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Beyond the iPad – 10 Tricks to Keep Kids Happy on a Long Flight

So many parents, whether single or partnered, put off travel “until the kids get older” because they’re afraid of the flight. Nobody wants to be that parent with a screaming child that makes everyone around them miserable. Knowing your child is unhappy is bad enough without enduring angry stares and comments from your fellow passengers. We all hope our little ones will be happy and entertaining like this little buddy, but we’ve got to plan for the worst just in case!

When the responsibility for keeping your little ones entertained on a flight falls on your shoulders, you’d better be prepared. There’s very little on a plane that can distract an angry toddler once the thrill of their new surroundings wears off, and you can’t rely on iPads and other electronic devices because of airline rules during takeoff and landing. Activities that occupy kids at home like painting (too messy), Legos (small parts that are sure to drop and get lost) and noisy toys won’t work on a plane.

So you’ve got to plan ahead- our biggest tip is to bring new things that your kids haven’t seen before, so the novelty will keep them engaged for a while. But they’ve got to be fairly small in size to fit in the carry-on, and you want something with enough interesting variety to hold your child’s interest. We’ve listed our top 10 picks for keeping kids happy on a plane, all tested by single parent travelers just like you! Pack these along and hand them out one at a time, moving onto a new one when the current activity begins to lose its appeal.

This is an oldie but a goodie that we enjoyed in our own childhood travels: Invisible Ink games. They come in versions for many different ages, and last a long time. Kids use special pens to reveal clues,pictures and messages on these books, and they come in lots of different varieties.

iPads and iPhones are a go- to for visual distraction, but you may want to save their battery power for your trip, and many apps rely on internet connection to work. This is where Portable DVD players come in. Just pack one of these with a set of soft plush headphones and a new movie or video that your child is sure to love.

Coloring is always a good option, so why not try a new method for artistic expression? This Crayola Magic Light Brush is compact and self- contained, and will be a fun novelty with lots of variety to engage your budding artist. We also like this plane- perfect laptop style coloring kit, the ideal surprise for a big kid who loves to create.



Here’s another different way for your little artist to play. We love these adorable thumb doodle kits, and this one for Star Wars fans is just the cutest. But if you bring this, or another type of stamp kit, make sure to bring travel wipes!

Why not take the opportunity of several hours together with no distractions or electronics to create something special that you and your child will cherish forever? Make a plan to co-author a book, it only takes a little bit of preparation. Get a stack of paper and staple it book-binding style, or maybe just buy a hardcover blank book. Ask your child to tell you a story, and write it down on the pages, a sentence or two each. Then have your little one provide the illustrations. You could even line-draw the pictures and have them color them in. Write a title page and publishing info to make it look extra official.

Sculpture is always a fun way to improve your child’s motor skills and encourage creativity, but the usual tools like Play-Doh and Sculpey are too messy for the plane. We like to create 3-D sculptures with Wikki Stix or pipe cleaners. Maybe even challenge your child to create different animals and then set them up in a menagerie!

Toddlers can be an extra challenge on a plane since they can’t read or color well, and usually don’t really understand what’s going on. Keeping their fingers and minds busy is essential for keeping the peace. We love this activity backpack because it’s adorable and so functional- keep blankets and soft toys inside and let your little one carry her own ‘go bag’ on the plane! Kids at this age tend to love zipping and buckling things, and this pack has tons of different ones. The numbers and shapes are an added bonus for helping your little one learn. And this bag comes in a unisex and more girly version to appeal to every kid. We’ve got more ideas for fun kids bags in this blog post! 

If you have time before your flight and you want to save money, why not make your own plane kit? We all know how toddlers love to play with wallets and purses- putting things in and out, looking at pictures, and zipping and snapping. We love this trick of repurposing an old wallet as a busy kit!

Here’s another super-cool DIY kit that can be reused and changed as your child grows. We love the idea of an ever-changing binder full of creative goodies that kids can look forward to ONLY when they’re on a flight. Best way we’ve heard of to get your tykes to love travel!

Lastly, don’t forget the snacks. We love the idea of making snacks an activity, using a pill box. We tried it, and it’s true- toddlers are endlessly entertained by opening and closing the little compartments to find treats.

We all try to minimize sugar intake, but landing time might call for bringing out the forbidden fruit. To ease an earache caused by uncomfortable ear-popping, give them something to suck on or chew like lollipops or chewing gum. I used to break up Starbursts into little tiny pieces and give them to my toddler during landing- the thrill of candy and flavor variety worked every time. Infants can get relief during the pressure change by nursing or through a bottle feeding.

We know how hard it is traveling alone with kids, and with space at a premium, you only want to pack things that will really make things better. We hope these road- tested ideas help you overcome your fear of flying with little ones and make it a great experience!