wait for boarding is to head to a place with a big window over the planes: that will keep them busy for at least a while.
Another tried and tested technique is of course food: I always bring food with me to use as a snack but I find that sitting in one of the airport restaurants watching the planes is an easy hour.
Just before boarding make sure you stop at the toilet and, if flying with the baby, check if a nappy change is in order. There usually are baby changing facilities in the plane toilets but space is limited and they might be hard if not impossible to access during take-off. Since we are on the topic, I find the best way to deal with toilet breaks on the plane is to go all together: depending on your child age and personality, they might be left in the care of someone else for a couple of minutes and the airline crew can help if asked nicely, but I find it easier to just all march down together.
I know some mothers find changing baby in the cabin is easy but don’t: other passengers might not appreciate and it’s a space where food is served so you might actually get in trouble with the airline if caught.
On the plane
Getting to your seat
You have almost there: your seat is waiting but you still have to manage your hand luggage. If you are travelling with small luggage, I find it easier to stuff it under the seat in front of you. If you are travelling with a baby and need to use an overhead locker, you will most likely need to enlist the help or strangers: cabin crew is usually very happy to hold a baby, while a kind fellow passenger might help if you prefer to outsource the placing of the bag. I have only recently discovered that flight attendants cannot put bags in the overhead lockers, so don’t take it personal if they offer to hold the baby and let you do the heavy lifting: It’s an insurance requirement.
How to entertain kids on a flight
I have a full post written about how to entertain kids on a plane, so rather that going through it here, I will leave you a link to my ideas for clever in-flight entertainment. One thing that I do feel like adding to that list of toys though is this: if you are alone with two kids of similar age, make sure they will be not competing for the same toy. If you are counting on your iphone of kids friendly app, make sure you have one for each child or that they are very well trained in taking turns! If you only have one, like me, hide it and offer a different option!
Now, you’ve done it! You have taken your first flight with two kids and are at your destination! I’d love to hear how your experience was and if you are an expert at travelling alone with kids let me know if you have anything to add.