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8 Ways to Make Air Travel with Kids Easier

Get ready for takeoff with these smart strategies that will help you all fly happier

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What's scarier than snakes on a plane? You got it-being the parent of the kid who's screaming her head off. But some advance planning can help the fun begin before you even reach Grandma's. Here, travel experts reveal how they make family vacations easier for everyone.

1. Book a midday flight. The first flights of the day tend to be crowded with business travelers. Schedule your departure for after 12 p.m., says Kyle McCarthy, editor in chief of Family Travel Forum, publisher of America's Most Popular Family Vacations. "It's easier to get to the airport, the plane isn't likely to be full, and your kids may go down for a nap," she says.

2. Don't rule out long flights. Less time on a plane with kids must be better, right? Actually, a short hop to a nearby destination leaves little time to get comfy or eat before the dreaded descent. More time in the air makes it easier for little ones to settle in, notes McCarthy.

3. Surprise them. Squash on-board tantrums before they start by taking a page from Colleen Kelly, host of the National Public Television series "Family Travel with Colleen Kelly." "A new toy that your child has never seen before is a smart move because you can whip it out when he starts to get restless," she advises. Kelly is also a fan of playthings that keep kids' hands busy, like moldable clay, magnetic games, and coloring supplies.

4. Extend screen time. And if you usually monitor screen time at home, don't bother on the plane. "A long trip is not the time to limit electronics," Kelly admits. "I also create a playlist for the road with everyone's favorite songs on it."

5. Stock up on snacks. "Don't rely on the flight attendant finally making it to your row in time," McCarthy says. And make sure you've got the special snacks and drinks-not just the usual stuff, says Kelly. "Bring things that will excite your kids." 

6. Bring a change of clothes-for everyone. Keep an extra outfit for each kid and a shirt for you in your carry-on. "I've been thrown up on during a couple of flights and trust me, there's nothing worse than waiting for your luggage to tumble down the carousel so you can change," Kelly points out.

7. Rent baby gear at your destination. You don't need to haul and check a booster seat, potty, travel crib, and umbrella stroller. "You can easily rent just about anything and save yourself a lot of hassle," says McCarthy. Many services nationwide will also deliver diapers and baby food upon your arrival. Kelly agrees with traveling light; she picks up what she needs near the hotel, including sunscreen.

8. Invite kids to map out the trip. Get preschoolers involved in the journey. "They can check off points on the map, monitor the distance traveled, and help decide where to take breaks along the way," suggests Kelly.