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The Single Parent’s Guide to Surviving the Flight with Kids

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I love to travel. I hate airports. I’m not so keen on airplanes either. Add in the responsibility of taking care of two children, even well traveled children, and those hours in transit can be arduous, nerve wracking, and exhausting. But airports and airplanes are an unavoidable means to get to those wonderful places we want to go, so I have devised plans to make those hours more enjoyable for me and my children. I have two golden rules of travel for single parents flying with kids:

  1. Air travel is hard and we deserve special consideration (from ourselves, not others) to make it more palatable. This is not always the most economical way to travel, but in moderation, I believe some extra cost is worth it for a little extra peace of mind.
  2. If I’m calm and relatively stress free, everything goes more smoothly, so I need to take care of myself when in transit.

Try these travel tips for surviving the flight with kids.

Allow More Time Than You Think You Need

Nothing makes travel harder than being a bit late and having to rush through an airport. It’s particularly stressful because so much is out of your control. You can’t make the security line go faster, and the quicker you want to walk, the more likely it is that there will be a large group of slow moving people in front of you. I allow ample time at the airport. Ideally, I like to arrive at least two hours in advance of my flight. (Denver, I’ll make it three hours in advance next time. You know what I’m talking about.) Yes, that means longer waits in the airport, but it also translates to less stress. Even long security lines are less frazzling if you know you have plenty of time.

Stay Calm through Security

I have come to accept that there is no way to get a mom and two kids through the security check point in any kind of rapid and efficient manner. However, I can try to approach it with some semblance of efficiency. As we wait in line, I give my children simple steps to follow. First, the shoes, then coats, then place our other bags on the conveyer belt. I handle the liquids and laptop, so by the time I’ve got myself unpacked, my children are well along in the process. Even so, we usually end up with a dozen bins traipsing down the conveyer belt. And those business travelers behind you, tapping their feet? Really, put them out of your mind. You’re doing your best.

Anticipate the Situations Most Likely to Lead to Bickering

I know I just said that nothing makes travel harder than having to rush through the airport, but let me amend that. Nothing makes travel harder than rushing while dealing with bickering children. My methods are to anticipate and distract. For my kids, their hot button issue when traveling is the seating arrangement. Neither like the aisle and being exposed to the bumps and shoves of people passing by. Both want the window. Under no circumstances can they sit next to each other. (That’s for my sanity and the sanity of those around us.) I now make sure to assign their seats accurately in advance, taking turns with who is assigned to the window seat, and making sure that whoever got the window seat first on the last trip, doesn’t get it first on the next (a rookie mistake I’ll never make again).

Extra Leg Room is Totally Worth the Cost

This I know: when I walk past the seats with the extra leg room, I will kick myself for not purchasing one. I would do anything for extra leg room when I’m on the plane. There are times when purchasing upgraded seats for three simply isn’t feasible, but I do spring for it when I can. Also, sometimes a middle seat has no upcharge, so it may mean only purchasing two upgrades. It’s also a great way to eliminate the stress if you haven’t been able to get regularly priced seats together. I have even purchased one upgraded seat when we haven’t been seated together to use for trading purposes. No one will turn down an aisle seat with more leg room. It’s painful giving up the good seat, but better to be sitting together.

Small, Special Treats Go a Long Way

We always make time for a visit to a shop or two when we’re in the airport, and everyone gets to buy something that we ordinarily wouldn’t. For me, I go for a new magazine or book. I’m also strangely addicted to those soft, fuzzy socks they sell in the airport. For my kids, they might get a special snack, a book, or a drawing pad. We get that little thrill of a new purchase, which alleviates some of the stress that comes with the airport.

Find a Quiet Place to Relax whenever Possible

I recognize that there are those who enjoy pushing their way through masses of people, or at best don’t mind it, but I’m not one of them. It is possible to find small oases of calm within the airport, and settling in one of these spots can bring a tremendous amount of relief. Even parking yourself at a gate that’s not open can help. Airline clubs are excellent and many sell day passes that may be well worth the money if you have a long layover. A few airports have hotels attached where you can get away from the crowds in their bar or restaurant. At the Atlanta airport, I really enjoyed renting a little room of my own at Minute Suites. Search these quiet places out; your psyche will thank you.

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Andrea is a single mom in Arlington, Virginia with a 15-year-old son and a 13-year-old daughter. Her children took their first trips when they were just four…

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