We travel by plane quite often, being expats, so I’ve googled ‘how to entertain your baby/toddler on a long flight’ far too often. With (an estimated) 26 flights under her little belt already, Baby Bu is accustomed to flying and I’m getting the hang of it too, so here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned so far.
One of the most common go-tos for parents seems to be screen time. Tablets & phones with apps and games. I’m not going to be covering that here – this is the ‘plane survival without screen-time’ guide. I won’t go into the reasons why I don’t use screen-time; that’s a personal choice for every parent.
Instead, I’ve got a plan in place for our flights. I’ve come to realise that THE best entertainment for little ones on planes is food. That forms a big part of my plan, but I’ll come to that later.
Step 1: The Pre-Flight Build Up
Talk to your little ones about the flight in advance, get them excited and manage expectations. They understand so much more than we expect – they’re taking it all in. Rather than being overwhelming or daunting, it can be an exciting trip if they know what to expect. Set ground rules gently and in advance so they know the boundaries they’re acting within on the journey.
Step 2: Bring Your Baby Carrier
A baby carrier is a life saver in the airport. Two free hands for carry-on, cuddles in a new and unfamiliar place, facing inwards to reduce over stimulation for over excited little ones. I thoroughly recommend a structured carrier if your little one is older than 4mo, as it’s the easiest to slip on and off quickly in limited space. Whenever we’ve taken our pram right to the door of the plane, we’ve found it awkward and impractical. Getting through security can be a hassle with a pram in tow, and when you get to the door you either have to fold it all up into the travel bag (we have a Bugaboo Chameleon and it took us several trips to master it, and I still break into a sweat when I contemplate doing it on a future flight) or you have to hand it over as it is, and pray for the whole flight home that it will arrive still functioning.
Step 3: Pack outfit changes efficiently
I have a LOT of gratitude for this little solution. Pack each of their back-up outfits into little pouches or ziplock bags, to protect them and keep them easily accessible. Pack at least one warmer outfit and one cooler, because plane temperatures have an inexplicable life of their own!
Step 4: Get into those lounges!
Check if you can get into any airport lounges. Often your credit card can get you into a lounge without you knowing. It’s worth checking as it gives you a few minutes to rest, and your little ones time to burn off some steam before the flight. Plus free food! Need I say more?
Step 5: Simplify those nappy changes
You need a ‘swag bag’ for nappy changes. We use shoe dust bags, and fill with several nappies (depending on flight duration), a small jar of coconut oil, wipes, nappy bin bags and one small toy to keep them entertained during the change. It makes those trips to the bathroom much more manageable. When you’re already carrying a squirming tot down that narrow aisle, having a giant nappy bag on the other shoulder is the last thing you want. (Credit to My friend Rae for that advice, back when Baby Bu was teeny.)
Added bonus – nappy swag bags fit into the pocket on the back of the seat in front, so even if all your bags are stuck in the overhead compartment, you’ve still got nappies to hand for last minute emergencies (I’ve had to change an exploding nappy on my lap more than once during take off and landing).
Step 6: Mini toys!
You’ll need some new or forgotten mini toys, and some little pouches to put them in. Most recently we’ve enjoyed pocket book sets, toy cars, finger puppets and frog stick puppets. Pop them in the pouches and bring out a new one when your little one starts getting restless.
I see recommendations everywhere to wrap up a set of brand new toys in gift paper, but there’s no need to fuss with that. You can use these re-usable zip up pouches from Daiso (or your local pound/dollar store), and the action of zipping/unzipping can actually be a form of entertainment in itself.
Step 7: Manage your own expectations
Surrender to the fact that you won’t be chilling with a drink, watching movies all the way home. The sooner you accept this, the more enjoyable the flight will be.
Step 8: Location, location, location
Make sure you book the bassinet seat. Even for the older tots (obviously only if there aren’t any babies who need it). It means more leg space, which means more room to set up a play area on the floor. Put a blanket on the floor covering the space they can play in, to set the boundaries, and put a couple of toy pouches and a snack or two out. They’ll love having their own space.
Secondly, always make sure you have an aisle seat. It gives you easy access to bathrooms, but also allows you to easily take your little one for a stroll up and down the aisle without having to climb over a sleeping neighbour.
Step 9: Most importantly, the food.
They can spend hours grazing on a plane if you do it right. Here are a few of my favourite snacks:
- mini boxes of raisins
- Baby bliss balls
- Cucumber wedges
- Carrot sticks
- Fruity flapjacks (recipe coming soon)
- Grape halves
- A slice or two of Banana Blueberry Bread
- Dried figs or apricots
- Edamame (already shelled)
- Small wedges of mild cheese (unless you’re going on a loooong flight, where this might start to warm up and start smelling!)
- Biltong (Jerky) – choose a low salt option. Baby Bu LOVES this right now.
- And as an emergency back up, an Ella’s pouch or two!
The more variety you can carry, the better. I use several tiny Tupperware tubs. I see recommendations everywhere for using a large multi section Tupperware, but I’ve found them totally impractical. One knock from an excited toddler and your whole flight’s snacks are on the floor. I’m a bit paranoid about plastic around Baby Bu but since nothing is hot, and it’s not sitting in there long, I’m a little more relaxed about it.
I hope this is helpful in some way or another, if you’re taking a flight this summer. Let me know if you have any other ideas, I’m always on the hunt.