How to entertain a toddler on a plane | Keep everyone happy on a long haul flight

Travel with children is hard, anyone who has ever tried flying with a toddler knows what a nightmare it can be. Some toddlers are good as gold, but plenty of preparation is definitely sensible especially on a long-haul flight. Your flight time will pass quickly if you keep your little toddler busy. 

Once onboard your plane, make sure you make friends with the flight attendants. They will be your support if you need any help mid-flight and can help keep your toddler busy. Flight attendants can help with toddler plane activities, snacks, or even getting you a window seat. They will understand the stress of a parent having to travel with toddlers and will help with the duration of the airplane ride.

Having a dedicated bag full of games for activities for toddlers is a great way to keep them entertained, organize all their gear into one place, and provide them with fun toys to play. 

1) Take A Book Or E-Reader

If your child enjoys books, reading is a wonderful quiet activity to do on a plane. Grab a few of their favorite board books (it’s best to have robust ones for flying so they don’t get bent or crushed in your luggage).

Sometimes carrying the physical books is difficult, and they can be large and awkward to handle in those cramped plane seats. If it’s easier for you, consider taking an e-reader: this can solve a lot of issues.

Anyone who has a toddler or young child will also know that whatever book you have left at home will suddenly be the one they desperately want to read, and none of the five or six you’ve brought along will do at all.

An e-reader solves this issue and lightens your load; you can download a bunch of books in advance, giving yourself endless possibilities for the flight. You can even get free accounts with some apps that offer a selection of children’s books, which is a great way to keep costs down.

If you don’t have an e-reader, download a toddler app on your mobile. Toddler apps have children’s books which your little one can flick through and can even be an educational activity. You’ll definitely be able to store some of their favorite books on an app.

Getting your child to settle and read may not be easy if they’re excited or overtired or hyper or a combination of the three. However, once they are engrossed in a story, they’ll probably be much calmer, and this is a nice activity for you to do with them, or let them do independently if they’re capable.

You could also consider downloading a few audiobooks as another option to help your child settle down and listen. Choose ones with soothing narrators and check whether your child is interested before relying on this strategy too heavily. However, it can prove a very effective way to get your kiddo engaged.

2) Pack Your Little One’s Own Kiddy Bag

Gather everything you want to take for your child into one bag that they can fish through themselves. Many kids enjoy the fun of taking things out and putting them back into bags, so this in itself can provide a game and be an enjoyable activity, especially if your child likes being tidy.

Having their own bag can make children feel grown up and excited, and may help them to feel “responsible” on the trip. This can make it easier to explain things like sitting still and not being too noisy. 

They can go through their bag and get out items on the tray table. Having their own space will be a completely different experience than a usual road trip. 

Let your child choose their own bag before you go, and make sure it has several pockets so that they can organize their things as they like. Remember to put your child’s name on the bag in big letters, and don’t use it to store important documents in, even if your child wants their own paperwork!

You can play some great games with a bag, asking your child to find you things in their bag, or put things away in a certain pocket. If the bag has different colored pockets, this can make it even easier to play games with.

3) Bring Or Buy Snacks

It isn’t always easy to find plane-safe snacks, but don’t just rely on the meals on the flight, especially if it’s a long flight. A hungry toddler is likely to be fussy and grumpy and very difficult to deal with. Having snacks is a great way to break a bad mood.

Pick quite a few different options, especially ones your child is keen on and perhaps rarely has. Include a sweet which is good for sucking in case the cabin pressure hurts your child’s ears; this is a great way to reduce the pressure.

While liquids can be a nightmare to deal with, in terms of airport security, think about drinks too and make sure you pack an empty anti-spill cup that your child will drink from. Kids can be so particular about this sort of thing, it’s better to have the option in case they decide to kick up a fuss about plane cups.

Don’t store snacks in your kiddy backpack, but put them in your own bag. This will give you control and also potentially prevent a big mess from occurring with spilled candy, raisins, etc. You might otherwise end up trying to peel raisins off books, soft toys, and the rest of your toddler’s gear.

