Best Airplane Activities for Babies and Toddlers

Author: Celine Brewer

Last Updated:

Traveling with small children can be so rewarding, yet many parents get nervous about the prospect of flying with a baby or toddler. I get it… even though I had traveled a lot with my children, I was still nervous before many flights with our small kids. I didn’t want to be one of “those parents” with a crying baby on the flight or having our toddler run up and down the aisles.

Given this natural fear, I get a lot of questions from my readers about how to entertain a baby on a plane and the best airplane activities for a 1 year old or toddler.

You’ve come to the right place. The following recommendations for entertaining a baby on a plane or plane activities for 1 year old, come from my real-life experience flying with our babies and toddlers. Whether it was a short-haul flight to visit San Diego with a baby, a long haul flight to Barcelona with a baby or a very long flight to Tokyo with a toddler, I’ve been in your shoes before and I am here to help.

In this post, I share my favorite airplane activities for all ages, starting with flying with an infant, working my way up to flying with a toddler and preschooler. I will share with you my favorite baby travel toys, plane activities for a 1 year old, airplane activities for 18 month old and beyond. I recommend these plane activities as I’ve seen first-hand that they work.

a toddler from BabyCanTravel.com plays with the seat-back tv screen on a family flight.
Not all airplane activities need to be toys. My son loved the touch-screen TV’s on airplanes.

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Flying with a baby or toddler can be stressful. Before you go on your family trip, be sure to read my tips for flying with a baby and surviving air travel with toddlers.

a baby from the BabyCanTravel.com family stays busy on a flight by looking out the window.
My toddler looking out the airplane window – yet another great airplane activity.

How to Entertain a Baby on a Plane

In this section, I begin with how to entertain a baby on a plane, starting with simple recommendations for flying with an infant, all the way up to activities for a 1 year old on a plane.

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Best Infant Travel Toys (0 to 3 Months Old)

In my experience, the best time to start traveling with your children is when they are infants. Traveling with an infant is so easy since they spend most of their time eating and sleeping. Flying with an infant is likely to be one of the easiest flights you’ll take with your baby.

When you fly with an infant who is between 0 to 3 months old, you really don’t need to worry about bringing any infant travel toys or books. Chances are good that your time flying with an infant will be spent cycling between feeding and watching them sleep on the plane.

Celine Brewer, of BabyCanTravel.com, enjoys a flight with her a sleeping infant.
Flying with a baby can be easy! My two-month old sleeping away on his first flight.

Best Travel Toys for Infants (3 to 6 Months Old)

At 3 to 6 months old, flying with your baby may still mean a lot of sleeping (hopefully), but your baby may start taking more of an interest in a few simple travel toys as well. Due to their rapidly expanding curiosity, your baby will likely be entertained enough by everything around her on the plane – the seatbelt, the window, fellow passengers, empty plastic cups, etc. But, just in case, it never hurts to have a few baby plane activities in your carry-on.

1. Colorful Texture Toys for Keeping Baby Entertained on a Plane

3. Teething Toy or Necklace to Keep Baby Busy on Plane

3. Board Books for Entertaining Baby on Plane

I’ve learned that reading to your child is the single best way to keep a baby entertained on plane. These classic children’s board books were two of my children’s favorite books when they were babies.

Already have these excellent board books? Find a new favorite for your baby on the baby board books best sellers list.

Entertainment for You While Your Baby Sleeps on the Plane

I love watching movies to pass the time on flights, but as a new parent, I found it hard to focus on a movie and watch my sleeping infant at the same time. On our family flights, I found that listening to an audio book was the perfect solution to keep me entertained while watching my baby sleep during the flight.

I recommend signing up for a free 30-day trial of Audible Premium Plus and you’ll get a free audiobook which you can keep even if you cancel the free trial after your trip. Why not sign up and download a good audiobook which is long enough for both of your flights?

Before your trip, check out my best baby gear for travel as well as my best tips for getting your baby to sleep on vacation and dealing with baby jet lag.

