It’s no secret that flying with a toddler is harder than a newborn. They usually have lots of energy they need to burn and they love to be entertained and can have a fairly short attention span. So if you want to know how to fly with a toddler and keep them busy, even on ultra long haul flights, read on!
We have covered below lots of easy airplane activities for toddlers and how to entertain a baby from a few months old, to how to entertain a 1 year old on a plane, plus older toddlers who are more energetic and every age in between.
Flying long haul with a toddler initially filled me with a sense of dread, especially as we have immediate family in Australia, so door to door is often over 24 hours – if not longer, which is a lot of time to fill!
However, on the plus side, toddlers are beginning to grasp the concept of imaginative play, enjoy picture books and sensory activities.
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The majority of the following portable travel toys for toddlers have worked well for myself and other parents on many many flights and car journeys. Our review experts are fellow parents, who like myself, have traveled extensively, with different aged toddlers on various long and short haul trips. Many of them are found on the Travel with Babies and Toddler Facebook group offering helpful advice too! This guide is regularly updated with the latest toys and activities and ideas which impress us and keep even the most fidgety toddler busy and your flight less stressful.
What to look out for when choosing a travel activity.
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Depending on your budget and mode of transport, look out for these features:
- Can be used independently: If you constantly need to be interacting or operating the toy, you are going to end up frazzled and exhausted. A toy which allows you a few minutes to enjoy your inflight meal or gives you time to fill out paperwork is best for everyone.
- Quiet: A quiet toy will make you popular with any neighbors. This includes headsets for any tablets. The rest of the plane maybe trying to sleep and do not hear Peppa Pig on repeat!
- Compact: Toys which can be easily stowed or folded away are better when you re tight on space, especially with cabin bags allowances always reducing! Make sure the toys doesn’t have really tiny pieces though, or these can get easily lost.
- Lightweight: Inevitably, it’s the parents who end up carrying not only their child but their toys too! For your back’s sack, pack lightweight. Multi-use toys are brilliant like stacking cups as they can be used as toy on the plane and on arrival for bath-time fun too.
- Mess free: Please leave the Playdoh at home! Crew or cleaners need to spend longer getting it out of small crevices or removing ingrained bits from the carpet – which means delays to boarding for next flights. It’s no fun removing from the car either.
- Does not rely on batteries or charging. There is nothing worse than running out of power or finding the charging portal is broken. Have some toys packed which don’t rely on batteries or cables but have the trusty iPad too! Tablet time rules go out of the window for us on flights. Do what works for your family!
- Multi use toys: Toys which have multi uses can save space and luggage weight. eg Snacks like the Cheerio hops and laces idea below, can be a fine motor skill activity as well as a snack. Or road play tape that can be used anywhere, from a plane tray table to a hotel room carpet.
How do I entertain my toddler on a long flight?
Travelling with a toddler on a plane can have its challenging moments. Below I’ve included some great airplane activities for toddlers to help keep them entertained and hopefully give you a chance to have a break during the flight.
I’ve categorised them into different activities including technology, games, toys and the all important snacks for toddlers.
Best of all, they are fairly small and light weight meaning they don’t take up a lot of space in your nappy/diaper bag or carry-on.
What can I bring on a plane for my toddler?
You can bring pretty much anything on board to entertain, but for the sake of your sanity and other passengers too, toddler plane activities are best if they are quiet, on the smaller side, do not have liquid inside them, and any activity is fairly mess free. Fill toys like the water toy pens once onboard, otherwise be prepared to take them out at the security gate.
100ml or 3-1-1 liquid rules do not apply for baby/toddler food brought onboard.
Cheap Ideas to Keep a Toddler Busy on a Flight
- Make a puppet out of the airplane seat waste paper bag/barf bag – just bring along some pens or colouring pencils.
- Make cup animals from the paper drink cups from the crew.
- Pack post it notes or themed plasters/band-aids for them to stick around their seat (remove them afterwards!)
- If you are sitting next to a window, use window gel clings. These can be great to entertain a toddler on a long flight.
- Bring an old spice container and pipe cleaners for some fine motor skills. Little ones love to ‘post’ things through holes.
- Bring an old wallet with pretend cards and/or low value coins for them to play with for older kids.
- Pack a few piper cleaners and uncooked pasta shapes for them to thread and make a bracelet.
