our trip to lake powell was jack's 20th time on an airplane and, coincidentally, the last time he could fly for free since he is now two years old. pretty sure his travel schedule is going to dramatically clear up from now on because i am NOT looking forward to having to buy 3 plane tickets every time our family flies. sorry jack -- only road trips for you from now on!
but anyway. i've become pretty well-versed in the whole travel-with-a-toddler thing (especially when traveling solo, without b) and thought i'd share my tricks here. NONE of them involve watching dvds on the flight. :) either they'll help you, or they'll just be here as a reminder for me the next time we have a free flyer in the family. if you're interested, click the link below -- otherwise, feel free to skip ahead!
my best tips for flying with a toddler...
+ timing. i like to schedule flights for either first thing in the morning (so he'll be in a good mood) or naptime. jack doesn't usually sleep much on airplanes but if your kid does, schedule it at a time when they'll sleep. i also used to try to only book direct flights when he was teeny, so i could spend as little time in transit as possible, but now that he's mobile i don't mind a layover. it's kind of nice to get out, stretch your legs, and let the kid burn off some energy.
+ pack accordingly. i pack a massive diaper bag before every flight -- lots of diapers and wipes, changing pad, clorox wipes, binkies, snacks, sippy cups. (they'll let you through security with ANY liquid if it's for your baby -- you'll just have to get it tested.) i usually hit up the dollar section before a trip to stock up on random crap like stickers, mini toys, new books, etc. -- and then i wrap them in wrapping paper. unwrapping the "presents" gives you double the entertainment time, plus it makes it seem more exciting. i've even wrapped up old toys jack already owned, just to keep the thrill going. i also pack stuff like crayons, note pads, pipe cleaners, books, and anything else i think might keep him occupied.
+ airport fun. when jack still fit in his infant carseat, i kept him strapped into his seat in the snap&go stroller as long as possible, then checked the carseat & stroller at the gate for immediate pick up upon landing (or, you can bring the carseat on the plane if there's an extra seat -- see next tip). that way the kid is secure all during inspection and you just have to pull him out once everything is on the conveyor belt. now that he is older, if i'm going to a place where i'll have a stroller once i arrive (like the grandparents' house) i don't bring one to the airport -- i make him walk. i check as many bags as possible so the ONLY things i have to get through the airport are me, jack and my diaper bag.
once we get through security, i take as much time as possible to get to our gate. (assuming we're not running late, of course.) we browse the airport shops, maybe get a snack, watch planes out the windows (this is always a highlight), find an empty gate and run in circles around the chairs. the kid is going to be stuck in a small space for long enough on the airplane -- get as much energy out ahead of time, and don't waste good behavior on sitting on terminal chairs!
+ steal a seat. i usually fly southwest, so they have open seating. as soon as i get to my gate, i ask the customer service desk if our flight is full. if they say no, i will automatically sit in a middle seat and plop jack in the window seat like he owns it. ever since he turned 1, no one has even questioned me as to whether i bought him a ticket -- they just assume i did and won't ask me to move over. (if they're younger than one, bring your carseat on and stick that in the extra seat.) even if the kid ends up sitting on your lap, it is SO NICE to have the extra space. (also, even if they say the flight is full, try it anyway. it's worked for me even on sold out flights because there were pilots on board who moved to the jump seats.) if you're not on southwest, sometimes the customer service people will change your seat assignment to give you an empty neighbor.
+ get settled. the first thing i do when i get on the plane is wipe everything down with a clorox wipe because i am a germophobe. :) i try to sit in the middle seat with jack in the window seat -- better to chance crawling over your seatmate once or twice than to give the kid the constant temptation to get out and run in the aisle. after that, i let jack go wild by exploring everything. between the window shades, dropdown trays, magazines in the seat back pocket, seatbelts -- this usually keeps him entertained until after take-off.
+ altitude changes. jack loves his binky, so i always give it to him right when we take off and again when we land. this helps with popping ears -- we've never had a problem with his ears not popping. you can get the same effect from giving them a bottle or a lollipop.
+ killing time. i've only used a laptop maybe twice in all the times we've flown with jack. my diaper bag full of tricks usually keeps him occupied for a while, and when he starts to get bored i pull out a snack -- besides the usual stuff, i pack a few "tantrum busters" like his favorite fruit snacks, which i know he'll be excited to get no matter how grumpy he's getting. i try to bring a few special treats too, like a dum dum or nerds (nerds are genius because they take FOREVER to eat if you give them only a few at a time). also, the flight attendants usually give you additional treats for the kid, so eating his own bag of peanuts or pretzels usually takes a good chunk of time too.
+ work with what you've got. if i flip through the inflight magazine with him, jack will pay attention for a long time -- you'd be surprised how many pictures of dogs & babies are in those suckers, he's always thrilled by them. also, our FAVORITE game is to play with the leftover ice in my water cup from the flight attnedants. i don't know why this is such a hit but jack looooves the ice. once i drink the water, i let him reach in the cup, grab an ice cube, put it in his mouth and then spit it back out into the cup. then repeat until they're all gone. seriously, this once kept him occupied for 30 minutes straight. (see also: disinfecting everything, including hands.) just be resourceful and use the things around you as entertainment.
there you go -- my best tips! do you have any i'm missing? leave them in the comments, i'm sure i can use some new material.