1. Sleep. Be well rested for your trip. If you need to, set your target bedtime for an hour earlier than the actual time you want to get to sleep.
2. Think Positive. If you think it’s going to be a bloody nightmare and go pear-shaped, then it will. Setting out with a great attitude will set a preface for your entire journey, and, it’ll rub off on the children too. Experience the day with a child’s sense of wonder. This is their experience too…
3. Slow Down. Arrive at the airport 10 minutes before your target time. Take a moment to describe to the little ones what’s going on, where you are and what to expect. If possible, take an opportunity to visit the airport for a self-hosted mini tour. Also, don’t feel rushed through everything, it’ll only make you flustered and add undue stress.
Also, slow down going through airport security. Feeling like you have to rush through it will only add stress and complicate the situation. Take your time and don’t worry about the people behind you who are in a rush. You can only do one thing at a time, so think it out methodically and have a plan in your head of where everything is and what you need to show. A good rule of thumb is to deal with your own things first and then turn to the children. This goes for removing shoes too.
4. Necessities. If you think you’ll use/wear it, you won’t. Leave it home. Trust me.
5. Carry-on luggage. Rather than humph around a nightmare on wheels, opt for a backpack, it’ll free up your arms and you can organise everything easily too.
6. Flights. Aim to get flights that have the fewest amount of layovers possible. Contrary to what you may think, giving your kids a break from flying by hurtling them through airport security and/or flight changes is time consuming, stressful and can be avoided. It’ll also lengthen the process for them.
7. Spend it. Children under 2 can fly for free on most airlines if they sit on your lap. Consider the length of the flight before taking advantage of this. Holding a baby or small child on your lap for several hours is harder than it sounds. If your flight will last for more than 2-3 hours, I’d recommend you buy a seat for your under 2er. It’s well worth it and they can sleep and rest easy. You can too.
N.B. Check the label on your car seat or the safety instructions and also check with your airline to make sure that yours will meet FAA (or applicable) regulations.
8. Meals and beverages. Make sure your wee one has been reserved a child meal. Be sure to confirm it when you confirm your flights. If they are small enough, airlines and security allow the individual Gerber plastic juice bottles. They also allow fruit cups (e.g. Del Monte), Gerber Graduates food bowls and sippy cups with juice in them. Be prepared to drink from them too. Be sure to pack all of your bairn’s food and drink in a separate plastic ziplock bag and let the staff at security know you have it right off the bat. Plan to take a few more drinks than usual for your kids (in case dehydration sets in) and avoid sugary snacks or anything with caffeine. The last thing you need couped up on a plane is a high pre-schooler. Even if your child is past the age for a sippy cup, use one as a container for snacks. Remember: Ice packs will be confiscated, plan accordingly.
Similarly, make sure you all take a trip to the toilets before take off.
9. Surprises. Pack a new toy and/or book for each child. We brought a small etcha-sketch, A Color Wonder Pack, a thick colouring book with chunky crayons and 3 new books. We also bought 3 new DVDs (two of them we found for $5 each at Target – Muppets in Space and Stuart Little. The other was Curious George.) We also packed a small pair of binoculars for looking out of the windows.
Be sure to let them walk (with supervision, of course) freely around the plane too, don’t feel like they need to be restrained to their seating area.
10. Equipment. You can gate check your stroller. After tagging it at the gate, just leave it on the ramp and the airport staff’ll pick it up. You can ask for a large plastic sack to cover it. Note: Some airports only stock these in the main terminal. We stored our 3 year-old’s booster seat base in the seat of the folded stroller and bungee corded it on before bagging it. Also note: I spent an extra $25 (all in) to rent a CARES restraint for my almost 4-year-old. It was unnecessary and unused. Save your money (and time and stress).
11. Travel in Comfort. Make sure you all dress comfortably. I dressed my two in open leg sweat pants and long-sleeved t-shirts. I also removed their shoes after we got aboard and were all seated.
12. Packing. It may sound rudimentary, but don’t over pack for you or your kids. Plan outfits that can be interchanged easily. This will also help cut down on the new checked luggage fees. Pack an extra set of clothing in your carry on for your kids. Eating, drinking and turbulence don’t mix. Pack some plastic/poly bags (and disposable scented diaper/nappy bags too. Sassy sells them in packs of 50). You may like to know: The diaper changing station on a plane is directly above the toilet. All those tween (or sloshed adult) years of playing Twister will finally pay off.
13. Ask. If you need help from a flight attendant or airport staff, ask. They are more than willing to help when needed, especially when you have a little one to gush over! One flight attendant crouched and spoon fed my 14-month old his ravioli when she saw the shapes I was getting into trying to feed him from the side. She also offered to hold him as we prepared to get off the plane.
If your baby is 6 months or younger, most airlines have bassinets for your baby to sleep on. It’s also a nice idea to pack your own blanket if possible.
Tip: It’s also a good idea to ask to be seated after the First Class passengers and before everyone else. Some staff at the gates didn’t offer it as we boarded, so it’s better to ask than be left struggling to make it up the tiny aisle with small children, a car seat and your carry on luggage (and the other passengers).
Bonus: My two weren’t bothered by their ears at all with all five flights. But you can take pre-packaged fruit snacks or juice cups to alleviate any pressure to the ear drums during take off and landing.
Tip of the Century: If you are at all flying to the UK, don’t exchange your money at the airport. There are plenty of places when you arrive at your destination that will do it commission-free. Travel agencies, the Post Office and Marks & Spencer (aka M&S) are great places to look out for.