3. Give yourself an extra hour.
Get to the airport early to guarantee enough time to go through security with your stroller, carrier, and any baby food. Formula, breast milk, and juice are exempt from the TSA's 3.4 ounce liquid rule when traveling with a child. The TSA limits the volume to a "reasonable amount." All liquids still need to be removed from your bag during screening. Ice packs, gel-filled teethers, and canned, jarred, and processed baby foods are also allowed in your carry-on. Infants, and toddlers can be carried in your arms through the security screening. However, you may be subjected to additional security measures like having your hands swabbed.
Getting to the airport early also gives your toddler a chance to blow off excited energy. Play toss with a balloon, have a snack, or explore airport play areas, which can be found in most major airports, including Las Vegas’s McCarran International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, and Portland International Airport.
Running low on time? Consider skipping the long line at the ticket counter and check your stroller at the curb if it’s available. You'll need to carry your child the rest of the way through the airport, but it will free your hands for your carry-on and other items. Or wait to check your stroller or seat at the gate before you board. Once through security you'll be able to easily maneuver your little one around the airport, but it does add one more item to deal with in the security line and before you board.
4. Think twice before boarding early.
Despite the temptation to get on the plane early during family boarding, wait until the last minute so your kid is cooped up in a seat for the least amount of time, says Marianne Rogerson of the travel site Mum on the Move. If you’re traveling with another adult, one of you can board early to stow all of your extra gear while the other gets some final wiggles out with your little one.
5. Strategize seating.
Bulkhead seats—the seats just behind the wall that separates economy and first or business class—have extra leg room that allows small children room to move around when the seatbelt sign is off. Some airlines also provide bulkhead bassinets, which are small beds for infants six months and under that attach to the wall in front of you, for long, overnight flights. They must be reserved directly from the airline after you purchase your tickets. While a window seat might provide a great distraction for some young children, an aisle seat, or seats in the rear of the plane, allow easier access to bathrooms. When the seatbelt sign is off, restless toddlers are allowed to walk the aisle in economy class with an adult in between drink and meal services— but stay away from the galleys where flight attendants are working.
6. Have a plan for tantrums.
Combating tantrums starts with a toddler being well rested and fed before the flight. It might sound counterintuitive, but avoid flying during nap time, says Suzi Iverson, co-founder of the family travel site Travel With Monsters. "After the infant stage, I avoid flying during nap times if at all possible. A cranky kid who won’t fall asleep on the plane and has missed his nap is one of the worst possible scenarios," she says.
If a tantrum flares up in the air, you can try distracting or redirecting your child with snacks, sticky notes, calculators, stickers, activity books, a tablet with headphones, magnetic drawing boards, Play-Doh, or quiet toys, such as dolls, cars, or Lego sets. Sometimes the only option is to let the tantrum play out on its own.
In a worst cast tantrum scenario, it's still important to obey flight safety rules. "Make sure that prior to the flight kids understand this, and that safety is not negotiable," says Hilary Stockton, founder of the luxury travel site TravelSort, "so that they're not surprised when you firmly insist that they keep the seat belt fastened."
One popular method for (hopefully) engendering goodwill from nearby seat mates is to pass out goodie bags with earplugs or candy before the flight. But many parents disagree with the practice.
It’s natural for children to become crabby and overwhelmed, says Annie Thompson, mother of two and founder of the interior design site DIY Decor Mom. "Flying is tiring and stressful for most adults, too! There is no reason to be overly concerned about what other people think or to become embarrassed. Anyone who has traveled with children knows how challenging it can be, and will probably be far more understanding than you expect," she says.
While keeping a toddler fed and entertained is a formidable challenge, remember to clean up after your family. Flight attendants will hand out trash bags so you can dispose of snack leftovers and those used-up activity books or sticky notes. Don't throw diapers into the lavatory trash; flight attendants will dispose of them for you.