Ten Tips for Keeping a Toddler Busy on a Plane

This time of year, every parent gets anxious about their travel plans and keeping their young kids occupied on long plane flights. Besides packing a few great travel toys you'll want to have some airplane activities that won't break or get lost. Here are our top ten airplane activities for toddlers and preschoolers that won't increase the size of your luggage!

  1. Go on a scavenger hunt through the airplane magazine. On each page, pick one item that your child has to locate. For older children, hand them the magazine and say "can you find a picture of an airplane?"
  2. Put some fun pictures onto your digital camera (you're carrying it anyway). Good candidates are pictures of the people and places you are going to visit or pictures of a recent adventure (like the zoo). During the flight, you can relive the fun and tell stories about where/who you're visiting.
  3. When the flight attendant delivers drinks, ask for a cup, a couple ice cubes, and a straw. There are endless games with this combination. Ice is fascinating to toddlers in and of itself, and you can teach them to swirl it on the bottom of the cup, or catch it on the straw (airplane ice usually has a hole in the middle). Watch that the ice doesn't end up in their mouth though (choking hazard).
  4. Teach yourself some new finger rhymes (e.g. "where is thumbkin") before you go.
  5. Get your children playing with the neighbors in front of and behind you before the plane takes off. (Peek-a-boo and kiss-blowing are hard for even the most stoic travelers to resist). Your seat-mates will be a lot more understanding if your children have a difficult time later once they've seen them at their cutest, and you never know what fun entertainment they'll come up with.
  6. Extend snack time by challenging your child. "What is the is the smallest bite you can take" or "see if you can eat just one at a time (tricky for little fingers). Pack your snacks in Tupperware & the packaging becomes a toy when the snack is done.
  7. For young toddlers, screwing and unscrewing the top on a plastic water bottle is great fun (watch carefully as small tops are a choke hazard). Ask the flight attendant to bring you an empty bottle if you're not carrying one.
  8. Learning how to fasten and unfasten an "old fashioned" seatbelt, jacket zipper, and snaps or buttons on their clothing (or a carryon bag) can keep them occupied for a long time
  9. Have your toddler help you make up fanciful stories about what you will do on your trip. For young toddlers, they might choose between two options, while older kids will be able to fill in parts of the stories.
  10. Three words: Barf bag puppets

You've already killed quite a bit of time without breaking into your secret stash of travel toys and books. Our next post will cover our favorite airplane toys for toddlers

Related Links:
Our Favorite Travel Toys
Flying with Babies, Toddlers and Kids
Ten Great Travel Toys you Already Have at Home

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  1. Kmonberg on November 30, 2007 at 4:41 a.m.

    I know it sounds strange... but my toddler is obsessed with chapstick. It was a lifesaver when we were traveling alone on a long flight. She put it on herself... put it on me... smacked her lips... over and over and over again. She was quiet for 45 glorious minutes!

  2. Debbie on November 30, 2007 at 6:46 p.m.

    It's funny what will keep them entertained. Half of the battle is being willing to look around you for things instead of just relying on purchased toys. I flew out of Heathrow a few days after the liquid bomb scare last year with my son. We were limited to just one small carryon, so I had to be pretty resourceful. His favorite toy on that trip was a tooth floss container with the floss and cutting edge removed.

  3. Stephanie on December 12, 2007 at 12:14 a.m.

    This is a very helpful article! I linked to you on my blog: http://metropolitanmama.blogspot.com.

  4. Brynn on January 18, 2008 at 11:13 p.m.

    A box of bandaids (especially band aids with fun designs) can be really entertaining. There's the box, the wrappers, and then the bandaids themselves to play with!

  5. Shannon on June 29, 2008 at 10:09 a.m.

    Home Depot carries a line of Disney paint, and the paint chip samples are shaped like a silhouette of Mickey Mouse. If you grab a few of those in the colors of the rainbow, you have instant color flash cards.

  6. Christy Williams on August 20, 2008 at 8:36 a.m.

    I read all of these comments before packing for our short flight (1 hr & 15 min). My daughter (15 months) didn't care for the hand puppet, books, her Little People, and the crayons I bought ended up being a bad idea as they ended up on the tray and my husband's shirt.
    So-what did work for us...
    She is just learning how to use silverware and she loved the little cup (from our drinks) and a plastic sppon. She played "eating" for most of the trip.

