Things to Do With Kids on a Plane

May 20, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Adults are pretty easy to entertain when we fly. We can read, watch TV or movies on our iPad, or play Words With Friends with our cousin in Spokane. Most adults have it pretty easy because we’re mature, we’re patient, and we don’t rely on others to entertain us for hours.

Flying with kids is a whole different ballgame.

Flying with kids is a whole different sport.

Kids on a planeIf you thought car travel was bad, taking kids on a plane trip can be much, much worse. That’s because the people in the car next to you don’t give you dirty looks or think you’re the Worst Humans On Earth because your child gets a little grumpy two hours into a five hour flight.

So how can you keep your kids entertained while they’re on the flight?

If you’ve got older kids — eight and older — that’s pretty easy. Give them some books, give them some electronic games, and turn them loose. Remember what I said last week about not overloading a kid with games, and enhancing their brain with books instead? You can totally ignore that when you’re on a plane, because the important thing is keeping them happy, or at least not loudly grouchy.

Here are a few other things we’ve done to help enter our kids on a plane when they were toddlers up through six or seven.

Fly during nap time

If your child sleeps during the day at a regular time, schedule departure time an hour or so before nap time. They can get used to flying, and if you tell them it’s nap time, they just might believe you. Try to stick with their eating and bottle schedule as well.

And if your kid is fussy and inconsolable, try getting them to go to sleep, rather than keeping them entertained and distracted. I remember one overnight plane trip where a mother spent three hours trying to entertain her crying child. When she finally stopped for five minutes, he fell right asleep. Her shushing had kept him awake.

Load a tablet up with their favorite movies

If you only let your kids watch 30 minutes of wholesome, organic, gluten-free TV per week, this is definitely the time to consider breaking the rules! Perhaps you can keep your toddler happy with games and talking – that’s great. But when a child gets bored or tired, then it’s time to launch Operation: Brain Candy.

Fire up a movie, pop on a set of headphones (not ones that fit too tightly though), and let them watch to their tiny hearts’ content. I’ve turned many a screaming fit into a glazed look of contentment by turning on a beloved video.

That is, my kids’ screaming fits, not mine. I’m more of a quiet pouter.

Let them play on a tablet

There are plenty of educational games for iPads, Samsung Galaxys, and Kindle Fires. Install a few new ones, and let your kid play whenever the mood hits them. Keep a few favorites installed, and surprise them with some new ones on them as you start your trip. And if the new games are especially interesting, you’ll get some extra mileage out of them before they get bored.

If you don’t have a tablet for your child, and don’t feel like loaning them yours, you can find some refurbished and used tablets on eBay and other sites. (You can also get Kindle Fire 8GB units for well under $100, although you can’t store much on 8GB.) These don’t have to be brand new if you’re only letting your 4-year-old play on them. In fact, you’d hate to spend $800 on an iPad only to have Junior drop it two weeks later.

Speaking of which, get a shock-proof case to protect the device against sudden drops.

Remember, their ears are a significant problem

The number one reason a lot of babies and toddlers fuss on a plane is the pressure in their ears. They don’t know the trick about yawning or swallowing or chewing gum. If your kid is old enough, let them chew gum or get them to yawn. Hold them and yawn at them over and over until they yawn sympathetically.

(Did you yawn when I kept saying “yawn?” That’s sympathetic yawning. We do it when we see other people do it. Yawning, that is. Did I get you to do it yet?)

For infants, a sucking motion will help, so a bottle, breast feeding, or a pacifier are all options. Or you can try special earplugs called Earplanes to help reduce the pressure on the ears.

How do you entertain your kids on a plane ride? Any helpful tips or horror stories? Share a comment below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Lars Plougmann (Flickr, Creative Commons)


Erik Deckers is a travel writer, as well as a content marketer and book author. He is the co-author of Branding Yourself, No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine. Erik has been blogging since 1997, and has been a newspaper humor columnist for over 20 years

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