1. Your kiddo. Most toddlers understand a lot more than they say. We are an airplane family so there is no shortage of airplane toys in our home. That said, the process of commercial flying is significantly less glamorous than the movies and involves a lot of waiting. We make up fake tickets and play make believe airport involving all the steps of the process in the weeks before every trip.
2. Yourself. Make sure you don’t worry so much about what you bring for your kid(s) you forget your own items. An unplanned shopping trip for your toothbrush is just as inconvenient as one for diaper cream. I am affectionately (I hope) referred to as a “lister” by my those who know me well. When know I have a trip I keep a running list going somewhere visible (like the fridge) to jot down things I think I’ll forget and check it off the night before. I think no matter what I do I always forget something, so I also plan time for a shopping run when I arrive. Honestly, it’s a good way to get any favorite foods for Mr. C too without having to make a request.
3. Your destination. If you are meeting someone who lives where you’re headed, ask them to stock up on things that will fill up your bag (like diapers). When visiting family I almost always arrive to a few new outfits and toys. I have started to ask my Mom (tactfully) whether I should leave space in my bag and if really need to bring an outfit for every day. Of course, I can always ship things home (which is cheaper on all but Southwest than an extra bag) but try to explain to a 2-year-old you’re not bringing that awesome new ninja turtle with you.
4. Consolidate liquids and gels in a clear baggie and put it in an outside pocket. If possible, rearrange so items you’ll have to remove at security (laptop, liquids, bottles) are in one bag. This way you don’t have to do the juggle and stuff act while putting your shoes back on and keeping track of your toddler who is trying to wander off. I always bring a light jacket, shoes that slip on/off, and put my liquids in my diaper kit. I also pack my typical jewelry in my carry-on at home, then put it on once I’m through security. Remember you can bring formula or breastmilk for your child (even over 3 oz) but they might “screen” it separately. At the least expect to remove your shoes, metal accessories, and basically anything in your pockets but your toddler won’t have remove their shoes and they should re-route you to the old metal detector vs. x-ray. Last but not least, if your kiddo will sit in a stroller (mine won’t anymore) you can bring that all the way to the gate, just get everything you usually put in the pockets in the carry-on beforehand.
Use Airport Amenities
5. Some airports are better than others but expect to be able to find juice and water past security and maybe a few healthy dining options. Last time I flew I brought three tortilla wraps (turkey and cheese with mustard, nothing fancy) in foil and a frozen juice box to keep it cold, a bag of goldfish, two granola bars, and an empty sippy cup. This was in an insulated lunch bag inside my carry – on backpack. Since the juice wasn’t a liquid (I assume) TSA said nothing about it. I buy a juice and a water and fill up the sippy cup when we get on board. Mr. C has never had ear issues flying but I always make sure he has something to eat and drink during takeoff and landing (if he’s awake) just in case. Dried fruit is a good substitute for gum until they’re old enough. Tons of airports now have play areas for kids and they are awesome. We were just in the Nashville airport and it was a fantastic relief to have a few other kids and tire mine out before boarding our second (4-hour) flight. The airport websites should have information so you can check ahead wherever your stops are. Here’s a good list to start with from parenting.com. They also almost always have companion or family bathrooms which will save your sanity.
6. One of the best purchases we’ve made was a rolling suitcase for Mr. C. I use it like a diaper bag when we travel, keep it light, and remind him it’s his responsibility. Not only does it kept him involved (he weighs it even though we don’t check it, puts it on the conveyor belt at security, etc…) but he doesn’t go darting off through crowds of people when he’s dragging it. Everyone gives him such sweet looks as this 3-foot-tall traveler diligently drags his monkey bag like he’s all by himself. We look for any opportunity within the process he can ‘help’ with to keep him busy so he feels like a big boy.
7. Make friends with the flight crew fast. It pays to be overly friendly, pile it on… it’ll payoff. I almost always sit in the rear of the aircraft, the last row if possible. This is partly because I fly Southwest and it gets me out of the path of boarding passengers vying for non-middle-seats. With family boarding (parents with children under 4) it’s almost always still available and there’s not too much sit-still time for my little one before taxi. The rear flight attendant will sometimes even offer a juice for my son while the other passengers are boarding, which is great.
Offer to use your sippy cup to win her (or him) over; one spill they won’t have to clean up! On Southwest (or AirTran now), we often end up having the row to ourselves even though we leave the aisle seat open because the seat doesn’t recline (I refuse to hoard the aisle seat, don’t tell me you don’t know you’re being rude when you won’t make eye contact just like the guy who won’t let me over when lanes merge). Sitting in the back is also nice because if I have to use the facilities I can sit in my seat to wait for no line rather than stand in line with a toddler. Many times the flight attendants have offered to entertain or watch my sleeping son while I use the restroom. If you have to change a diaper, be sure to use the snazzy baggies you brought and they will love you even more.
8. Explain everything. Be confident and calm. Turbulence isn’t scary, it’s fun! Last week when we took off Mr.C was laughing hysterically because we built it up so much. You can’t always anticipate turbulence but preparing your child for other noises and movement (e.g. descent, gear and flaps, reverse thrust) reinforces his confidence that everything is under control and perfectly normal. As a matter of fact this is a key concept of flying companion seminars for adults.
9. Make it a treat. Bring special snacks, new movies, games or toys; all these are great. Wrapping toys (not just new ones) can add a few precious minutes of entertainment and a lot of interest. Of course limit the sugar or you’ll pay for it on a long flight, especially if the seat belt sign stays on and you can’t make aisle runs.
10. Master the memory. Take pictures and mentally note what your child liked so you can use those to pump him up for the next trip.