Having flown to several European holiday destinations plus Australia with our two toddlers, I thought I'd share some tips on what we've found has helped make flying with young kids as stress-free as possible!
1. Prepare for the worst then anything else is a bonus!
Before embarking on a 24 hour, two-flight journey from London to Perth with a 10 month old and toddler, friends and family kept commenting "Oh I bet you're dreading the flight aren't you?€. Realising that stressing about it would only make matters worse, I acknowledged it may be tough, made a conscious decision to stay positive and was pleasantly surprised at how well the kids behaved and handled such a long journey.
2. Hands free
If travelling with a baby ditch your nappy bag (which are usually pretty big and cumbersome) and travel with a rucksack instead. That way you'll have your hands free to keep hold of the children. We find this particularly helpful when checking-in at the airport and boarding/leaving the flight.
3. Take a collapsible stroller
If you normally use a travel system that breaks down into different parts, taking a collapsible stroller should be easier for both the journey and holiday. You can use it throughout the airport, right up to boarding the flight and there's less chance of it being damaged in the baggage handling process than a larger multi-piece buggy (which unfortunately happened to a friend's). Some airlines have strollers you can use at the airport so it's worth checking with them before you fly. For younger babies, you can find a variety of soft carrycots that strap into most strollers on Amazon.
4. Keep the kids entertained
Take several small toys/books/a portable DVD player or tablet (the iPad variety; not valium for you!) to keep children entertained and distracted if they start to get restless. My two love the inflight movies that longer flights offer but we also always have their favourite film or children's programmes to hand on a portable DVD player for other parts of the journey (the airport/transfers/unexpected delays).
5. Take any help that is offered!
If a flight attendant offers to hold your baby whilst you eat for instance (which happened to a friend flying solo with her daughter) don't be afraid to accept their help so you can enjoy a child-free 5 minutes; and eat your dinner with both hands in my friend's case!
6. Change of clothes
Take one or two (depending on the length of your journey) changes of clothes for babies and young children. If taking a long flight it's also handy to take a change of top at least for yourself; sod's law one of the kids will get something down you as well as themselves!
7. Protect those ears
If travelling with a baby, to help reduce the chance of their ears popping on take off and landing, it's helpful for them to suck a dummy (if they use one), drink from a bottle or sippy cup or use a teething ring. I give my eldest a bit of something to eat instead or some sweets to suck if he's been good!
8. Don't forget the snacks
I find it's useful to always have snacks and water to hand for the airport and flight (I don't go anywhere in life without snacks for my two!). Not only is it another way to keep them occupied, it's also good to have something you know the kids will eat incase they turn their noses up at the aeroplane food.
9. Try to keep kids in their usual routine
We found this particularly helpful when travelling long haul; feeding the kids and getting them ready for a nap/bed around their usual times; that's what their body clock is used to and it seemed to help them settle more on the flights. I think changing them into their pyjamas for €˜bed time' also helped them wind down. Children will adjust to the new time zone of your destination (if applicable) over the next couple of days so no need to worry about that until you arrive.
10. Don't worry about what others think
Easier said than done I know! If your children are upset or playing-up try to remain calm. Chances are most other passengers have experienced travelling with their kids/grandkids/the children of friends or relatives and will know what it's like to travel with young ones.
...And finally try to enjoy it! My parents always made the airport and flying part of the excitement of our holidays which I'm now trying to pass onto my two!