Bring new toys and books. Something that they have never seen before will hold the attention far more than something that has been played with dozens of times already. For our then-ten-month-old, it was a toy phone (not a noisy one) and a set of keys. For the one-year-old it was a new Curious George book and a new car. This time, the baby needed no entertaining but the big brother did. We catered to his current obsession with go Diego go, and bought a few books featuring Diego. The key to this, is to not bring them out to soon. We wait until the meltdown begins and then bring out the big guns. If you bring out the secret weapon too soon, then you have no recourse.
Use the technology made available to you. Even if you don’t let your kids watch the television at home, now is the time to break those rules. Little screens in the armrests of chairs are a godsend for those traveling with small children, and for those around them. Don’t worry about headphones, if your child won’t keep them on, or if you worry about the noise damaging their ears, the pictures will most likely be enough to distract the most irritated of children.
If you have your own technology, bring it. If your tablet or phone is off limits to your children, get a sturdy case and load up a few apps that they can use, along with digital copies of their favorite movies. Just suck it up and let them play. They won’t do permanent damage with just a day’s travel. In fact, knowing that they are being allowed to use something ordinarily off limits is one of the biggest draws of this.
Pack for individual diaper scenarios. Rather than needing access to the overhead compartment every time a diaper change is needed, prepare for one-by-one situations. When packing your carry on, place a plastic bag inside each diaper. Before the plane takes off, move all your in-flight magazines into one of the seat pockets, then put two diapers of each size, your changing mat and your wipes of choice in the other. If you like disposable travel mats, then put a mat and a diaper inside each bag. When the seat belt sign turns off, you can get to the bathroom before anyone else and without too much fuss.
Have your child travel in footie pajamas. Our eldest wore his sneakers over the feet on this journey and loved it. They will like the novelty of traveling in pajamas, you will like the convenience. If there is a diaper blow out or vomit incident, it is nice to only be dealing with one item of clothing. It is also then easy to pack for such emergencies: you only need a few extra sets of pajamas each instead of full outfits for each child. Unless your child is prone to messy situations, I recommend two spare sets.
Bring a spare t-shirt for yourself. Obviously you can’t travel in footie pajamas, or even have a full change of clothes on hand, but if you are thrown up on you will appreciate a clean smell around your upper body instead of wiped up vomit.
Forget the pacifier wipes, but bring a hand cleanser. I like individual packets of Wet Ones with anti bacterial goodness. Your child will be touching something gross before you have chance to call out their name, so make sure you have your hand cleanser of choice with you. The bathrooms may be questionable and inaccessible, especially once on board.
Bring one carry on, and only one carry on. You no longer need a book to read, you no longer need your own snacks. You can no longer use your carry on in place of checking luggage. Once you have filled a bag with the essentials for a long flight, you won’t have the strength to carry anything else, and you will appreciate only having one bag to keep track of in a busy airport.
If your child is old enough, do however, let them bring there own carry on. Last year, our flight was severely delayed by volcanic ash over Iceland. We were saved by a fellow traveler, with a two-year-old and a Trunki full of toys. We bought one as soon as we landed, and this recent trip was the first time we had our son travel with it. They can pull the case as a distraction to keep them moving, they can sit on it and you can pull them along, it can contain enough toys to keep them occupied for any delay. I heartily recommend the Trunki, but anything that will roll for them, and that has a nice arm strap for you if they tire of it, will work. If you are bringing a backpack, don’t let them bring a backpack unless it is small enough for you to carry as well, they will get sick of it at some point.
Bring snacks. Meals on flights will not necessarily time well with your child’s needs, and airport food is not always suited to the palate of a toddler. Use snacks they are familiar with, snacks that don’t break any customs laws, and snacks that don’t need refrigerating and are still edible after a good deal of squishing. Familiarity with the snack you bring means they are less likely to vomit. Trust me, once your child is sick mid-flight once, you will be as obsessed with vomit as I am. Inside the airport, your best bet is a fruit cup, since you cannot bring your own fruit with you unless travelling within the US.
If you have an infant, use the baby carrier of your choice. I like the Baby Bjorn, but know many who don’t. Most airports will let you wear your baby through security, so if they are asleep you will be allowed to keep them on. Not so if they are in a stroller, most will ask you to remove the sleeping child. Use of a stroller is a personal choice, and we have gone both ways in the past. We were going to see family who had a nice stroller waiting for us on the other end, so we opted not to bring the added gear to the airport and found it to be very freeing. When we traveled with one child we took the stroller and he slept in it at the airport, freeing us up to relax a little. However, be warned and do your research, some places have peculiar stroller policies. You may think that it will be great to have the stroller the second you get off the plane, but some airlines/airports will not allow the return of your stroller until you are through customs. Check procedures before you fly.
Get to know the people around you but don’t bug them. If you have a cute child, let them say “Hi” to the people whose sleep they may disrupt. Make yourself known to the flight attendants and find out which is the best bathroom for diaper changes.
Stick to a routine. If you make the same trip frequently, there is a lot to be said for knowing your route. Sometimes saving fifty bucks by using a different airline just isn’t worth it. We take the same flight on Virgin Atlantic every time we travel. We know what to expect and where to go, the only wild cards are the kids!
Leave the disciplining at home. I don’t mean let your child run wild and beyond their usual constraints, but if you are working on something with your child and it comes up on the plane, well you are probably best to not use this as a learning experience. Just stick a pin in it. Keeping the child calm is much more valuable, to this mom and passenger, than using every teachable moment. Those around you will appreciate it.