Before you go:
Pack sensibly and carefully- a check-in-case that’s easy to wheel and a soft backpack with bagged supplies is my tip. Make sure you have essentials for on the plane (can the bold please link to essentials for on the plane in “What to pack”) Be sure to pack snacks; don’t go overboard on sugary things, mind, as you don’t want a hyper little one on the plane! (See “What to Pack” for some ideas)
I would recommend toilet seat covers too as loos are let’s face it not always so clean on the plane.
Book a taxi or arrange a lift well in advance and allow plenty of time. Check out if there is a play area at the airport; you’ll be surprised how many airports do.
Things to do on the journey:
A nice idea a friend shared was wrapping up little gifts to break the monotony: crayons, a note pad, a little toy, a play dough.
A cuddly toy: it is nice to involve your little one’s favourite cuddly in the journey- get him/her one to show it how to behave on the plane.
Take a Tablet or an iPad with episodes and films downloaded. Make sure they’re available offline- I made the mistake of purchasing but not downloading! It’s also worth having a screen of game Apps. Headphones are definitely a good idea (in case the neighbours aren’t so child-friendly).
Get your cabin bag organised:
Assume there will be little room for manoeuvre when in the plane, so have things in a soft backpack to put under the seat in front of you and in separate bags/ pouches so you can grab stuff without rummaging too much. Having a backpack also helps you have hands free.
Don’t cut it fine.
Ok, so airports are not the most exciting places to be, but you may find your little ones are fascinated by them as there are so many people and of course it’s different, so don’t arrive last minute to avoid boredom- you’re more likely to end up with stress!
Get rid of your check-in-case as quickly as you can. (Arriving early means you’ll hopefully avoid have big queues). That done, see if you have time for a wander: find out how much time to your gate and what’s on “the other side”; sometimes there is little more than the gate and maybe a toilet and a sad little cafe.
Remember to allow for security, and possible searches/ scans (especially if taking baby food/ drinks). It helps if you have stuff to hand you need to take out- 20cm x 20 cm see through bag with 100 ml max liquids/ creams.
Time to kill?
Go and check out the shops/ find a nice place to sit and have a snack; point out any unusual things. Don’t forget to go to the toilet (this can take longer than you might think!) You’ll soon find its time to go to the gate.
Personally, I don’t get on the plane too early- it just prolongs the amount of time on the plane, in my opinion. If want to put your bag in the overhead locker, though, do take advantage of priority boarding if you can and get on the plane early.
On the plane:
For take-off and landing have something for your little one to suck on to help prevent ear pain. If you’re breastfeeding, perfect. If not, and you do like I once did and forget sweets, try miming big chews and get your little one to copy. Daisy thought it was great fun!
Break up the journey as best you can but try going with the flow; if your little one is getting fidgety, walk up and down and hopefully some people will smile and say hello. You may even find other children to talk to. They can then do the same later and come and say hello to you!
If it’s an overnight flight try to keep to a routine as much as possible. It does help that the airline dim the lights. Go to the toilet, do the brushing teeth etc. routine, get changed for bed and get your little one as comfortable as you can- a blanket over them and maybe their head on your lap. Try to keep their seat belt done up and visible to avoid getting disturbed in the night.
Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help. There will be times you feel you need it; so just ask. It can feel that people stare and don’t offer to help, but ask them and you will probably be pleasantly surprised. It could be that they don’t realise what assistance they could offer or may think you will be offended as you struggle. Who knows? But rather than assume they won’t help, assume they will.