Best Plane Activities for Babies (6 Months to 1 Year Old)

If you are worried about how to how to entertain 1 year old on a plane, you can relax as this age is pretty easy. I found when traveling with a baby between 6 months and up to 1 year old, they were mostly interested in playing with all the new & exciting the stuff on the plane.

In all likelihood, your baby will be similar and will be most interested in their surroundings on the plane, like the safety card, the seat buckle and the window shade. Throw in the empty plastic airplane beverage cup and spoon and you’ve just found the best plane activities for your 9 month old without having to pack them!

At this age, other passengers can be pretty exciting too. Most people love babies (yes, even on airplanes), so finding fellow passenger to play peek-a-boo through the seats is a great way to entertain your baby on a plane. When the novelty of this airplane game wears off, take your child for several “walks” down the aisle.

Air travel with a baby doesn’t have to be complicated.

One of my best tips for traveling with a baby is to use snacks as a way to entertain your baby on a plane. I always bring airplane snacks that work on fine motor skills, thus taking a long time to eat, like Cheerios or Gerber Puffs. Spill-proof toddler snack containers are a lifesaver when flying with a baby!

a 1 year old baby from the BabyCanTravel.com family eats Gerber Puffs - providing nourishment and entertainment for a long plane ride.
Gerber Puffs provided plenty of entertainment on the plane for my toddler.

One of my most successful airplane activities for a 1 year old was an activity ball. I loved how this baby toy could hold my baby’s attention on the plane for a long time. It would also make a great travel toy for road trips with a baby. If you have the room in your travel diaper backpack, this is an activity ball is a great travel toy to entertain your baby on the plane.

Other plane activities I like for a 1 year old, which are similar to an activity ball, are the Manhattan Winkel Rattle and Sensory Teether, the Fat Brain Toys – Dimpl sensory toy, or even this fun busy board.

Bring along a couple of fun travel themed board books or some digital baby books on your phone or tablet and you should be all set with your 1 year old plane activities.

For more expert family travel advice, check out my book Baby Can Travel: Anywhere.

How to Entertain a Toddler on a Plane

It should come as no surprise that traveling with a toddler on a plane is completely different than traveling with a baby on a plane. The more mobile your little one gets, the more time you’ll spend entertaining your toddler on the plane. In this section, I cover the two main stages of flying with a toddler: Activities for a 1 year old on a plane as well as plane activities for an 18 month old.

Hoping your toddler will sleep on the flight? Check out these inflatable airplane travel beds for toddlers or read my full Fly Tot Review and Flyaway Kids Bed Review.

a toddler, from the BabyCanTravel.com family, rests his feet on an inflatable bed for airplane during an overnight long-haul flight.
My toddler using the Flyaway Designs Kid Bed on the airplane.

The key to ‘surviving’ a flight with a toddler is to have a good variety of airplane activities for your toddler to cycle through. I don’t mean that you need to fill your carry-on bags with toddler toys, but just make sure you strategize about your airplane activities for your toddler, and make sure they easily accessible during your flight.

Pro Tip: The majority of these airplane activities for toddlers also great road trip activities for younger kids.

Best Toddler Airplane Activities (1 Year to 18 Months Old)

Having flown with babies and toddlers of all ages, I can tell you the most intimidating age to fly with a toddler is between 1 year old and 18 months old, especially if it’s a long haul flight. At 12-18 months old, their attention span is still pretty short, yet they are very active. My Flying with a Toddler post, mentioned above, has all my best tips for flying with a toddler, including getting your toddler to sleep on the plane.

There’s a great illustration from the book Happiest Toddler on the Block that shows a 7 minute time span of an 18 month old in a nursery moving from station to station. The high energy levels, combined with a lack of focus, helps to explain why the 1 year old toddler travel toys you packed for your 18 month old will only entertain your toddler for such a short time!

an illustration from the Happiest Toddler on the Block book showing the relative activity levels of a baby vs a toddler.

