I’ve traveled a bunch with my kids to see my parents in California. Sofia was 4 months old for her first trip, and David was only 6 weeks old for his (thanks Hurricane Sandy). I’ve made every mistake possible on these trips so I think I have a unique ability to give advice on air travel based on these screw-ups.
You can find lists of what to pack for your kids online but really it’s about what entertains your kids and what they need. My son is a mess and requires several changes of clothes plus and extra shirt for me, in case I’m his target after a meal. My daughter only requires an extra outfit because she’s newly potty trained. You know how much of a mess your kids are.
Snacks are so important, for any kid old enough to eat real food. Puffs and Cheerios are great for the younger set because they take awhile to eat. I save things like lollipops for special occasions like plane rides and have found that not only does the sucking help with eat popping, but it keeps Sofia quiet as well. Very important.
No limit on screen time while traveling. If she wants to sit and watch Cinderella 8 times on a long flight I let her, it’s all about survival. And if you are buying a seat for your child, I absolutely recommend a car seat. It’s a bitch to carry through the airport but once she’s strapped in, there’s no getting out except for diaper changes. We simply explained that a plane is like a car and we have to buckle up.
If you have a baby who is riding in your lap, I recommend a fabric baby carrier like an Ergo or Baby Bjorn. Both of my kids fell asleep easy in them and I had 2 free hands to read or eat or have a much needed cocktail once they were asleep.
I made the mistake on my first flight with Sofia when she was 4 months old of panicking that her ears wouldn’t pop. I over-fed her from the bottle and she threw up the entire contents of her stomach all over my mother. Lesson there is not to give a bottle or nurse until the plane is already off the ground and rapidly rising. It takes awhile for the pressure to bother their ears and if the bottle runs out you could just screw yourself. If your baby takes a pacifier, you’re lucky here.
Bring new toys on the journey. This one I learned from my mom. On a long car ride or flight, my mom would randomly hand us presents. New, small toys that would occupy us because, well, they were new. Nothing expensive, just a new Barbie or book of crossword puzzles or something like that. Sofia had figurines from her favorite movie, Tangled. She talked to Rapunzel and Eugene for most of the flight.
If all else fails, walk the aisles. Turbulence permitting, walk up and down the aisles holding your child pointing out things on the plane to them. Stand by the bathrooms and sway as you sing songs, and tell yourself that this too, shall pass. When one of my kids is in a mood, it doesn’t matter how prepared I am, flying is hell. Other parents on the flight will give you knowing looks because they’ve been in your shoes. If you’re lucky enough to never have a bad flight with your child, count your blessings.