Choose snacks that take a while to eat, and if you can find a little dispenser or box for your child so they can hold the snacks themselves, this is even better. Try something like Cheerios in a Tupperware. Keep quantities small to limit the damage of any spillages.

4) Bring A Portable DVD Player Or Tablet

Screen time is always a mixed blessing for parents. Tearing your child away from a screen can be very difficult, and we all know the battle of “I want to watch…” just when you don’t want your child to watch anything at all.

However, on a plane, there isn’t exactly much else your child “should” be doing. They might enjoy a book, but if letting them sit in front of a screen for a few hours guarantees you a peaceful and comfortable flight, it’s definitely worth doing.

Make sure you’ve got a charging cable to hand and download a few new games or movies if you can, saving them for the flight so there’s something for your toddler to explore that they haven’t tried out before.

Remember to download stuff in advance so you’ve got everything ready before you hit the airport. It might also be a good idea to have a spare battery pack with you in case you end up sitting for hours at an airport and find you can’t access a charging socket.

Games that involve popping bubbles or ones that show a favorite character such as Peppa Pig or Bob the Builder can be good choices. Remember to bring headphones so your child can listen to anything they want without disturbing you or other fliers.

If you don’t have a tablet, you could consider doing this on your smartphone, provided you’re prepared to sacrifice a bit for your journey. Do make sure your phone has a good case on it before you risk this, however; you don’t want to start your holiday with a broken phone.

5) Take Some “Presents” For Your Child

If your child enjoys unwrapping things, you can create a single-player pass-the-parcel, or just stash some wrapped toys in your bag for your kid. Pick up a few plane-friendly little toys in advance of your trip and wrap them.

You can even use toys your child already has that they haven’t played with for a while. Squirrel them away for a few weeks and present them as fun things to be unwrapped. The rustle of paper and the anticipation of what’s inside can be very exciting for a little one.

Alternatively, pick up some simple puzzles, some toy cars, or even packs of stickers (preferably with a notebook or sticker book to press them into or you may find the whole plane covered in “decorations”).

Activity books may not be easy to wrap, but they can be a great present that will provide fun in both the unwrapping and the following exploration process. Activity books can keep toddlers busy for hours, especially if you also provide crayons and pens!

You can space these gifts out throughout the flight, either using them as a reward for good behavior or a distraction when things are going a little pear-shaped.

What Shouldn’t You Take On A Flight?

Some things that may seem like a great idea when you’re packing at home suddenly seem a terrible plan when you’re several thousand feet up in the air, staring at the destruction your toddler has caused, or apologizing to other passengers for your child.

It’s not a good idea to include anything too messy, like Play-Doh, or anything that had lots of little parts. You don’t want to be scrabbling around under airplane seats looking for twenty pieces of a scattered jigsaw puzzle or the lost marble from a set.

Avoid messy snack foods as well. Portion snacks into small quantities so that if they do get spilled, they won’t cause a total mess, and so you can space them out across the flight.

You shouldn’t pick toys that make a loud noise or have lots of flashing lights. If it doesn’t drive you crazy, it will drive other passengers crazy – we all know how toddlers love to repeat sounds over and over and over again.


Flying with toddlers can be easy if they just doze off for the whole flight, but you may not be so lucky, and adding a stressed toddler to the inherent stress of traveling isn’t fun.

Make sure you have plans and backup plans for their entertainment, and at least four or five different activity options to offer, even if your flight is reasonably short. This will make the journey easier and smoother for everyone.

Looking For Toddler Activities Locally?

See our Toddler Activities Near Me page:
About the author
Piper is a seasoned parent who has been through the ups and downs of raising toddlers. As a writer, she shares her experiences and offers practical advice to help other parents navigate the challenges of parenthood.

How to entertain a toddler on a plane | Keep everyone happy on a long haul flight

How to entertain a toddler on a plane | Keep everyone happy on a long haul flight