So how do you keep an 18 month old entertained on a plane? Thankfully, the plane and all the passengers on it are still going to be quite a novelty and will definitely help entertain your toddler on the plane. Taking many trips up and down the aisle and playing with everything around are great airplane activities for 18 month olds.

a BabyanTravel.com toddler entertains himself with a seat buckle during a family flight.
My toddler was content to play with the airplane seat belt on a long haul flight.

In my experience, the best travel toys for toddlers on airplanes are simple toys that are going to be easy to put away and take back out because you’ll be doing a lot of that.

1. Snacks Which Require Motor Skills

I’ve found there are two good reasons to feed your toddler plenty of toddler airplane snacks. Not only will snack time provide a time-killing activity, it will also help stave off a hangry toddler during the flight. The best snacks for toddlers on the plane are ones that take require simple motor skills and longer to eat, like Cheerios served in a spill-proof snack container.

2. Reading to your Toddler

Reading to my children has always been a big part of our family time and we like to make sure it continues when we travel. Books with plenty of pictures that you can talk about are an excellent way to entertain a toddler on a long flight. I especially like the board books in the First 100 Box Set for this.

how to keep toddler busy on plane - educational picture books.

If you don’t mind a little screen time, I absolutely love using a digital library for kids while traveling with toddlers. Digital libraries have a huge selection of simple books for toddlers, most of which can be downloaded for offline use during your flight.

Before I discovered digital libraries, I would pack a selection of books for my toddler. They were big, heavy and took up space in my carry-on bag. To make matters worse, my toddler would get bored of them super quick. Subscribing to a digital library was a real game changer for me. It allowed me to read a wide variety of books to my toddler, while leaving the bulky board books at home. This, of course, freed up more room in my carry-on bag for more toddler travel toys.

3. Travel Activity Packs

If you don’t have the time or energy to plan enough plane activities for for your 18 month old (I totally get it – parenting is exhausting!), the KeepEmQuiet travel packs are a fast and easy way to get everything you need to entertain your toddlers on the plane!

KeepEmQuiet has a wide variety of travel packs for boys or girls aged 1 – 5 years old.

KeepEmQuiet sells prepackaged toddler airplane activities, like this travel pack with books, snacks and toys.

4. Simple Apps

I also like to include very simple apps in my arsenal of toddler airplane activities. I introduced our toddler to a few simple, yet engaging apps between 1 year and 18 months of age. Like all travel toys for toddlers, these toddler apps don’t hold attention for long but it’s nice to have “easy to pack” distractions to rotate through.

peekaboo barn is one of the best apps for entertaining toddlers on a plane.
Baby's Musical Hands is one of the best apps to entertain a baby on a plane.

5. A Good Selection of Small Travel Toys

Books and apps are great ways to entertain an 18 month old on a plane, but you’ll also want to pack a healthy selection of small toddler travel toys as well. My recommendations below are based on my actual favorite toddler plane activities from our family flights with kids aged 1 year to 18 months. You won’t go wrong with these proven toddler airplane activities like coloring books, stickersfinger puppetsgel clings and this cute buckle toy.

6. Mess-free, Reusable Activity Books

Another one of my all-time favorite travel activities for a 1 year old are the Melissa & Doug On the Go Water Wow! Activity Books. I love how they work with water (i.e. very little mess) and they are reusable.

Melissa & Doug Water Wow! activity books are one of our all-time favorite travel activities for toddlers
A toddler from BabyCanTravel.com colors a on Melissa & Doug Water Wow activity book while on a family vacation.
My toddler played with the Water Wow books on the plane and in our Airbnb rental.

Best Airplane Activities for Toddlers (18 Months to 2 Years Old)

When traveling with toddlers between 18 months and 2 years, you’ll find their attention span for watching short cartoons will start to appear. This is good news for flying with a 2-year old as you can get a break every now and then! If you start to give your child some in-flight screen time, don’t forget to pack volume-limiting toddler headphones for flying.

