Traveling with small children on a airplane does not have to make one break out into a cold sweat and reconsider vacations until the child or children are in middle school. It does, however, require some planning and preparation in advance to ensure things go smoothly at the airport and in the air.
To help things run smoothly, ensure that your child or children know exactly what to expect. There may be lines at check-in, and they will need to wait patiently while their parent(s) check-in. If children are old enough to keep track of their own carry-on luggage, they should be taught to keep it in sight at all times. If they are not old enough to keep track of their own luggage, as parents, you may want to bring a stroller to help store some of said luggage (most airlines allow you to gate check strollers). After check-in, make sure that they have nothing of secret value that they snagged from home without your knowledge (e.g., their favorite matchbox car or their favorite scissors and an art project they just have to tuck in their backpack). The last thing parents needs is an alarm when going through the metal detector, or the misfortune of having a bag that is already bursting at the seems needing to be unpacked and once unpacked, your child losing their favorite pair of safety scissors and breaking down in a fit of uncontrollable sobbing when the mean men take them away.
We all know that kids have the attention spans of gnats. Therefore, be prepared to entertain your child while waiting to board, on the plane, during layovers, and God help us, if the plane gets grounded somewhere. This means, their favorite small toys, books, coloring pages, video games, and DO NOT FORGET the portable DVD player with MANY of their favorite movies. It may also be helpful to bring headphones so that if you are lucky enough to have on board entertainment, you won’t have to purchase them. Bring extra batteries for electronic devises and find outlets at the airport and plug in when possible.
Patience is Key
Most importantly, be patient. Realize the kids are just as bored as you are, and try to make it a fun, new experience for them. When your child starts crying five minutes into the flight, staying calm and collected yourself with help ensure that your child will eventually relax. Understand that a normal, happy child may turn into a demon when confined to a 1×1 foot seat for 3 hours. Realize that most people understand this, and will have sympathy for a crying child. Realize that those people who do not have sympathy for you, may have never traveled with children of their own and you will probably never see them again. Stay positive and realize that the end destination will be worth the small annoyances of getting there.