The Definitive Survival Guide to Flying Alone with Children (In 5 Easy Steps)

This summer I flew alone with the two frogs.  We went to visit my mom who was on a work assignment in Vail.  It didn’t work for Jeff to come with us.  At first I balked at the idea simply because my brain defaulted to Preschooler+Baby+Airplane+Alone=NO.  Ultimately I was able to talk myself into it, and I’m so glad I did– I’ve always wanted to see the Rockies, lifelong memories, YOLO, etc.  I wanted to share some thoughts because when I Googled around, a lot of these existing lists are idiotic.  And they focus on activities for kids instead of the deeper mental prep game, which (in this author’s opinion) is the more important key to success. So just do yourself a favor and disregard whatever BlogHer garbage is out there on this topic.


Step 1: Actuarial Science

Jeff and I have flown a few times with Frogson and/or Frogette and I feel like the really challenging age is 1 to 2 1/2.  When a kid is physically very active, but intellectually kind of hard to stimulate, keep occupied, or reason with.  I don’t know that I would have tried the trip if one of them was in this range.  But at the time, Frogson was 3 1/2 and Frogette was 10 months, so I felt really good about my odds for success.

The neediness harmonized well– I knew Frogette would be completely restrained in her backpack during the times Frogson needed more of my attention, like walking through the airport, security, bathroom trips, boarding, waiting at the gate.  Frogette would be needier on my lap in the plane, but I knew Frogson could occupy himself independentlyish during that time.

Here’s the other thing about predicting your odds for success.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized my anxiety about flying with them was misplaced.  The hard stuff to do with kids is lame, everyday tedium– getting slammed with a 30-minute wait in the pediatrician’s exam room, waiting for your car to get fixed.  A flying day is miserable for sure, BUT there’s an element of novelty and excitement for the kid that you can work to your advantage.

Step 2: Prep the Big Kid

Frogette was a herpdy derp baby so not much to do in advance there.  I mean at 10 months she was all about crinkly objects, milk, and GERBER CARROTS OH YES SHOVEL THAT NECTAR IN MY MOUTH MOM.

Frogson’s prep work began weeks in advance.  Here’s the angle I worked.  Preschooler boys WORSHIP people like firemen and train engineers and construction workers.  When we drive by and see a guy in a hard hat elevated in a bucket truck fixing a telephone pole, Frogson is basically like GOD? IS THAT YOU? So I leveraged this to my advantage and spent a lot of time building up the mystical authority of “The Pilot”.  I would make my face  very serious and reverent when discussing anything that had to do with The Pilot, Peace Be Upon Him.  We spent weeks going over The Pilot’s rules on the airplane.  You sit on your bottom.  You buckle up, just like in the car.  You keep your body calm.  You cooperate and listen to all The Pilot’s directions. Mom’s rules? LOL optional.  Pilot’s rules? SIR YES SIR. What’s especially hilarious is that on the plane you do only hear the pilot, so that only enhanced the “Voice of God” mysticism of it.  Frogson took it really seriously and it was adorable.

I visualized all our transits and transitions for the day and the only weak spot that really concerned me was the diaper changes Frogette would need.  At all other times I could have her in the backpack and hold his hand, but of course you need two hands and a couple minutes for a diaper change.  So I spent a LOT of time explaining to him that Frogette would need a few changes and he would be expected to hold the “tail” on my backpack (spot where the adjustable strap dangles down).  This expectation was sealed in his brain by the time we traveled.  Otherwise if we were on the move he held my hand– one billion percent non-negotiable.  Ain’t nobody falling into a gorilla enclosure on my watch.

ALSO! Buy this product if you fly with babies. A sleeper with a magnetic closure.  Zero snaps to fumble with– the entire thing closes in one second with one hand.  AMAZING.  Frogette wore it both ways, made diaper changes much speedier.

Step 3: Mentally Prep Yourself

I was all fearful and hysterical at first.  What if this! What if that! OMG boo hoo whine whine I can’t do it! Until finally I was like PULL IT TOGETHER WOMAN.  Am I confident I can keep them contained and safe? Yes, see plan above.  Will they be fed? Yes, they eat food, airports sell food.  How will they go potty? There are toilets for Frogson and diapers for the baby.  We could be delayed, cancelled, they could be behavioral terrors on the plane– BUT as long as everyone’s human needs can be taken care of, then headaches can be endured.

I spent a lot of time talking really positively to myself and by the time we left, I had done a 180 and was in total COME AT ME BRO mode.  I just committed to being positive no matter what, and I just knew that no matter what happened I was Mom and I could handle it.  A couple people gave me “LOL good luck you’re brave!” type comments at the airport and instead of letting it shake my confidence I just let it empower me all the more.  YEA BEYOTCH THAT’S RIGHT I AM BRAVE! You and your doofy little rolling suitcase best get outta my FACE cause I need to get a CHOBANI outta that cooler at HUDSON NEWS!

