This trip involved 4 separate flights, three of which I did with Mia on my own. To be frank, this is the part of my vacation I was dreading the most. I would have panic attacks at the thought of running out of snacks, running out of batteries on the various entertainment devices I packed, or worst of all, having a potty accident, juggling carseats, checked luggage, carry on luggage, strollers, etc. I was nervous about the whole thing, and honestly, things went pretty well with very few minor hiccups. Mia is almost three years old, so she had her own seat. I've flown (solo and accompanied) with her before 2, as well, but those were different times. If you want my input on flying with an under 2 year old, I'm happy to give my input on that as well, just comment below!
I had a little backpack for Mia, and a large shoulder bag for myself. I packed:
-Coloring Book: I used the Color Wonder ones, just to be safe.
-Children's earphones: I had bought these a while ago, when Mia was starting to watch TV. I didn't think she would tolerate the earbuds that I already had, but at this age, Mia used the ones provided on the international flight (for no reason other than wanting to WEAR THE BLUE ONES) and they went in and stayed in her ears just fine.
-iPhone with several movies loaded onto it: If you have an iPad, obviously, that's better, but the iPhone very much did the trick.
-Snacks: I skipped the apple sauce pouch, because the last time I flew with some, they had to take us through the additional security area to wipe them down for explosive residue. I was eventually allowed to bring them with, but I honestly just didn't want to deal with the hassle. I packed loose Goldfish in a container, and then bought Chex Mix at the airport. I also let her choose her own snack at the airport.
-Empty children's water bottle: I filled it at the water fountain once we passed security, and then asked the flight attendant to put a splash of juice in it from the drink cart.
-Change of clothing for her; change of shirt for myself: I didn't end up needing either of these, but I was still glad to have them.
-One burp cloth: This ended up being incredibly useful. Not for burping, but for cleaning up and wiping down anything and everything.
-Travel pack of wipes: noses, butts, hands.
-Blanket: Most international flights give you a blanket and a pillow, but I thought that Mia would settle down better if she had her own blanket. I stuck with the airline pillow, though.
-Stuffed animal: Mia has a bunny that she sleeps with, and has slept with for as long as I can remember. This was a no-brainer carry on item.
-several dollar store items that she had never played with before, to use as bribery: If you take a nap, you can have a prize when you wake up! If you eat your dinner, you can have a prize!
At this point, Mia was old enough for me to explain to her that we were going on an airplane, and that we would be on this airplane for so long that we would be sleeping on it. I explained to her that we'd have to stay in our seats, that we could get up and go potty, and I showed her the fasten seat belt sign, explaining to her that if the light was on, we had to stay in our seats.
I was surprised to learn that American Airlines doesn't including persons travelling with small children in their priority boarding, so we didn't have the benefit of settling in before everyone else crowded around. This would have been incredibly helpful -- on our first flight, I took Mia to the lavatory as soon as we found our seats, and we were stuck in the back while everyone else boarded. We managed to get seats on our own, though. The two seats on the side of the airplane, the window seat, and the aisle for myself. I realize that most airplanes flown domestically have a 3/3 split now, but we got lucky. And if you're going to be flying on our own with your kid, I highly recommend lobbying the check in agent to get you that kind of seating arrangement (or pre-selecting your seats). If you're flying with your spouse (or another adult), you'll want the row to yourself, too. I'm honestly not sure how Mia would have reacted to having a stranger on her other side, but I was glad to have avoided it.
For the first flight, I left Mia in her underwear. I figured, three and half hours was long enough for her to hold it, and I slipped a pull up on her (right in the seat) when she started looking like she might take a nap. On the long flight, I had her in a pull up straight away -- but she still went to the potty in the lavatory just fine. It's a tight fit, but we both managed to squeeze ourselves in there several times.
I held off on giving Mia her entertainment devices until after we'd taken off. During the taxi, and the actual take off, I pointed everything out to Mia. Like: Look out the window, we're moving! Here we go, up up up! We're flying! Look at the ground, look at the trees! Etc. I figured the more "exciting" portions of the flight would be entertainment enough, and I saved the precious battery time until she started looking for things to do. This is true for any "exciting" portion, like when the drink cart came around, I put away whatever she was doing and we had our snack together. When she seemed to be getting bored, she'd first watch a movie on my phone, then, I'd pull out my other tricks. Snacks, leappad, coloring book, skymall, etc.
Since I had already warned her that she would have to sleep on the longer flights, she was totally prepared. On the International Flights, once they pick up the meal, the lights are dimmed, and it was a clear enough sign that it was time for sleep. At home, I usually give her some time to transition to bedtime, so I tried to stick to the same thing here. I told her that as soon as her movie was over, she'd have to go to sleep. I'd pull out her blanket, her stuffed animal, and she would lay down and go to sleep. On the Chicago to Paris flight, she slept for about three hours. I honestly expected her to sleep more, but she woke herself up because she got a bit tangled in her seatbelt and blanket and got herself upset. This was probably the only time I started getting really anxious that she was disturbing the passengers. But honestly, she didn't cry much, mostly whimpered, and this was muted by the airplane noise. (Plus, there was an older girl a few rows ahead of us who was airsick and was crying much more than my toddler). Since we were halfway through our flight, I snuggled her up and she calmed back down (though she didn't go back to sleep).
What is challenging, though, is the in-flight meal. I usually love the meal! Ever since I was a kid, I would get excited about what they were serving, eating the little portions of mostly not great food. I really thought Mia would get a kick out of it, but she was not into it. This is when the bribing was most effective, and while the meal itself was totally something she would eat, it was a struggle to manage the tray, the drinks, and the tray table without spilling everywhere (BURP CLOTH!). I also wasn't able to eat my own meal until the flight attendants came around to collect the trays. And then I had to keep my tray for a REALLY long time before they would come back around and actually collect mine. But this is where those adorable wine bottles help also help. This was also a lot easier on the return trip, because I already knew that Mia would have to be force fed, and that I would have to wait to eat my own. It's all about expectations.
So! In conclusion! The thing to do is to pack mindfully - don't bring anything that won't be used, don't waste precious bag space on something that might not be needed. I can honestly say that we used everything I brought, except the change of clothes. I also think that explaining the whole thing to Mia ahead of time helped - next time, I might even go a step further and pack pajamas to change into to make it really feel like bedtime. It really did go quite smoothly, and Mia was left completely charmed with air travel. She's asked to go back on an airplane every day since our return!