The flight leaves at 6:00 a.m. You read that right: 6:00 in the morning. We are traveling on miles so you get what you pay for, as the old saying goes. I asked my mother if she thought I was projecting my airplane stress on my 1, 3 and 5 year old kids. I didn't actually wait to hear her response, because I was already starting to ramble about the possibilities of drama.
This stress of mine was clearly heading down the wrong path. It's a long way to the West Coast from the East Coast, but we are going to have to get there somehow, some way. I took a step back and came up with a whole new plan for the trip tomorrow. We fly a couple times a year. Some of the following things we've had success with in the past and some a new things we are going to try:
Forget the sugar. Every once in a while we suffer from amnesia and promise the kids a lollipop on the plane if they are good. This can never work out. Trust me. Okay, perhaps it can work out for 5% of the population, but the rest of us will be pulling the kids down from the overhead bins where they are now swinging after getting that lollipop they'd been impatiently awaiting for however many minutes. Bring snacks that chill them out rather than crank them up. Everyone around you will thank you, too.
Try a technology freeze before the trip. My kids haven't watched television in four days. They are pretty sure they are going to die if they don't watch something soon. I have found in the past that the most effective and silent television-watching occurs in the one to two hours after a long term of total technological deprivation. It's not to say that this will necessarily work, but it is worth a try.
Get rid of that energy. We joke that it would take less time at our airport if we actually walked from home since the terminal is so far from check in. This is a WONDERFUL opportunity for walking ("we're walking, we're walking"). Factor in the extra time, but count yourself successful if you reach your gate with children complaining from the long walk. As a parent, your work here is done.
Stick with tried and true. There are certain things that always hold my children's attention. Certain books will stop them in their tracks and keep them riveted for a solid 30 minutes. There is a certain cartoon that I am sure they can watch one billion times and still they will sit at attention. There is an allure to bringing new things as well, but be sure to have a balance of the new with the old in case the new fizzles instead of sizzles.
Remember that you can only control what you can control. I think that 16 to 20 months is the worst possible age range to travel on a plane. Chances are your child has recently learned how to walk and would love to practice RIGHT NOW in that teeny aisle on the plane. Do what you can to move around the plane by taking lots of walks, but sometimes you are just going to have to wrangle a cranky toddler. As a person who has put quite a few miles on her carry-on luggage before having kids, I always carried ear plugs. To be honest, I still carry ear plugs. When someone turns around to glare at the screaming baby who cannot be consoled, I think, "why didn't you buy a pair of dollar earplugs?" I'm pretty sure that on one trip, my sister Jen passed out ear plugs to the passengers around her in anticipation of angry stares regarding crying babies. Sometimes babies (toddlers, preschoolers, even parents) cry. The flight will eventually be over. Roll with the punches.
Do the best you can with what you've got. I've gotten into ridiculously long conversations with parents about traveling before naptime, during naptime, taking red eyes, etc. Only you know your child, and there is still a good chance that your child who acts a certain way every single day is going to act completely different on that plane. If your child sleeps in the car, you might want to bring his car seat. My pediatrician once recommended giving my kids Benadryl for a particularly long flight. I tried it out ahead of time and guess what? My kids are not even remotely moved by Benadryl. It was a sad moment, but good to know ahead of time.
Relax (as best you can) and let it all roll off of you. And share with us your great tips for traveling with toddlers and preschoolers. We can use all the tips we can get.