Last month I gave some tips for preparing for a trip and getting through the airport. Today I’ll share some ideas on how to keep your little ones busy on the actual plane flight.
Car seat or not?
A difficult decision when flying for me is to decide whether or not to bring a car seat on the plane. I have done both and there are pros and cons to each. Here are some of my thoughts:
Pros – Your child is strapped in so you don’t have to worry about them getting up and down. This is especially helpful with a new mover or very antsy toddler. You also don’t have to check your car seat, so you know it is safe since it is with you at all times. It can help your child feel more secure and comfortable, since sitting in a car seat is familiar, while flying may not be.
Cons – One difficulty with bringing the car seat on the plane is that it is one more thing to lug through the airport. You also have to worry about installing it once you are on the plane, both difficult things to do if you are flying alone. I have also found that often the tray table doesn’t fold down, which makes some activities difficult in the car seat.
For me, I have found a car seat on the plane to be especially helpful for children under 3 if they have their own seat. If you have a lap child, you can always bring the car seat with you in case there is an open seat, and then gate check it if there is not. I think it also depends on your child. My son has always been pretty good at sitting still, so he does fine in the seat on his own. My daughter is much more likely to want to wander around the plane, so it helps to have her in a car seat if she’s not on my lap. You’ll have to weigh this decision for yourself based on each individual trip and child.
As with getting ready for your trip and getting through the airport, being prepared is one of the most important parts of a smooth trip. A carefully packed carry on will be a life saver for you! When I get on the plane, I always put my carry on under the seat in front of me (or in front of my child), instead of in the overhead bin. You are going to want easy access to everything you brought. In the next section I will share some ideas for activities to bring with you, but in addition to those, you will also want to make sure you have all of the essentials (depending on the age of your children) – diapers, wipes, extra clothes, a small blanket, pacifiers, bottles/sippy cups. As a baby, my daughter decided several times to have major blowouts on the plane! This also occurred on planes that did not have changing tables in the restrooms, so I was definitely glad to have a lot of wipes, a blanket and some extra clothes!
Now for the fun stuff. What do you actually pack in your carry on to keep your kids happy and occupied for the flight? Here are some suggestions that have worked for us:
Coloring activities - If you have a child that likes to color, this is a must. My son doesn’t particularly enjoy it, but if I’m sitting there doing it with him, it will keep him busy for a little bit. Adding a new set of markers, some special crayons, or a new coloring book, will make this every day activity a little more exciting and hold their interest longer. You can bring some activity books if your child enjoys that, or paint with water books are fun and easy because all you need to do is request a cup of water from the flight attendant and you’re good to go.
Busy bags – I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of two busy bag swaps, so we have a pretty good collection of them. If you’ve never heard of them, you can look here or here for some more information, or simply google “busy bag swap”. These activities can be great because they fit in a plastic bag and are generally light-weight. Some of them may require assistance at first, which is fine if you know you will be able to provide that on the flight. If you need a more independent activity, pick ones that your child has done before, or that are fairly easy for them, not a new skill.
In and out toys - For young toddlers, in and out toys can keep them occupied for quite some time. On our last flight my daughter spent a good 20 minutes dumping buttons from a jar into a cup. You do want to be careful with anything that has small parts though, so that they don’t end up scattered throughout the plane!
Stickers – My daughter loves stickers, so a simple sticker sheet and piece of paper can keep her busy for quite a while. You can also use stickers to play all sorts of games- sort them by color, count them, make patterns, even put them on you and practice body parts!
Magnets – A light-weight cookie sheet or pie tin and some magnets can be great for entertainment. Having the magnets is nice because it can keep little pieces from ending up all over. You can play all sorts of games with them. Bring pre-made magnets, such as letters or animals, or make your own by simply attaching some magnet tape to the back of something. I have some puff ball magnets, that are simply a puff ball with a magnet circle glued to the back, and we use these sheets with them.
Felt board – I was talking to a friend’s mom about ideas for plane rides, as she was bringing her grandsons on a flight across country. She mentioned that she was making a felt board to bring along and I thought this was a great idea! Felt is so nice and light-weight, and it sticks to itself, so like magnets, you don’t have to worry as much about losing pieces. You can buy pre-made stories to use with the felt board, or make your own activities based on your child’s interests. For example, if your child loves cars, draw a road and make a couple of cars to bring along. You can cut pieces out of other felt, or you can print pictures from your computer and attach a piece of sandpaper to the back and it will stick as well.
New toys - Novelty can be very helpful on plane flights, so something like a new Hot Wheels car can go a long way. I’ve heard of saving things like Happy Meal toys for plane flights, or go to the Dollar Store and find something little. The simple fact that it’s new usually provides extra entertainment time.
Non-toys – Items that are not typically used for toys can also give that novelty factor. I have a friend who said she brings a bendable book light for her toddler to keep him busy. I’ve brought along a small calculator before and my daughter loved pushing all of the buttons. A straw is another favorite activity of hers. A simple rummage through your purse may provide you with several extra minutes of peace.
Books - Books are a definite must on plane flights. We generally spend take off and landing reading stories and often in between as well. I like to bring light-weight paperback books so they take up less room, but if you have a young toddler you may want to bring a couple small board books if they’re not ready to hold paperback books on their own. Choose books that encourage interaction and questions, so you can draw story time out even longer!
Snacks – Snacks are another must for the plane! I’m not generally a fan of giving kids food to keep them busy, but a plane ride is the perfect time for that! I try and choose snacks that aren’t super filling and will take a little while to eat, such as a bag of Cheerios or Puffs, cut up fruit, or pretzels. You can also pack snacks that will provide a dual purpose, such as colored goldfish or trail mix for counting and sorting before you eat. If you are traveling during meal time, throw in a sandwich or something else that is easy to bring and not messy.
Technology – Finally, don’t be afraid to utilize technology! For a long time I felt really guilty resorting to technology while on a trip. I’ve now decided to embrace it J . It’s ok to bring along a portable DVD player, tablet, or your smart phone and allow your child to use them while on the plane. For me personally, I like to hold off on the technology as long as possible so that I can pull it out when it is most needed. If you start with it right away, you may find they don’t want to play the other fun activities you’ve brought along! I’ve found this to be especially helpful while flying with multiple kids, because then if one child needs a lot of attention, you can focus on them while the other child is distracted. My daughter’s favorite activity is simply looking at pictures I have on my phone, and I have a few apps downloaded for my son to use. We live in a world of technology, so we might as well use it when needed!
The final tip I can offer you for flying with young children is to simply relax. Yes, it is going to be tiring and a lot of work for you. Yes, there are probably going to be moments where your baby cries, your toddler lets out a scream, or your preschooler talks way too loud. It’s ok. While I certainly try my best to keep my kids happy and occupied so that we are respectful to other passengers, I’ve found that most people are understanding that kids will be kids and they aren’t perfect. If you remain calm and collected, most likely your children will too, so be prepared the best you can, and then try and relax and enjoy this adventure!