1. Talk about the trip in detail ahead of time
This is one of my biggest tips for parents traveling with kids. Talk to your kids about what will happen at the airport, and on the flight ahead of time. Talk about specifics, like checking your luggage, going through security, and getting into your seat and putting on your seat-belt on the plane. It's sometimes hard for adults to imagine the kinds of things that kids will be worried about, for example: What happens to the suitcases when they disappear at check-in? Will I get my backpack (and stuffed animals/blanket/toys) back after it goes through the x-ray machine? What are all the strange sounds on the plane as it's taking off?
Preparing your kids (and yourself) ahead of time, and being ready and taking the time to answer your child's questions can really help reduce anxiety and make the trip more enjoyable for everyone.
2. Ask the airline about seating and meals ahead of time
Make sure when you book your trip that you ask the airline to seat your family together, and also check if there are kids' meals available on board for longer flights. If you're traveling with a baby ask if there are cots/bassinets available for your child, and if you're allowed to bring a stroller, car seat, or other special items on board, or if they have to be checked.
Rushing through an airport with little kids in tow is not an ideal situation for parents or children. Try to get to the airport with plenty of time to spare. This will give you time to find the bathrooms if needed, have a snack or meal before the flight, and you won't be as stressed out by the lineups.
Remember the rules about liquids, be ready to remove electronics at security, and have comfort items, books and games within easy reach in case you need them.
5. Find the bathrooms
Going to the bathroom on board is never a lot of fun. Try to get your kids to go before take-off, and once on board, encourage them to go before the plane starts getting ready to land. I don't know how many times my kids have asked to go right as we get on-board a plane, or while we're waiting in the big crush of people right after landing. You can get to the bathroom (usually) even under those circumstances, but it will be easier if you can avoid those high-stress and very crowded situations. Also: changing a diaper on board is no picnic, even if there are change-tables in the airplane bathroom. If your child can stand up, it might be a good idea to use pull-up style diapers for the flight.
6. Make sure everyone eats and drinks
Travel fever and the stress and excitement of going on a trip can make both adults and kids forget that they should have a snack and a drink of water. Since hungry and thirsty kids can be a real handful, it's a good idea to remind them to sit down for a snack at regular intervals, both before and during the flight. Go for a meal you know they'll like before the flight, bring some snacks on board you know they'll eat, and don't forget the water!
|Decorating the airline's paper bags on board.|
Some easy to-do activities and games, as well as books, can be welcome distractions on the flight and when you're waiting at the gate. Don't bring anything that's too messy, or too noisy, in order to keep the peace with other passengers.
8. Bring enough supplies
This is particularly important if you're traveling with a baby. Bring enough food, diapers, and wipes to last you for the flight and do bring some extra supplies, just in case your flight is delayed. Running out of diapers when you're on the plane can make your trip a lot more stressful.
If your child uses a pacifier, a special blanket, or has a favourite stuffed animal or toy, do remember to bring those comfort items along on the flight. Also, bringing some child-sized headphones for your child to use on board, for the in-flight entertainment system, can be a good idea. In my experience, the headphones on board are rarely designed with children in mind.
On longer flights it's really important that your child (and you!) get at least a little bit of sleep. Try to get your child to settle down and get comfortable in their seat, snuggle with them, and hope that once the excitement wears off they will be able to get some shut-eye. Get some of that shut-eye yourself too: you'll need the energy to get through the airport on the other side!