I also reminded myself repeatedly that I was being a pathetic baby over a bunch of first world problems.  Neanderthal Moms and kids crossed the Bab-al-Mandab Strait to colonize Eurasia! Settler Moms and kids crossed the plains in Conestoga wagons! My own great great great great great grandmother Margaret (her last name is Frogson’s real name) brought FIVE kids from Ireland to Philadelphia on a sailboat that took thirteen weeks to cross the Atlantic! Umm, I could manage this.


I shoved everything for all three of us into one suitcase.  I immediately unloaded that sucker at the curb check-in.  I carried a tote bag on my shoulder with only essentials– wallet, diaper pouch, not much else.  The stroller stayed home– I definitely missed it at times on the trip but it was not worth the airport drama.  Frogson loves to bring his backpack on trips but I gently prepared him that we would only be carrying one bag this time. I was #blessed that my mom had a car seat and travel crib on her end so I realize that was an unfair advantage.  But being as minimally encumbered by crap as your circumstances allow is CRITICAL.

Here’s where the internet lists on this topic get idiotic.  Ooooh to occupy kids on planes, bring a pack of dixie cups and pipe cleaners and have them poke the pipe cleaners into the cups!!!  Right, a bunch of dixie cups and pipe cleaners, just want I want to be fumbling through when I’m trying to find boarding passes in a pinch.  Not to mention it sounds like something that will get you interrogated in a TSA back room.  Not to mention it sounds like something my kid will have dispersed across four rows within five minutes.

Step 5: Endure the Flight

Omigod, this part is miserable.  Duh.  I had planned to just have Frogson veg out with some screen time but I had technical issues with the app and that didn’t work out.  I had hoped Frogette would just nap on my chest but that didn’t work out.  I was hoping for no poopy diapers and no potty request from the older one but that didn’t work out.  Frogette was fussy and nursing and I’m sure at least 19 people saw my boobs.  Who cares! Whatever! Go with it! We survived.

Oh, the other magical thing about entertaining a 3 1/2 year old? They’re delightful little conversationalists.  Without the screen time plan all I had for him was two sticker books, so when he got bored with those, I just talked to him about random stuff.  You can get a 3-year-old going on anything.  I mean you want to bludgeon yourself after 20 rounds of Guess What Fruit I’m Thinking Of but you survive.  The 10-month-old? I didn’t clutter up my bag bringing anything for her.  She crinkled wrappers, mouthed water bottles, played with the little emergency landing cards.  It was definitely exhausting and tedious to keep everyone happy but you survive.

Oh, and if you opened your browser on your phone, the airline had a little countdown clock showing how much time was left? And a little map showing a picture of your little airplane effortlessly gliding over a map of the U.S.? It was tormenting.  OK I bet like 40 minutes have gone by since I last checked the countdown clock.  But if I wait a little longer before I check it again then maybe an HOUR will have gone by! Or wait, maybe it’s not 40 minutes, maybe an hour has gone by! I’m going to check it.  OH MY GOD IT’S BEEN 14 MINUTES.  OK that terrain down there is looking definitely Western.  Is that The Alamo? That’s the Arkansas River, I’m sure of it! Let me check the map.  OH MY GOD WE’RE ONLY IN OHIO.

TL;DR version: You can do it! Believe! Please use the comments to tell me a hilarious story from your own travels with tiny humans.





2 thoughts on “The Definitive Survival Guide to Flying Alone with Children (In 5 Easy Steps)

  1. I’m with you on the less-is-more philosophy! I’ll bring a toy or two (but I only have one kid so I can pack crap where you are carrying the second child) and a fully-charged iPad that has been loaded with movies and games where I DON’T need wifi. Otherwise the toys she plays with are all provided in the sea-back pocket. My only addition/difference on this list is that when I’m in the airport, waiting, I let my child run all over the place. I want her to get out ALL of the excited energy BEFORE we board the plane. Want to walk into Hudson News and touch EVERY stuffed animal they have on display? Go to TOWN! And when that seatbelt sign goes off and we’re allowed to walk the aisles, our talking to strangers skills are amazing! Anyone who smiles at my cute little girl is open to a 15 minute conversation about which Disney princess she wants to invite to her next birthday party.

    I also really like flying Southwest because families get to board between A and B so you get your choice of seats (in the back) and whomever sits next to you has made that CHOICE. They picked you, and usually they’re good with a child as a result.

    1. Yea I got burned big time because I misunderstood my Google app and it didn’t work offline. D’oh! Lessons learned!

      Yes you’re right so good to run around beforehand! Philadelphia even has a little indoor park thing right there in the terminal. Winning!!

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