(This post was first published as a guest blog on The Third Boob)
Traveling with toddlers can be a challenge. They want to explore and be independent and they don't understand all the sights and sounds around them. It might be useful to have some practice "flights" at home. Walk through a doorway pretending it's the security checkpoint; set up some chairs to be the airplane. Talk through as many details as you can think of. When my niece was 2.5 and getting ready to take her first flight she said, "I won't be scared...I'll just hold on really tight." It turns out she thought she would be holding onto the wing.
Try to describe the details of everything you're doing while at the airport. Taking the time to do this may prevent a tantrum. You'll feel rushed and frazzled no matter how experienced you are with flying (toddlers will do this to you); but showing calm patience to your child will keep things much more sane. If your child has a special toy or blanket that he likes to carry with him, be sure to let him know that it gets to go for a ride through the scanner and you'll pick it up on the other side. Let him feel he has control by allowing him to place the item in the bucket by himself.
Good news! The TSA has recently updated it's shoe policy and children 12 and under no longer have to remove their shoes. This is one less step for you and every bit helps! When walking through the checkpoint most airports allow you to carry your toddler. If permitted, do this. The "door" can be intimidating to a toddler who isn't familiar with all the machines and gadgets.
When traveling with a toddler I bring a backpack and a cooler. Essentials in the backpack, snacks in the cooler. Check your luggage even if there is a fee. You need your hands free to attend to your child.
Although it's one more step at security, I liked bringing 2 milk boxes and 2 juice boxes. It may be simpler to just bring a sippy cup and buy milk or juice once inside security. Many airlines do not cater milk after 10am, so don't rely on them having milk on the plane. If you bring liquids you'll need to put them in a seperate bin and will be asked to step aside with the TSA agent as they scan the milk/juice boxes by hand.
We love our Go-Go Kidz Travelmate and it allows you to easily get the car seat to the aircraft for the safest way for your toddler to travel on the plane. Otherwise, consider and umbrella stroller. If you have to make a run for a connection flight you need something to help get your toddler there in a hurry. Wheels of some sort also help when your toddler falls asleep at the end of the flight and has to be carried a mile to baggage claim. Many airlines are now restricting the size of stroller you are permitted to gate check. Don't bring your deluxe stroller to the gate.