Until a few years ago I thought there was nothing more annoying, on a plane, than families travelling with young children. The screaming, the crumbs, the noisy toys: everything felt like a personal attack on my quiet time and would spark in me terrible bad moods and judgemental thoughts.

Why were the parents not doing anything about this awful racket their kids were creating? With all the parenting books around, surely there was a no stress air travel with toddlers checklist that they could just follow: how come they didn’t simply comply?

Of course, things changed when I did actually have children of my own.

Not only did I discover that the many ‘how to’ lists for parents are hardly a guarantee to no stress parenting, but I also came to the realisation that the calm expression on parents’ faces is not lack of care for the comfort of the other passengers (well, sometimes it is) but often an attempt to lower the energy levels, apply the ‘pay no attention’ strategy and get the child to regain some stillness. Go figure.

Once I had my own children I also realised something that is totally obvious but often seems not to cross the mind of the non-parent.

Restless, screaming children are not only stressful for the other passengers, but are a  source of incredible stress to parents who have to endure the same noise as you (because we hear it too, you know?) and, also the terrible pressure that comes from knowing that the whole plane is holding you responsible for it and is judging every move you make.

So, in an attempt to make flying a little less stressful for everyone, when I started flying with children I came up with my own air travel with toddler checklist of things that help us and the other passengers to have a reasonably calm flight. It is not fool proof and it’s not a guarantee of totally stress-free plane journeys, but works for us and I hope can work for you too.  So here it is:

Top 10 tips on how to keep toddlers busy when flying

You might also want to check my list for a road trip with children: you can find it here.

1. Bring finger food

This will not save you from crumbs, but I find finger food one of the best ways to keep a child entertained and happy. I usually bring rice cakes, bread sticks, fruit and water, to keep both hands and mouths busy. If you are flying long haul, you might be given the choice of pre-booking children meals: I strongly suggest that you do and also you check again with the airline that they have your order: I know it sounds obsessive, but it makes life on board a lot easier! You can read

If you are flying long haul, you might be given the choice of pre-booking children meals: I strongly suggest that you do and also you check again with the airline that they have your order: I know it sounds obsessive, but it makes life on board a lot easier! You can read

You can read here 5 other tips well-travelled parents shared with me about lessons learnt on the move

Family travel tip: If travelling with toddlers or very young kids, bringin finger food has an extra advantage: tupperware! My kids used to spend hours opening and closing food container: for safety and pleasure, buy BPA free, colourful containers with removable lids so kids can play with them once the food is gone. 

How to keep toddlers busy when flying? With a reusable sticker book! Not messy and not noisy, possibly the best flying companion

2. Sticker books

this is my all time favourite for plane travel. They keep the kids entertained for ages, they are not noisy, they don’t take lots of space and can double up as a book to read, if you choose some with a story line or characters the kids know. I usually buy a new sticker book in the airport, to have the novelty factor work with me, and bring some favourite books from home.

3. Just Books

An easy one but always very successful (Peppa Pig and Thomas got us through a transatlantic flight). If you are looking for inspiration of books for young children, here are 10 of our favourites

4. Electronics with good kids apps

My kids spend too much time in front of the screen and this is not a good thing, but I find some kids app a real life saver on a plane. There are very many to choose from but my kids love the lonely beast (version 1 and 2, one with letters and one with numbers), petting zoo and Starfall ABC. The lonely beast is originally a  book and it’s so funny it’s really worth getting. If you have an ipad, the Lonely Beast read out loud ebook is also excellent.

Update 2017: recent development in aviation rules mean that on some long haul flights ipads and laptops are no longer allowed. At present, mobile phones are allowed and some of the apps mentioned above are available on smartphones too. On smaller screens, my kids are fond of Starfall Abc, the lonely beast, in the night garden app and cut the rope.

5. Puzzles

Puzzles are a tricky thing. The small pieces might fall and condemn you to forever bend down on a quest for the missing piece, by they are a silent toy and can be done and undone many times. My favourite is a super clever one whose pieces do not detach but rather slide in grooves. Genius!


6. Colours and paper

This is always our go-to option, especially because the airline we use the most gives you complimentary colours when buying a kids meal. if you bring your own, bring water washable colours as they will inevitable go on the plane table, cabin walls, windows….

7. A checklist of interesting things to spot

Who can see a truck? a blue plane? the food trolley? the mountains? the sea? the city?

8. A Magic Drawing Board

No mess, no noise, hours of entertainment – maybe the most plane friendly toy of all!

9. A special toy

May it be a car, a doll or whatever toy your child is attached to. My children fly pretty often but still get a bit nervous at take-off and the favourite toy usually calms them.

 Unfortunately toys might get lost when travelling so I put extra care in telling my kids that I’d rather leave home the truly special ones and pick one that will be just for this trip: we pick it a few days before, the kids start thinking of it as their vacation companion but do not run the risk of losing something is totally irreplaceable

10. A bag for the toys

I give one bag to each child and put them in charge of it (under very strict supervision). I find that the kids are very responsive to being put in charge and are is they feel that bag is ‘their thing’ will more willingly put things away.

So this is my checklist for air travel with kids: do you have any special tip I can add?


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