Toddler Airplane Activities and Tips

The month of September included 8 airplane rides for us, all of which included our toddler! This year alone we have been on close to 20 airplanes as a family. Whew! Right now the thought of another airplane ride makes me sick. But maybe our experience can help you.

What to Keep in Mind When Flying with a Toddler

1. Stop Stressin’.

Flying with a toddler can be stressful. However, for the most part, every child loves the adventure of flying, if Mommy and Daddy loosen up and enjoy the experience with them. We have found the most important part of having an enjoyable flight and overall trip is for Mommy and Daddy to put on their patience hats and leave them on for the duration of the flight. This seems obvious, but if you’re stressed out, worried about whether your child is going to be THAT child on the flight, your toddler will sense this and it will turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. So loosen up and make the flight a fun experience!

2. Pack light.

It is so tempting to have snacks galore, diapers out the wahzoo, two tubs of wipes, and activities to last a lifetime stuffed into your carry on bag. You’re prepared for EVERYTHING. In theory, this sounds wonderful. But practically, you need to remember that airplanes are tight spaces. Your carry on must fit under the seat in front of you, so don’t over pack.

3. Prepare for increased security.

It never fails. I carry my child through the scanner and I get “randomly selected for additional screening.” Really? Every time? I don’t think so. But go with it. Stay calm. And remember it’s you they are screening, not your child. So tell them you’ll get the additional screening in a moment when you have your child safely secured and situated. Some don’t like that answer, but you’re responsible for your child. However, most are completely amenable to this decision. We use a stroller now that our boy is too big to carry (we used our Sleepy Wrap Baby Carrier as long as we could), and so I get him situated in his seat and head over for my randomly selected screening.

Also, I have found that placing all of our medicines (e.g., teething gel, cough syrup, etc.) in a quart bag and all of my food and snacks, liquid or not, in a separate gallon bag (e.g., baby food, fruit cups, crackers, teething biscuits, etc.) makes going through security so much easier. I pull them out and put them in their own separate container to go through screening. I don’t know what it is about baby food, but security always freaks out, almost without fail. Don’t get me started on ORGANIC baby food. And please don’t ask me about what I did with my teething biscuits when a really ill security lady did additional screening with me. Just don’t. It wasn’t pretty, and I had to repent a lot. Moving on… Even if they say only liquids need to come out, just put the food in a bag and pull it out anyway, especially if you’re in a smaller airport.

4. Determine who’s in charge.

There is a lot going on when going through security, boarding the plane, and waiting in the terminal. You need to know who is in charge with keeping up with what. My toddler carries “the farm” around with him wherever he goes. “The farm” includes his Ya-Ya, Quack-Quack, and Woof-Woof. We use our stroller when going through the airport (when it’s not a direct flight), and we position him with all of his “friends” in his stroller. I’m in charge of the stroller and all of its contents. We always put our camera bag and my carry-on underneath the stroller. My hubby is in charge of our luggage, his carry-on, and our plane tickets. Whenever we leave an area, we are in charge of checking to be sure we have all of our responsibilities. And this eliminates the “I thought you had that” conversation. At least now we know who to blame when something gets forgotten. ๐Ÿ˜‰

10 Airplane Activities for Toddlers

1. Quiet Books.

I shared with you last week how to make your very own quiet book. These have been the best thing we’ve used so far!

2. Busy Bags.

We used these a lot when Samuel was under 18 months old because they were small, like his attention span. I have found that anything you can make magnetic works best. The fewer pieces to go flying the better (no pun intended). So maybe mini versions of busy bags even!

3. Board Books.

We pack a few of our toddler’s favorite books in our carry-on. We always choose mini-versions or smaller books. It’s probably not a good time to pack your complete series of Winnie the Pooh books.

4. Airplane magazines.

We use the airplane magazines a lot. One of Samuel’s favorite things to do is flip through the pages looking for all the dogs! They’re on almost every page … people’s infatuation with dogs comes in handy in these situations. Just choose something to look for and see if you can find it in the book.

5. Air vents.

Nothing entertains my kid more than letting the air hit his face full on. It’s okay to let your toddler turn the vents on and off a hundred times. They’re learning cause and effect, right?

6. Tot books.

I mentioned tot books a few weeks ago. We get ours from 1+1+1=1. We put them in a folder with brads and pack our dry erase marker (2 of them, in case we lose one).

7. Stickers.

Oh the joy of stickers! We don’t go anywhere without them. Just a scrap piece of paper and some stickers can entertain a toddler for almost an entire plane ride!

8. Snacks.

I always have a favorite snack or treat to pull out when our toddler starts getting fussy. Our favorite is dried fruit leathers. Mango is a huge hit right now.

9. Peek-a-boo.

Usually toward the end of the flight everyone is restless, not just your toddler. Although I suppose this activity could take place at any point in the plane ride. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Playing peek-a-boo with the people in the row behind us always serves as a little break for Mommy and Daddy while someone else happily entertains our boy. Don’t worry about if your child is bothering someone. Most times they aren’t. Other times they may be, but your tot will bother them more screaming. So let the other person lighten up a little. ๐Ÿ™‚

10. Take a walk.

A little stroll up the aisle and back usually gives a nice break for achy legs and restless bodies. Just be sure the fasten seat belt sign isn’t on. Who knows, you might find a grandmaw along the way who wants to play with your toddler for a while. We love when this happens!

All in all, the key to flying with toddlers is to stay relaxed and stay organized. If you have these two things, it will be smooth flying all the way there and back!

What tips and tricks for flying with toddlers would you add to this list?

This post is part of our Intentional Toddler Time series. Check out our Intentional Toddler Time page for more tips and tricks.

This post contains affiliate links. See my full disclosure policy here.

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  1. I am hoarding all of your airplane ideas, Leigh Ann, for the day a few years from now when we bring our baby/toddler home from Ethiopia. And I literally mean ALL of your ideas, because the flights from Ethiopia to DC are VERY LONG! Love, love, love these tips. Thank you!

  2. I just completed an over 16 hour plane ride with my little guy . . . and I’ll vouch for many of your ideas. I honestly can’t believe I’m fully sane after four airports, three flights, and 16 hours, but my little guy made it through without any overwhelming incidents and he made many new friends. I so agree that letting your child interact with other passengers can be a good thing. Most people really do love children and those who don’t need to get over it! Coming from Italy . . . Italians love children, all children! It’s great to meet so many helpful and smiling faces.