Learning to Fly Solo

Plane taking off

Here we go (Wikipedia)

The thing I was least looking forward to from our recent trip to the UK was coming home again.  The problem was that my wife had to come home a week early because of work commitments, which meant I was going to be doing a 24-hour journey with our 22-month old.  This journey included 2 flights, one of 11 hours and the other a measly 1 hour.  Both of the flights would consist of Thomas (now about 13 kilos) sitting on my lap for the duration.  What was I thinking? Here are some of the things I learned.

1. Don’t do it

Is there any way you can avoid flying with your little one on your lap?  Could you drive?  Pay for somebody else to accompany you?  Stay at home?  Believe me, even if everything goes well, you are not going to have a good time.  Everything went as well as it possible could for me, but I swear I would never do it again.  If you can find any alternative, grasp it with both hands.

2. Leg space

When I was booking my flight I decided to pay a bit more and get the front row so that I had a bit more leg space.  i think I paid $50 for it (about 15% of the total) and it was worth every penny.  It meant I could leave some stuff in front of me instead of having to get it from the overhead baggage space.  It gave me a bit of freedom and I could even pop Thomas on the floor for a few minutes to let him stretch his legs while I prepared some food or had a mini-breakdown.

3. Be very, very nice at check-in

English: Dublin International Airport, Ireland...

Find a real person to talk to (Wikipedia)

When I got to the airport I was asked to check in via one of the computerised stands that many companies have.  I made it look like a hassle to juggle my son and find the papers and everything so I was directed to a real person behind the desk.  This is what I wanted all along because I wanted to see if it was possible to get a free seat next to me.  I was all smiles and very polite to the man who was doing the check in.  Towards the end I asked if the flight was busy, which it was, and then I wondered if it might be possible to leave the seat next to me vacant so I could use it for Thomas.  The man smiled back and said it wasn’t possible, but he would see what he could do (this type of answer is very common in Brazil).  It turned out that there were half a dozen empty seats on the plane, and one of them was next to me.  I don’t know what the name of the man was who did my check in, but I would like to thank him from the bottom of my heart as this was a lifesaver.

4. Be prepared

If you aren’t sure whether you’ll need it or not, put it in your hand luggage.  I had a fully charged tablet with games and videos on it.  Lots of nappies.  Plenty of food and snacks and drinks (I had 8 different drinks cartons but I still had to stock up again in Sao Paulo).  Some favourite toys.  A thermometer.  Two drinks bottles. Spare clothes.  A blanket.  Crayons and paper.  A Peppa Pig Sticker book.  And probably lots of other stuff as well.  It means you won’t have any space for your own books or anything, but then this isn’t about you.

5. Aisle or window?

Plane Flight to Singapore

The same view for 11 hours (Amy Dianna)

Aisle.  A thousand times.  You may get a view which will keep your child happy for the few moments during take off and landing, but the rest of the flight will be a nightmare as you look at the never-changing sky or the wing of the plane.  If you have an aisle seat you have just that little be extra leg room and you can put your kid there for a minute while you find his favourite toy.  It also makes it easier to get to the toilet quickly in case of emergencies.

6. Make friends

I let Thomas charm as many people as possible when we first got on the plane.  My thinking was that if they like him at the start they will be more forgiving later when he wakes them with his piercing scream at 3 in the morning because he can’t sleep properly.  I needn’t have worried as this never happened, but it did provide a certain amount of entertainment later in the trip when he was able to play peekaboo with the other passengers.

7. How small is that changing tray?

The changing tray for babies in the toilets was designed for the smallest baby ever to be born.  It was just impossible to get a slightly-above-average-height two-year-old onto it and change his nappy without doing some serious damage either to the plane or Thomas.  My wife told me about this before so I had pull-up nappies instead of the more conventional ones.  it still wasn’t exactly easy, but a lot less hassle than it could have been.

8. Food and drink


Your two-year-old will love it (Scoobyfoo)

It isn’t exactly news to tell you that the food you get on a place is crap.  Utter filth, usually.  Don’t rely on the food they serve to satisfy your child.  Bring lots of snacks and easy to prepare food that you know your kid will enjoy.

