Solo-Parent’s Guide to Long-Haul Flights with Kids
There comes a time in every travelling family when one parent gets the “pleasure” of travelling with the kids sans spouse. Though I didn’t think much of it when making plans with the family to fly back to Canada while he was away, as the day grew closer, I started to have many mixed feelings about the journey. “It’s about the journey, not the destination”. I call giant BS on that. It is all about the destination. If I wasn’t visiting my parents, and meeting my new nephew, amongst other family obligations, I would not have chosen an 8-hour transatlantic flight as the first solo-parent vacation.
There were a few stages that I needed to overcome before finally feeling that I could receive this specific parenting badge. No, they are not denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance… well, that did happen but that’s for another day. I’m talking about the logistical stages.
To which I earn a small commission, at zero cost to you!
Booking Flights as a Solo-Parent with two Little One
Fly during natural sleep times. Our 2:30 pm flight time meant that we needed to be at the airport at 11:30 am. While this is smack in the middle of nap time and not ideal, the connecting flight was at 6 pm and was the long transatlantic portion of our flight, which meant they would sleep the whole time. I much preferred to have her sleep on the other side of security and awake during the short flight, then awake during the long flight.
Do I really need a stroller for the airport?
This is a big fat YES! While I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to or not, by the time I arrived to the airport via train, Baby Girl was already passed out in the stroller. This made the check-in process so much easier, only having to deal with one kiddo instead of being outnumbered.
Once she woke, we went through security – since they scan the stroller separately – and found our way to our gate. It was half way across the terminal and I wouldn’t have done it so smoothly without the stroller. Their bags hung off the mommy hook, the Travel Snug hung off the hook, and she sat comfy while eating the rest of the her lunch. Both flights allowed me to gate check the stroller and it was returned at the arrivals gate. I was barely out of the plane when I saw my stroller waiting for me. It was amazing.
Just because you are allowed that many bags, doesn’t mean you should
We had the right to 3 personal items and 3 carry-on luggage. This is a lot of kit to bring on the flight. It took a lot of soul searching but I decided that there just wasn’t enough stuff that I needed to have at my finger tips to justify that many pieces.
That leads to my second point; do I even have enough hands to carry it all? What if they rebel and don’t want to pull their rolling suitcases between flights? What if I forget that we have 6 pieces on the first flight?
For these reasons, we only took one backpack each. The kids had their kit, and this also helped prevent over packing; colouring items, Kidz Gear headphones – check them out here , tablet, snacks, change of clothes (you never know), small toy, sippy cups, Travel snug – which they carried in their arms.
My book bag had the “other stuff”; snacks, charge cables, phone, change of clothes (you never know with kids sitting that close to you), paper and pen, wallet and other documents. My bag was also large enough to hold my baby carrier; more importantly, the carrier was small enough to fit in the bag. The Rose and Rebellion Pre-school Carrier was a life saver in Rome and is a life saver on a plane as well.
Logistics of a flight transfer
Because my stroller was available at the gate, I didn’t have to juggle both kids walking across the terminal. Had I not received the stroller, I planned on using the carrier to care for Baby Girl and let Munchkin walk. He would carry his bag and Travel snug, I would get to hold her bag and her snug, as well as my backpack and purse while I carry her front facing. It wasn’t an ideal situation but it would have worked out – this is why I didn’t want then to have any sort of suitcase in the plane – just not enough hands to drag it all around me.
The carrier was definitely handy when collecting my suitcases in Toronto. Take a few minutes on the plane to ask a Flight Attendant to help with the carrier, then wait in a large crowd for our lonely suitcase. I wore her, still asleep, he ran for the stroller and acted as a great counter-weight for the kids backpacks and snugs on the mommy hook. He fell back asleep shortly after Customs
I didn’t think that I wanted the CARES harness until a few days before our departure date. I remember my son at that age, flying to Cardiff, on a 2 hour flight. His whole body moved so much one he was asleep. It was easier if she was still, like in her car seat, in her CARES Harness and the travel snug. You can find out more about the harness by clicking here.
It was a little tricky to make it stay still. I wasn’t securing it properly before she started pulling on it. Baby Girl also wasn’t interested in wearing, since the chairs were nothing like her car seat. Especially for long-haul flight with kids, I wanted to make sure she wasn’t going to bounce around when turbulence hit around Greenland.
Is a car seat really needed for the long haul?
Until it was nearer to our departure date, I didn’t think much of it either. I was sure that if it was really necessary for her safety, then the airline would have required it. I have asked many parents that have done this trip before, with children this age, and their opinions are varied and polarized. Each is sure that their way was the best way. For me, it was not practical to bring a car seat. Now, if I owned a car seat trolley, like this one, then I would have given it more thought, since it essentially is a stroller and car seat in one, and would be with me during a transfer, but there wasn’t enough time for my purchase to arrive and I can’t be sure that my car seat is airline rated.