  7. Debbie on August 20, 2008 at 10:27 a.m.

    Thanks so much for your comment on deliciousbaby. I'm bummed that the suggestions ultimately didn't help you, but I'm really glad you followed up... every child is so different, and you never know for sure what will entertain them. Sometimes something that works well on one trip is completely ignored 6 months later. It helps to briefly try a few of the toys before you go.

    I love that you figured out how to keep her entertained anyway. Lately we've been traveling with fewer and fewer toys too. We're finding that the combination of a new environment, some creativity & our attention is enough to keep the kids entertained for most of the flight anyway... so why drag along a bunch of "stuff"

  8. Tamara on October 16, 2008 at 5:34 a.m.

    I'm about to undertake an 8 hour trip with a 17 month old - this post has inspired me!

  9. anne on October 23, 2008 at 12:20 p.m.

    STICKERS. They love them plus they can't get over how the stick!

  10. Jaclyn on October 27, 2008 at 6:36 a.m.

    Great tips everybody
    I am getting a bit nervous. Beginning of December my partner, my sister, and my 19 month twin boys are heading from Perth, Western Australia to New York, US - a whopping 23 hour trip (thereabouts).
    I am remaining positive. Thanks again for the tips, and great website.

  11. Andy J on November 23, 2008 at 3:28 p.m.

    Nice Ideas All,
    We are going to be flying uk to aus in the new year with a 20 month old. Just started the tantrum phase.... :0 and i think that they need new things to keep them amused. Parents attention and looking around for things to utilise as fun games is the best bet especially with the current flight situation.

    Chins high, it always ends up going ok if you keep trying. (or should that be praying) ;)

    thanks for tips and website.

  12. GP on February 23, 2009 at 1:14 p.m.

    great tips everyone. I am flying solo with my 21 month old and I think the band aids idea is a great one--she is already somewhat fascinated by them!

  13. Ryan on April 4, 2009 at 11:59 a.m.

    We regularly travel between the east and west coasts of the US with our very active 2-year old. Stickers work great to keep him busy during flights. We also take some of his smaller toys and wrap them individually in newspaper like gifts. Whenever he gets really antsy we break out a new "present", which he has a ball unwrapping and then since it's "new" he will play with it for a good long while.
    I love the barf bag puppet and in-camera scrapbook ideas - will have to try those out on our next flight!

  14. Debbie Levine on April 9, 2009 at 12:39 p.m.

    We used the blue painters tape last year going from Milw to France. It was the best distraction on the ups and downs. I put little pieces all over the wall, seat and window, he couldnt stand them all over and was busy taking them all down. Am kind of hoping this would work this time too. :) Shaped sticky notes are a great way for little ones to 'write' a note on and give them to other passengers, he liked standing up in his seat and giving them all to the man behind us :) (Thankfully they were very tolerant!)

  15. samantha hement on April 28, 2009 at 8:57 p.m.

    Great tips..

    My kids was knock out few minutes when board on plane or even inside the car. I have saved a lot of hassle traveling with them. :)

    If your child have sleep problem. Take a look on my blog at:

  16. Heidi on June 24, 2009 at 2:45 p.m.

    Barf bag puppets! Made me laugh so hard! My daughter and I have travelled extensively (all over Europe and the States). We're getting ready for our first trip now that she's a TODDLER.

    I have a tendency to overpack toys, even though I know "real things" are much more interesting to little ones. Thanks for the great ideas to keep my busy body entertained. No more worries! (only for the person in front of us...)

  17. Catherine C. Schwartz on July 27, 2009 at 2:55 p.m.

    Go to the dollar store and buy a bunch of smaller toys. Wrap them all in tissue paper and decorate. Pull them out as needed...I try to drag out the time between "surprises" as long as I can.