To keep your toddler entertained on the flight, here are the best toys for toddlers on planes which helped us get through many long-haul flights. As a bonus, these travel toys also make great road trip activities for toddlers:

1. Books For Toddlers

The benefits of reading to your children are countless. The big benefit of reading to your toddler on the flight is that a good book will engage them and keep them occupied for a longer period of time. A good trick I’ve used is to bring a selection of their current favorites, and surprise them with some new toddler books.

Toddler books about travel - Richard Scarry's Busy Busy World.

As mentioned above, a great alternative to packing lots of heavy toddler books in your carry-on is to get a digital library for kids. I used digital libraries extensively while traveling with my small kids – it was a real game changer!

Now that your toddler has an attention span for short shows, you can take advantage of the Read to Me stories. The app reads these special stories aloud to your child (using airplane safe headphones of course), while highlighting the words. This is an excellent alternative to mindless Netflix cartoons. Our young kids would ‘read’ these Read to Me stories for hours on end if we’d let them. This feature frees you up to watch a movie or listen to an audio book.

Celine Brewer, of BabyCanTravel.com, reads a bedtime story to her kids on a family vacation using the a digital library reading app.
A digital library for kids isn’t just for the plane – I use it for bedtime stories in the Airbnb as well.

2. Buckle Toys

There’s just something magical about buckle toys that toddlers can’t get enough of. With lots of buckles, zippers your toddler will not only work on their fine motor skills, but they’ll also love their new stuffy friend.

3. Finger Puppets

For parents that are blessed with good storytelling abilities, having a small collection of finger puppets is an excellent way to entertain a toddler on a plane. With a good imagination, your toddler will love listening and watching your stories on the flight.

4. Coloring Books for Toddlers

Having a simple coloring book is another plane activity for 2 year olds which can occupy a lot of time. My First Big Book of Coloring was hands-down the best coloring book we’ve ever had for our toddlers. The pictures are big and simple, perfect for toddlers learning to color.

If you are thinking of letting your toddler color on the plane, do yourself a favor and pick-up some triangular crayons. If you bring traditional round crayons, get ready to spend half your flight picking up the crayons which rolled off the tray table onto the floor. The ingenious triangular crayons sit flat on the tray and won’t roll on the floor.

4. Reusable Sticker Books

Another of my favorite toddler travel toys was the Melissa & Doug reusable sticker pads. These toddler activity books come with several colorful backgrounds along with hundreds of fun, reusable stickers for your toddler to make their own scenes with. My kids would play with these reusable sticker books for a long time!

Melissa & Doug reusable sticker pads are excellent travel toys for toddlers on airplanes.

5. Little Baby Bum

Our kids LOVED the Little Baby Bum videos at this age. With over 30 billion worldwide views, it seems they have captivated a few other kids as well.

Little Baby Bum videos are colorful, entertaining and educational, and I found it truly incredible for how long it would hold their attention. There’s a wide selection of Little Baby Bum on YouTube, but there are also shows available on Netflix Amazon Prime Video (depending on which country you are in) for downloading onto our iPads.

Little Baby Bum is an excellent toddler activity for airplane.

6. Toddler Friendly Apps for Flights

I continued to add new apps to my list of airplane activities for our toddler for each flight. I would always do a test run with them at home prior to our flight to make sure our toddler was capable of playing them and enjoyed them.

Celine Brewer, of the Baby Can Travel website, uses apps on her iPhone as airplane activities for an 18 month old.
Playing some easy apps on my iPhone was the perfect distraction for take off and landing.

Again, no single app held my toddler’s attention for very long, but having several apps allowed my toddler to flip between them. Some of my favorite apps for entertaining toddlers on a plane were:

Sago Mini - Forest Flyer is one of the best apps for entertaining toddlers on a plane.
apps like Sago Mini Babies are excellent plane activities for 18 month old.
Nighty Night was one of our favorite 18 month old plane activities.
Petting Zoo is one of the best apps to keep toddler entertained on airplane.

