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… I was also nervous before many flights with our small 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 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 suggestions 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.
Airplane Activities for Babies & Toddlers – Table of Contents
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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.
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.
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. Top Board Books for Entertaining Baby on Plane
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 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 a Plane
Pro Tip: We all love watching movies to pass the time on flights, but as a new parent it’s hard to watch a movie and your 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. 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. Why not sign up and download a good book which is long enough for both of your flights?
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 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.
Snacks are also a great way to entertain a baby on a plane and is also one of my best tips for traveling with a baby. 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!
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 you baby on 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. 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.
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 airplane activities for your toddler easily accessible.
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)
In my experience, 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. 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 plane. Taking many trips up and down the aisle and playing with everything around are great airplane activities for 18 month olds.
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 take longer to eat
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 require simple motor skills and longer to eat, like Cheerios served in a spill-proof snack container.
2. Reading to your Toddler
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. I especially like the board books in the First 100 Box Set for this.
If you don’t mind a little screen time, I 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.
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.
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.
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, stickers, finger puppets, gel 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. Not only do they work with water (i.e. very little mess) but they are reusable.
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! 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 in your carry-on is to get the Epic! Digital Library. I used Epic! extensively while traveling with our small kids – it was a real game change!
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 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.
Your upcoming flight is a perfect time to try a free 7 day trial of Epic!. If you don’t like it, simply cancel when you get home from your trip. Worst case is that you have some free toddler entertainment for the flight and for bedtimes during your family holiday.
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 – genius!) and a simple coloring book are 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.
4. Reusable Sticker Books
Another of my 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. My 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) for downloading onto our iPads.
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.
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 my favorite apps for entertaining toddlers on a plane 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 doesn’t involve more screen time.
Another great alternative 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!
If your child loves books, bring along some favorites to (re)read. Aside from using the Epic! Digital Library for reading, I have transitioned to bringing along magazines for older kids 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. 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.
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.
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:
Epic! – My Favorite Travel App
Ok, so you probably noticed I 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 heavy 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 I can’t live without. Having a huge selection of children’s books to travel with is a big 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 vacation is an ideal time to try a 7 day free trial of Epic!. If you don’t love it as much as we did, 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 my 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. In addition to writing on her baby travel blog, she has contributed to articles about traveling with a baby with the Washington Post, 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.