- Find an old empty tub or container, fill it with different coloured small pom pom balls. Put holes in the lid, and then your toddler can post them back through and practice their color knowledge too.
- Any old zips attached to a piece of material for them to play with.
- Triangular crayons so they don’t roll away.
- Kids washi tape. You can get rolls themed with dinosaurs, pirates, cars, fairytales and more. great for roll play and sticking on the airplane tray table as it is easily removable and mess free. You can even buy washi tape or masking/painters tape which is marked out like a road. Or draw your own road markings on plain painters tape. Just add a toy car and zoom!
- Another easy busy bag idea and great travel toy is pack some pre cut up card in half, but in various shapes, wavy line, in half, zig zag etc for an easy 2 part puzzle where it doesn’t matter if the pieces get lost.
- Lift the flap game – use old ‘close down lids’ from baby wipes and stick 8 to a piece of card. Under each open lid draw a picture, colour or number and then close. A quick and easy game of ‘lift the flap’ or ‘where is?’
- Finger puppets
- Playdoh – although some people swear by it, I find it a bit messy and it can be hit or miss whether you are allowed to bring it on board. As mentioned above, it’s not easy to remove for the next passenger sitting in that seat.
- Another idea for younger children, is a travel busy board – where everything is in one place but there are plenty of activities for little hands. This Montessori Busy Board is a great sensory toy with lots of zips, buttons and games to play favorite books, coloring crayons, paper, snacks and even a water bottle too!
Toddler Travel Games
For active toddlers, you will likely want to stretch your legs and theirs and walk around the plane. Other parents will be doing exactly the same! It’s worth asking the crew if they need any ‘helpers’.
Airlines like Virgin Atlantic, often hand out sweets before landing and ask kids to help – this can help with that final stretch.
During the main part of the flight, the crew might need some ‘help’ after the main meal service handing out ice cream or something similar.
Alternatively, other activities for toddlers on a plane include an i-spy/ scavenger hunt printable game. Little ones can look around the plane and tick some items off their list.
Toddler Snacks for the Airplane
Snacks, all the snacks! Always pack more than you think you need, especially for a long haul flight with a toddler.
Threading Cheerios on a sweetie lace can be a great fine motor skill which combines snacking too – a great airplane activity for your 18 month old or older. Other snack ideas include:
- cheese crackers
- fruit squeeze pouch
- cooked pasta
- mini sausages
- rice cakes
- granola bars
- bread sticks
Anything that is fresh, remember to leave on the aircraft or check the countries customs laws. For example, fresh food of any kind is NOT allowed into Australia or New Zealand. To keep the food fresh, I take ziploc bags and fill with ice from home, and refill at the airport and on the airplane.
I don’t use icepacks/coolpacks as some countries security laws will not accept these through security. Instead, pack some ziplocs and refill once airside and again from the crew onboard the plane.
I avoid candy, lollies and chocolate etc as a hyper kid on the plane is zero fun! The only exception is the lollipop I keep for top of descent, in case they find the ear pressure uncomfortable.
I used to pack various techie toys or bits, but now I take my phone and iPad and download it with apps for the kids. As toddlers they really enjoyed apps such as:
- Peekaboo Barn
- Toca Boca
- ABC Toddler
- Mouse Maze
- Lego Duplo House and Trains
- Duck Duck Moose,
- The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
Older toddlers may enjoy the free My Town series where they can immerse themselves into various places and role play – like the farm, an airplane, the vets etc. My youngest is absolutely captivated by them!
I also download the airlines app, as depending on the airline, you may need to have this downloaded before your flight in order to access any of the in flight entertainment.
You can also download episodes from Netflix or BBC iplayer. These may have a limited watch time once you have either downloaded or began to watch them, so save this tip for the day before you go.
For more toddler apps you may be interested in, I wrote a more detailed post on baby and toddler apps here.
Travel Toys to Keep Toddlers Occupied on a Plane
I list more ideas in this specific toddler travel toy post, but here are some of my favourite travel toys for toddlers on airplanes:
Toys to keep toddler occupied on planes.
If you are flying with older children, these travel games for kids may be useful too!
- Have you remembered any items you need to help your baby or toddler sleep on the plane?
- Would you like a free printable (no sign up) packing checklist for flying?
- Find out which airlines/airports provide courtesy airport strollers.
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