IF your travel plans include a long airplane flight with young children, you might be anticipating a high-altitude prison sentence. Here's some advice to help.
Choose your flying time with your kids' needy moments in mind. If you keep them on their regular schedules, especially for mealtimes and nap times, they'll travel better. Schedule long-haul flights for nighttime so you and your children can sleep. If you have to spend time in transit, check out airport amenities at www.quickaid.com. You might find a play area, showers or a day room where your kids (or you) can lie down.
When you book your flight, ask for every kid-friendly item the airline offers. Request the seats you want in advance. Bulkhead seats give you extra room, but you may not be able to lift the armrests to make a good sleeping spot for a child. If you're traveling on an international airline with an infant, you can request a bassinet -- a small crib that clips onto the wall in front of the bulkhead seats. Children younger than 2 can travel on an infant fare, usually 10% of the adult ticket price, and use an adult's lap for a seat. However, the Federal Aviation Administration recommends car seats for infants and toddlers weighing less than 40 pounds, which means they need their own plane seats and tickets costing 50% to 75% of an adult fare.
Wherever you sit on board, keep the kid-related things you really need stowed beneath you, so you can reach them without standing up.
At least two days before departure, order kids' meals, which are designed for finicky little eaters and often include surprises. A toy hidden inside a chocolate egg can keep a small person happy for a long time. Baby meals may be available as well.
Ask whether the seats have individual TV monitors and children's programming. This knowledge alone might sustain you through airport security lines. And don't forget to sign your children up for frequent-flier miles.
Pack plenty of food options that pass the time and fill the tummy, such as Cheerios or grapes, which can be eaten one at a time. Sippy cups help avoid spills. Beware of salty or sugary snacks; your kids will be dehydrated and excited enough as it is. Carry extra clothes, any medicines and, if you have a diaper-wearer, a well-stocked diaper bag. The airline might have extras, but you don't want to be caught short.
Pack toys with lasting playing power. Toddlers need toys they can use and reuse, such as colored pencils, stacking cups, threading games and board books with tactile pages. (Eric Carle's "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" can outlast an in-flight movie.) Older kids may like cards, game books and non-messy art projects. Familiar playthings will help calm a child at bedtime or in stressful moments. If they're old enough, children enjoy carrying their toys in their own backpacks.
Free yourself from lines and lugging. Arrive early. Check bags curbside. Keep mobile with a baby backpack or carrier, a sit-and-stroll combination car seat/stroller (www.babyuniverse.com, $198), a seat that attaches to rolling luggage (www.rideoncarryon.com, $45) or a foldable umbrella stroller. Use time in the airport to let children be active, walk, watch what's going on and use the big airport bathroom.
Remember that you may be the default in-flight entertainment for your children. Don't plan to see the movie or finish that novel. Make a game out of everything you can, and release toys and snacks slowly to last the trip.
Here's the bright side: You and your children may enjoy the chance to spend time sitting next to each other during the flight. And just think how you'll have earned that vacation.