For many people, flying is already a stressful ordeal. Even under the best of circumstances, bringing a baby or toddler along for the ride adds a whole new level of chaos to the process. While there are a lot of factors that are out of your control, taking a few extra steps ahead of time will make flying go much more smoothly.
Bring brand new toys and treats
Kids are much more likely to get excited about toys and snacks that they've never seen before than the tried and true rotation that they see every day at home. Hit the dollar store or the dollar section of a big box store and stock up on inexpensive, fun items like stickers, coloring books, and small toy cars. Pick up some treats that are new to your children that you'll know that they'll enjoy. It doesn't have to be fancy to be effective.
Pack more than you think you'll ever need
Every parents' worst nightmare is running out of milk or diapers with no option to stock up on more. Even when the flight conditions look great, a plane may end up getting delayed for a significant amount of time, often with little or no prior notice. It isn't fun hauling through the airport with an oversized diaper bag or suitcase, but it's much less fun holding a screaming baby with an overflowing diaper. Consider packing extra diapers, wipes, towels, food, and clothing.
Charge up your gadgets before the flight
A long flight is an ideal time to amuse children with a brand new iPad game or downloaded movie or TV show. Even if you've brought lots of other entertainment, you never know when you'll end up sitting on the runway for much longer than anticipated or having a flight get rerouted due to inclement weather. Depending on the length of the flight, you may want to bring along a portable battery charger to extend the life of your electronic gadgets.
Wait until the final boarding call to get on the plane
Many airlines allow families traveling with small children to board right after the first class and priority seating passengers. Some parents appreciate this opportunity because it allows them to board with a large amount of gear without getting rushed. However, if you've got a restless baby or overactive toddler, more time on the plane just means more time trying to sit still. You have to decide if it makes sense to board during the family boarding time or wait a little bit longer to reduce the amount of time spent on the plane.
Feed your kids during takeoff and landing
Keep babies and small children occupied with nursing, bottles of milk or juice, pacifiers, and finger foods during takeoff and landing. Sucking, eating, or drinking helps their ears adjust to the changing plane pressure. If you notice uncomfortable pressure changes in your own ears, most likely your kids are feeling them, too, and need something to ease the pain. If they aren't interested in eating or drinking, a pacifier or hard candy will still help.
As you gear up for your next flight with a baby or toddler, take a deep breath and remember that you've done all that you can do. Stay focused on the final destination, knowing that the long and potentially stressful process will be worth it.