How to enjoy a plane journey with a toddler (or two)

May 5, 2016

We just got home from our Pessach holiday in Israel, so I thought I’d share the tricks we use to keep our children happy on a plane. Truthfully, my kids love flying. They’re so excited about it, entertaining them isn’t hard, but a few resources in the carry-on bag does help our journey to go more smoothly.

plane journey with toddler

Because our family is so spread out globally we probably fly as a family 4 times a year (8 flights), and often it’s just me with the two kids. The most recent was the first where my youngest son had his own seat and this was soooo much better! I had hands to eat and drink, and didn’t lose feeling in my legs. There’s no doubt that flying with little ones is much harder when they’re sitting on you.

Here’s what we do to keep our flying experience happy:

Build up the anticipation and understanding before the flight.

My boys love plane-themed pretend play. This is utterly simple: no equipment required. We just pretend to take a seat, do up our belts, take off, get some food, eat, look out the window, land, get our bags, meet the grandparents. This game is very ritualized, which means it’s actually great for language building too. I talk us through the steps of a plane journey pretty much the same way each time, and my sons love it so much we have to repeat a lot. This means when we do get on the plane, they find it familiar on some level, and accept wearing their seat belts!

We also look at books about planes, build block airports, make Duplo planes and control towers, and recently began to play with a giant Airport puzzle.

Pack all the essentials in your carry-on bag

You already know these: nappies, wipes, a change of clothes, snacks, cup, water, pacifiers.

Pack a flight bag for your toddler to carry

My kids each have a small backpack they call their ‘airplane bag’. We use the bags in our pretend play. They each have the beloved blanket and toy bear that their grandma knitted for them while I was pregnant. We put these inside the bags, and possibly one other toy (such as a small model plane). The bags are light, but I believe they make a big difference. The children have something that makes them feel safe and secure, and excited at the same time.

Just one thing, don’t lose the bag!

Make the most of the experience.

Enjoy your child’s natural excitement about flying and their curiosity about this strange experience and what they see. In fact, on a short flight this is pretty much enough to get us through from take off to landing: we talk about what’s happening, and my kids take it all in. Flying is remarkable; it’s much more remarkable than any activity I can pack.

As long as my kids are happy, I don’t pull out any activities. Save your ammunition for when you need it.


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Sleeping toddlers: What we want to see on the plane!

Don’t count on sleep.

As babies my kids did sleep a lot on the plane. The vibration of the engines seemed to calm them. But now they’re older they no longer sleep well on flights. My efforts to persuade them to sleep have often failed, so now I take the attitude that if they’re happy but not sleepy, that’s okay. We can let go of our usual sleep hours for these unusual events.

When sleep happens, though, I’m very happy.

Bring books.

Books can help on flights. I choose our flight books a week or so in advance and put them aside so that they are relatively fresh for the flight. I try to include a book with lots of details for us to look at, such as You Choose or 1000s of Things to Spot. Books are heavy to pack, but for us they’re worth it. They’re the first thing I turn to, before using up more stimulating activities.

Bring activities.

A well-chosen activity could be essential to keeping the flight happy. Here are the ones we enjoy:

* Sticker books (like Airport Usborne First Sticker Book)

* A puppet

* An etch-a-sketch

That’s about it. I don’t pack many activities because we don’t use many. I avoid anything with small parts, that makes mess or noise, or that needs space.

Ideas that I’ve seen online that I haven’t tried include buying small toys and wrapping them up in advance as gifts-on-the-go, busy bags, and activity books, such as a wipe-clean workbook. We might try these when the kids are older.

How about an iPad?

A charged, loaded iPad might be your key to a happy flight. I don’t give my kids access to the tablet or apps, except on flights. Since our flights are usually 2 to 5 hours long we often don’t get round to using the iPad, but on occasion it has been a huge help. Our iPad has one movie (Tangled), which the kids seem to enjoy without sound! We also have a few apps, which serve a purpose when the kids get restless after a few hours flying, especially after they wake up fidgety from a nap.

These are the ones we’ve used are Wheels on the Bus, Petting Zoo, Orchard Toys App and The Gruffalo games app.

I hope you find something here to help you have an enjoyable flight. If you’ve got any ideas to add, please let me know.

plane journey with toddler square

This post is shared at Mommy Mondays Blog Hop and Practical Mondays.


  1. swapna
    June 1, 2016

    I’ll be embarking on a really really long journey with my son who is no longer a toddler, but I will be heavily relying on sleep & inflight entertainment! I know too many videos are not a good idea..but we’ll be in our seats for 3 flights including one for 15 hours and all such rules get thrown out of the window ! 😉

    I will carry a few busy bags though, I’d relied on them last year when he didn’t have the capacity to watch long videos

    Thanks for sharing! #practicalmondays

    • Kathleen
      June 1, 2016

      Yikes, 15 hours is long! Definitely time for the videos! Actually I wonder if videos hold older kids attention longer for better so it makes more sense at that age. My 2yo gets restless after a while with a video on.

    • swapna
      July 7, 2016

      Have featured this post in this week’s Practical Mondays! 🙂

      • Kathleen
        July 7, 2016

        Thanks for sharing it!


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