Flying with young kids can be pretty daunting. It’s easy enough to keep them entertained at home when you have your full arsenal of toys at hand, not to mention sinks and showers for potential sensory play and cleaning. But when you’re on a plane for more than a few hours, it starts getting a little dicey.
Young children below the age of five just don’t have long attention spans developmentally. Toddlers in particular can only focus for about 15 to 20 minutes at a go. Assuming you’re flying a full-service airline which comes with unlimited screen time, you might get lucky with a child who can sit and watch TV for a few hours – but not only can that be unhealthy and lead to more restlessness later into the flight, some kids just aren’t able to sit still that long to watch kid-appropriate movies and shows (like mine).
So here I’ve crowdsourced with my fellow mums the best products you need to make flying with a toddler easier and more enjoyable for everybody. This list is best suited to young kids below the age of six who generally need more parental support for entertainment as well as the practical stuff we’ve packed when travelling with my two kids are both under the age of three.
1. Pack lots of spare clothes
Travelling with young kids can get very messy, very quickly. Someone once told me you should have one set of clothes for each kid for every two to three hours you’re on the plane. Practically speaking, that’s a lot of space taken up, but having at least three sets is a good idea (we have brought five before and went through them all). Always plan for something to spill, someone to be sick, or someone to wet themselves potentially – and with that in mind, bring a spare change of clothes or at least an extra shirt or two for yourself and your partner.
2. Snacks, snacks, snacks (and a good snack box)
Remember that when travelling with small children/babies, airlines are generally accommodating when it comes to bringing on fresh milk, formula or hot water so that you can feed the baby. They’re also quite accommodating with yoghurt pouches or other foods as well. Airplane food is not always to the taste of adults, let alone more sensitive, picky kids so be kind to yourself and your kids and let them subsist on snacks. We pack a snack box (which is actually a medicine box I bought from Daiso) with a variety of snacks and it’s always a hit and an entertainment in itself for our toddler. I try to load it mainly with dry foods to prevent too much of a mess, so the options aren’t always very healthy but they usually include some goldfish crackers, nuts, blueberries, vitamin gummies, pretzels and cheerios with lots of variation. Here’s a similar one from Amazon that might work.
3. Volume-limiting toddler headphones
These specially-designed headphones for young children help to protect their ear drums from higher decibels (which you can’t always control when you can’t hear what they’re listening to). They also tend to fit better on small heads, though the general consensus is that with some airlines (such as Singapore Airlines) it’s fine to use the headphones they give you. Some options include these JBL ones for kids that can be charged for use for up to 20 hours, or these Buddyphone ones which are extra fun with the animal ears.
4. Inflatable airplane toddler bed
This particular item has generated lots of discussion with my mum friends with everyone in general agreement that it’s not mandatory but is definitely something that’s good to have when flying with young kids. A blow-up footrest or a specially-designed inflatable toddler bed like the JetKids by Stokke (both seem to work equally well) lets your child lie down flat to sleep and also gives them extra space to play. Always check with the airline first about whether they allow such products to be used onboard though as some have restrictions.
5. Reusable stickers and magnetic puzzles
What child doesn’t love stickers? But you don’t want anything permanently stuck on the plane (no one would be happy about that). So your best option is the reusable types you can either stick on the walls, or on smooth surface books. Otherwise, you can always just use post-its and hope to recycle them for later.
In the same vein, magnetic puzzles can be fun and will (hopefully) be harder to lose. You can get puzzles or paper magnetic dolls with clothes or professions to change, or various games that work on magnets. Some even come in cute tin boxes which help contain the mess.
6. Watercolour books (and books in general)
Colouring is a big hit with kids most of the time, but again you want to keep mess to a minimum. That’s why watercolour books are a big hit with travelling parents. Most of the time your young child will be quite happy to spend a bit of time watching colours appear on the page using either a special pen filled with water or special markers. The one by Crayola can also be split into separate pages which can make them easier to organise and keep.
7. Tablet with pre-loaded apps and stories
When every seat has a screen, it’s hard to maintain a no-screen-time rule. But if you want to maintain some familiarity and try to make the screen experience a little more educational and entertaining, bring your own iPad and preload it with child-appropriate videos, apps and games you know they might enjoy. The National Library has plenty of e-books for your child, while some suitable games for kids under 5 such as Little Fox Animal Doctor have great animation and teach kids about anatomy as well, and Peek-A-Zoo, a game that teaches kids to identify animals, emotions and sounds.
8. Put together a travel kit
Lately I’ve seen kits being sold online that put together everything you might need for flying with young kids. This one on Amazon is pricey but literally includes everything you might need from toys to a mat that will contain everything on a tray table. I’ve also recently discovered the account @mini.jetsetter on Instagram who sells curated travel packs for kids of different ages. Of course, you can also create one yourself if you, like me, already have a house overflowing with toddler toys plus a couple of spare toiletries bags. This works great as you can hang it on the seat in front of you.
Tip: Pack away some toys before the trip so that the kids have a break from them before flying. That way they’ll be “like new”.