Flying with toddlers, preschoolers, babies, and kids isn’t easy. But! It doesn’t have to be a nightmare. With a little bit of planning and preparation, air travel can be a pretty smooth experience. On the positive side, kids and toddlers are beginning to understand the concept of imaginative play. They also enjoy picture books and all kinds of sensory and preschool activities. So there should be plenty for them to stay busy.
Toddler airplane activities are the secret to airplane travel.
It’s no secret that traveling with a toddler can be difficult. But what if I told you there were some secrets to making airplane travel with a toddler much easier? Note that many of the tips below will also work for road trips.
Here are our top secrets to making airplane travel with a toddler much easier:
Secret 1: It’s all about “mindset.”
Remember that this is an adventure for your child, and you should ideally be excited about it yourself. Talk to them about the trip in advance. Show them pictures of the plane and the airport. Help them understand what will happen during the flight.
Secret 2: Set your expectations.
Just expect that you will be entertaining your toddler the entire flight. Also, expect that it will not go exactly how you planned. Go with the flow and stay calm. Your child will do the same if you get concerned or stressed out.
Secret 3: Do some preparation before you go.
Please list everything you need and pack it all in one bag. Airplane activities for a 1-year-old may differ from airplane activities for a 3-year-old. You’ll want snacks, drinks, a change of clothes for your child (in case of accidents), favorite toys or books, and anything else that might make the trip more comfortable.
Secret 4: Keep it simple.
When it comes to flying with a toddler, less is more. Planning is key. Choose a handful of activities that will keep your child occupied on the plane. Anything more than that is likely to be overwhelming for both of you.
Secret 5: Don’t forget about yourself.
It’s essential to take care of yourself when traveling with a toddler. Make sure you have a few snacks and keep yourself hydrated. Bring a book or something on your phone to keep yourself entertained when your little one is sleeping or occupied.
Secret 6: Ask for help.
If you’re struggling, don’t be afraid to ask for help from the flight attendants or other passengers. If you have older kids or a significant other, plan with them and keep them involved. Many people are happy to lend a hand when they see a parent struggling with a toddler on an airplane.
Things to keep in mind when planning airplane activities for toddlers.
These are good reminders and a great place to start thinking about how you will keep your toddler occupied. But every child is different, so it’s essential to tailor your activities to your child’s specific interests.
Airplane activities for kids should be able to be used independently.
If you constantly need to be interacting with your toddler, you are going to feel exhausted. Something that allows you to have a few minutes to yourself, enjoy the inflight meal, go to the bathroom, stand up and stretch, or even fill out paperwork is going to help.
Airplane activities for toddlers should be quiet.
If the activity is too loud, it can be overwhelming and agitating for both you and your toddler. Choose activities that are quiet or can be done quietly so you don’t end up with a screaming toddler and dirty looks from passengers.
Activities should be portable and not require too many materials.
The last thing you want is to be lugging around a lot of gear or having to ask the flight attendant for help. Could you keep it simple and pack light?
The best toddler airplane activities should be entertaining and engaging.
Boredom is the enemy on a long flight. Make sure the activities you choose will hold your toddler’s attention for at least a little while.
Activities should have a low chance of making a mess.
This is important for two reasons. First, you don’t want to spend the whole flight cleaning up after your toddler, and second, you don’t want to anger your seat neighbor by having your toddler kick their seat or make a mess on the floor.
Toddler activities for airplane should be able to be packed up quickly.
You will want to be able to put everything away quickly when the fasten seatbelt sign comes on or when it is time to land.
13 tips for flying with a toddler
1. Get to the airport early.
With a toddler in tow or flying with a baby, long-haul flights can be an exercise in patience. It’s always best to arrive at the airport as early, so you don’t have your little one waking up and wanting something from home or being frustrated because they are tired after sitting down for too long on their own accord!
If this sounds like something that would stress out any parent, then take note: arriving 90 minutes before flight time means there’s no need to worry about missing it due to either lengthiness of check-in lines or airport security procedures which often irritate children more than anything else anyway.
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2. Check-in online.
This will help save time at the airport. Checking in online also allows you to choose your seats ahead of time to try to get a window seat for your toddler. They’ll be fascinated by all the activities, which might keep them entertained for the flight duration.
3. Don’t fly too late in the day.
Toddlers have a lot of energy, which can be challenging to contain, especially if they are cooped up in a small space like an airplane. The hardest part about traveling with kids is figuring out the best time for them.
Some people choose flights that overlap their nap schedule, but this isn’t always possible if you need your child awake and eager before an early morning meeting or an airport departure inconvenience. If possible, consider flying during periods when they’re most content ⏤ , usually in the mornings; it’ll make things much smoother on both ends.
