Our first plane journey with kids was a twenty plus hour ordeal that involved four flights, four countries and crossing the Pacific with a one year old. Since then we have taken many flights with our kids and picked up some tips along the way.
Pack open ended toys that promote imaginative play - Just like at home and in the backyard, we recommend providing kids with loose parts that they can use to build whatever they want. On the plane a perfect option is collapsed small boxes (save them from food and cosmetics) and painter's tape. Kids can build whatever they want or create homes for their small "guy" toys. Our kids also love using the painter's tape to make designs on their seats and seal toys in boxes and then rescue them. Other good plane toys include finger puppets, notepads and crayons, puzzles like rubics cubes and a special cuddly to ease fears and to use as a pillow on the plane.
Find places for kids to run their energy off - If you're going to be in an airport for a long time, find a quiet area and let kids get rowdy. On a recent stopover in Vancouver I spotted a mostly deserted ramp near our gate. I took the kids over and let them race up and down it for fourty minutes before we boarded. By the time we got on the plane they were ready to sit and relax.
Gate-check your stroller - Kids gear such as strollers and carseats is free to check. We love keeping our stroller for use in airports by gate checking it on and off of each flight. That way we have have an easy way to transport kids and checked gear when we are in the airport and on stopovers. Bring a double stroller if you are travelling with multiple kids pre-school age and under. You don't have to worry about kids wandering away in busy airports and when you've got to book it across the airport to make your connection you are not dragging kids along by their arms.
Pack a change of clothes for the whole family - We learned this lesson on our first cross pacific journey when my husband Ryan didn't pack pants in the carry on. Perhaps inevitably, our one year old Thad was terrified of the plane change tables and during one tricky change peed all over Ryan's legs.
You don't have to pre-board - If you are about to board a long flight you may want to delay getting the kids on board until the last minute. If there are multiple adults travelling, try sending one on early to get the gear stowed and have the other board with the kids as late as possible to minimize time spent on board when the plane is going nowhere.
While it can be stressful to travel with kids, try and enjoy the wonder and novelty of flying from their perspective. What are your favourite tips for happy flying with little ones?