  18. aleca on July 29, 2009 at 10:34 a.m.

    thanks for all of these tips. am flying with my 21-month-old from la to copenhagen this weekend, and although he's already done lots of traveling & is usually pretty good, every age brings new challenges. all of these ideas are really helpful - as is your blog, which my husband just discovered when looking for info about a parent traveling alone with a child

  19. Kevin on August 20, 2009 at 6:15 a.m.

    These are great! Thanks for the article... I wrote one with 5 tips for travelling with kids recently if you are interested:


  20. genevieve on October 11, 2009 at 10:33 p.m.

    my son is 3 yrs old and loves the brainquest cards_those are fun and educational_ also loves to listen to ipod w his favorite disney songs_ coloring books and activity books-portable dvd player w entertaining sing along movies (and headphones)>this will keep toddlers busy for at least 5 hours

  21. Cassie on November 8, 2009 at 3:46 p.m.

    I recently went on a trip with my two children 3 & 4 I premade little BINGO cards that were much simpler than others and rigged it to where each child won at least 2 times EACH. We used stickers as the markers for they're numbers and the loved it. It was educational and time consuming for our 4 hour flight. Each time they won they got to pick out a wrapped small prize. So once we were done BINGOing they had something new to play with. My only regret is that I didn't make more bingo cards. They would have played it twice as long as I thought they would.

  22. Vivian on December 2, 2009 at 8:07 a.m.

    Thanks everyone for the great ideas! My daughter has definitely turned a corner at 17 months and I feel pretty challenged by our upcoming trip home for the holidays.

    The only recommendation I am questioning is involving surrounding passengers. I have always found it pretty annoying/exhausting when people do that. Definitely feel more tolerant since entering the wonderful world of parenthood, but never was able to say "Actually, I wish your little love would leave me alone" when people would ask if it was bothering me. There have been times when people invite playing when we've traveled in the past, which is great, but when they don't, I wouldn't attempt to charm them.

  23. Debbie on December 2, 2009 at 10:15 a.m.


    Great point, yes, it's a delicate balance between having your child be friendly vs. expecting that someone else would want to play with your child in flight!

  24. Andrea on December 9, 2009 at 10:41 a.m.

    Thanks for all the helpful tips! I am flying from MN to Germany alone with my very active 18 month old on my lap! Needless to say I am very anxious about the upcomming trip. But these tips, the suggested toddler travel toys, the stickers, chapstick (never would've thought of it even though looking back he loves when I let him put some on!)wonderful!

  25. Linda on April 23, 2010 at 7:59 a.m.

    Thank you for the great ideas and tips! I am going to be flying across country with my 21 month old in lap, by myself, and am a little anxious about it. I am definately going to try out some of these suggestions. Now if I can just decide whether or not to bring the carseat in case there are empty seats available. :)

  26. Tammy on June 6, 2010 at 12:37 p.m.

    My husband and me are traveling via air for the first time with our 15 month old little boy. We are traveling from DC to CA and he's VERY busy so when I stumbled acrossed these recommendations I felt pretty good since I've already incorporated many of these things into our baby backpack. Our toddler is still into putting things in his mouth so we are cautious of what we give him. One suggestion would be to collect various gift cards (they are free) punch a hole in them and put them on a safe key chain. If your child is like ours they will love chopping on the cards and since each one is differt in color they'll enjoy it for awhile. An easy, relatively inexpensive way to keep them occupied.

  27. Debbie on June 6, 2010 at 10:56 p.m.

    @Tammy What a great idea! That seems like a wonderful idea to keep in my purse as well.

  28. Sarah on July 27, 2010 at 1:29 p.m.

    Debbie and/or anyone-

    LOVE the suggestions and bought almost everything you listed for a East to West Coast trip. Have you had any trouble with security and wrapping gifts? Even if one end is open or it is with tissue paper? Thanks!!

  29. Debbie on July 27, 2010 at 6:46 p.m.


    In theory, you're not supposed to wrap anything that you wouldn't want security to unwrap at the checkpoint. In practice, as long as the toys don't look like something forbidden in the x-ray, you shouldn't have a problem.

  30. Penny on July 29, 2010 at 8:41 p.m.

    Got a fantastic solution for toddlers - post it notes. I bought purple, green, yellow and blue ones. My 22 month-old tantrum-throwing bundle of joy was kept amused for a little over an hour on post it notes alone. We screwed them up in balls, ripped them, stuck them EVERYWHERE, drew pictures on them, made minature paper planes and fans, played hide and seek with them. That was an amazing $4 investment.

