November 21, 2017

50+ Ways to Occupy a Toddler on an Airplane

I'll be honest here, going into our recent trip to Alaska, I was nervous. Not nervous for the visit itself, but nervous for the plane ride there and back.

It wasn't the fear of flying itself that made me nervous. Nah, it was the fear of the 14 hour travel day with a toddler that sparked the nerves. 

I knew the flight would be different than her last two at 3 months and 10 months. Toddlers are fully mobile, opinionated and most times, it’s their way or the highway.

So ya, I was nervous.

50+ Ways to Occupy a Toddler on an Airplane

I know you're dying to know... how did it go?!

I would love to tell you that the flights (that's plural, for three flights each way) were all rainbows and butterflies, but they weren't. There were a few times when we became "those people” - the people that everyone rolls their eyes at when they see a small child in tow. The people with the screaming, inconsolable toddler. The people whose anxiety immediately shoots through the roof because we knew things could go downhill real fast if we didn't act quick.

But, at the end of the flight, we were also the people who received comments about how well their child traveled. Even from a few of those initial eye rollers.

It really wasn't so bad.

I had worked myself up for it to be so awful, that when in reality, it was not all that bad.

Despite a few short moments of anxiety, it was all worth the memories we made with Morley, and we would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

50+ Ways to Occupy a Toddler on an Airplane

Are you planning a trip on an airplane with a toddler? There are many ways to keep them occupied that don't take a lot of prep work. Here are 40+ tried and true options to consider for your next airplane ride with a toddler.


My first piece of advice comes before you even get on the plane, and involves booking your flights. If possible, schedule your flights around your child’s nap time or overnight, in hopes that they sleep. Avoid times when they are cranky. Don’t pick a flight that sets you up for failure before you even leave.

If your child will be sitting on your lap, book your seat in the aisle. When time comes, this will allow your child to wander up and down the aisle, and you easier access to chase them/the washroom.

When packing, add extra clothes, pjs, stuffy and blankie to your carry on for some added comfort. 

Remember there is often 2-3 hours of waiting time in the airport, between check in and boarding. For us, this was possibly the hardest part. (Especially when one of our flights home was delayed and that initial 2.5 hours turned into 4.) Bring a small umbrella stroller to push your child through the airport. While you’re waiting to board, this could also become a toy for them, allowing them to push it around. Most airlines will also allow you to gate check this free of charge.

50+ Ways to Occupy a Toddler on an Airplane


Once you get on the plane, work with what is available to you. If your child will be sitting on your lap and you see an empty row, immediately ask the flight attendant if you can take advantage. Giving your lap infant a seat of their own will give you more room as well. 

Comfort is key, especially on long flights when you're trying to get your child to sleep. Ask the flight attendant for an extra blanket.

If the flight is during their normal sleeping time, change them into their pyjamas and give them a bottle (if they take one) to signal its time to sleep. If your child drinks milk, don’t worry about bringing your own. Ask your flight attendant. On our recent Delta flight, they had small cartons available. 

If your child still takes a pacifiernow is not the time to leave it at home. Not only will this help with comfort, it may also help alleviate some discomfort during takeoff and landing. Bring a pacifier clip and attach it to your child's clothing so it doesn't fall on the floor. 


Ask the flight attendant if they have any activities for younger children - often times this may be as simple as a colouring book and crayons

Next, there's always the inflight entertainment system - pop on a movie or tv show your child enjoys. Depending on the carrier, nowadays the selection is pretty impressive. Read through the magazine and safety card in the seat back pocket.

As much as we try to avoid the use of the iPad, we knew it was not going to happen on a long travel day. In fact, we encouraged it. Prior to the trip, we downloaded lots of new and exciting toddler-friendly apps. Elmo ABC, KidsDoodle (pictured below) and Toddler Flash Cards (pictured below) topped Morley’s favourites list.  Don't forget about a solid case to product the iPad incase your toddler drops it. 

Since we did not want her using headphones, we opted for apps that did not need sound. This also helped to minimize the disruption to our neighbours. If you have a Netflix subscription, download a few of their favourite shows a head of time. 

50+ Ways to Occupy a Toddler on an Airplane

Real books are heavy, and with carryon space at a premium, I recommend that you leave them at home. If your toddler enjoys reading, try downloading some picture books on your iPad or tablet. 

The busy bag I created was a hit. I filled it with some of Morley’s favourite things (crayons, colouring book, stickers) and some things she had never seen before (play-dohanimal dominoesgel window clings, etc.). I packed items that were small and could be sorted, stacked, or otherwise moved from place to place - foam blockscoloured popsicle stickssmall animal figurines, to name a few. 

The bag itself (her school backpack) was also a hit - she loved playing with the zipper

50+ Ways to Occupy a Toddler on an Airplane


When the snack and drink service comes around, take advantage of what they have to offer. Grab extra snacks, some for now and some for later. Toddlers love to sort and move things from place to place. Ask for a few extra creamers for your coffee and an extra cup. Put down the tray table and let them use their imagination.

Snacks are a must. Our go-tos are squeezable apple sauce pouches and small finger foods, such as goldfish, cheerios and veggie sticks. Small, individual pieces will take your toddler time to eat. (Be sure to check FAA regulations before you pack your snacks.) 

To save on space, only pack enough for one leg of your journey. If you have a layover, plan to restock your snacks at an airport store. Fruit snacks, granola bars, yogurt and fruit cups can easily be found. Don’t forget to grab utensils, or bring your own from home.

For drinks, make sure you have a sippy cup with a straw and/or closable lid. Last thing you want is the water spilling all over, or falling on the gross floor.

Have you taken an airplane with a toddler? What are some of your favourite ways to occupy a tiny traveler? I’d love to hear!

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