Traveling with small children can be so rewarding, yet many parents get nervous about the prospect of flying with a baby or toddler. We get it… I was nervous too before many flights with our kids. I didn’t want us to be “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 our readers about the best airplane activities for a baby or toddler.
You’ve come to the right place. The following suggestions for baby airplane activities or how to keep a toddler busy on a plane, 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 our favorite baby travel toys and ways to keep a toddler entertained for a long flight. I cover air travel with a baby at each stage of development, starting with flying with an infant, working our way up to flying with a toddler and preschooler.
Airplane Activities for Babies & Toddlers – Table of Contents
This post contains compensated links.
I also have plenty more tips for flying with a baby and surviving air travel with toddlers, since I know that flying with a baby or toddler can be stressful.
How to Entertain a Baby on a Plane
Best Infant Travel Toys (0 to 3 Months Old)
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.
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 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. Top Board Books for Entertaining Baby on Plane
These classic children’s board books were two of our children’s favorite books when they were babies.
Already have these excellent board books? Check out the current best selling baby board books on Amazon.
2. Teething Toy or Necklace to Keep Baby Busy on Plane
3. Colorful Texture Toys for Keeping Baby Entertained on Plane
Pro Tip: It’s hard to watch a movie and your sleeping infant at the same time. On our family flights, we found that listening to an audio book was the perfect solution to keep us entertained, yet allowed us to watch our baby sleep during the flight. Sign 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.
Before you go, check out our best baby gear for travel as well as our best tips for getting your baby to sleep on vacation and dealing with baby jet lag.
Best Plane Activities for Babies (6 to 12 Months Old)
We found when traveling with a baby between 6 months and up to 1 year old, they were mostly interested in playing with 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 activities for your 9 month old on the plane 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 during the flight. 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.
Snacks are also a great way to entertain a baby on a plane and is also one of our best tips for traveling with a baby. We 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!
One of the best baby toys we had for airplane travel with a 1 year old was an activity ball. We loved how this baby toy could hold our 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 a great travel toy to keep your baby busy on the plane.
Other good plane activities for 1 year olds 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 baby toys for the plane.
Should you hand out baby’s first flight gift bags?
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.
Hoping your toddler will sleep on the flight? Check out these inflatable airplane travel beds for toddlers or read our full Fly Tot Review and Flyaway Kids Bed Review.
The key to ‘surviving’ a flight with a toddler is to have enough airplane activities for your toddler to cycle through. This doesn’t mean you need to fill your carry-on bags with toys, but just make sure you are able to have the activities for your toddler on the plane easily accessible.
The majority of these suggestions are also great road trip activities for younger kids.
Best Plane Activities for Toddlers (12 to 18 Months Old)
A long flight with a child who is between 12 to 18 months old can be the most intimidating age to fly with a toddler. At this age, their attention span is still pretty short, yet they are very active.
Our Flying with a Toddler post, mentioned above, has all our 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 This 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!
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 entertain your toddler on the airplane. Taking trips up and down the aisle and playing with everything around are great plane activities for toddlers.
For this age, some of 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.
Plenty of toddler airplane snacks that will provide some distraction are always a winner when flying with small children. The best snacks for toddlers on the plane are ones that take longer to eat, like Cheerios served in a spill-proof snack container.
Reading to our 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. We especially like the board books in the First 100 Box Set for this.
If you don’t mind a little screen time, we absolutely love the Epic! Digital Library for traveling with toddlers. This excellent children’s reading app has a huge selection of simple books for toddlers, most of which can be downloaded for offline use during your flight. Using Epic! allowed us to leave our bulky board books at home, freeing up more room in our carry-on bags for more toddler travel toys.
Your upcoming family trip is a great time to try their free 7 day trial. If you don’t like it, simply cancel when you get home from your trip.
If you don’t have the time or energy to plan enough plane activities for for your 18 month old (we get it – parenting is exhausting!), the KeepEmQuiet travel packs are a fast and easy way to get everything you need to entertain you toddlers for your flight!
KeepEmQuiet has a wide variety of travel packs for boys or girls aged 1 – 5 years old.
We also like to include very simple apps in our arsenal of toddler airplane activities. We introduced our toddler to a few simple, yet engaging apps between 12 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.