There are only so many types of car seats that will fit in the seats. This car seat was purchased 4 years ago, and that part of the tag has since worn out. It is not clear on the website if it is or not, and I don’t want to find out the hard way (i.e. on the plane, as I try to fit it in the seat) that it needs to be checked (and therefore no longer a stroller during transfer, just a sad looking trolley with no function).
Either way, I adapted the Travel snug to fit with the CARES harness and all was well.
How much to pack for 15 days with kids
Just like my carry-on allocation, I have the right to 3 checked bags. With the cars on either end of my airport visits, I wasn’t walking too much with my luggage but 3 pieces would have meant that I needed a cart.
The bigger question though, is do I really need to bring that much stuff? Even if I wasn’t visiting my parents, destinations have laundry facilities. I don’t need to pack their entire wardrobe. They each had one large packing cube to themselves. Plus my two medium packing cubes, I only filled half of my hard-shell suitcase. The other half was filled with Florentine wine for my parents and hand-me down clothes for my nephew.
Since it is (apparently) late spring in southern Ontario, a jacket isn’t necessary but there are still frost warnings in between 22 degrees days so we had a sweater in our carry-on’s and a waterproof light jacket in our suitcase. I also purchased travel umbrellas/compact umbrellas, however, those did stay in our luggage instead of the carry-on like many would suggest, only because my kids love to play with umbrella’s. I’m not really sure why that is, maybe because it rains so darn much in Germany that they now feel it is a toy, but it isn’t safe in my carry-on; they will find a way of getting their hands on them.
What to pack for 15 days in Canada during spring?
After much deliberation and discussion, it was decided that a healthy mix of warm and cold weather clothes were necessary. You may think every Canadian stereotype is just that; a stereotype, not exactly the truth. Well, I am here to break your bubble. Depending on where you visit, every single Canadian stereotype is accurate. It can snow during the summer, and it can be scorching hot the day after a snow fall. It happens, get over it.
For each of us, we have packed the following
7 pairs of socks
7 pairs of undies
7 bottoms; 5 shorts, 2 trousers
7 tops; 5 short sleeve, 2 long sleeve
2 pairs of shoes; 1 sneakers and 1 solid sandal
Swim suit and flip flops
Waterproof spring jacket – to be layered with a long sleeve and sweater if it really gets cold
I could have paid 30 euro per seat (times 2 legs, each way) at the time of booking, or wait until 4 days before departure and it is done automatically for free. My family uses KLM to fly back and forth between Canada and Germany and we appreciate this service. Most airlines have some form of family waiver, especially when solo-parenting 2 under 12 years old. If you don’t already know, check their policy before booking your flight. The last thing I want is to be treated like a solo traveller and separated from my kids; I have heard this happening to a family with a 5-year-old and no one wanted to move seats. The flight staff aren’t required to make them move, so the child was sitting with strangers for the entirety of the flight. These are the types of deal-breakers that make me shout “HELLS NO” at travel agents and company representatives.
Window, aisle or middle seat?
Munchkin is 5 years old, and thus potty trained – I had him in the aisle seat. Baby Girl was next then I was in the middle. I had to score seats right behind the toilets and therefore extra leg room. Proleg room for them to stretch, can’t kick anyone and can walk a little without running off. Con – no storage space so everything was stored in the overhead bin, they kept wanting to walk around since there was room for it, I had a neighbour that wasn’t too thrilled to be sitting next to us.
For the long-haul flight with kids, I wanted to be sure they weren’t going to get anyone more upset than they already were, just by being alive – essentially. I have found that adult passengers travelling without children, even if they have children at home, have very little patience for children. While I try not to let it bother me, I do try to make an effort to lessen their impact on their fellow passengers. This way, I know I have done everything I can to make the journey as pleasant as possible – if the kids have something else in mind, there isn’t much I am able to prevent it – just go with the flow and try to sooth them.
Should kids board first or last?
There are several pros and cons of each.
Boarding first – there is less stress. Take as much time as needed to find the seats, and settle down. Maybe even colour while you wait for the rest of the plane to board. This also means you can be sitting for 20 minutes or more, not moving, while the kids are anxiously for it to start.
Boarding last – no sitting around for too long, and the kids can continue walking/running around while everyone else boards. You do run the risk of no overhead cabin space for any of your carry on bags.
We choose to board first. Since Baby girl is only 2 years old, we sit as close to the desk as possible. When they start to call priority seating, we are either flagged down to join this line or join it anyways. We have only been turned down in Nice, France – but that airport is all kinds of strange in other respects so I wasn’t surprised by this.
FYI Dusseldorf and Amsterdam have a children’s priority policy – they actively searched for me at the front of the line and asked me to step up into the priority line in order to be seated right away. I wasn’t about to turn them down.
While it is certainly easier said than done, if you stress, they will stress. They can sense that something is wrong and they will get worked up in anticipation. Overseas flights provide wine with the meal; take it. Once the kids are asleep, charge the electronics, de-stress with a video, book or writing of your own, and just relax. They are out for the night, the hardest part is over.
Please share your thoughts in the comments or reach out on social media...We would love to hear from you.
An excellent resource for planning all of Canada can we found with the Lonely Planet Canada.