This is long, I'm sorry. It's not meant to be funny, it's meant to be a how-to manual. If you just want funny, come back tomorrow.
Flying is different than driving. Your children are not locked up in car seats, there are other people who can be irritated by your children very easily, and you can't bring everything you own. It's manageable, though, with a little preparation, even if you don't own a DS hand held electronic gaming device.
As a child, my brother and I flew from New York to Alaska a few times a year, starting when I was four. By the time I was 10 or 11 we flew "unaccompanied minor" with flight attendants helping us change planes, and by 13 I did it totally on my own, navigating airports and boredom with alacrity. I know a lot about being a kid on an airplane.
I started taking my kids on airplanes by myself when they were 9 months old and three years, respectively, and have done so at least once a year since. We are travel pros, and I am always complimented on their awesome plane behavior by random strangers.
Here are some tips if you are planning a flight with your own little monsters and no adult back up.
1. Your kids will either view this as an amazing adventure, or a horrendous torture. If you are relaxed and non-stressed, they will be, too. Kids feed off your anxiety.
2. Smile at people. Realize that everyone looking at you is dreading your children melting more than you are, and they will be excessively grateful when your kids don't. Just smiling at employees has gotten me moved to the front of the security line, gotten extra snacks on the plane, and once gotten us invited into the cockpit of a 747 and allowed to sit in the captain's seat.
3. Every airline I have ever used checks car seats for free. Tape your name and phone number to the bottom because there is nowhere to tie those ID tags to.
4. An umbrella stroller is a must for little legs under the age of five. I use it to carry the car seats into the airport, and also as a luggage cart. An older kid can ride on the back of an umbrella stroller (with the little one in the proper seat) until about age 6. If you child is too little for an umbrella stroller, use a front facing baby carrier. This also works well as a means of restraining an older baby on the flight when he or she wants to run all over the plane. Strollers also work as high chairs once you reach your destination. You know those moving walkways that say "no strollers"? I ignore the signs. I am capable of managing to push an umbrella stroller on a moving walkway and even chew gum at the same time. No one has ever stopped me. (Don't sue me if you fall on our face, though.) I also yell, "On feet" at escalators, and the little guy jumps out of the stroller and I carry it on the escalator. I never have time to find an elevator.
5. If you have a second child walking beside the stroller, give them a designated spot. I tell the big one that my left side is his "spot". When I glance down in a moment of panic, I look in one spot, I don't have to scan both sides.
6. Wear a backpack as your carry-on. It will get heavy, and one strap bags tend to swing around and peg the older child in the head. Understand that your backpack is not for you. Go the the Dollar Store and fill it with toys, activity kits, and food. Let them pack whatever toys they want in their own backpacks, but realize that on the plane nothing they brought will have any appeal to them at all. Their toy collection will have merit once you reach your destination, but on the plane they are pretty useless.
7. If you have a laptop, bring a few DVDs and earphones. If you don't have a splitter, just give each kid one earpiece. If you're lucky, you'll get a plane that has TVs on it, but most of them don't. I'm always bringing my laptop anyway, so it doubles up as a DVD player. Although some planes have outlets under the seat, most do not, so your car DVD player will be useless. Some planes have in-flight wifi, but again, you can't count on this for netflix, and even the ones that do don't always allow streaming of video.
8. Remember, it is you against them. This is the time to focus on survival, not nutrition. Be prepared to feed the kids every 15 minutes, and I don't mean carrots. You don't want them to puke from too much candy, but bring things they won't whine about eating. On a two hour plane ride, have 8 snacks. Also, bring an empty ziploc bag for all the sticky things you give them, they lick once and hand back to you. I once spent a very long 20 minutes holding two sticky lollipops and a wad of gum waiting for the plane to reach cruising altitude.
9. During take off and landing, the pressure change will hurt their ears if they aren't chewing/swallowing. If they are too little for gum, bring skittles, laffy taffy, lollipops or sippy cups. If they nurse, nurse 'em. People would rather see a boob than hear a baby scream.
10. With children under the age of 7, avoid flights longer than two hours. You are better off with two shorter flights. Also, pay attention to flight times. You know your kids, and although mine are morning people who love to leave the house at 5:00am, not every child is like this. Bringing a child on a flight past their bedtime is asking for trouble.
11. Be prepared for the security line. Wear slip-on shoes and skip a belt. Kids don't have to remove their shoes anymore, but will have to remove coats. We leave our winter coats in the car in we are flying south. It's just not worth the hassle. When we are waiting in the security line I tell my kids that the security people are looking for hamsters in people's luggage. This reminds the TSA to be nice to the kids - they are small and easily scared. It always makes the screeners smile and be extra sweet to the kids. It also confuses the kids enough so they don't start thinking about real scary things they may be looking for; they spend the time trying to figure out why so many people bring hamsters on vacation. Also, talk to your kids about what to expect. They will have to walk through the metal detector by themselves, and they will freak less is they understand what is going to happen.
Note: I have never been asked to send the kids through the full body scan. They just use the old-fashioned walk through metal detector.
12. Try and arrange for an hour lay over between flights. Too much time will make you crazy, and too little will make you run too fast. If you miss your plane you will be sitting in an airport for hours. Detroit is the only airport I have even seen that has a play area.
13. When all else fails, play the squiggle game. It works for kids of many age levels and all you need is a pen and a bit of paper. You can do this on the edges of in-flight magazines or old boarding passes, in a pinch. It's very simple.
You draw a squiggle:
Then the other person has to make a picture out of it:
It's a great time killer.
14. Realize that when you land your children will be "done" but your relatives won't be. You have one job; get your kids fed and out of the car as soon as possible. They don't want to stand around jawing in the airport, or take the long way to drive by your old high school. They want their travel to be done, and now they need something healthy or they will be sick to their stomach and cranky.
15. One thing I occasionally forget is that the trip home requires the same amount of preparation. Now you have tired, worn-out children who have eaten all the snacks and used up all the surprises from the outbound flight. Just because you bought them toys/souvenirs on your trip does not mean they will be satisfied with this on the plane. If you were smart, you brought return trip toys/snacks with you or snuck off to a Dollar Store while on vacation. If you are like me, you are now out of everything and considering hitting up the airport gift shop.
Note: Some of you don't believe in bribing children for good behavior. Some of you don't believe it is your job to entertain children or buy them surprises for trips. That is fine. You can also take some of the toys that are under the couch or otherwise long forgotten instead of buying new toys. You can bake cookies instead of bringing candy, and make them handmade travel journals to draw and write in, if you prefer. What you do need to do is have something novel for them, even if it is just a pretty shell or rock they can pretend is their pet. As long as you are mindful that travel is hard on little guys, that time moves backward on airplanes, and that nothing they own will entertain them and the flight attendant will bring you no food, you will be fine.