9. Take your time

Everything takes longer with a two-year old in tow.  This is true in life generally, but especially true when trying to get through customs, do security, find your seat on the plane, etc.  Give yourself plenty of time because you don’t want to be rushing to the gate in order to board.

10. Plan the other end

Make sure you have a plan for when you finally arrive at your destination.  My wife was coming to pick us up so we had decided beforehand exactly where she would be standing outside the door so that I could quickly slip out, hand Thomas over to her and then go back in for the bags.  This was one of the best things I did as my suitcase was the last to appear.

To be honest, the flights couldn’t have gone any better.  Thomas was as good as gold and slept, if fitfully, for most of the first flight.  The TAM staff were courteous and helpful, although there are never tested that much.  It was, however, a long and exhausting journey and while I would do it again I would definitely pay to get an extra seat for Thomas and not even contemplate having him on my lap again.


12 thoughts on “Learning to Fly Solo

  1. I admit to feeling slightly ill when I started your post. I have twin boys and I would not travel alone with them until last year when they turned five. I consider myself a wimp when I sit near a woman last Friday on a trip to the US who has a 4 year old and a 2 year old and is pregnant. She is clearly clinically insane.

    At the end of one 11-hour flight with my mom helping to wrangle one of the 13 month olds, and my dad helping my husband with the other, we had resorted to flapping magazine pages, putting the window shade up and down and even handed over my mom’s necklace which Nico promptly broke into 500 beads. I would not wish that flight on anyone. Glad you made it back safely and with a few friends left on the plane (I believe we were hated down to a last man…)

    • I will never again judge anybody on a flight with a kid. On our way out to the UK he woke up the whole plane at about 3 in the morning screaming his head off because, I think, he was having a nightmare. Thankfully my wife was with me at the time so we could double team on him.

      And let’s be honest, flying is never the most exciting of activities even for a grown adult.

      Sometimes there really is nothing you can do but endure.

  2. Excellent advice. We’ve flown with a 2 year old to Argentina, and we just booked the extra seat.

    My son is 5 now, and has been on 50+ flights. It can still be trying, even when they are super experienced.

  3. You are very brave indeed! I’ve been dying to go to London (from Athens, Greece) and visit family and friends but I just don’t have the guts to fly with a high strung toddler. I’m travelling to a tiny little island in the Aegean with my 2.5 year old soon. It’s about 8 hours door-to-door and involves a 4-hour ferry ride followed by a 20-min ferry ride. I’m terrified. I know you can walk around on a ferry, which you can’t on a plane, but she gets car sick in the mountains (I’ll spare you the details) so I’m praying for a 1 or 2 on the Beaufort Wind Force Scale. My best friend flew from Tehran to London to California and I’m waiting for her to come back and tell me all about the experience. I have sent her this post; hopefully she will read it and book an extra seat. Well done Thomas!

    • I don’t knowif I was brave or foolhardy. To be honest, though, it was worth it. We got an extra week in the UK and his granny and granddad were over the moon.

      I guess it all depends on your kid as well. If Thomas got car sick then I am not sure I would have flown anywhere even with help.

  4. Great great great advice. We’ve taken our boys — oldest is four, second is almost 2 — to Belize a couple of times now, which involves three planes and a boat. Flying with young children makes you realize just how boring being on a plane is. Games, diversions and entertainments are KEY. And if you’re going to be in the air for more than four hours total, take a connecting flight if you can. The break, stretch of legs and a walk through an airport does everyone some good.

    • We couldn’t take the option of a break as it would have meant landing in the middle of the Atlantic 😉 It worked out well,though, as this meant he could sleep for a good few hours. If it were a day flight, though, then a break would have been most welcome.

    • Hi Jez,

      It almost looks as if your trip was even more complicated than mine!

      I have only travelled by Eurostar once, but if I ever get the chance to go to France again from the UK I will most certainly not be getting a plane. It was so easy and comfortable and you end up right in the city centre.


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