Wondering how to entertain a toddler on a plane? We have covered lots of easy airplane activities to keep even the most active toddlers busy on a plane.
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. The three most important things are: making toddlers comfortable enough to sleep, bring plenty of snacks and, finally, know how to entertain a toddler on a plane. So if you want to know how to fly with a toddler and keep them busy even on ultra long haul flights, read on!
Easy Ways to Keep Toddlers Busy on a Plane
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.
The first tip, is to board last with your toddler but let you partner board before you with all your travel gear. That way, you get to wear out your little one for a bit longer, rather than have them sitting in their seat waiting for everyone else to board.
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How do I entertain my toddler on a long flight?
Technology, games, toys and the all important snacks for toddlers are all ways to entertain a toddler on a plane.
Small and light weight activities which don’t take up a lot of space in your nappy/diaper bag or carry-on will make the best items to bring on board. Quiet activities are usually appreciated by other passengers too. We tend to bring out a new activity every 30 minutes or so.
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.
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 – 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 sitting next to a window, use window gel clings.
- 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.
- 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 but washiest tape or masking tape which is marked out like a road. 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.
- 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 which are all part of a bag. The bag had enough spaces for 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. This is likely to change with latest hygiene rules, but may come back in time.
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, a couple of games we have tried is 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 activitiy 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 ziplock 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 ziplocks 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, ABC Toddler, Mouse Maze, Duplo, Duck Duck Moose.
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 Toy Ideas for Toddlers
I list a lot more ideas in this specific toddler travel toy post, but here are 6 of my favourite travel toys for toddlers on airplanes:
My Busy Books – these are very good value activity boxes with a story, 12 figurines and also contain a folded up play mat for role play.
Whilst the play mat is too big for a plane or public transport, the figurines are still fun to play with and one of our favourite things for kids to do on a plane as it is so engaging.
Buckle Toy Whale. My 1 year old LOVED this and it kept her so busy. So many people have sung its praises to me after purchasing it. I firmly believe it’s one of the best travel toys for a 1 year old! The Buckle Toy Whale has several buckles to do up and a zip mouth.
The only issue is once they master the buckle, you may get asked a few times to unbuckle it, until they discover that skill too!
Nonetheless, it has easily occupied her for over 30 minutes. A firm favourite on all our journeys, car included. It’s one of the best toys for an airplane because it is so quiet. For more information and for other buckle toys, see here:
Mess free colouring books and pens. ‘Magic’ pens which only show the colour on the special colouring book and not on clothes, seats etc. For more information see here.
These similar ones by Melissa & Doug Water WOW also look fun too and educational! Just make sure you empty the pen from water before security or add it to your clear plastic bag. For more information about the Water Wow set, see here.
Farm in a Tin is one of my favourite airplane activities for 2 year olds. This one has been SO popular with my daughter. The only downfall is that it does have small parts (especially the 3 ducks). However, it’s one of the most compact travel activities for toddlers – which has been handy to have in my bag and whip out if there has been a flight delay at the airport too.
It’s also been great for her to play with whilst away on holiday. Even at home it’s played with frequently. For more information and alternative ‘toys in a tin’ see here.
A Travel Busy Board
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 plus it’s a bag as well! This Montessori Busy Board is a great sensory toy with lots of zips, buttons and games to play which are all part of a bag. The bag had enough spaces for favorite books, coloring crayons, paper, snacks and even a water bottle too!
The Imaginetics magnetic board opens up and creates a scene with characters and accessories that stick to the board! The photo above construction sites, but there are also dinosaurs, pirates, ballet, mermaids and lots of other choices for boys and girls.
I hope this answers the question of “How do I keep my toddler entertained on a plane?”
Flying with toddlers can be hard so please do let me know if you used any of these plane activities for toddlers and what worked well? Please also let me know if you have any more plane activities for me to add to this list!
Flying with Older Kids?
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.