The prospect of an airplane ride can be exciting for a young child, especially if the journey's end is someplace fun like Grandma's house or a vacation destination. But if it's the first flight for your child, you should prepare her ahead of time as much as possible. Check your local library for books such as "My First Airplane Ride" by Patricia Hubbell, which gives young children a good overview of what to expect on their first flight. Also ensure you have any necessary documents or ID your child might need, especially if she is traveling alone.
Off We Go
Talk to your child in age-appropriate terms about what to expect on an airplane ride. Explain that you will pack some things to take, you'll go the airport together and you'll wait in some lines to get checked in. Prepare him for going through security checkpoints so he won't be scared by the machines or having to give up his bag. Tell him the airplane might be loud when it starts, but that those sounds are okay. Explain that he'll have to wear a seat belt, just like he does in the car, use his inside voice during the flight and not kick the seat in front of him.
In the weeks preceding your child's first flight, take her on an outing to visit a nearby airport, if feasible. Go into the ticketing area so she can see how people have to wait in line to check in, then show her the spot where you give your suitcases to the security personnel. Show her where she will go through the first security checkpoint toward the boarding gates. Then find an observation area where she can see the planes landing and taking off. Explain that she'll go through a sort of tunnel or up some stairs into the plane. If you see uniformed personnel in the airport, point them out as the "helpers" that fly the plane and take care of the passengers on board.
Contact the airline your child will be flying to determine the policies about children flying alone, if your child is flying unaccompanied. If you are flying with your child, find out the airline's policy about lap children and car seats: most airlines permit you to hold a child under the age of 2 on your lap. However, as of time of publication, the Federal Aviation Administration supports the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendation to use an FAA-approved car seat for any child under 40 pounds. If you are traveling with an infant, check the Transportation Security Administration website to find out what the restrictions are on carrying baby food, formula or bottles through security.
Pack Your Bags
A child over the age of 3 or 4 might enjoy having his own little backpack, though be prepared to carry it along with your own if he gets tired. Include small, kid-friendly toys that will keep your child occupied, such as coloring books, playing cards and books; give him a few choices but also pack a few surprises to keep him entertained. Let him pick out a favorite small toy or stuffed animal to take, too. Older children might prefer quiet hand-held electronic games, e-readers and personal music players, but be sure to take headphones. Ensure you have snacks, wet wipes, a sweater or sweatshirt, and a change of clothes for toddlers or infants in your own bag, along with any medication the child might need during travel.