Books and apps are great ways to entertain a toddler on a plane, but you’ll also want to pack a healthy selection of toddler travel toys as well. Our recommendations below are based on our actual favorite toddler plane activities from our family flights with kids aged 12 to 18 months. You won’t go wrong with these proven toddler airplane activities like coloring books, stickers, finger puppets, gel clings and this cute buckle toy.
Another one of our all-time favorite travel toys for a 1 year old are the Melissa & Doug On the Go Water Wow! Activity Books. Not only do they work with water (i.e. very little mess) but they are reusable.
Best Airplane Activities for Toddlers (18 to 24 Months Old)
When traveling with toddlers between 18 and 24 months, you’ll find their attention span for watching short cartoons will start to appear. This is good news for flying with a toddler as you can get a break every now and then! Don’t forget to pack your best 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 is to bring a selection of their current favorites along with some new toddler books.
As mentioned above, a great alternative to packing lots of heavy toddler books is to get the Epic! Digital Library. We used Epic! a ton while traveling with our small kids.
Now that your toddler has an attention span for short shows, you can take advantage of the Read to Me stories on Epic!. The Epic! app reads the stories aloud to your child (using airplane safe headphones of course), while highlighting the words. We think 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.
Your upcoming flight is a perfect time to try their free 7 day trial. If you don’t like it, simply cancel when you get home from your trip.
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 small pack of triangular crayons (which won’t roll away) and a simple coloring books are another plane activity for toddlers 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 a toddler. The pictures are big and simple, perfect for toddlers learning to color.
4. Reusable Sticker Books
Another of our favorite toddler travel toys was the Melissa & Doug reusable sticker pads. These toddler activity books usually come with several colorful backgrounds along with hundreds of fun, reusable stickers for your toddler to make their own scenes with. Our kids would play with these reusable sticker books for a long time!
5. Little Baby Bum
Our kids LOVED the Little Baby Bum videos at this age. Little Baby Bum videos are colorful, entertaining and educational, and it was 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) onto our iPads.
6. Toddler Friendly Apps for Flights
We continued to add new apps to our list of airplane activities for our toddler for each flight. We 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.
Again, no single app held our toddler’s attention for very long, but having several apps allowed our toddler to flip between them. Some of our favorite apps for toddlers at this age were:
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 isn’t more screen time.
Another great alternative to keep older toddlers entertained on the airplane are the Crayola Color Wonder mess-free books.
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).
They 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 busy on the plane.
We recently discovered a new travel toy that our kids love and is excellent for toddlers. 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 our kids occupied for hours!
If your child loves books, bring along some favorites to (re)read. Aside from using the Epic! Digital Library for reading, we have transitioned to bringing along older kids magazines like National Geographic Little Kids or High Five instead of books. They are smaller than books and bringing along the newest issue ensures they haven’t read it before.
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.
If you’d like your toddler to actually learn something, instead of watching mindless movies, 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.
Being slightly older kids, they loved getting the iPad at this age. They don’t get it a lot at home so it becomes our best airplane activity for our toddler and preschooler. We love these apps for flying with children between the ages of 2 and 4 years old are:
Epic! – Our Favorite Travel App
Ok, so you probably noticed we mentioned the Epic digital library a lot. There’s a reason for that – we used it a ton while traveling with our kids. It was the biggest game changer for us when traveling with babies and toddlers.
Before Epic, we’d lug a bag full of kids books with us on our family trips, but the kids would get bored of them almost right away. With Epic, we could leave the big, heavy books at home and bring a nearly limitless library of baby and toddler books with us on our travels.
As the “Netflix of Children’s Books“, the Epic! reading app is the one travel app we can’t live without. Having a selection of 40,000 children’s books to travel with is a huge benefit for parents. We love using the Epic reading app with our kids both for in-flight entertainment and for bedtimes at the hotel.
Your upcoming family trip is an ideal time to try their free 7 day trial. If you don’t love it, simply cancel it when you get home from your family trip. To see how this digital reading app can improve your family trip, check out our in-depth review of the Epic! Digital Library.
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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This post was written & edited by:
Celine is the owner of Baby Can Travel. Not only does she have years of experience traveling with babies & toddlers, but she's been helping new parents travel with their babies and toddlers for over a decade.
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.