Solo Flight with Kids
A long, long time ago... back when people took airplanes to faraway places just for fun... I took the kids to Israel by myself. At the time Scott was traveling to and from Tel Aviv on the regular and we were suffering from major FOMO. The photos he sent back to us of hummus and turquoise waters taunted us with the same fury as Odysseus's sirens; and so we packed our suitcases and booked a dog sitter so we could visit him in January/February. It was a fairly large undertaking for me to travel with the two kids solo, but totally worth the effort in comparison to spending January/February in Seattle.
I had flown with the kids solo before. That part wasn't new. I knew there would be luggage wrangling, asking for help, and more sweating involved than if Scott had been with me. What was new about this was dealing with jet lag, a plane change in London, keeping up with luggage/tickets/passports/two kids while jet lagged, and going through immigration with luggage/tickets/passports/tickets/two kids with a 12 hour jet lag without a second adult to help/check sanity/morally support/etc.
I'm sure there are plenty of people who bop all over the world with their gaggle of 3 children and swipe their Global Entry status with reckless abandon who wouldn't think twice about taking a solo flight from one part of the world to the next. It probably goes without saying that I am not one of those people.
I have TSA Pre-Check, two kids, a bum knee, and jet lag that makes me disoriented and cranky. And quite frankly the whole idea sounded terrible when I really, really thought about it. Still undeterred by the enormity of my undertaking, I did what I always do when faced with a mostly terrible climate around something I want to do: Start chipping away at things I can control to make the situation bearable. This usually involves some combination of buying compression socks, spending too much money on travel size ibuprofen, and putting the kids clothing rations into labeled ziplock bags in their carry-ons. However, this time was different. This time I knew I'd have to up my "sphere of control" game beyond the label maker.
For starters I had to tackle the very obvious fact that I'd be leaving the United States and immigrating to another country without the "other parent". I entered the vague online world of what was legal and expected of two, responsible, still-married, full custody parents who were in two separate countries traveling without the other party.
As the youths say these days: Oof.
The long and short of it is that if you are traveling across international borders as a solo parent you should have some documentation that says the other parent agrees to this trip.
Yes, it seems stupid and a task that is beneath you and YES you will most likely battle a notary with a superiority complex who will act like they have never seen a piece of paper before and yes you probably won't need it.
Be that as it may, the peace of mind that came from knowing I was over prepared and that there would be no concern of being turned away by TSA or at any international border was worth the trouble.
After consulting with a lawyer and realizing the whole thing was overkill we settled for a "DIY" online form plus a notary. So, I tromped around the internet for a good while to get an idea of what bases I needed to cover with such a document. The internet is filled with lots of "legal template-fill in the blank" type deals. Many such forms were available "for a fee" after you had entered all the mind-numbing details only to realize you didn't want to pay for it after all. After numerous aggravating attempts at finding the correct way to document "These are my children and this is my husband and we are all simpatico with this international trip"
I just piece-mealed a "minor travel consent form" together that included: the children's names, relationships, birth dates, passport numbers, travel dates, flight numbers, and Airbnb residences, as well as a little blip saying I was their mother along with my birth date, passport number, flight info, etc. and Scott's notarized signature saying he agreed to all of the above as well as medical treatment.
(Pro Tip: Make sure fuss-pants notary can fit their signature on the bottom of the page- no really, give it a WIDE berth or else they'll be extra grump-tastic)
Next up was just getting through the flight itself. We've long been Fancy Credit Card holders that allow us generous airport lounge access and TSA Pre Check has quelled many of my travel anxieties. However, being alone with the kids on a 20 hour travel day meant I needed to up my travel game. Sure, lounges and TSA Pre-Check would be helpful on the ground, but in the air I needed to know that we would be taken care of and not emotionally abused by a flight crew having a bad day.
It is no secret that we love Virgin Atlantic as it is the last vestige of civility and customer service in the aviation world. We try to fly with them whenever possible. Fortunately for us they had a brand new route from Seattle to Tel Aviv that opened up just a few months prior to us leaving. Bingo. Virgin Atlantic it was.
Shortly after booking, the Virgin Atlantic website offered me a screaming deal on a round trip upgrade for me and the kids.
(Pro Tip: Virgin Atlantic is wonderful, but points and upgrading your flight is not one of their strengths. We forgive them of this flaw because they are otherwise amazing. However, if you are given the opportunity to upgrade at booking for a reasonable price, grab it! The offer likely won't come around again and scrambling for a points upgrade will likely end in tears.)
At the behest of Scott and Bestie I sprung for the upgrade. The main reasons being a little extra help, quieter cabin, and designated check-in would yet again make the solo trek slightly less miserable.
From there I went ahead and indulged my illogical hyper-organizing self to plenty of zip lock bags and tricking out my travel medicine bag. Our carry-ons and checked bag (yes BAG- singular) was weighed, measured, and calculated for optimal ease of transport. I checked and re-checked the Israeli immigration protocols online to make sure we had all of our "i's" dotted and "t's" crossed to make for a smooth entry. (Scott promised me it would be super easy. But, with a 12 hour jet-lag nothing is easy. So I needed to prepare myself.)
We had a 9 hour overnight flight from Seattle to London with a 3-ish hour layover in LHR. From there we would pick up a 5 hour flight to Tel Aviv. I opted for this (versus the direct San Fransisco to Tel Aviv on United) because I wanted the Virgin Atlantic experience, but also because I thought a little break in London would be a nice change of pace.
I had visions of a quiet lounge and perhaps a shower with a fresh croissant to start our Tel Aviv leg of the trip off in style. Instead it ended up being a logistical nightmare of me schlepping all our carry-on bags through the 7 layers of redundant security at LHR, jet lagged kids bumping into each other out of sheer exhaustion (they didn't sleep), and an overcrowded lounge which we had very little time to actually enjoy.
If I could do it over again I probably would just cobble together all the points and spring for First Class on United and go for the direct flight instead. That layover was more trouble and line-waiting than it was worth.
By the time we made it to our connecting flight, I gave up on any fun and organized travel experiences and set the kids up with their tablets and I knocked back several gin and tonics. Thankfully, the boys are amazing little travelers and the flight crew was attentive to their macaroni and cheese requests until we landed. We disembarked and made our way through immigration and found Scott waiting for us after security.
The whole thing was decently stressful- but could have been much worse. The burden of exclusively managing kids, passports, luggage, tickets, getting to and from gates, security, bathrooms, food, sleep, and immigration all with a disorienting jetlag was significant. Not unmanageable, but significant. Taking the steps to plan and mitigate that burden certainly helped, but short of flying a private jet with a nanny- there isn't much you can do to take away that stress entirely. I came away from that experience grateful that I normally have a fabulous partner with whom to share those burdens with.
As I was freaking out prior to leaving (our dryer broke just before we left) Scott kept saying "just get on the plane and I'll be right there waiting for you". He made good on that promise and I had never been more grateful to disengage myself from parental duties and slide into a cab while Scott managed the kids and bags before climbing in himself. I was incredibly grateful that Scott was acclimated to the local time and I drifted off to sleep as he chatted with the cab driver in Hebrew... and I realized that everything was going to be ok and we had made it.