Taking young children across the country or abroad can be a gratifying experience for the whole family. But that extra-long trip to get to those amazing places is daunting. If you’re staring down a multi-hour flight with your little kids, here are nine ways to keep them happy in the air.
Don’t board early
If you have assigned seats on the plane, wait until the end to board—or have one parent board with carry-on luggage while the other stays in the boarding area with the kids. Although pre-boarding privileges can be tempting, be wary of tacking an extra 30 minutes of sitting onto an already long flight. There’s nothing worse than a child who is already sick of the airplane before the wheels have even left the ground.
Bring a deck of cards
A small stack of cards like Uno can provide hours of entertainment. Play the standard version, or sort by color and put them in numerical order. Besides, when else will you be willing to play 50 consecutive games with your child?
Pick snacks that take forever to eat
Everyone will recommend bringing snacks for your child on the plane—just be sure they are snacks that won’t be gone in two seconds flat. Little boxes of raisins, string cheese, or other treats that can be eaten tiny bit by tiny bit extend how long that snack (and the entertainment associated with eating) will last.
If it’s an overnight flight, bring pajamas
If you’re flying at night, bring along a pair of pajamas for your child so they can be comfortable and feel like it’s really bedtime. Brushing teeth and snuggling with a beloved stuffed animal or blanket can also help make it feel more familiar, and it will increase the likelihood that your little one will sleep for at least a couple of hours during the flight. Now if only you could just fall asleep…
Choose highly interactive books
Books weigh a lot, so be careful about packing too many of them on a trip. Opt for ones that aren’t finished in a few minutes. A good I Spy book or Where’s Waldo volume can keep your child occupied for a long time, rather than for ten minutes or less.
After bringing a tiny tub of this on a whim, it’s become a family staple on flights. It can be divided among multiple children, it doesn’t make a big mess, you can play any number of different games with it, and it keeps little hands busy.
Dole out the entertainment slowly
There are few things worse on a long flight than when your child blazes through all your carefully planned activities before the seatbelt sign has even been turned off. Tell your child they can only pick a new activity every 15-30 minutes (or more or less, depending on their age and the activities). Also package each activity separately, whether in a plastic bag or by wrapping them in crepe paper, which makes even getting the next activity out an activity of its own.
Play “I spy” with the SkyMall magazine
You can keep a little child happy for quite a while with these catalogs. Have them find all the animals (you’ll be amazed how many there are!) or items in a certain color. For slightly older kids, try having them pick what they’d buy off a certain page or what they think is the most ridiculous item offered. Traveler has a few SkyMall favorites...
Always remember stickers
Who knows why kids are so wild about stickers, but practically all of them are. Buy a cheap set (you can usually find big packs at Michaels for $1 or less) and then let them go to town. No need to wait for the all-clear to turn on electronic devices.