How to Entertain Kids on an Airplane

There is not much to see during long flights, so help kids entertain themselves.
There is not much to see during long flights, so help kids entertain themselves. (Image: airplane window image by chadidork from

Long airplane rides are boring for adults, and even more boring for children. On really long flights, there is not much to see or do inside the plane, and nothing to see outside the window. Not only that, it is cramped and there is no space to spread out. Before 9-11, children could go visit the pilot in the cockpit, which was a welcome break. Now, airlines want passengers to keep to their seats. The best way to keep your kids happy on board is to make sure they can entertain themselves.

Things You'll Need

  • Toys
  • Blanket
  • Paper or coloring books
  • Colored pencils and crayons
  • Books
  • Games

Prepare for the Flight

Prepare your child. Discuss in advance what will happen, and explain how he should behave on the plane. Make sure your child understands that before reaching the destination, whether it is Grandma's house or Disneyland, there will be a long trip. Make sure he understands what toys he will have on board.

Schedule the trip overnight, if possible. Whether this is a good idea depends on your child. For children who always fall asleep promptly at bedtime, a long flight overnight will go by in no time. Children who are active in the evenings will have a harder time falling asleep on an overnight flight.

Select a good seat. Airlines try to be accommodating to families. Book early so that everyone can sit together. Get the exit row or end of section seats, so it is easy for your child to move about. She may want to sit by the window, or between her parents. If you have more than one child, they may want to switch seats during the flight. Be flexible in the seating arrangements, but try to keep everyone happy with their seat location.

Pack together. Get a small carry-on suitcase or backpack for your child, and pack it together a couple of days in advance. If your child is old enough to understand the concept of sitting still for a long time, let him choose a few of his books and toys to bring along. Pack a change of clothes to carry on as well, especially for toddlers.

Bring some extra toys. It is always a good idea to surprise your child by letting her find something interesting but familiar that she did not pack herself.

Pack a blanket. A familiar blanket will help your child feel safe and fall asleep more easily. A blanket from home is also likely to be softer and more comfortable than an airline blanket.

Do not buy new toys for the flight. Unless your child is a frequent flier, the airplane will be an unfamiliar setting and may make him nervous. Having familiar toys to play with will help ease the tension.

Bring toys that will sustain your child's interest. A book of stickers is less effective than a coloring book, a game less effective than a book. Once your child has used up the stickers, the sticker book is not very useful, but a coloring book has many pages and will last a long time. A game may become boring after repeated rounds, but a book can be read again. Remember that electronic toys can not be used during take-off and landing.

In Flight

Use one toy or book at a time. If you have prepared them appropriately, children will realize that they should play with things one at the time, and not bring everything out at once.

Use the in-flight entertainment system. Most long flights have personalized entertainment screens. Help your child use it and find something interesting.

Make your child feel safe. The more you fret, the more nervous she will be.

Engage your child in activities. The more occupied he is, the faster time flies. Bring a story book and read it together. Ask your child to create his own story around it, if he is old enough.

Have a snack at regular intervals. Packaged snacks can be bought in the airport or brought from home. Do not reset your watch to the arrival time zone until you get there, but keep it on home time so that you know what time your child's body clock is set to.

At Layovers

Prepare your child for any layovers in advance. Make sure she understands that the journey will continue after waiting in the airport.

Explore the new airport. Research in advance to see if there are any fun things to do. Most children enjoy looking out the big airport windows at the planes taking off and landing.

Prepare the toys at the gate. Be at the gate about ten minutes before boarding time, since parents with children are usually allowed to pre-board. Use that time for the children to choose which toys they will want first.

Tips & Warnings

  • Some airlines provide children with activity books or paper airplane kits. If none are offered, ask a flight attendant.
  • Ask airport staff for assistance, especially with baby carts and luggage.
  • Do not drink before or during the flight. This might make your child nervous and make the flight harder for both of you.

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