Flying with Babies and Toddlers: How can I keep my kid busy on the plane?

A long-haul flight with a toddler is at least twice as long as without. It feels like it, anyway. Don’t even try to kid yourself. And when the plane is taxiing onto the runway and the pilot announces that takeoff “has unfortunately been delayed by half an hour,” the happy couples on the plane may simply shrug their shoulders and order another glass of bubbly. But in the row with the family, panic breaks out: 30 WHOLE MINUTES!

Or, if we convert these 30 minutes into toddler time: That’s two times tipping out their orange juice (once all over mom), seven times searching for the doggy in the search-and-find book, four times jumping on the seat and giving the lady sitting in the next an unnerving stare/making embarrassing comments (“Dad, why does that lady have a mustache?”) and at least 45 times asking “Why?”

Flying with Kids – How to keep kids busy on the plane by www.anyworkingmom
Gooood girl!

Flying with toddlers as the ultimate test

The good news: Time will pass. Even these 11 hours – and I’m talking from experience. You shouldn’t, however, expect the flight to be fun, exactly. It’s better to think of the experience as a kind of test, like a challenge on “Survivor”: survival of the fittest at 32,000 feet in the air. A good story to tell later.

Certain factors help to make the flight go quicker – for example, sleep. That’s not so easy to plan under the extraordinary conditions of a flight, of course, but there are a few factors that you can work to your advantage: A flight that departs two to three hours before your kids’ bedtime, for example, gives them plenty of time to get over the initial excitement, which in turn will make them sleepy.

Giving kids their own seat and and sitting them in their familiar car seats that they know and love also helps (see “Flying with Babies and Toddlers“). Oh yeah, and red wine. For the parents, that is.

Entertaining toddlers on board

The perceived length of your flight will also vary according to the age of your children. While newborns and babies aged up to about seven months will probably mostly sleep and eat, things get a bit more challenging as they get older. Here are some simple ideas to make the time pass anyway:

#1 Surrrr-priiiise! (7 months – 5 years)

Individually wrap some little – noise-free! – presents and take them on your flight. Depending on the age of your kids, these presents could be mini-books, stamps with ink, Play-Doh, an activity book, Kinder Surprise eggs (see also: Food), etc. Even (or especially) unwrapping the presents passes some time.

#2 Stickers (1.5 – 5 years)

For this, you absolutely must give your kid the window seat. If worse comes to worse, they can even (see photo) decorate themselves! For older kids with better motor skills: A sticker book.

Flying with Kids – How to keep kids busy on the plane by www.anyworkingmom


#3 Food (1 – 5 years)

When it comes to food, it’s best to just throw all your good intentions about healthy and nutritious food overboard (ha! A pun!): A lollipop goes a long way. 20 minutes, to be precise – I timed it the last time we flew. Snacks, both healthy and more importantly unhealthy,  are a favorite way to make time pass. Candy, pretzels, Smarties – you name it.

#4 Water Wow (3 – 7 years)

Water Wow is a travel activity pad where kids can paint with water on different scenes to reveal colors, animal and other hidden treasures. What makes it special: It’s mess-free because the provided pen can be filled with water and no additional water glass is needed – so there’s no spilling (unless your kid decides to screw open the pen, but well…)! After about 20 minutes, the pictures dry again and can be re-used. Perfect for a plane ride (but don’t fill the pen before you pass security!), a long drive or a quiet-ish dinner.Flying with Babies and Toddlers -

#5 Search-and-find and TipToi books (7 months – 5 years)

Mini search-and-find books are excellent for travelling and keep kids (and their parents, too, alas) busy for quite some time. For bigger kids (aged around two and up): TipToi books, in which they can use an electronic pen to explore the pages and discover many surprises. Be warned: Don’t forget headphones (we have some from Philipps), otherwise the lady with the mustache in the row behind you will get in a huff pretty quickly.

#6 DIY fidget toys (7 months – 12 months)

Flying with Kids – How to keep kids busy on the plane by www.anyworkingmom
Photo: the Fidget Cube

Very little kids are fascinated when with something they can press, slide or simply ‘fidget’ with. A simple bit of Velcro, for example, can be unbelievably exciting. Or an old remote control. Or pipe cleaners that they can push into a container – and pull back out again. For a multitude of ideas for people who even have the time to do crafts before the flight (respect! But I am MOST DEFINITELY not one of them), take a look at the Pinterest board I put together. And for those who don’t like doing crafts, you might have fun with this little gadget, which is actually designed for adults: the Fidget Cube.

Flying with Kids – How to keep kids busy on the plane by www.anyworkingmom
A tin transformed into an entertaining activity thanks to a few pipe cleaners – also suitable for DIY beginners. Photo from

#7 Snapchat & photos (7 months – 5 years)

Even the littlest of kids has fun looking at photos of themselves or their families. Once they’re around 1.5 years old, the Snapchat face function is hilarious – it takes a long time to get tired of the crazy Snapchat filters on a smart phone. The disadvantage: Your kids will need your help with the app, so this is not for lazy parents.

#8 Card games (2 – 5 years)

Small card games such as “Uno” or “Guess Who?” are pretty compact and can be played alone or with parents, depending on the age of the kids. Our little girl finds has fun just looking at the cards, despite being too young to understand the game. Our big kid, on the other hand, can already thrash me at “Dobble” (a.k.a. “Spot It!”).

#9 Drawing, Crafts, Snapkiz (2 – 7 years)

We ALWAYS have paper and pencils with us anyway (yes, even at the zoo. At the Dentist. In the train.) Snapkiz, made in Switzerland, takes it one step further: A whole “play system” with a folder including colored pencils, paper, scissors and an eraser – additional items (e.g. shoelaces to practice tying, card games, construction games, magnets) can be purchased and added on. So everyone can put together their own customized entertainment organizer. Heads up: Remove the scissors for the flight or else there will be drama at security.

#10 iPad – games, films and audio books (1 – 5 years)

The tablet – the best invention since dry shampoo. We’re not in the slightest ashamed to admit that we let our digital natives play on ours happily and often – with the right apps. Before you set off, be sure to also download films and series that can be played without an Internet connection – these can be a lifesaver, especially during the journey. In order to avoid square eyes, audio books are also an absolute must – for example, the super funny, wonderful, extremely popular and BEST EVER “Kasperligeschichten” Kasper puppet theater stories (#totallyblatantplug).

And if you don’t want your kids to constantly press the home button or open the wrong apps, simply activate the child lock. Find out how here.

Flying with Kids – How to keep kids busy on the plane by www.anyworkingmom

#11 On-board entertainment (2 – …)

Don’t forget: The plane itself also offers some entertainment. Most airlines like to surprise the little passengers by presenting them with a coloring kit or a small gift when boarding. Eating also takes up some time. And the slightly older kids, like our son, are pretty much glued to the screen before the plane even sets off down the runway. We’re happy to let him stick.

Have a good flight! You can find more tips on flying with babies and toddlers here.





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