What I Learned From Flying Alone with Two Kids
I admire parents who travel alone frequently with their kids. I could not imagine how crazy it was until I experienced it first hand especially on a long haul flight. While my nieces are already grade-schoolers and flying with babies or toddlers was definitely a lot harder (that I have yet to face in the future), it still doesn't discount the fact that I was the only one in-charge of everything on that flight.
There were no tantrums, ear discomfort, or pooping in the toilet that I had to deal with, but it was a totally different experience compared to flying alone or with a fellow adult.
It's not the kids' first time to travel. They've been flying since they were babies but they were always with their parents. Recently, we traveled together to Hong Kong with their mom (my SIL), their other aunt (my SIL's sister), and my husband so it is not so much of a hassle as we take turns in looking after them. Plus Hong Kong is just 2 hours away from Manila and no visa required so less docs to prepare.
Preparing for Your Flight
- Book a direct flight as much as possible to avoid running around the airport to get to your next gate if your first flight gets delayed. And also to cut on travel time. Kids can get impatient.
- Wear your most comfortable clothes. I wore a loose tee, jeans, and sneakers. You will do a lot of lifting heavy luggage at the X-ray machines, check-in counters and baggage claim. If non-passenger companions are allowed to enter the airport, have them assist you at least until before the immigration area.
- Choose the most functional bag as hand-carry. My husband was definitely right in suggesting that I leave my handbag at home and just use his backpack instead for our travel documents, snacks and other gadgets. I also have a small sling bag where I can easily access our passports, boarding passes, my phone and wallet.
At the Airport
- If the kids are old enough to follow instructions, give them responsibilities. I asked them to ALWAYS secure their personal bags. They assisted me in pushing our luggage while lining up at the check-in counter. They also went ahead to line up at the immigration counter while I fill out the departure cards at the table. They were also helpful in locating our next gate during our layover in Abu Dhabi.
- If there's no priority lane for passengers with kids at the airport check-in counter, try to do a web check-in so you won't have to line up on the regular lane. The line was very long when we arrived so I checked-in the last minute via my mobile phone and we were able to transfer to the web check-in lane and got ahead of almost 30 passengers.
- Always bring extra documents to avoid delays. My nieces are OFW dependents so they are entitled to a reduced travel tax rate of 300 pesos (provided that they travel the the country where their parent works). In order to avail it, I needed to present a copy of their birth certificates and their mom's Overseas Employment Certificate number. I only have a copy on my phone so I begged the staff at the travel tax counter if I can just email it to them and have them print it. Glad he agreed but reminded me to bring a hard copy next time. And thankful that they have decent internet connection (which they really should have), they were able to receive my email right away. And since our flight is connecting via Abu Dhabi, I was also asked to present a ticket showing that our final destination is in Kuwait, where their mom works. But who prints a ticket nowadays? And so I also emailed our e-ticket to them.
And this one is also important. Some Immigration Officers (at least the one who interviewed us) are not aware of the existence of DSWD Travel Clearance. Just when I thought everything was okay just by presenting our passports, boarding passes, visas and the kids's travel clearance, (because hello? I think I have submitted all the documents needed just to secure it), he still asked me a proof of my relationship to the kids' parents, etc. Good thing I brought the original copies with me (DSWD just took the photocopies). He even asked me extra questions such as how much did I pay for it and how long did it take me to process it and all that.
- Add at least additional 1 hour to your usual allotted time before the flight. We spent an hour lining up at the immigration and barely made it to our flight. We were among the last passengers to board our plane. We had to run as fast as we could and we were all panting upon reaching our seats.
- Have a pee break before boarding. This avoids visits to the airplane bathroom during take-off or serving of meals.
- Keep the kids entertained. At least the in-flight entertainment took care of it. But when they got "umay"of the shows, they played with my Ipad.
- Order a meal that is different from theirs because there's a big chance that they don't like it and would switch food with you. Well, Etihad's food is terrible so I cannot blame the kids.
- Prepare to not get enough sleep even if you're on an evening flight. I planned to dose off early so I asked for some wine after dinner but it didn't happen as planned because, "Tita, I need to pee." or "Tita, massage my feet." (using my ever reliable Tiger Balm) or "Tita, look at this." (pointing at their screens, showing me what they're watching) and many more.
- If everyone wants to sleep (and you know how it is in economy class), be creative on how you will get at least one of the kids to lie down comfortably. I was wishing at that moment that there were empty rows but the flight was full. Gaaah.
It was easier during our flight back to Manila as our family and friends were able to go inside the airport and accompanied us until the pre-boarding area. The kids were also tired the whole day so they were both asleep in the plane most of the time.