The plane is done climbing into the sky and you're just starting to relax when, with no warning, it begins. "Waaaa," wails your infant. "Mama, off, mama, off!" shrieks your toddler.
What's the best way to survive that first flight with your little one without going crazy?
Experts say it's best to go into the trip knowing that there are some things that are just out of your control, including how often your child cries and how other passengers are going to react. Parents need to plan ahead and then be prepared to focus their energy on soothing, distracting or comforting their child during the flight.
Here are some suggestions to make your flight less stressful:
Book a direct, nonstop flight. If possible, have it coincide with your infant or toddler's natural sleep schedule. Buying a separate seat for baby can cut your "frazzle factor." A bulkhead seat, if the plane has one, provides a little extra room, but does not have space for under seat storage.
Find out the airline's policies for infants and children in advance. If you purchase a separate airline seat for an infant or toddler, bring a car safety seat appropriate for the age, weight and height of your child that meets the standards for aircraft.
Allow extra time to go through the security screening process and explain to your children in advance that their carry-on bags (backpack, toys, etc) will be put through the X-ray machine but will come back to them.
Ask about pre-boarding policies for families with small children which can help get you settled in your seats more quickly than when boarding with other passengers.
Strollers can often be rolled to the aircraft door and then gate-checked as a piece of luggage.
On the plane, ask for water, milk or juice for your child. Make sure babies suck during take off and landing to prevent painful ear pressure changes.
Use a fanny pack to keep tickets, passports and other key items at hand.
Bring a carry-on bag stocked with essentials. Include extra absorbent diapers, wipes, favorite "comfort objects" (blanket, stuffed animals, pacifiers), change of clothing for baby and extra shirt for parent in case of spills.
Provide toys, stickers and books to entertain the kids, as well as a wrapped surprise gift or two. A portable DVD player can work wonders.
Pack empty sippy cups and favorite snack foods for your toddler. For mealtime flights, bring jars of baby food or ask for a child's meal in advance.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends consulting with your pediatrician if flying within 2 week of an episode of an ear infection or ear surgery, and before flying with a newborn or infant who has chronic heart or lung problems or with upper or lower respiratory symptoms.
For small infants - a kangaroo-style baby carrier or a sling will help to free your hands and keep your infant close to you.