Did you travel as a child? Do you remember loving every second of it? Chances are, you probably didn’t. Once you got where you were going, GAME ON! But traveling can be difficult when it comes to keeping kids entertained on long flights. Rather than anxiously awaiting your upcoming airplane fiasco, do some planning ahead. Long flights with kids can be fun flights with kids – if you play your cards right.
Truth be told, kids of any age can present patience-testing behaviors when they’re cooped up in an airplane for a painfully long time. However, the younger the child, the more prone you’ll probably be to having to deal with boredom (and other possible outbursts). Before you take off, take note of these 18 ways to keep your kids entertained on long flights.
Keeping Younger Kids Entertained On Long Flights
Look, we get it. You don’t let your kids watch TV for hours on end at home. Maybe they’re only allowed to play with the iPad for 90 minutes – only if their homework is finished or they’ve been good all day. It’s a great practice, but when you’re on an airplane with them for, let’s say, 15 hours on your way to Tanzania? Well, we get that too – you need to cave. Let those at-home rules slide a bit. When they’re happily humming along in coach class, you’ll be glad you did.
Grab a few of your kids’ favorite coloring books before take-off (not too many – they’ll make that carry-on a bit heavy!), or, take a look around PBS.org and Parenting.com for single pages to print for coloring later. Pro tip: Permanent markers are bright and bold, but they’re not good for planes. Some people are sensitive to the smell. And really, you don’t want to have to apologize for your kid accidentally destroying something by leaving their permanent rendition of “I ♥️ Mom” scrawled all over it. If your children are old enough, colored pencils are best. If younger and more prone to poking someone in the eye, stick with crayons.
2. Simple jewelry
Grab a couple baggies and toss in paper clips, beads, buttons, and dried pasta (elbows or ditalini work well for this). Let the kids go to town on making jewelry that won’t be missed if it gets lost or damaged. Remember, while your tweens and teens won’t be interested in this crafty activity, it is best for children over the age of eight – the last thing you need on a plane is a mess to clean up.
3. Snack & craft
Don’t mix this with the “simple jewelry” suggestion, as we’d hate for your little ones to accidentally eat a bead or a button. For this version, bring some string and Cheerios to make necklaces with… and then eat them later!
4. New toy surprise (think clip-on!)
No need for extravagant gadgets and pricy items. Swing by a dollar store, Wal-Mart, or Target and buy small (cheap!) toys. Wrap them, if you’re feeling fun. Most importantly: Don’t tell your kids you’re doing this. Save these for the plane ride when a surprise toy may take up a solid 30 minutes of time. For young kids, we highly recommend clip-on teethers like the Tasty Tie for flights to avoid any throwing or dropping while you’re on the move!
5. Mini Etch-a-sketch
If you can find one, these smaller versions of our childhood favorite are perfect for planes. They’re mess-free, completely contained, require no batteries, and can be dropped or squished without breaking.
6. Window clings
Whether gel or simple, these are a mess-free way to pass some time. Give your kid the window seat, open the window clings, and let him or her go to town!
7. Snacks (but not just any snacks)
You’re traveling. You’ll bring snacks regardless. But for the longer flights with the younger kids, foods that take longer to eat will be your friend! Things like mini boxes of raisins, string cheese, licorice, and oranges all take longer to prep (and in some cases, chew!).
Keeping Older Kids Entertained On Long Flights
We said it before, and we’ll say it again: Now is not the time to limit your teen’s time on his or her device. If it keeps them occupied and fills a few hours of their travel time, so be it! Fortunately though, settling in with the iPad isn’t the only way to pass the time…
Sometimes you need to have… more. If a tablet doesn’t do it for you or your kids, bring a laptop. Generally speaking, you’ll have more space (digitally), more apps, and – should you decide to spend time online – a full keyboard.
Power down the devices for a few hours and go old school with crosswords, word searches, word games, and more.
10. Coloring books
This is not a repeat. We repeat: This is not a repeat. Adult coloring books have gained tons of popularity recently, and there are books of just about any theme imaginable. Grab your colored pencils and decorate something intricate!
11. Magnetic travel games
These may take a bit of looking to find (hello, Amazon!), but they’re meant for situations just like this! Since they’re magnetic, you don’t need to worry about the pieces falling between the seats or flying all over the plane during turbulence (or temper tantrums).
Keeping ANY Kids Entertained On Long Flights
If WiFi is available on your flight, by all means GET IT! Play games that require an internet connection, stream videos, watch movies, surf the web, and update your Facebook any time you want. Bonus: Some airlines offer free in-flight perks, so check with them before you go (for example, Southwest often has free streaming TV, even though the rest of the internet isn’t accessible unless you pay).
13. Card games
Great for all ages, cards are small, lightweight, easy to replace, and require no batteries! Know your audience and bring what makes sense for everyone – Go Fish for the younger ones, UNO for the whole family, and a Phase 10 or a standard deck of cards for the older kids.
14. Bargaining chips
No matter how well-behaved your children are, they’re likely to get a bit stir-crazy during a 20-hour flight to Australia. When tempers flare and grumpiness prevails, you’ll have an ace in the hole. Bring things with you that are normally off limits (or special treats). Candies, special markers, donuts – whatever it is they can’t normally have, bring it with you and break it out at the moment bargaining becomes inevitable.
15. Good headphones
Spring for the noise-cancelling variety. Not only will you be able to hear what you’re watching/playing well, you and your children won’t hear the couple arguing behind you, the gentleman snoring in front of you, the engine to the side of you, or the screeching infant in 4B. Leave the earbuds at home.
When possible, book overnight travel. The caveat here: Know your kids. If falling asleep on a plane isn’t likely, skip this. If it IS, by all means, find the latest flight possible – you won’t be entertaining for 13 hours straight if you’re all asleep! Bonus: You get to wake up in Thailand!
17. The old stand-by’s
You know the drill – bring the “regulars” with you. Magazines, books, gaming systems (Nintendo DS, for example), portable music players, e-readers, Where’s Waldo, portable DVD players, and favorite DVDs/movies will help pass a nice chunk of time. Plus, if these are already favorites at home, they go a long way toward keeping kids entertained on long flights.
18. Extra tip: Comfort items
This isn’t so much “something to do” as it is “something that will help the time not drag on even longer.” Oftentimes, kids are perfectly happy flying and watching what’s going on around them… until they don’t feel so great. You can’t bring the whole pharmacy with you, but toss a few necessities in your purse (like Tylenol, Dramamine, ear drops, chapstick, gum, wet wipes, and pacifiers).
Runner up: Play-Doh
We didn’t include this on the list because it’s not a sure thing to get through security. While it’s not on the TSA’s banned items list, agents have long been told to ‘use their discretion’ with these products. It’s inexpensive enough that you can toss it in the trash without having to worry, but we suggest not bringing it as a foundational item.
While these 18 tips can work wonders when it comes to keeping kids entertained on long flights, you’ll probably still have a few ‘moments.’ Just remember: Practice empathy, embrace patience, and laugh as often as possible. It’ll make you all feel better.
What do you bring with you on long flights? Is there one thing your kids just MUST have? Share them with us in the comments below!