I just went on a 12 day "vacation" with my family of four. We spent part of that vacation in California and opted to fly instead of drive for 16+ hours. This was my first time taking children on a flight with me, and it was a learning experience. All things considered I thought we did pretty well, but there were some hiccups and things that I didn't know beforehand. Hopefully this post will get you ready to take your little one(s) on an airplane!
This is a bit lengthy, but hopefully will help!
General advice and tips I learned for flights with kids:
If you are bringing an infant with you that is under the age of 2 you do not need to purchase a ticket for his/her seat, but you DO need to tell the airline in advance that you have an infant in arms (this will be on your boarding pass).
Most airlines now charge for "checked" baggage (the going rate is $15 for the first bag and $25 for the second). However, some airlines do not charge for car seats, so be sure to check with the different airlines before you book - that can save you a TON! In addition to this, Delta (at least the Delta in SLI airport) does not charge for ANY children's items (this includes, strollers, kid carriers, and pack 'n plays).
All paying passengers are allowed to bring 1 large carry on, and one personal item. The personal item can include a backpack, a laptop, a DVD player, a camera case, a purse, or a diaper bag. This came in handy because my little girl brought her teeny backpack full of toys and her DVD player, I brought the diaper bag, and my husband brought is laptop. We packed our clothes in the carry ons - so we had 6 total carryons and a stroller. This was a bit bulky, but worth it to us to not have to check as many bags and pay. Additionally, most airlines will let you "check" the baggage at the gate and they will have it ready for you when you deplane (that way you don't have to force your way through the isle with so much baggage and try to shove it in the overhead bins).
You can use electronic devices about 20 minutes after take-off, so it is okay to bring MP3 players for your little one to listen to, small electronic games, or a DVD player to keep kids happy.
Some airlines will also let you board FIRST if you have children. Be sure to ask at the gate.
You can bring your child in a stroller and check it at the gate (this will save your arms) and they will have it ready for you when you deplane.
As far as security checks go - not ALL airlines are created equal. So check in advance what you can bring on in a carry on. At the San Jose airport we were told that we could even bring juice, water, or milk for our children so we didn't need to dump it out. They will run a test on any liquid item that you bring for your child. This means you need to have baby food jars, bottles of formula, or other liquid food items ready to be checked.
You may look funny carrying all your stuff through the airport if your children are little. My husband and I had to carry all the stuff since our kids are too young AND we had to carry two kids. We drew a lot of stares (at least I thought), so just be prepared to be on display if you bring a lot of things!
Getting a small cart to load your luggage on is $4! So see if you can have someone help you drop off all luggage and someone to pick you up as well.
The airlines suggest that you arrive at the airport terminal an hour early, but I suggest you give yourself a little bit more cushion. On our way there we arrived an hour and 10 minutes early and had two pretty major hiccups. We made it to the plane on time, but we were the last to board. On our way home we arrived an hour and a half early, had time to eat lunch, and then wait for a while before we boarded - I felt a lot less rushed that time.
There is a toilet on the airplane that your toddler can use, but it is LOUD, cramped, and a little bit scary. So be prepared for a potty battle if your little one is uncomfortable. You may want to dress him/her in a pull up just for the flight.
The hardest part for us was actually getting ON the plane. Once we were on the plane my little girl was entertained for the most part by watching out the window, eating peanuts and getting juice, watching a DVD, and just having a new experience. My son slept for some of the time both ways (the hum of the plane helps). But if your flight is longer than mine (my max time in the airplane was 2 hours) then you may need to be prepared for some crying and more tricks up your sleeve.
Even though flying does save time it may take more time that you anticipate. It took us 10 hours from start to finish to get from Monterey Bay California, to our home in Utah. We had to drive an hour and a half to the airport, then get on the plane, get picked up, driven to my parent's house, and we then had another hour and a half drive home. We did save time still (the drive with all the stops we would had have to make would have been around 16-20 hours) but it was still a lot of travel.
That's all that comes to mind right now, but we can always use more advice from you other wise moms. SO.......
What other advice can you offer about flying with little ones?
What experiences have you had in airplanes/airports?
Share your successes and horror stories!