4. Get an aisle seat and a window seat.
If you want the best seat for your little one, book aisle and window seats. Leave the middle seat open. Middle seats are usually the last to board. And they are the most likely not to be purchased.
You could luck out, and no one will be sitting in that seat, giving you more room. If someone shows up, you can trade your seat to be next to your little one.
5. Try to get a seat with extra legroom.
If you have the option to upgrade your seats, it’s worth considering getting some with extra legroom. It will give you more space to move around and make yourself comfortable.
And, if your toddler gets restless, you can walk them up and down the aisle without disturbing other passengers too much.
6. Get your toddler their seat.
If you can afford it, it’s worth getting an extra seat for your toddler on the plane. That way, they have their own space to play, and you don’t have to worry about them kicking the back of the seat in front or climbing all over you during the flight. This is also safer because your child will get their seat belt.
7. Take advantage of preboarding.
If you’re flying with an infant or a toddler, you can preboard the plane. This means you can board the aircraft at gate check before everyone else. That way, you have time to get settled and put your child in their seat without feeling rushed.
8. Bring some snacks and drinks.
Flying can dehydrate, so it’s essential to keep your toddler well-hydrated. Bring along some of their favorite snacks and drinks, and bring enough for the return journey.
It’s also a good idea to bring some snacks, as you might not have time to eat once you’re on the plane.
9. Dress your toddler in comfortable clothes.
You want your toddler to be as comfortable as possible when flying, so dress them in loose-fitting, comfortable clothes. It might also be a good idea to wrap them in layers, as the temperature on the plane can be unpredictable.
10. Bring a change of clothes.
Babies and toddlers are notoriously messy eaters, so it’s always a good idea to bring a change of clothes. You might also want to pack a spare set of clothes in case your toddler has an accident or gets sick on the flight.
11. Bring some toys and books.
Bring some of their favorite toys and books to keep your toddler entertained on the flight. It’s a good idea to pack a few new toys too, as they’ll be more interested in them than the ones they’ve seen.
If you’re worried about losing any of their toys, pack them in a small backpack that your toddler can wear.
12. Bring a travel pillow and blanket.
A travel pillow and blanket will make your toddler more comfortable on the flight, and they can also be used as a makeshift bed if your toddler falls asleep.
Additional reading: Signs Your Toddler Needs a Pillow
13. Pack a diaper bag and baby wipes.
Make sure you have everything you need for your baby or toddler in their diaper bag, including diapers, wipes, a changing pad, and a spare set of clothes. If you’re flying with a breast pump, pack it in your carry-on bag to have it with you on the plane.
Interact with your toddler and play travel games that don’t require a phone or tablet.
Even if you’re not using screens, there are still ways to keep your toddler entertained. Try playing some simple games that don’t require anything but your imagination. For example, you could play I Spy or 20 Questions. You can also bring along a coloring book and crayons or markers.
If your child is a little older, you could try playing tic tac toe or Hangman. And if you’re feeling adventurous, you could try making up your own game.
We have a list of educational games for toddlers that you can keep in mind when you are on the flight. Most of them are great for an airplane ride.
Download some apps.
Whether you’re for or against it, giving them some screen time is the best way to ensure your kids stay happy on a flight. Depending on how old your child might be, there are many options for what they can do. You could download movies or episodes of their favorite shows.
You can also find games, music, and books that keep them occupied for hours. Better yet, at this age, toddlers should be watching educational apps for kids. Make sure to bring some headphones so they don’t disturb the other passengers.
What is the best airplane learning app for toddlers?
What is Kokotree?
Kokotree is an learning app for toddlers that helps your child learn basic academic concepts like numbers, shapes, colors, the alphabet, and more.
Who is it for?
Kokotree for kids ages 1 to 5. It’s perfect for busy parents who want to give their toddler or preschooler a head start on their education.
How does it work?
Instead of passively watching cartoons, your child will be engaged in active, smart screen time—through educational videos that improve their cognitive development.
With Kokotree, your child will learn the following:
- Listening skills and curiosity.
- Imagination, creativity, and sense of humor.
- Numbers, letters, and the alphabet.
- Colors, counting, rhyming, and memory.
- Days of the week, months of the year.
- Sounds, emotions, patterns.
- And more.
Susie from Busy Toddler recommends:
“Airplane activities for toddlers follow the same rules as regular activities – simple is best. Think about what your toddler likes. Think about their preferences. Think about what’s quiet, simple, and easy to travel with.”
Susie recommends bringing a small fabric bag with supplies, like construction paper, tape, post-it notes, dot stickers, a small pack of tiny animals, Matchbox-style cars, crayons, and one black marker.