6. Water Wow Coloring Books

Even if you bring a traditional coloring book and triangular crayons for your toddler, don’t forget the Melissa & Doug On the Go Water Wow! Activity Books. They are one of the best travel activities for toddlers since they are easy to pack, use water for very little mess and are a great alternative when your toddler needs a new activity that doesn’t involve more screen time.

Another great mess-free coloring activity to keep 2 year olds entertained on the airplane are the Crayola Color Wonder mess-free books, which my kids also loved as travel toys.

Airplane Activities for Kids over 2 Years

As your little toddler begins to transition into a preschooler, they will get much easier to entertain on the plane. Flying with a 3 year old is easier than flying with a 2 year old, as their attention span allows them to watch a movie (or chunks of it at a time). 

Kids over 2 can also spend more time focused on a task like coloring or playing with stickers, which makes them excellent 2 year old travel toys.

The Melissa & Doug On the Go Water Wow! Activity Books are still a great mess-free & screen-free airplane activity to bring along. Of course, snacks are always a good way to keep an older toddler happy and busy on the plane.

I recently discovered a new travel toy for 2 year olds that my kids love. Boogie Boards are small, lightweight writing tablets for kids which allows them to draw as many pictures as they want without ever running out of paper. Our Boogie Boards kept my kids occupied for hours!

Toys for Preschoolers on Flights - Boogie Board.

If your child loves books, bring along some favorites to (re)read. Aside from using a digital library for kids for reading, I have transitioned to bringing along magazines for older kids like National Geographic Little Kids (ages 3 – 6) or High Five magazine (ages 2 – 6) instead of books. Magazines are smaller than books and bringing along the latest issue ensures it is something they haven’t read before. Plus, it’s not the end of the world if they get wrecked along the way.

Magazines provide stories and activities that can help entertain your preschooler for the duration of your trip, plus they take up very little room compared to books. My kids especially loved the High Five magazine – we subscribed to it for many years.

National Geographic Little Kids magazine is a good airplane activity for an 18 month old.
books to entertain kids on airplane - High Five Magazine.
a toddler from BabyCanTravel.com, reads Highlights High Five magazine on an airplane.
My toddler enjoying his Highlights High Five magazine on the airplane.

If you’d like your toddler to actually learn something, instead of watching mindless shows on Netflix, ABCmouse has eight educational apps (for iOS and Android) which can be used offline, making them perfect toddler activities for flights.

Your trip is a perfect time to try ABCMouse risk-free for 30 days! If your kids don’t love it, simply cancel it when you get back from your trip.

ABCmouse educational apps are fun activities for toddlers on a plane.

Being slightly older, my kids loved getting the iPad at this age. I don’t give them the iPad much at home so it becomes my best airplane activity for our toddler and preschooler. I love these apps for flying with children between the ages of 2 and 4 years old are:

airplane activities for 18 month old - Toca Life Vacation app.
plane activities for 18 month old - Little Fox Animal Doctor app.
18 month old plane activities - Toca Hair Salon 3 app.
how to entertain 18 month old on plane - Toca Life Pets app.

I hope my personal recommendations for the best airplane activities for babies and toddlers helps make your upcoming flight a lot smoother. You’ve got this!

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The best travel toys for babies and toddlers. This post is filled with ways to entertain your baby or toddler on a plane

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info@babycantravel.com | Website | + posts

Celine Brewer is the owner of Baby Can Travel. Not only does she have years of experience traveling with babies & toddlers, but she's helped millions of new parents travel with their babies and toddlers for over a decade. In addition to writing on her baby travel blog, she has shared her expertise on traveling with a baby or toddler by contributing to articles about traveling with a baby with the Washington Post, USA Today, the Lonely Planet magazine and Pregnancy & Newborn magazine.

Celine also writes about family travel on the site FamilyCanTravel.com, which she co-owns with her husband. Being from the Canadian Rockies, she shares her passion about her home and travel to Banff National Park and area on their site TravelBanffCanada.com.

Read more about Celine Brewer.