August 20, 2018

How to Entertain A Toddler on a Plane

How to Entertain a Toddler on a Plane

Are you wondering how to entertain a toddler on a plane? Don't panic. It's not that bad. We've flown with our toddler on short and long haul flights, both together and separately and built up wonderful memories as a result. The secret? Early preparation. 

Here's how to entertain a toddler on a plane...

Your Flying with a Toddler Checklist

Remember all those concerns you had about flying with a baby?

Well, the good news is that now it's easier. 

Now, you don't need to worry so much about sterilisation and breastfeeding and changing nappies every other minute.

Flights are easier than Long Car Journeys. Seriously

Crossing Cardiff (my home town) in the car has caused more problems than a long haul flight, because when you're driving, you have limited, limited options. And you have to concentrate on where you're going.

On a flight, you're already one step ahead of the game by outsourcing all that "navigation business" to the pilot and you have a team of people on hand who are paid to help you.

And your partner (if you have one) can't mysteriously disappear in quite the same way as they can at home.


But let's be realistic...

That said, you do need to put together some preparation. And lower your expectations just a little. Then a little more.

A little more.

And then waaaaaay, way, way lower than that.

Look. If you manage to have a glass of wine while watching a film, that's a triumph. The Rolls Royce, Olympic Oscar dream of flying with a toddler.

I'm not saying it won't happen. I'm just saying, y'know. If it does, enjoy it for the rare and surprising moment it is.

How to Entertain a Toddler on a Plane

 Step One: Preparation

When it comes to how to entertain a toddler on a plane, it really is much easier if you have the right kit with you and if your little one knows what's going on. 

So I'm starting the guide here, with t

Two Weeks Before

 Packing your Bags

  • Keep any new or "special" toys out of sight so that they still come as a surprise during the flight
  • Find some brightly coloured bags to store different things in on the flight. Why bright? So that it's easier to find them when you're rummaging around in the dark.
  • Pack your worse case scenario items at the bottom of the suitcase. This includes things like a change of clothes and plastic bags in case of nappy leaks of vomiting. 
  • Keep the gear you'll need for take off near the top and the toys for how to entertain a toddler on a plane near the middle.

At The Airport

  • Arrive as early as you can. You may have to queue at several different desks to drop off car seats and luggage. And while some airports have helpful family travel lanes, others can really slow you down. 
  • Be on the lookout for space or playgrounds so that your little one can have a run around before the flight. The NHS advises at least three hours exercise a day for toddlers. Perhaps more pressingly, they're more likely to be able to sit still on the plane if they're physically tired. ..

Going Through Security

This is probably the toughest bit of the whole gig. If there are two of you, leave one person to handle the pushchair and "stuff" while the other deals with the child. 

  • You CAN bring liquids like milk and pouches like baby food through security but you have to be prepared for them to be tested. 
  • Most airports will make you take your child out of the pushchair. If your toddler is still small enough, consider wearing a sling to make it a little easier. You'll still have to remove your shoes, jewellery and mobile phone etc and so it's useful to be able to be hands-free. 
  • Things like medication, sunscreen and nappy cream need to go into a liquids bag and these do need to be below 100ml. 
  • Be really, really sure you've picked everything up afterwards. What with the liquids, shoes, pushchair, food, laptop etc and a toddler, your belongings will be scattered to the seven seas. We lost food on one flight because someone had separated the pouches from the other liquids and we missed them amid the mayhem.

Don't forget!

Everything needs to come out of the pushchair. That includes any waterproof covers, bags, lost toys and god knows what crumbs or detritus you find in the pocket underneath.

Onto the conveyor belt it goes...

How to Entertain a Toddler on a Plane Step Two: Boarding & Take Off

I read a lot of articles on how to entertain a toddler on a plane and almost all of them advised boarding the flight last. 

I disagree.

I tried it their way but it worked so much better to get on first. Let me explain why...

Toddlers love to explore and planes are exciting! They love to pull at magazines, wander in the aisle, pull at seatbelts and gurgle with cabin crew. If you board early, they can do all of this stress-free while you get yourself sorted. 

You can also chat to the cabin crew, sort out a last minute nappy change and snack before it's seatbelts and take off time. 

Plus, queueing with other passengers risks someone treading on them or squashing them with a suitcase.

Make the most of the early call for passengers travelling with young children - and board the plane!

Flying with a Toddler: Take Off

  • Within the caveats of not officially giving medical advice, I'd recommend giving calpol about 15 minutes before takeoff, just in case it's going to hurt their ears. But you have to consult your own doctor and make your own decision.
  • Have a drink and non-messy snack at the ready to prevent against their ears going pop.
  • Have access to your best entertainment skills and patience. Staying still isn't the way toddlers are wired, particularly when there's a safety briefing going on. Distract, distract, distract. Stickers. Drawing. Talking through the airport book.
  • Be enthusiastic about the upcoming noise and shaking - it's an exciting adventure, not a terrifying ordeal. (Right?!)

Toddler Travel Food Tips

Hungry toddlers are miserable toddlers. It's not always reasonable (or bearable!) to make them wait for the in-flight meal. 

Arm yourself with these minimal mess snacks and keep your toddler regularly refuelled. 

Create a separate snack pack filled with a folding bib, plastic tray, wipes, cutlery and a small plastic bag for rubbish.

Then stock up on these snacks:

  • Raisins
  • Apples
  • Oat cakes
  • Grapes
  • BabyBel Cheese
  • Rice cakes
  • Food pouches in beige colours!
  • Strawberries
  • Bananas
  • Pears
  • Tomato Based Meals
  • Anything needing a fridge for safety - eg chicken, pate etc
  • Liquids like soups, trifles
  • High sugar & E number stuff!

How to Entertain a Toddler on a Plane Step Three: The Flight Itself

In a way, this is the easiest part. Sit back and let food and drink be brought to you. Slowly make your way through your bag of tricks and toys.

Lull them to sleep if you can (!) A walk with slings can help with this, using a scarf to try block out some of the light (and oohs and ahs from admiring passengers.)

Walk up and down the aisle when you get the chance. Be pleasant with anyone you meet.

And it goes without saying that you aren't going to let your toddler grab other people's stuff, are you? And you are going to clean their hands after eating too, while we're about it?! Of course you are...

Inside the Travel Lab Gold Flask

Top Toddler Travel Tip

Removing toddler shoes drastically reduces the enjoyment they get out of kicking the seat in front... #justsaying

How to Entertain a Toddler on a Plane Step Five: The Next Step

Wait, what?! You made it! You've landed, hallelujah and now great adventure awaits (or a great pile of laundry if you're just getting back.)

But not so fast.

You have to get off the plane, get your bags, get through passport control etcetera.

And then, quite possibly, you've got to transfer to somewhere else.

Nearly there...

Wait for everyone else to get off the plane. Too many people aren't paying attention and are thwacking suitcases around. Also, it's just easier for you to search for potentially missing items when there aren't so many people about..

  • Take a quick stock check. Do you need to buy more food or nappies before a long transfer?
  • Now's a good time for a nappy change. And another offer of a snack.
  • That's it, you made it! Now go, travel, enjoy! And leave any other tips you may have in the comment section below...


  • These are great tips! My LOs are three and we’ve also done quite a bit of traveling with them. We have even purchased our girls headphones that are made for kids (so that they can’t put the volume too loud).

    • Ah, glad you found them helpful! Actually, we bought a pair like that too but so far she isn’t interested in having them on. I’ll keep packing them, though. One day I think they’ll turn into a lifesaver! Happy travels!

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