5 Ways to help a solo parent traveling on a plane

 In Travel Tips

Over the past five years I have traveled a lot with my kids. At least half of that travel I have done without my husband, possibly more. In the beginning I would never ask for help. I would assume I was a burden on every other passenger because I dared to get on a plane without my husband and with a small child (or two!) no less. Age, wisdom and a second child coming along on our travels quickly mellowed out my anxiety and also taught me a few key ways to ask for help, and not be worried that I will be bothering my fellow passengers.

If you see a mother (or father) traveling alone with their offspring, remember these five easy ways to help them out. You can never have enough travel karma, and when it comes to helping parents and kids, well you earn double.


This will change the trip for a mother (or father) from the second you do it. She may be in dread that her kids will cry and you will get annoyed with her or make a snide comment. By smiling at her you let her know you will be a friend and alley, not someone she has to slink around and avoid if her kids happen to ask to go to the potty very loudly while you read your book.

Offer to help her put her bags up

Help a mother put her bags into the overhead space, especially if she is carrying a baby or has more than one child with her. Navigating bags is a nuisance and it can be hard to juggle a baby on one hip and that much needed “just in case” bag many parents pack. Trust me, you want us to carry this bag on the plane. It could save your sanity with its extra diapers, books, toys and digital devices that distract kids like magic.

Hold the baby so mom can pee

Let me clarify. Do not grab the baby. Do not take the baby. Only hold the baby if mom let’s you have the baby. When a mother is traveling with a baby she is glued to that child. If she has to go to the toilet that baby is coming with her. If her other child has to go to the toilet the baby has to come too. Have you ever used an airplane toilet? They seem to be getting smaller. Imagine fitting two or even three bodies in there. This is not entrance to the Mile High club friends, this is reality for parents traveling alone with their kids. If you hear an older child declare they have to use the bathroom, or you see mom eyeing the back of the plane, ask her is she would like you to hold the baby for a minute. If you have already been nice to her and made a little small talk while you waited for the plane to take off it will be even easier.

Offer to carry bags off the plane

Everyone is getting off the plane. Most parents will have to stop at the jet way to wait for a stroller, but getting bags and kids through that narrow airplane aisle is a roller coaster at best. Just offer to get her bigger bag to the end of the plane so she doesn’t have to juggle kids in her arms. It will help you both get off the plane faster.

Ask if they need help with any other children

Does the mother need an extra set of hands? Does she need help getting something out of her carry on bags, getting kids buckled in or a few extra snacks in the back? Always ask before you take a child or touch them. You never, ever want to make a parent or child feel afraid or at risk. Here is a great example: On a flight I took home from California, I saw one mother helping another mother in the best way. Mother One had three small children traveling with her. One of them had been separated and seated behind her. Mother Two was seated next to her. Mother one had her hands full trying to get her oldest to the bathroom with the other two in tow. Later in the flight Mother Two escorted the oldest to the restroom with Mother One’s permission. Having had to do a similar juggle, I know how helpful an extra pair of caring hands can be. I was later able to help this same mother when her middle son was at the top of the escalator and she was headed to the bottom with the other two. It was way past bedtime, so we had a quiet mom moment using just eye contact to convey that yes, she wanted me to pick up her son if necessary and bring him to her. All was well and I saw her husband meet them in baggage and whisk her away for (hopefully) a very good night’s sleep.

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Showing 7 comments
  • Kara

    Great tips! I have traveled a bunch solo with my kids as well. I’m always so grateful for a little help with the bags or an offer to hold the baby so I can make a quick bathroom trip.

  • Nina

    Totally agree, the best thing is just to get a smile from fellow passengers rather than that look of fright wondering whether they’re going to be the poor sod that has to sit next to the single mum.

  • Colleen Lanin

    Nice to see the focus on how to help parents on a plane instead of the usual articles with people whining about children on a plane. Don’t like the crying baby? How about lending a hand?!

  • Corinne

    I love this. Imagine how much nicer the world (let alone the inside of an airplane) would be if we all extended kindness instead of attitude?

  • Jodi @ Family Travel Magazine

    Great tips! I’ve traveled alone with one child, but not two, and I know how challenging it can be.

  • Suki F

    This is great, I with more people did this. It can be quite a challenge to travel alone with small kids.

  • Jenna

    I agree with Colleen that it’s nice to see ideas for helping instead of ideas for how the parents should be giving out treats to the passengers 🙂

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