Two years ago, my 21-month-old daughter flew for the very first time. With my parents. Without me.

And she was an angel.

The flight home, with Mark and me? That was a completely different story. It involved a tiny plane and a lot of turbulence, sweat and tears. Oh, and the screaming. Did I mention that part? The screaming that was so loud the pilots heard it through the big steel door and sent back earplugs for the other passengers?

Yeah. It was bad. (Baaaaaaaad.)

Last year, she flew again. This time, she was great for both my parents and me. I’m not sure if that has more to do with the fact that she had her own seat this time or the many desperate prayers I threw up. (“Please, God, don’t let her scream! Please, please, please!”)

In a few days, my little traveler will board another plane. I’m way less nervous this time around, a fact I attribute to my parents for both flying with us on all these trips and being veteran parents with endless tricks up their sleeves.

Here are a few tips I’ve picked up (from my parents and my kiddo).

Tips for Flying with Preschoolers:

1. Book a flight. I realize that you can’t always choose when you travel. But when you have the luxury, book a nonstop flight whenever you can. And if you can fly during naptime? Even better.

2. Talk it up. Now that Annalyn is three and a half, she has the memory (of an elephant) and comprehension she hadn’t quite developed when we took those first two trips. We’ve been talking about our upcoming trip for several weeks now and in recent days, we’ve spent a lot of time discussing “riding on a plane in the sky.” She’s properly excited and looking forward to the big trip.

3. Pack your bags. Annalyn is flying down with my parents a couple days before I join them for this vacation. So a couple nights ago, I took her two bags – complete with new Dora underwear, her swimming floaties and her favorite Tag Reader books – to my parents’ house so they can repack them.

No, they don’t doubt my packing ability. Well, they may, but that’s not why they’re repacking Annalyn’s bags. They have a packing strategy, and it’s complex enough to make up several subpoints here.

a. Check as many bags as possible. I’m a big fan of Southwest, which doesn’t charge to check two bags. But even if Southwest doesn’t fly where you’re going, it might be worth the baggage fee to have your hands free when loading yourself and your kiddo onto a plane!

b. Kids can carry their own bags. I love those adorable little kid suitcases I’ve seen other families use. I’m not sure my own child is quite coordinated for that yet, though.

c. Backpacks are best. She can, however, wear a backpack, which is what she’s taking on the plane. And if you have a baby, a backpack is also a great diaper bag, because it keeps your hands free and won’t bop as many people on the head as you walk to your seat.

d. Don’t forget the toys. I recommend a combination of new toys or activities and old ones that your kids haven’t played with in a while. (And, of course, quiet ones. Your fellow passengers will thank you for that!) A portable DVD player or handheld game unit thing (I don’t have one. Can you tell?) is also great. Just make sure your kids know that they’ll only be able to use them when the pilot gives the okay.

e. Chewing is good. Think about it this way: if they’re chewing – a snack, a wad of gum, an entire package of Twizzlers – they’re probably not yelling or crying. And obviously this will help prevent ear pain, too. Annalyn just recently learned to chew gum (without swallowing it), so I’m excited to get her a brand-new pack of fruity gum for her trip!

One more thing. If your kiddo still uses a sippy cup, take one in your carry on. The flight attendants will fill it up for you, and you don’t have to worry about buying four tiny bottles of water to make it through the trip.

4. Expect the best. Plan for the worst. No, I don’t mean that you should pack your own ear plugs! I’m saying that you should pack an extra change of clothes, plenty of diapers or training pants, and lots of wipes. Because you just never know.

5. Get there early. But not too early. On the day of your flight, make sure you leave with plenty of time to spare. I’ve found that – in just about every situation – my child is crankier when we’re running late. Yes, I have much experience to draw from here, okay? Anyway, get to the airport early enough that you aren’t stressed out, but not so early that you have to sit and wait for hours on end.

That last point, of course, makes me realize that we need a whole separate post about how to deal with a layover. And we haven’t even addressed the issue of to stroller or not to stroller.

Obviously there’s much to think about on this topic! So, what tips would you offer? What keeps you sane when flying with kiddos? And what keeps those kiddos happy and [reasonably] quiet when flying?

This post has affiliate links. And it will be linked to next week’s Top Ten Tuedsay at OhAmanda. (Yes, I’m counting all those subpoints.)

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