We have been asked countless times for travel tips when traveling with young kids on long flights. Obviously, we have a bit of experience in this area - and now we have survived flights with 3 youngin's (outnumbered & still sane!). Our girls really enjoy flying, and it doesn't have to be stressful!! So, for those who might benefit from this lengthy discourse, here goes.
Planning your trip
Make your kids part of the planning! Share about your destination, people you will visit, etc. Prepare them for the experience as best you can. Explain security guards, take-off & landing, etc. Remind them to stay close, and what to do in case you are separated/lost. I have heard some people "label" their kids with emergency info for this kind of situation.
Reserving your flight
Ask if you can reserve your seats ahead of time. We prefer a block of seats (window+middle+aisle) with more legroom. Window seats are great so kids can watch the world move! An early departure is wonderful, unless you want to plan a nap-time flight. Ask if your flight has special meals for children, or fun games they might give out. If traveling with an infant, ask for bulkhead seating - usually bassinets are available in those seats. Also, ask about pre-boarding options for families. If you are making a connection somewhere, ask if you can reserve those seats ahead of time too, in case the connecting flight is delayed.
Packing for the trip:
Bring - Tickets & passports, birth certificates if necessary, & health documents/immunization records. Also pack diapers/wipes, change of clothes for each traveler, hat for baby, & medication if sick. Maybe a sippy cup for beverages, so they don't spill (esp grape juice!). Also bring chap-stick, laptop computer(?), mp3 player/ipod, and digital camera - if it fits. We allow our oldest (4+yrs) to pack her own small backpack with a few select items, and she really enjoys carrying it herself. You might also want to bring a small stroller/sling/front carrier/backpack/carseat if you have more than one kid!(?). These can be checked at the gate!
It is vital to bring Captivating toys: picture books, game books, paper/coloring books & crayons, memory cards, favorite animal/doll, scotch tape!, mp3 players with music or books on tape (there are great FREE kid-podcasts on itunes!), magnet-doodle board, paint with water books, a good read-aloud book, stickers/sticker book, simple lacing/sewing/knitting projects - the ideas are endless. Sometimes we purchase a NEW toy to surprise them with during the flight! Its worth the cost. Whatever you decide to bring - we suggest to bring toys with less "parts" that will fall below the seat, etc. If you are able to bring a laptop/portable DVD player - then that is another option, tho the battery doesn't last forever!
Do not forget the essential Snacks & drinks! Items that keep their jaw moving (to help with *air pressure/ears) like gummy chews, gum?, pacifier, hard candy to suck on, dried fruits, yogurt raisins, packaged crackers, PBJ, cheese, carrot sticks, granola bars, or other things your kids love. *We have special treats that we only use for take-off & landing, which distracts during any bumpiness we might encounter. Remember you cannot pack any liquids (milk/water) for kids. Any fruit must be consumed before arrival too (international flights). We also take Airborne for Kids/Vitamins 1+2 days before trip to boost our immunities.
Besides all your necessary items, we try to pack any change of clothing/jackets on top in case we are stranded somewhere (a more common occurrence over here). Its easier to access.
What we wear during flights
Comfortable clothing with socks & shoes! We also dress in layers, with darker colored clothing for occasional spills. Planes can get really cold!
Boarding & Takeoff
We arrive early, check-on and claim an area near the gate ASAP. During this waiting time, we change diapers/nurse/drink fluids/visit potty. Usually one of us will run around the airport (with kids) to get exercise & energy out before the long flight, while the other guards any gear. Once aboard your flight, get situated and point out all the new things before take-off. Wait to nurse your baby until the plane takes off, so their ears can adjust easier. Nursing/eating is essential to help with the change in air pressure on take-off AND landing!
During the flight
Keep their hands busy, read books, talk about what they see outside! Sing songs if they are nervous (make up your own words) or just for fun! Bust out new activities as needed, or take a walk thru the aisle if possible. Our oldest loves to take picts with the digital camera, and listen to books/songs on the mp3 player. We take multiple *potty breaks and daddy often takes the opportunity to teach them about cloud formation or jet propulsion if they will listen. I am not kidding! The key to holding their attention is lots of short activities because in such a small space, nothing keeps their focus for too long, unless they are older. *If your little one is learning to wear big undies, we recommend pull-ups or plastic pants for the trip. It can be hard to get there in time, and the bathrooms are tiny for two.
We wait till most of the passengers have gotten off before we attempt it ourselves. We double check for any items under seats, etc. Listen for baggage claim info, and ask the attendants for your stroller/carrier as you leave.
Remember to do all of these things (and be even more creative) FOR your kids - not for others. Don't worry about what others on the flight might be thinking of you/your kids, but focus on your kids. You will have a great time, and you will catch up on your sleep eventually. Happy travels!