The Unmarked Road

Life On The Other Side Of Mental Illness

How To Fly Alone With A Toddler

When I made the decision to fly over to see my family in Germany on my own with a toddler for a week, Ethan was going through a particularly lovely stage. He was sleeping 4 hours at a time, playing independently for many minutes at a time, and generally being a delight.

Then a week before we were due to fly out, someone swapped my lovely sweet baby, with a formidable, belligerent and tantruming toddler, who thought trying to kick the cat or unearth all the plant pots was a perfectly reasonable way to pass the time.

It’s ok, I thought naively. Let him get it out-of-the-way for a few weeks, and he’ll be a dream while away.

Not quite.

In fact, not at all.

As our trip drew ever nearer, this new phase of dictatorship did not bode well for the journey ahead. But I’m still here to tell the tale (psychotherapist on speed dial).

So here are my tips on how to fly alone with a toddler:

My little angel enjoying his Brezel (of course he ate nothing else while there being the high maintenance child that he is)

Get some rest the night before

Even if you’re used to handing your child alone, you need extra super human powers at the airport so a good(ish) nights sleep is important. Be prepared for running off, grabbing and throwing of important documentation such as passports, and of course the obligatory tantrum when saying no to eating discarded rubbish off the floor.

DON’T do what I do and let your husband go and play dungeons and dragons the night before, leaving you to do the night routine alone.

Especially not if you still need to pack.

It took me over 2 hours to settle Ethan to sleep, a feat usually managed in 15 mins.

It’s ok, I thought naively. He’ll be so shattered he will get lots of sleep ready for the flight tomorrow.


I don’t think we’ve had a night that bad for 6 months. Of course I still had to get up early due to not being able to finish packing the night before.

Queue me heading the airport, jacked up on coffee and adrenaline, with a stinking cold to boot.

Throw out all your parenting ideals

This is no time to teach your over-tired and overwrought toddler that he can’t watch Room on the Broom three times in a row, or that Cheerios aren’t a perfectly acceptable lunch.

My flight to Germany was just over an hour and I thought having a window seat would mean Ethan looking excitedly out of the window in awe for most of the flight.

He didn’t.

I did all the things they say you should do. Bring a favourite toy. Bring a new toy. Bring favourite snacks. Bring favourite books; my back was hunched over for a week due to the weight of that baby bag with things that Ethan showed no interest in at any point in our journey.

The heavy-set, tattoo laden football fanatic sitting next to me, didn’t look particularly sympathetic as I tried to act out Row Row Row your boat with Ethan on my lap. Which is by the way quite a feat on a Ryanair flight where the seat in front of you is actually smacking you in the face every time you turn your head.

After half an hour of being more inventive than the people behind the Teletubbies (how is that still going?), I accepted defeat and whipped out the iPad on which I had downloaded some of Ethan’s favourite cartoons (not the Teletubbies in case you’re wondering).

Pick an aisle seat

I didn’t. Either time. *crying at the memories*

Way up the pros and cons of taking the pram with you to the plane

I got caught out with this. Twice. On the way there I couldn’t handle the thought of Ethan running off while I had my hand luggage and baby bag slung around my neck. He’s too fast now to chase around WH Smiths and Boots. And since he has no concept of staying near his own mother (unless at home when I can’t move more than two steps away from him without being clung to for dear life), I didn’t want people to think I was trying to kidnap a child.

So I went with the seemingly safer option of taking the pram with me to the plane so that I could strap my son down against his will.

Well, let me tell you about the many many stair cases without the option of a lift between check-in and the plane. I had to get two people to help me carry everything down.

HOWEVER. This was a very small inconvenience in comparison to NOT taking the pram to the plane. Because if you take it there, you also get it back as soon as you come off…and if you don’t, then be prepared for the hell that is the passport control queue, with a toddler that doesn’t understand the concept of waiting. Which brings me to my next point:

Prepare yourself for long queues

I know. This seems obvious.  But generally at airports, if you have a child you get through to the front of every queue! Yippee! But for some reason, not at passport control.

I had taken my pram to the plane. I was sensible. I then proceeded TO FORGET TO PICK IT UP at the other end! Feeling pretty confident because I’d made it to my destination without suffering a small nervous breakdown, I watched as Ethan ran happily through the corridors (with me holding on to the hood of his jacket, trying not to strangle him, but not daring to let go.)

Then I got to the passport control queue. Oo look they’re telling all the parents to go through this one! That’s good, it must be shorter.

No, it wasn’t.

Because at Stansted, there are apparently at least a thousand parents going through passport control at any one time.

Okay I thought. I’ve got this. Time for some more iPad parenting.

At this point Ethan had been awake for around 6 hours. This, for a toddler, is a very long time. I could see he was tired and overwhelmed by the long journey. Stick Man was doing his job quite well. Until after playing it for about the third time, and still only half way through the queue, my wonderful son decided he’d had enough, and proceeded to run away.

Not even Peter Rabbit could tempt him away from his objective of finding himself a new family. Of course I had to try and prevent this, but that resulted in ear piercing screams usually heard only when strangling a cat. Then Ethan deciding if he couldn’t run away, he would throw himself backwards on to the floor with all the dramatic flair of Dame Edna herself.

As this wasn’t an option either, I had to restrain my child to my chest while he was desperately trying to wriggle free. From afar it must have looked like I was wrestling a small whale.

A quick look around confirmed my fear that 1. no other child was behaving this way and 2. everyone was looking at me. Some with pity, other’s with disgust. I would have been horrifically embarrassed if I wasn’t putting all my energy into holding on to him while accepting scattered items picked up for me by sympathetic bystanders.

I guess it shouldn’t take me by surprise that as I finally got to the control officer, I was asked to prove my relationship to my son – 100% true story!

Having located the pram and thrown Ethan into it, I pretty much ran through customs to seek out my husband and (lovingly) catapult the child at him.

You can imagine the rest. Said child saw his beloved father and immediately became the sweetest and most adorable being in the Universe.

There are many parents, as I witnessed, that cope very well on trips like this. But if you’re more like me and seem to parent in the same way firefighters put out already existing fires, then maybe some of my tips based on my experience will either resonate or help.

One thing’s for sure. Children never cease to find the most inopportune time to test that last bit of patience you never knew you had.

Have you had to travel alone with a child? Any other tips for next time (as if!) or for other parents planning on embarking on this adventure?

1 Comment

  1. Haven’t really flown alone with my children. My wife and I had 4 children 6 years and under, and we have flown during this period. It was not easy. You did everything well Dani.. When a child is really tired it brings out a different side.

    I am quite sympathetic towards parents in this situation. I have been there and know what it is like. But not all travellers are this way.

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