She goes on and gives some excellent advice for parents:
“Remember – cut yourself and your toddler some slack on your travels. This is survival mode, not the usual day-to-day parenting. Airplane activities for toddlers can help so much on the journey – and don’t forget: it’ll all be worth it once you get there.”
Kristina at toddlerapproved.com gives some down-to-earth, stellar advice on how to think about flying with a toddler:
“My travel motto is ‘expect the best and plan for the worst’ when it comes to flying with kids. You can never be too prepared since anything can happen … flights can be delayed/canceled, bags can be lost, kids can get sick, you can be tired, kids can fight with each other, kids can have meltdowns … OR Kids can also be happy and engaged your entire flight (or most of it)!”
No matter what happens, she encourages parents always to remember,
“Just remember…you’re a good parent whether your child cries the whole flight or he’s happy playing with his aquadoodle for two hours (or like 2 min… since that’s a typical toddler attention span).”
Carrie at flyingwithababy.com, who has two little girls and has flown over 80 times, offers some insightful info for parents of 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’. […] During the main part of the flight, the crew might need some help after the main meal service handing out ice cream.”
Lindsay at Carpe Diem OUR Way! gives some heartfelt advice:
“I have traveled extensively with my two boys since they were babies! Both had their first flight before they were walking and are now seasoned travelers, helping to pack their favorite things to do on a plane! […] Whether it is a few hours or a 24-hour travel day, our airplane activities do not change too much. Stuff that works on tray tables also works well if there is a layover, or time before we get on the plane!“
She goes on to give some interesting advice on travel insurance…
“Travel Insurance is not always talked about, but personally, I think it is a necessity. Whether it is an emergency room visit for something as simple as strep throat or an emergency appendix surgery … things do go wrong when people travel … I highly suggest travel insurance … I personally never travel without it, and I even checked into my policy about care for my children if I am ever in an accident or hospitalized. There are just too many things to think about.”
Martha from goplaceswithkids.com is an experienced parent that offers ways to think about the process of flying with toddlers…
“From our many experiences flying with young children, we’ve come to realize that variety and novelty are two of the most important factors in planning good toddler airplane activities. Pulling out an activity that is new or that your toddler hasn’t played with very much is a great way to engage them when they are starting to get bored or tired.”
She suggests that you keep your cool and stay calm …
“[If] things still aren’t going according to plan … just know that no matter how your child acts, eventually, the flight will end. And you’ll probably never see the other people on the plane again anyway.”
Here are 23 best airplane activities for toddlers, preschoolers, kids
- Coloring books and crayons or markers. Toddlers love to color and be creative.
- Stickers are another great option. They can be used to decorate a notebook, tray table, or themselves!
- A small ball or stuffed animal can provide entertainment and comfort during the flight.
- A quiet book with activities like matching, mazes, or simple puzzles is perfect for toddlers.
- If you have a tablet or smartphone, there are many great apps and games specifically designed for toddlers. Just be sure to bring along headphones.
- Window clings are fun and can be used repeatedly.
- A small toy car or truck can be used to drive around the tray table or in an activity book.
- A small container of play dough can provide hours of fun. Just be sure to keep it sealed and away from clothing.
- A Magna doodle or other magnetic drawing toy is perfect for airplane activities for preschoolers.
- An iPhone or iPad filled with educational cartoons can be a great way to educate your child and entertain them.
- A set of plastic bowls can be used for stacking, sorting, or counting.
- A set of flashcards can be used for a variety of games and learning activities.
- A small notepad and pencil can be used for drawing or writing.
- A set of dominoes or other small game is perfect for passing the time on a long flight.
- A deck of cards can be used for games, memory, or simple math activities.
- Portable magnetic boards are perfect for Toddlers who love to draw.
- A small whiteboard and dry-erase markers are perfect for drawing or playing games.
- A set of foam blocks or balls are perfect for building, counting, and sorting.
- A set of pipe cleaners can be used to make shapes, people, or animals.
- A set of plastic animals can be used for imaginative play or to learn about different types of animals.
- A set of plastic coins can be used for counting, sorting, or adding and subtracting games.
- A set of miniature toy people can be used for imaginative play or to act out stories.
- Magnetic letters can be used for letter recognition, spelling, and word games.
- Magnetic numbers can be used for counting, adding, and subtracting games.
Flying with a toddler can be daunting, but it can be a relatively easy experience with a few preparations. Make sure to dress your toddler in comfortable clothes, bring some of their favorite toys and books, and pack a diaper bag and baby wipes. You can also preboard the plane if flying with an infant or toddler. And don’t forget to download some apps for them on the flight.
Following the tips in this article, you can ensure your toddler is comfortable and entertained on the flight. You might also want to consider packing some of their favorite toys and snacks to make the journey go more smoothly.