  31. Anita on December 18, 2010 at 9:15 p.m.

    Thank you so much for your fantastic blog. I see many tips for how to deal with toddlers, but what if you have a very active 10-month-old that cannot go on scavenger hunts in a magazine or follow directions yet? My daughter is very mobile, walking everywhere and extremely curious. We are going to be on a 3-leg flight from California to Taiwan in a few days time and I am worried about the long flights. Can you give us some tips on how to keep the little-little ones busy? Walk up and down the aisles? Anything will help. Thanks!

  32. Debbie on December 20, 2010 at 9:04 a.m.


    With a 10 month old, the play is more physical. Walking up and down the aisles helps, cups, straws and packets of sugar from the drink cart make great toys. You can still leaf you way through that airline magazine too, but the focus would be on telling your 10-month old the names of the things you see.

    Good luck!

  33. Laura on May 17, 2011 at 7:02 a.m.

    Hand sanitizer, wipes and zipper top bags. We played "cleaning".
    Also sugar free lollipops for take of and landing for the ear popping.
    I also looove the color wonder by crayola because its "magic" and impossible to make a mess!
    pegs which can be used for making a "den" pegging up a blanket for some privacy helps kids fall asleep and not get distracted and bring popcorn so they can have there own special movie time!

  34. Nicole Close on May 22, 2011 at 10:32 a.m.

    My husband, 2 1/2 year old daughter and I are moving to Bahrain. We are excited but we have a 26 hour flight ahead of us. Does anyone have any tips to keep her busy and happy?

  35. Kera mcdonald on May 25, 2011 at 1:32 a.m.

    I am about to travel 3 flights from Scotland to new York with my 15 month old and some of these suggestions are great but some I can't see me doing like walking the isles with him - he wouldn't want to sit down! Cups of water can be messy and inviting others to get involved might annoy them :/ nervous since he's having tantrums. Also don't know what snacks to Pack either, don't want a hard time at security. Hopefully the planes aren't full and we get an extra seat, last time I travelled with him he was in my lap and the man in front of me put his seat as far back as he could (8 hours) and I had no room and he wouldn't stop kicking and screaming. He was tiny then, he's a much bigger boy now!!! Thanks for the suggestions I hope they work :)

  36. Dea F. on July 14, 2011 at 5:35 p.m.

    Thanks for the great tips, we are traveling from Philly to Venice in less than a month with our 15 month old and I'm definitely going to use some of your recommendations!

  37. Sandi on September 5, 2011 at 6:05 p.m.

    Good Tips, i have two flights back to back as a solo parent with a 23 month old on my lap - 13 hours to Singapore from Auckland then a 7 hr layover and then another 12 hours to Cape Town....HELP

  38. Debbie on September 6, 2011 at 11:11 p.m.


    Good luck on that flight! Make sure you get plenty of rest before boarding that first flight, and make sure that everyone gets lots of exercise during the layover! Other than that, I'd just say to be creative about using what's around you to entertain yourself and your child.

  39. Caitlin on January 13, 2012 at 6:03 p.m.

    Love your suggestions! I am a military wife and do lots of solo traveling with my currently 20 month old son back and forth from Hawaii to Indiana (16 hrs.). Some additional ones that I love 1)aqua doodle makes a travel mat. I took a small bungee cord and bungeed it around the lap tray…he spent more time putting the little pen in the elastic holder than coloring, but it entertained him for about 45 minutes 2) I made a “race track” for his cars…felt and a hot glue gun. It is about the size of a standard sheet of paper that folds open. Track inside, color circles outside on one side, and face on the other side (lots of learning) 3) if you are lucky enough to have a tablet…we downloaded educational kids games to help out. As for snacks….trail mix got us out here (Hawaii) and I think I am going to make ranch oyster crackers for the way home. Thanks for the suggestions!

  40. Sara, Milwaukee on January 23, 2012 at 3:55 p.m.

    We flew with our 12 month old last year from Milwaukee to Floria, and she spent the entire 2.5 hour flight tearing each page out of the SkyMall magazine... Literally the entire flight. It was great. She used to love tearing paper.....

