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Flying Alone with Preschoolers – my latest experience

About a year ago, I told myself my attempt at flying alone with preschoolers or toddlers probably sufficiently broke me to the point of avoiding traveling alone with the kids. I jest. But here we are, a year later, and I decided to have another go, this time taking an entire vacation with my older two children (5 and 2.5). I thought I’d just share a bit of my experience and some rudimentary tips for trying to survive being alone with small children in a small cylindrical tube. 

Related: Tips for flying alone with preschoolers or toddlers

A couple quick notes before I get into it. First, I chose Disney as a location because I thought it would be easier. A Disney hotel reservation offers a lot of benefits that make life easier when you get on the ground. I figured with stuff like Magical Express, I wouldn’t have to worry about hauling luggage or a rental car on the ground. Plus, at a rate of $145/night at Coronado Springs, a moderate hotel (that I could pay for with points too) it seemed like a no brainer. Also, I scheduled the trip to coincide with when my parents were visiting friends in Florida, which obviously helped a ton. They agreed to stay at Coronado as well and spent some time with us in the parks.

Flying alone with preschoolers can be tough, but it's definitely doable. Here's my latest experience taking my five and two year old down to Florida.
Staying at an on site Disney hotel made life a lot easier

Finally, props to anyone who has done this, especially those who have to sometimes. A friend of mine took her two under four year olds all the way from Thailand back to the States. My mom likes to remind me she did the same with my sister and me to Hong Kong. If you want to fly alone with young kids or are in a situation where you have to – know that people have tread that path before and excelled at it. Or at least survived it.

My experience flying alone with two preschoolers

Woke up late, oops

I booked an 8:30 AM flight outbound and a 10:30 AM return because I’ve decided that for short domestic flights (< 3 hours) it’s best for my kids to avoid naptime. Like anti-clockwork, my alarm didn’t go off at 6:00 AM so my wife woke me up in a panic at 7:00 AM. My wife and I tag teammed to make some mac and cheese and we made it out the door by 7:15.

We got to the airport by around 7:40, even with rush hour traffic, and dropped our bags off at check in. Since I had two kids and only two hands, I didn’t want to deal with rolling a carry-on through the airport. (Alas, I think that will be par for the course now until all three are old enough to carry their own stuff).

Flying alone with preschoolers can be tough, but it's definitely doable. Here's my latest experience taking my five and two year old down to Florida.
Getting energy out before the flight

We found a cute little play area in Terminal C where we hung out before heading to the gate. After arrival at the gate we of course had to return to the play area where we left one of our dolls. I like to board late when I’m alone with the kids because they’ll be on the plane long enough, so we hung around the terminal and were some of the last people to board.

A bonus two hours on the plane

Again, like anti-clockwork, when we boarded the plane in Boston, we happened to be in the middle of a mild snow and in freezing temperatures. Jetblue in Boston taxis to a de-icing pad instead of de-icing at the gate. That combined with a bunch of other delays that I can’t even really remember meant we did not have wheels up until 11:00 AM.

2.5 hours on the plane while the flight was still on the ground! To be perfectly honest, I worried a lot about whether my kids (well, mostly the two year old) would lose it at any minute. Oh, and in my rush out the door I forgot our tablet. So how did we survive?

Well, for starters, free TV on Jetblue helped a lot. Between that and my phone (and multiple portable chargers), the kids mostly stayed entertained. I also came equipped with a bunch of coloring books, snacks, and the aforementioned mac and cheese.

We spent a lot of those two hours talking about planes, why they get delayed, the whole deicing situation, watching TV, coloring a little, watching TV, eating candy, watching TV, etc. I refused to bust out the mac and cheese because I knew I had to pace us. Finally, we were on the runway and taking off, and I did a little cartwheel in my head.

A bag lunch and surviving the rest of the flight

I had originally intended the mac and cheese to be lunch for the kids at the time of our descent (which should have been around 12:30 PM). But after they survived the long delay and we took off, I decided that we’d eat lunch right then and there, at 11:15. The kids mostly held it together the whole way.

Flying alone with preschoolers can be tough, but it's definitely doable. Here's my latest experience taking my five and two year old down to Florida.
This saved us

Obviously, avoiding meltdowns has a ton to do with luck. My son had been quite difficult the week before we left so I was pretty nervous, having read a bunch of stories about how all the kids who get kicked off the plane are in terrible twos or threes. Yikes. If I could point to one thing besides luck that saved my bacon, it was a decision early on in the delay to dole out ONE Reese’s Piece to my son every twenty minutes. He bought into it and I managed to get through the whole flight giving him only a little bit more than a Halloween sized pack.

A stress free transfer

When we finally landed, having that Disney hotel reservation really paid off. We just waited for our stroller, squad goals-ed our way through the airport to the Magical Express, got onto the bus (more TV) and went straight to the hotel. An hour later we were in our hotel room, two and a half hours later we were in Pandora at Animal Kingdom. Disney transportation doesn’t always work smoothly, but when it does it is straight up spectacular. 

Flying alone with preschoolers can be tough, but it's definitely doable. Here's my latest experience taking my five and two year old down to Florida.
Mostly happy campers!

Final Thoughts

Did part of me root for a meltdown to happen so I’d have something more interesting to write about? I’ll never tell! But hopefully this post reassures anyone out there flying alone with preschoolers that even when things go wrong, you can have a great flight! In my next post, I’ll write about my best ideas for minimizing the risk of having a bad flight experience with your little kids. Until then!

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Just an average joe trying to fly his family for less

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