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posted: 7/5/2014 6:00 AM

Tips for stress-free flying with little kids

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Last week, my daughter flew with her two girls, ages eight and six, from San Francisco to Chicago. It was a piece of cake on two fronts.

Apparently, their father slipped a piece of cherry cheesecake into each of their carry-on bags as a surprise treat. And their mother said flying with the girls was a complete delight. They entertained themselves with iPad games, several books and projects.

Not so a few years ago.

Taking that same trip when the girls were one and three was a nightmare. At that time, it would have been more appreciated if their father had hidden a bottle in the carry-on bag. Because traveling with young children can drive a parent to drink.

My daughter vividly remembers that trip.

"The little one never stopped crying," she said. "And the 2-year-old never stopped whining. It was extremely stressful for me and for nearby passengers."

Flying with a baby or young child is a little like going through root canal work. You want to avoid as much pain as possible. There are ways to do it without medication. Here are ideas that have worked for some parents:

Be pro-active when you choose your seat: When Carol Cross flew with her 2-year-old daughter from San Diego to Detroit, she booked the aisle seat and window seat. She left the middle seat to chance. Carol said it increased her odds of having the whole row to herself. And if someone was assigned the middle seat, they would certainly trade with one of hers.

Bring your own food: The first time Kelly Cline flew to Florida with her toddler, she packed her carry-on bag with several healthy snacks -- raisins, tofu, dry cereal. Problem was her little girl didn't like any of them. Now she packs only what her child will eat. She avoids messy foods like peanut butter.

Make nearby passengers your friends: On one flight, I watched a mother walk down the aisle with her two small children. Nobody made eye contact. They all hoped she wouldn't sit next to them. When she got to her row, she told passengers she hoped her children wouldn't disturb them and she would like to buy them a drink when the beverage cart came through the aisle. The young mother immediately had surrogate grandparents.

All parents agree that travel never goes the way you plan. Expect the unexpected. If you're faced with an airport delay, find out if there's a play area for children. Visit the shops. Find an area where toddlers can run around. And be sure to pack your sense of humor.

• Gail Todd, a freelance writer, worked as a flight attendant for more than 30 years. She can be reached via email at gailtodd@aol.com.

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