#1 Arrive early. Two hours might sound like a lot, but with ever increasing security it's a good idea to allow yourself extra time to get to your gate especially when toting along a kid or two (or three). Many airports have play places in the terminals near the gates for kids to let out some extra energy before the flight. And if needed, you can ask for a "gate pass" for an un-ticketed friend or family member to go through security with you and help you to the gate.
#2 Be sure to explain when booking your flight that you have an infant/small child flying with you and you MUST be seated together. And re-check your seat assignment when checking in. DO NOT let them tell you that you can "fix" the seats at the gate because there is a good chance YOU will end standing in the isle holding your baby having to play let's make a deal to get people to change seats, further annoying the passengers who are already looking at you funny because they are afraid your child will scream the entire flight. It is WELL WORTH the effort/hassle/argument to get the seat assignments correct at check-in and tick off one ticket agent rather then tick off an entire plane.
#3 If you are bringing your carseat on the flight (I recommend if you are purchasing a seat for your infant, it's nice to have somewhere to set them down when they fall asleep, also makes it easier for mom to use the restroom without having to stress about a stranger holding baby) be sure to tell the agent when booking your flight AND checking in at the counter because car seats must be next to the window and cannot be on an emergency exit isle.
#4 Be sure to book seats that are not on a bulkhead row. Although the extra foot room and no passengers in front may be tempting, with no seats in front there is no under seat storage and everything you will need for baby will have to be put in the storage above the seats and cannot be accessed during take-off or landing.
#5 Bring an umbrella stroller. They are cheap (even if you only use it for one trip, it is well worth the $12 or less if you pick one up at a thrift or consignment store). Being able to hang a few bags on the handles for the walk to the gate is a huge relief, at some of the larger airports the walk from security to your gate can take close to 20 min. Plus, umbrella strollers are easy to fold up when having to go through security. And you can check that stroller as you are getting on the flight and it will be there waiting for you when you step off of the plane (the gate agent will put a hot pink tag on it and tear off your claim ticket. It is usually not an issue, but be sure they put that tag on just in case).
#6 PRE-BOARD!!!! All airlines offer pre-baording for those flying with infants and children under 5yo to give the parents extra time to get settled and get things put away. Although I have been on several flights lately where the gate agents have "forgotten" to announce pre-boarding for small children and I had to wade through the crowd of general boarding with two toddlers, three carry-on bags and a stroller. DO NOT BE SHY, if you hear pre-boarding for wheel-chair passengers and unaccompanied children step-up in line then or if they do forget pre-boarding all together walk around to the front of the line and say "I am traveling with children under 5yo, I need to pre-board, I believe you forgot to announce it."
#7 Use a back pack (much easier to navigate down the narrow isle of the plane than with a shoulder bag).
#8 Things to pack: books, fresh snacks (be sure to avoid sugary snacks for sensitive children), empty sippy cup and/or pacifier (drinks/juice can be purchased once you get through security) the sucking can help with balancing ear pressure during take-off and landing, small blanket and stuffed animal (very comforting to have familiar items, plus you never know what kind of germs are on the airline blankets/pillows), more diapers/wipes than you think you will need (in case there is a delay or unexpected lay-over), a few large zip-lock bags (no need to gross out the rest of the plane with a stinky diaper, also can be used to store soiled clothing), a change of clothes for child and maybe a shirt for yourself (some kids may become air-sick and you don't want to have to sit on a 6 hr flight smelling like spit-up), color books/crayons for older toddlers (avoid toys that make noise, what sounds reasonable at home may be way too loud on a crowded airplane)
#9 Be sure to check your airline's website before leaving for any updated security measures. Most recently the rules have changed to not allow liquids through security, including water bottles, juice. I hear that infant formula/milk is allowed, but the parent must be willing to take a drink. Also, be sure to check your baby's diaper bag, may infant care sets include nail clippers/scissors and those are not allowed. Better to know all of the rules, then hassle with getting stopped in security.
#10 My mother always told me "you get more bees with honey", which is true and I always ask nicely the first time or even the first several times. But I've also learned that sometimes "the squeaky wheel gets the grease" and when traveling with your child/infant sometimes you have to speak up to get the help you need while traveling. And if you don't get it even after speaking up do not hesitate to call/write the airline and tell them about the obstacles you experienced in your traveling experience. With big businesses making accommodations every day for parents with small children, airlines should be no exception. Some airlines are better than others at making those accommodations, from my experience the "discount airlines" are the very best. Our money spends the same as any business traveler and we should get the same consideration. Try asking around to friends and family who have flown with small children for recommendations, and if you ask me, I would be happy to tell you which I have personally found to be the best/worst.
well written by Erin Gilday
Mother of two well traveled toddlers