I live in Hong Kong and my family live in the UK. I also like travelling. This means that over the years, I have clocked up many hours and air-miles flying long haul alone with my kids. Some flights have been plain sailing while other flights have been horrendous. But follow these guidelines and I promise you it will be far better than you anticipate!
- Don’t overpack your hand luggage. Print off a packing checklist (like this fab one!) and work through it methodically.
- Make sure your hand luggage is practical. Whilst it’s not the most stylish, I favour a big backpack so that I can have my hands free and organise my bits in all the pockets.
- Be cautious in what you let your young child carry onboard as the chances are that you will end up carrying it. I have found the Trunki to be a disaster if I’m on my own with two kids. I prefer my oldest to carry her own small backpack and not have them fight over who sits on the Trunki!
- Pack the baby carrier in your hand luggage. This will be indispensable for when you hand in your stroller. At some airports e.g. Paris – Charles de Gaulle, this may even be as early as check in. I love my Ergo baby carrier and have used it for many years. It also has a useful pocket on the front for storing your phone, etc. When travelling on your own, be prepared that you may have to go to the toilet with your baby attached to your front!
- Allow yourself plenty of time at the airport. Moving from A to B as a lone parent with kids is not easy. Or quick!
- At check-in it’s worth flexing your acting muscles, and looking a bit nervous and fraught. Getting an upgrade is wishful thinking, but you may find the check-in staff will put priority tags on your luggage so that they come off the carousel quicker.
- Do some research on your airport in advance. Perhaps – like Heathrow T5 – they have a free kids play zone! Hong Kong airport has several areas where kids can crawl around or watch cartoons on TV. This is a great chance for you to unload your bags, sit down and fret about the flight ahead (I’m joking, don’t fret… it will all be fine!).
- Whilst you are often entitled to priority boarding with kids, you might want to wait until a bit later to board the flight. Let your kids run around and burn off some steam before you set foot in the confined cabin.
- Let the Cabin Crew know you are flying solo. 90% of the time they are incredibly helpful from watching your child whilst you nip to the toilet, to bringing you extra snacks.
- Smile at everyone you see! Those passengers who are parents themselves will recognise your plight and you may be able to count on them for help during the flight. My eldest daughter once vomited all over the seat within the first five minutes of being onboard. A fellow passenger kindly held my puke-covered baby whilst I cleaned myself up and cabin staff cleaned the seat!
- Just to reiterate… if you need help, ask for it, whether it’s watching your baby while you go to the bathroom or getting your hand luggage down from the overhead bin.
- Approximately 45 minutes before landing get all your things ready; shoes on, everything packed (check those seat-back pockets!) and have all your immigration documents and phone easily accessible.
- Always double-check with the staff exactly where you should pick up your stroller. Different airports have different rules as to where they will unload them, but it’s often just after you exit the aircraft. You don’t want to trek all the way to the luggage carousel only to find out it was waiting for you by the aircraft door.
- Deploy your best harassed parent look once again at immigration and they might rush you to the front of the queue!
- Ask someone to help you with lifting your bags off the luggage carousel (I find fatherly-looking businessmen are best for this).
- If you think you need extra help loading your bags up and departing the airport, pay for an airport porter service. Costs vary between airport – Heathrow has its Skycaps service where – from £9 (approximately HK$110), they will meet you by the luggage carousel and then escort you to your transport or waiting relative.