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Ahead of my three hour flight with my 16-month old toddler to Sicily, I embarked on days of intense research on ideas for toddler-friendly plane activities. My last flight with Olive was when she was just 6 months old and entertaining her was easy. In fact, I think I spent the entire flight scrunching up a sick bag, much to Olive’s delight.
Many months on and Olive was now a walking, wriggling, boisterous toddler who was unable to sit still for more than 35 seconds. Faced with three hours of amusing a toddler 40,000 feet in the air and my anxiety levels rapidly increasingly, I decided it was time to come up with a plan. As one of life’s organisers, I decided to approach the looming flight with a toddler by getting as prepared as possible with a full armoury of activities to entertain a toddler on a plane.
Having now walked away – relatively unscathed – from both flights, I thought I would put together a list of the best toddler plane activities that I used with Olive. Compact and easy to pack, mess free and cheap, here’s 10 activities for kids on a plane.
What are the best activities for a toddler on a flight?
Having already packed an eye-watering amount of “stuff” for a week long holiday with Olive, I was keen to avoid any extra baggage charges from EasyJet. The activities I was taking onboard with Olive, therefore needed to be lightweight and easy to carry on my back around the airport.
As well as being lightweight, the toddler-friendly activities for the plane needed to also be compact and easy enough to fit in my day bag and use on an airplane tray table. This was harder than I expected, needing small activities that could fit in easily amongst the nappies, bottles and endless wet wipes.
If there’s one thing that you want to avoid during a flight with a toddler, it’s the possibility of any further mess. Toddlers have an impressive ability to create mess out of the smallest activity, particularly when eating and playing. The activities I packed, therefore needed to be mess free and easy to clean up and put away at the end of a flight.
Now was not the time for messy play.
4. Don’t rely on batteries
There is nothing worse than your child’s beloved toy running out of batteries; especially 40,000ft in the air. To avoid any catastrophic breakdowns, therefore it’s best to keep as many of the toddler plane activities as battery free as possible.
Finally, any activity you take on a plane for your toddler should be as quiet as possible. Although I am of the strong opinion that babies and children have just as much right to fly as adults, I also don’t believe it’s fair to bring a loud, flashing, repetitive toy onboard.
All of the activities below are quiet activities and unlikely to cause any irritation amongst fellow passengers.
10 Ideas for Toddler Plane Activities
1.Suction Cup Spinners
These were by far the biggest hit on the plane and kept Olive very amused. Lightweight and colourful, these suction cup spinners attached perfectly to the plane window. We also used them in the car for day trips on holiday and they kept her equally entertained.
Update November 2022: I would say the spinners are ideal for airplane activities for a 1 year old but now Olive is edging towards 2, I think she may have outgrown them for our upcoming trip to Seville.
2. Reusable Sticker Pads
Nothing captures the attention of a toddler quicker than a brand new sheet of stickers.
For our three hour plane journey, I bought a few different themed packs of the Melissa and Doug Reusable Sticker pads. This included a farm yard pad and an underwater mermaid set.
The stickers are thick and foamy and can be reused repeatedly. Although we lost a few in transit, most of the farmyard survived and Olive is still playing with these at home a few weeks on.
3. Post it Notes
Incredibly simple (and cheap), a pack of post it notes are ideal for an activity on a plane. We stuck the post it notes on the seat in front of us, tray table and on the window, while Olive ripped them off with great speed and enthusiasm.
This may seem like an obvious suggestion but nothing keeps a toddler better amused than food. Capable of snacking almost continually during her waking hours, Olive’s favourite pastime is eating.
Obligingly therefore, I packed enough snacks to see Olive through an entire week and I’m very relieved I did. Not only did the snacks keep the “hanger” at bay but they also acted as an additional “activity”, with Olive spending a lot of time carefully emptying and re-filling her snack pot.
Tip: buy a toddler-friendly snack pot for the journey to avoid crumbs and mess. I recently discovered this genius GoBe Kids Snack Spinner that contains 5 handy compartments, without taking up too much space. After trying plenty of Tupperware or snack pots that leak, I can confirm this is entirely leak free and easy to clean (dishwasher friendly).
5. Magic Painting Book
Another mess-free activity that’s ideal for a flight with a toddler is a magic painting book. These clever books let your little one “paint” by just dipping the accompanying paintbrush in water. I think Olive was a little too young for the book and she quickly lost interest but her older cousin was enthralled.
An activity for a slightly older toddler perhaps.
Once the paper dries, the paint colours disappear again and so the magic painting books are ideal for reusing on a plane and/ or whilst on holiday.
6. Time the Nap
Can we count sleeping as a toddler activity for a plane journey? I think we can.
For any parent, getting your child to nap on a plane is like hitting the jackpot. Free, quiet time to finally read a book, watch some TV or simply nap, trying to get Olive to nap during our flight to Italy was my number one aim.
Did I succeed? Sort of.
Due to our incredibly early flight time of 6am, we struck gold with Olive crashing on me almost as soon as we got on the plane. After three hours of intense excitement from 3-6am, Olive fell fast asleep for half of the flight. Although I couldn’t move with her curled up on me, I was delighted by this and was also able to sleep myself.
We didn’t have as much luck on the way home and Olive fell asleep in the airport before our flight. This led to an overtired but sleep-refusing toddler on the return journey but it wasn’t as awful as I had feared.
Having a huge array of activities to keep her distracted definitely made the flight home more bearable.
7. Foldable Busy Board
One of my best purchases when researching toddler plane activities was a foldable busy board.
Lightweight, compact and stuffed full of zips, pockets, shoe laces and velcro, the busy board kept Olive entirely absorbed. It was also very useful during the holiday in general, keeping her entertained on car rides and during downtime at the villa.
The ideal activity for young kids on a flight.
8. Triangular Crayons
This may seem like a niche suggestion but triangular crayons are essential on a flight. Roll-free, triangular crayons means that you won’t spend the entire flight trying to squash yourself between seats, picking up endless amounts of crayons that have rolled off the seat table.
The best bit? Your toddler can be improving their fine motor skills, while you sit back and relax.
9. Window Gel Clings
Similar to the suction cup spinners, window gel clings are another great way to keep your toddler amused on a flight. Mess free, the gel stickers can be easily stuck and removed from a plane window.
Reusable, these are also great around the home and Olive is vaguely obsessed with decorating her playroom windows with her butterfly clings.
Shop a variety of window gel clings for an aeroplane here.
Finally, no sane parent would get on a flight with a toddler without a screen. Indeed, there is no shame in sticking your toddler in front of a cartoon or ‘Super Simple Songs’ during a flight. Keeping your child calm, quiet and happy on a flight is all that matters and if that means some time with a screen, so be it.
During my recent flight with Olive, we let her watch a few episodes of Hey Duggee (her favourite) for take-off and landing. This worked a treat in keeping her totally absorbed during the rockiest parts of the flight.
My biggest tip is to keep screen time as your ultimate back-up activity and only use it when you really need your toddler to be calm and still.
Update December 2022: I have since purchased an Amazon Fire HD Kids Tablet now that Olive is older and it has been brilliant for recent flights and long car journeys.
11. KeepEmQuiet Travel Kit
If you’re running out of time to put together your airplane activities for for your toddler, fear not.
We recently discovered, KeepEmQuiet, who create specialised travel kits for children based on their age. Not as organised as I have been in previous months, I recently ordered a toddler friendly kit for an upcoming trip to Seville.
I was really impressed with how much I got for my money, with the toddler airplane activities neatly packed away in a draw string bag. It’s nice to know I can just shove this into my day bag and bring it out on the flight, when my own activities have lost their shine.