    This April we're taking her, at 26 months, to Mexico. She's a maniac and I'm super nervous! But I think I have some great ideas from this site, such as: Bank-Aids, Chapstick, Dental Floss, Straws, tape, wrapping up toys, Post-It Notes.... I'm also bringing her little note book, a pen, some suckers and M&M's....

  41. Debbie on January 30, 2012 at 9:34 p.m.

    @Sara, Good luck on that flight!

  42. Vanessa on February 7, 2012 at 12:49 p.m.

    Our little guy has flown from NY to Brussels twice, the first time was a breeze (he was only two months old...he nursed the whole time!) but the last time he was a bit more active! But a few new toys and he was a happy camper (for about 20 minutes but hey! every minute counts). We are traveling again in June and our little guy has turned into a little monster and doesn't like to sit still!! LOVE the idea of post-it notes and blue tape. He also loves the magnadoodle! Best advice I got from a fellow-momma was "don't worry, the flight ends eventually!". Happy travels, parents!!

  43. Qorianka Tours on December 8, 2012 at 12:06 p.m.


  44. Nichola on February 3, 2013 at 6:10 p.m.

    Fantastic tips! :)
    We have coming up 4 hours on a train, 4 hours on a plane, then 9 hours on a bus! With a 4mo and a 22mo... argh! I like how many of the tips are things that are available in the surroundings rather then bringing specific things. I like the bottle tip - when we took the 9 hour bus trip with our then 12 month old his favourite was an old small baby shampoo bottle - he would open close open close it, when he got bored of that then we would unscrew it and it would be on/off on/off. Entertained him for hours! More then any 'toys'. I do think it will be a bit harder this time around... I will be putting a lot of these ideas into action!

  45. Deana on April 24, 2013 at 12:47 p.m.

    Thank you soooo much!!! I am traveling with a 2 and 7 year old and it's our first family vacation. I have been nervous and you have put my mind at ease! Thanks again for all of the great tips and advise!!!

  46. Katie on May 13, 2013 at 10 a.m.

    These are some great tips. Since we only have one child, we found it helpful to try to arrange seating near other children to entertain her also. Here are my tips for flying with a toddler!

  47. Anne on May 24, 2013 at 8:44 p.m.

    We have a 22 mo and a 6mo. This will be our first flight with both. The most entertaining things that kept my son busy on previous flights were an empty bottle (you can blow in it and it makes a cool sound), a paper towel tube, and a plastic hose tube (both of which make great doot ta doots, as I call them.)

  48. Jennifer (aka Hint Mama) on March 21, 2014 at 8:21 a.m.

    Great tips. I especially love #3. I've found "kid-friendly airplane cocktails" (i.e. apple juice or another juice in a cup with a lid and a cocktail straw) to be great toddler in-flight entertainment. A flight attendant once offered this to my tot and since then, we always ask for it in-flight. And we'll add your great game ideas to our bag of tricks for when the apple juice runs out:) More on that here:

  49. Spencer Wheelwright - Family Explorers on September 12, 2014 at 12:22 p.m.

    It's funny how the simplest things can entertain for the longest. My wife and I have SOOOO overpacked for trips in the past, only to find that the screw-on cap from a water bottle entertains them for the longest of all. Returning from our most recent trip to Paris, bite-sized snacks in an Elmo-shaped tupperware (you can open and close it's mouth) were also a great way to pass the time!

  50. Kelly on September 27, 2014 at 12:47 a.m.

    Nice, these are helpful

  51. Triin on August 31, 2015 at 9:22 a.m.

    Great suggestions! Travelling with 2.5 year old and 3 month old in two weeks. Although I'm more worried how my mil will cope since she will be handling the older one :) and there's only two of us.I Will be wrapping all the toys and stickers are always very useful. The most practical advice I ever got was to use a blanket or I used large muslin square to catch the toys from falling to the ground. It should be big enough so that it goes on the seat under her bum and the other end tied around the table. It was very handy.

  52. Paul Dukes on September 30, 2015 at 8:38 p.m.

    I bought purple, green, yellow and blue ones. My 22 month-old tantrum-throwing bundle of joy was kept amused for a little over an hour on post it notes alone.

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