I've already written here about traveling with a small baby, which is so not the same as with a toddler. In fact,babies are SO much easier than toddlers because they will sleep most of the time and usually won't be fussy unless they're sick or you didn't put in the numbing ear drops like I told you.
So here are my tips for flying with the little adorable tyrants we call toddlers. (I'm writing this using voice to text, so if any of this comes out weird um or does make sense just let me know.)
Okay so the number 1 most important in my opinion is Numbing Ear Drops. Either go to a natural food store or get a prescription from your doctor for your numbing drops. They're what you would put in your child's esr to soothe ear infection pain. You put the drops into the child's ears when you're at the gate waiting to board. Be prepared with plenty of napkins to get the greasy drops that escape and to hold your hand over each ear to gently rub them so the drops really get in there. They help with the ear pressure pain.
Of course, you can also be armed with something for the kid to suck on, like a lollipop or bottle when the plane is going up and later starts to descend. The drops I use last over two hours so there's no need to put more in unless you're on a long flight.
2) To bring a car seat or not - that is the question. Well, and the other question is whether or not to bring a stroller. Both of these have a lot of things depending on them: will you need either of them where you're going? If not, then the car seat can definitely be left at home. It's heavy and not necessary to bring on the plane.
In fact, oddly, as far as safety regulations are concerned, you're better off NOT bringing the car seat onto the plane with you. I'm not against it, I'm just letting you know it may not even be allowed unless it's been approved. For example, most backless booster seats are NOT allowed on the plane.
Also, they're a huge PITA to get clipped into the seat. You'll probably need a seat belt extender, which the flight attendants are always annoyed to have to bring to you. Or, as it happened to us once, we boarded early with the "special assistance" crowd and immediately asked for an extender specifically because it takes so dang long to install the seat. But the flight attendant ignored our please and didn't bring the extender until everyone else boarded so then we got threatened with getting thrown off the plane because the seat wasn't installed yet.
Anyway, here's the thing: if your child doesn't hate their seat and has a tendency to fall asleep in it, then it may be worth bringing it. But, if the kid doesn't sleep, then all the hassle will be in vain PLUS you'll have a harder time keeping your precious little offspring from kicking the back of the seat in front of them (because their feet are closer to it in the seat).
Not to worry if you will need the seat where you're going but don't want to use it in the plane! Double checkwith your airline to be sure but as far as I know, they will check the car seat with the rest of the luggage for NO COST. There are covers/carriers you can buy but they're expensive. You can ask if they have a large plastic bag to wrap it in, especially if the weather at your destination is wet, because it gets thrown around with all the other suitcases. But the ticket people don't always have them or they charge you $5, so I pack two huge, heavy duty garbage bag - one for each way, because they never survive the trip fully in tact.
Okay, and now for the stroller - this is some I suggest you DO bring. It's a lifesaver when you're running to your gate with your child who must get stuck in some time-slowing warp whenever you're in a rush. Plus you've brought along a sizeable portion of everything you own in as many bags and purses as you can justify (of course my 3 year old daughter has a hiking backpack full of shoes AND an oversized purse with a laptop in it!).
The stroller is only annoying when you're going through security as most times they'll make you unload the aforementioned crap, and the kid, and clap it down for going through the x-ray machine. Just be sure to bring one that folds and opens easily and has a basket storage thing on the bottom.
Note: if you have hung any purses, computer cases, etc on the back of the stroller, it is not advisable to let the kid just jump out of the stroller because then your hanging items will be making contact with the floor in a swift and loud manner.
When you get to the gate, ask the desk person for a baggage ticket and then you'll just leave the stroller (folded up and with nothing important in it) at the bottom of the jetway. It'll magically reappear in the same place at your destination.
3) The dreaded security check becomes slightly less dreadful if you've brought the stroller because many airports have a separate entry for them! Look for signs pointing to a handicapped/service members/fast access entrance and hopefully a stroller or family line will be there as well.
*Wear shoes you can take off without much effort - your hands will be full.
*Children are no longer required to remove their shoes - so don't.
*Get several bins - and stake out a place on the roller conveyor belt that's at least three bins long.
*Fill the first and last bins right away to mark your territory. If people are glaring at you, say sorry but with a "tough shit" look on your face. Practice that face a lot before the trip - you'll need it.
* Keep your kid IN the stroller until after you've put everything else in the bins. Like strapped in with a chain. This is THE worst place for the kid to run around. But don't wait too long - people will start loading their stuff right behind your bins and then there's no room for the stroller. Tell the poor person behind you that you still need to put the stroller up there.
* Know your stroller! Some strollers are just that much too big to fit int the x-ray machine and you'll need to remove wheels or something to make it fit. Now, it does happen that you get the one helpful TSA agent who lets you bring the stroller with you and just uses the wand thing to check it, but don't count on it. I even was crying once because I was so exasperated and they still made me take the dann thing apart because their machines were crazy small.
*Liquids! You ARE allowed to bring baby and kid related liquids through security. Just be prepared to spend 10 more minutes while they use some contraption that confirms it's milk/juice/pedialyte. Pack these liquids in easily accessible places so they don't have to dig everything out.
*Try your best to take your time getting reorganized after the security debacle. It's worth the time to take a deep breath and confirm everything is where it should be.
4) Food. In case you haven't flown since 1992 and don't know this, they don't give you food in the plane anymore. Well, aside from pretzels or the $6 snack box, which, when not in the air, would only cost $2.34. So I pack plenty of snacks. It's only liquids they're not fond of, so go ahead, make that triple decker club sandwich and bring along those goldfish crackers. Also, food keeps the kid busy or at least not screaming.
5) In Flight Entertainment. For keeping the peace, this is a must! Bring that portable DVD player, three favorite discs and a set of headphones. Bring the lovey or blanket. Bring crayons and coloring books. Bring a LeapPad or Tag Reader. Bring anything you've ever not allowed them to play with. Just don't bring toys that are noisy, have small parts or multiple parts, have wheels or can roll, that is heavy or could cause harm if used as a projectile as a way to inform you they disapprove of your parenting.
You can also use the bathroom as entertainment center. Once your fellow passengers have completed their post-snack cart bathroom break, take a fussy kid in and let them discover the wonders of the lavatory! Tell the flight attendant, who will be reading People magazine in that little fold down chair, to knock if someone needs to use the loo and then go crazy with the toilet seat liners, splash in the water, whatever keeps your kid occupied.
I've regularly killed up to 15 minutes doing this. Just don't drink the water or care what anyone may think. It's that or I release the screaming beast, people!
6) Last but definitely not least, go into the whole thing with a realistic perspective. Do not for one minute expect your child to not fuss at all. That's crazy. Go easy on the booger and on yourself. You're doing the best you can in an environment that is barely humane for adults and certainly not for kids.
Use the "Sorry but Tough Shit" look liberallly. You don't have to be a jerk but don't let other people make you anxious about your child. That'll only result in an anxious kid and that never goes well.
If your child does melt down, try not to freak out on him/her. Try to soothe them but while also being firm that acting out isn't okay. Sing in their ear or start reading their favorite book.
Good luck and God Speed!