Flying with a toddler can be tricky business...a small, confined area for several hours with no (desirable) escape route, judgy non-parents, and most likely a missed nap time at some point during the day. It really is a recipe for disaster. But after flying with Jillian 4-5 times (a couple of those times by myself) I've figured out a few things...maybe you'll find them helpful as well. (If not, if these things totally don't work for you, at least make sure when your child is throwing a massive tantrum during the flight and chucks a toy into the aisle, that it is aimed for whatever judgy adult is staring you down thinking you should have never reproduced).
This is always the part that stresses me out the most..."What is she going to DO for 5 hours?!"
I purchased a mini backpack (one her size) and it's been one of the greatest things for flying. She can carry it (one less thing I have to carry), and it frees up space in the diaper bag to carry other essentials for the both of us.
Pack some toys they are familiar with and already know how to play with. For Jillian it was her collection of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse figurines. Bring a new toy to spark interest when they start getting bored.
Art! Crayola's Color Wonder markers are the greatest invention in the history of ever. Invest. They also make small travel-sized kits that fit great in the small backpack! I also bring a new sticker book/coloring book combo with crayons. Stickers and kids go great together.
Books. I bring a few new books for Jillian to read. This last time we traveled since it was in October they were all Halloween books since we've been talking about that a lot.
Technology. I have pages and pages of apps on my iPad for Jillian- almost all free. When she starts getting bored of everything else, we bust out the iPad and (kid-sized) headphones. Works like a charm. Some of my favorite apps for toddlers (that are also mostly educational):
-Dr. Panda's Kindergarten
-Seek & Find (many different versions of it)
-Digital Books (Tab Tale makes a LOT of these)
-Elmo Loves ABC's
-PBS Kids (requires a wifi connection)
-Disney Jr. (requires a wifi connection)
A small blanket. Usually we don't travel with this one, but after this last flight when we did I realized it was the greatest thing EVER. Not only did it bring her comfort when she started getting tired (it's the blanket she usually sleeps with), but we made a FORT out of it (rig it up between the seat tray and your arm rests)! She had way more fun playing under it and peek-a-boo with us. It was probably a solid 45 minutes of entertainment just by itself.
If you've been a Mom for more than like, 5 minutes, you know it is dumb to carry both a purse and a diaper bag. Especially when you're flying. I always pack my purse in my suitcase, and throw my essentials into the diaper bag (wallet-with my ID in an easily accessible front pocket so I don't have to search for it at security-my phone, lip balm, and gum or something. All of my other purse-y things stay in my purse in my suitcase until we get to where we're going.
Good moms always have snacks, right? Right. Depending on what time of day your flight is, make sure you pack the right snacks (more if you're flying during a meal time...pretzels/peanuts make a sufficient meal for no one).
Nothing too messy. Jillian LOVES Fig Newtons but those suckers get sticky = not a good plane snack. Make sure it's nothing too crumbly either, that also makes for a huge mess. Some of my favorite snacks to pack for Jillian while traveling are the squeeze pouch foods/apple sauce, yogurt raisins, and mini Nilla wafers.
Also, bring a sippy cup (duh). You can bring it full of whatever (to avoid having to buy something once you get through security). They will just test whatever liquid is in it while you're going through the security line. Refill on the plane! It's free.
Dress them comfortably. Some of Jillian's clothes are super adorable, but not the most comfortable, at least when you're traveling all day. I usually go for jeggings, tennis shoes, comfy shirt, and a light jacket (it's always so cold on planes!).
Always, always, always, bring a back up outfit.
Make sure YOU dress comfortably too! Anytime I see someone traveling in a little teeny dress or mega heels I just want to laugh. Be. For. Real. Yoga pants for the win. After all, you do have to entertain this baby for the next however many STRAIGHT hours.
Where to Sit
If you have an airline that assigns you a seat, I guess you don't really have a choice..though you can ask the flight attendant to switch you to another part of the plane if you prefer. We always fly Southwest, so we choose where we sit.
If you're flying alone with your kiddo, take the window and middle seat (kid at the window). I know it seems like you'd want the isle in case you have to get up, but you can stretch out more having the window seat and not be paranoid about your toddler hitting/throwing toys/bugging the person next to them. That's a lot less stress than having to ask them maybe once every hour to get up so you can get up and head to the bathroom.
The back of the plane is louder than the front. If you're worried you might be dealing with a fussy toddler the whole time, sit near the back- it will drown out the sound of the fussing. Keep in mind the bathroom with the changing table is usually at the front of the plane, so if you're more worried about that, sit near the front. Or, like me, sit in the middle right over the wing. Win/win.
I actually seek out sitting next to other families with kids- sometimes they like to entertain each other by peeking through or over the seat to see what the other kid is doing.
On your layover, make your toddler walk- and a lot. That way they will be more worn out and willing to sit in their seat during the flight.
And if all of this fails and your little piece of pride and joy is a little terror to you and everyone else around you, meh. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Don't let the judgy looks bother you- give them right back. If someone expects your 2 year-old to be a perfect angel in what is essentially a tin box being flung across the country, they have unrealistic expectations..which means they're probably also wearing a mini skirt and mega heels. And we don't take those people seriously anyway. ;-)
Enjoy your flight!