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How to Survive Flying Solo With Kids

With frequent flights between her homeland in Australia and Europe, where her German-born partner works as a mountain guide, FLIP BYRNES is an expert when it comes to flying long-haul with two young kids

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Young girls playing with a tablet on a flight

Seven hours into a 24-hour flight, I mentally punch the air as my two toddlers fall asleep simultaneously. Jackpot! Until realising there’s now nowhere for me to sit. On this full flight, I have accidentally usurped myself by placing the youngest in my seat. So, I’d like to apologise for standing in the aisle and watching movies over the shoulder of the man in 19D for five hours, but particularly applaud his no-dialogue-necessary shark attack movie choices. A small win. Flying with small children long-haul is all about celebrating those silver linings. When I literally crossed paths with my future partner in Nepal, life’s lottery included undertaking a stint in his native Germany, and as a result I’d go from mountain goat to baby Sherpa, flying solo between hemispheres with two small children on a regular basis. Accelerate five years and I’ve clocked up enough solo flying with kids miles to write a book. Each trip is undertaken like a military operation – and here are my top tips to make your next high-flying adventure a success.

1. It is fundamental to take into consideration flight timings

Innovation is key. Using a luggage trolley as a makeshift pram in Doha 1
Innovation is key. Using a luggage trolley as a makeshift pram in Doha

This is everything. If flying long-haul, look for the quinella of two night-time flights, with a break in between that’s under 24 hours, so your luggage is checked through. But beware of flights departing after 9pm. I know what you’re thinking … “9pm flight. Brilliant! We’ll board and the kids sleep!” Ah, no. The cabin crew serve dinner, taking up to midnight (I learned the hard way…). A 4–6pm departure is the golden window – time for excitement, a meal then sleep (hopefully). Day flights if flying over six hours? At your own peril. 

2. The break: where you break is as important as how long you break for

The girls checking out the playroom in the Etihad business class lounge in Abu Dhabi 1
The girls checking out the playroom in the Etihad business class lounge in Abu Dhabi

Some carriers, including Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways, offer overnight break inclusions to encourage visitors to bolster the local economy. Some Arabian carriers also have helpful add-ons, for example Etihad’s Meet and Assist in Abu Dhabi will pick you up from the gate, escort you through private customs and into a taxi (with porter) from only USD$68. If there is a good time to splurge on a hotel airport pickup, this is it. The process is stress-free and you can order car seats.

3. Pick a kid-friendly hotel with a swimming pool

For sub 24 hour ‘plane breaks’, I’ve spent more hours researching hotels than actually in them. Apart from being near the airport, the hotel must have a pool. Non-negotiable. For toddlers and teens, this becomes a half-day activity. Other considerations: if you have crawlers, are the rooms carpeted? Is there a buffet to feed kids quickly? Wi-Fi, as this is your chance to catch zzz’s while the kids watch TV? In-airport transit hotels can be winners, if keeping an eye on jet-lagged kids in large airports doesn’t terrify you.  

4. Airlines and helpers: do not hesitate to ask for help when you need it

Leni Grace getting a snuggle from China Eastern Airlines staff in Shanghai when she was a baby 1
Leni Grace getting a snuggle from China Eastern Airlines staff in Shanghai when she was a baby

When Singapore Airlines staff delivered my meal cut into bite sized pieces to eat one-handed, I swooned. This is in stark contrast to alerting an inflight ‘nanny’ on another flight I’d need a brief hand and was informed they were “pretty busy”. Ummm, thanks. Airline service depends on the crew of the day. The biggest assistance you’ll find is from other passengers. A businessman in Frankfurt carried my sleeping two-year-old all the way through customs. A Romanian weightlifter held purée while I fed the baby. People are reticent to step in, but never mind being asked directly. So, ask away, the world is full of good-hearted, been-there-done-that travellers.

Flip's favorite five

1. Airport Hotel – Aerotel Singapore inside Changi Airport, with runway views and a rooftop pool.

2. Break hotel feature – The wave pool at the Westin Doha Hotel & Spa in Qatar. Hours of entertainment.

3. Gadgets – Earphone splitters for simultaneous listening, Plane Pal – the inflatable seat-well cushion allowing toddlers to lie down, and the Yoyo Zen stroller that fits into an overhead locker.   

4. Seat purchase – Buy kids 2 years and under their own seat, unless keen for DVT from a 15kg child on your lap for 15 hours.

5. Carry-on addition – A picnic blanket, as it’s an instant playmat in airports and hotel rooms. And swimming floaties.


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