10 Ways to Entertain a Toddler on an Airplane

What to carry-on when you're flying with a toddler

In the age after constant shushing and nursing but before the ever-entertaining Skymall catalog and immersive iPads, there is the fidgety toddler. I recently brought one of these opinionated people on four flights to test out my chops on entertaining such a person. Let’s just say that it was nice to be able to trade seats with my husband every few hours.

I think that it’s good to just have a lot of tricks up your sleeves to keep things fresh and interesting. You can even giftwrap the items if you have time the night before (but who has that kind of time?). Pick some of these and bring whatever you can conveniently carry. I used my packing cube to fit all this stuff in with one diaper and some wipes but you could also contain it in a ziplock.

  1. Matchbox cars. I got them out one at a time. He rolled them on himself and the tray and threw them off to the side of his seat when he grew bored.
  2. Action figures or figurines. We seem to have a bunch of mini figures of all varieties. I pulled out Minnie Mouse, Elmo, a bobcat — whatever was novel and not chokable — and put in my bag of tricks. The play style was similar to the small cars but with more voices. I do a wicked good Elmo if you must know.
  3. Play-doh. I brought along a small container or 2 (I think they’re .50 or $1) and broke off a strawberry-size portion for him to play with. If he kept it clean and on the tray table, I put it back in the container when we were finished; I do not pick up play doh off airplane carpet. Instead, we practice saying, “Bye bye.”
  4. Wikki stix. These bendy stick things are my current favorite discovery! I gave Sawyer one at a time for “playing” (see previous descriptions) or I made characters like a dog or a dude. With bigger kids we used them for dot-to-dot and made a post-modern stop motion movie (which Sawyer could also watch).
  5. Ice cubes. Totally free and weird, I pulled out one ice cube at a time and put it on his arms and legs. He would squeal, “again again” until it melted but he never wanted to hold it himself.
  6. Board books. Yes, especially ones he hadn’t seen in a while. The That’s Not My series has tactile interactive surprises that he could review on his own. We have That’s Not My Lion.
  7. Other books. Alec grabbed a very large flat book with many pictures at the last minute, Everything Goes on Land, and it seemed to keep him occupied for a long time.  We took turns slowly turning the pages.
  8. Nap. You know what’s a great way to pass the time on an airplane? Sleeping! To induce naptime, we had a lovey for him and he had his own seat with carseat. Bring whatever comfort you need. For younger toddlers, they can stay on your lap (which I cannot handle).
  9. Food. Airplane food is not only sustenance but also entertainment. Dole it out as needed and feel free to make it talk like action figures. Sawyer likes small crackers, peanut butter pretzels, pouches, milk in a bottle. I tried to encourage him to use his water bottle to equalize air pressure but he wouldn’t go for it.
  10. Pain killer. I know this last one doesn’t sound like much fun but it can make all the difference. Make sure to nurse, have a paci, offer a bottle to ease with discomfort from takeoff and landing. I also ALWAYS pack children’s ibuprofen because one or more child will have a headache or earache if I don’t.

How do you keep a toddler occupied from takeoff to landing?