My daughter boarded her first airplane when she was 11 weeks old, and before she was 15 months old she had been on 20 flights. I have two pieces of advice when it comes to traveling with kids. First, do it. Travel with your kids even though it's exhausting. Second, know that Murphy's law of traveling with kids means there are some disastrous and hilarious things that are bound to happen when you take your kid on an airplane for the first time. It's just the law of the land. If you're lucky, every disaster won't happen on every flight, but know that eventually you will land at your destination and you can try your best to forget about the trauma before you book another flight.
When my daughter was 8 months old, we took her and our 6-month-old foster daughter on two flights. First from Houston to Cincinnati, then from Cincinnati to Denver. Then we each flew separately with one baby after that. As luck would have it, the worst travel experience we had was when we had extra family members around to give us a hand. That's just the way air travel with babies and kids goes, I guess. You can be as prepared as can be, and still have everything fall apart. The good news is that air travel with kids is sort of like giving birth, or so I've heard. You forget just how miserable it is by the time you have to (or want to) do it all over again.
One of my friends, who has traveled with her four kids across oceans for years, told me the best reminder she gives new parents traveling with their kids is to remind yourself that it will eventually end. It can't go on forever. At some point, you'll get a shower and a non-airplane-food meal and all will be right with the world.
Security Will Make You Sweaty
No matter how organized you are, going through security at the airport will make you sweaty and stressed. There's something about all those business travelers lining up behind you that just makes the security experience a terrible time. I always put my daughter into her Ergo so I have my hands free to unload and take off shoes and toiletries, but she eventually has to come out of that and the Ergo has to go down the belt as well.
Try to be as prepared as possible and keep everything that has to be dumped into a bin at the top of your bags, but also know that you are not single handedly going to make anyone miss their flights. You just do you and try to take a few deep breaths.
Someone Will Probably Cry
It took 20 flights before my daughter had an all-out meltdown on a flight and it was just as horrible as it looks when you see it happening to another parent traveling with a kid. She screamed like the world was ending and nothing, and I mean nothing, would soothe her. How I wished we hadn't weaned her from her pacifier during that flight from hell.
If your baby does cry, it's just not the end of the world. It seems like it in that moment, when you know everyone on the flight is wishing you would just make it stop, but everyone will survive having to hear a meltdown.
You Will Get Crumbs In All Your Creases
I always disembark flights shaking crumbs from my clothes and hair. There's just no way to fly with kids, especially lap children, without getting covered in their snacks.
Your Kids Will Probably Bother Other Passengers
I don't subscribe to the idea that you need to give treats to fellow passengers to bribe them into not hating you and your kid during the flight. I think flying means you sometimes deal with loud or annoying children. It's part of humanity and you just have to tough it out. Your kid will probably bother one or more passengers at some point during the flight, whether they try to touch their hair in the seat in front of you (my daughter and her tactile ways) or they kick their legs into the person sitting next to you. Apologize and move on. Try to keep it from happening if you can, but know that if it does, it doesn't make you or your kid terrible human beings.
Bodily Functions Will Present A Problem
On our second time through security with our daughter and foster baby, we went to take one of the girls out of her stroller and found she had had a giant explosive diaper in the car on the way there. Poop on the car seat, poop all over her, and a horrific poop smell wafting through the airport terminal. Luckily, my mother-in-law was there to help me clean her off in the airport bathroom, but it was the most inconvenient place I've ever had to deal with a blow out.
Your Kid Will Spill Drinks From That Tiny Tray In Front Of You
Those stupid trays. One of the first things my daughter does on a flight is flip that tray down and up about a hundred times. Then, when it's time to have a drink, you're supposed to let your plastic cup perch there precariously, just waiting for a little hand to swat it off into the person next to you? Bring a water bottle and fill it at a water fountain before you board. It's just safer.
Someone Will Need A Change Of Clothes
Whether it's you or your kid or your partner or all of the above, someone is going to need a change of clothes, whether from that drink getting knocked into our lap, banana being smeared into your shirt or your baby and their blow out diaper. Bring a change of clothes for everyone, a plastic bag for dirty clothes, and an extra pack of wipes.
You Will Vow Never To Fly With Your Kid Again
By the time your flight is over, you probably will have vowed not to ever fly again with your kids. Even on the first 19 flights I took with my daughter, I considered never getting on a plane until she turned 10. But by the time you go to get on another flight, you've usually forgotten the trauma of the last one. Keep flying with your kids, keep remembering that they're kids and might not be perfect, but also keep remembering that the rest of the passengers are going to be fine, whether your kid whines the whole time or not.
You Will Run Out Of Snacks
No matter how many snacks I manage to fit in my carry-on for my daughter, we always run out way faster than I anticipate. You will probably run out of snacks, despite your best rationing tactics, and you will probably head to the back of the plane to beg for pretzels from the flight attendants. Don't worry, you won't be the first or the last to find yourself in that sticky situation.
You Will Lose Half Your Toy Stash
By the end of each flight, half of our toy stash was spread across the plane. Anything that could roll always ended up chucked onto the floor only to be found at the feet of passengers behind us. Leave the precious or expensive toys at home and instead stock up on some dollar store goodies that will be new and possibly exciting for your kid, but won't break your heart to leave behind.