Family vacations are precious and everybody loves them. Flying with small children is horrible and nobody likes it. Not the kids, not the parents, not the plane crew and definitely not the other passengers. But if you want to travel with your family, flying is somewhat of a necessary evil. This is how to make it easier for everyone.
If your kids are old enough, make them bring their own little backpack filled with essentials and some toys or goodies. No pull bags, though, as they will inevitably end up as an obstacle in the middle of the plane’s aisle. Other passengers will not appreciate that. Use some space in their backpacks to fit a change of clothes (absolutely essential) and even a diaper change for the little ones. This will save space on your own bag, that you will desperately need for a change of clothes for yourself and some plastic bags. When your poor kid gets nauseous because of some light turbulence, you will be grateful for that extra shirt, so you don’t have to spend the entire flight smelling like vomit.
Use the time to exercise. Let the kids run around, let the baby crawl, let your children get tired enough before boarding. If you are lucky, they will sleep for a couple of hours. Even if your kids have flown before, it is always a good idea to remind them of the rules, limits and what’s expected of them before boarding, especially the “sitting down wearing the seat belt when the light is on” part. Most airlines let passengers with small kids board early, and you should definitely take advantage of that. Sure, this means an extra 20 minutes inside the plane, but it is worth it to be able to fit all your carry on luggage in the overhead compartment over your seat and your kids settled in their places.
On the air
Toys, coloring books, crayons, iPads and in-flight entertainment systems are your friends. Let your kids be kids, this is not the time to enforce your “only two hours of screen time per day” rule. It can be a good idea to pack a surprise treat or toy in your own bag, that you can give your kids mid-flight to keep them occupied for a while. If you have an iPad or similar, download kid-friendly apps that are new for your children before the flight. Bring treats and candy to distribute during critical moments, such as take-off and landing. If your kids are chewing or drinking, it is less likely that their ears will bother them. If you travel with a baby, make sure he’s nursing or drinking from the bottle during those times, to hopefully minimize crying.
Once the plane arrives, wait until all the other passengers get off before leaving yourself. This will let you have the time and space to really make sure you have everything with you. Ask the crew for help, as they can probably provide you with a cart or facilitate you with a stroller (if you didn’t gate-check your own) to make it easier for you to de-plane.