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Adventures (And Misadventures): Air Travel with Young Children

By July 29, 2018March 24th, 2019Travel

This is my fourth post in the Traveling with Young Children (And Still Enjoying Life) Series. I also cover how to be prepared with an Oops BoxFull Tummies, and Keeping Children Entertained in other posts.

Recently our family took an airplane trip to “New Hamster”. I knew I would need to plan some new activities along with modifying successful activities from my post 9 Ways to Entertain your Toddler While Traveling, as this time we were traveling by air instead of by car. Since airplanes are not known for an abundance of space, I needed to pack activities that took up minimal space but could entertain for a substantial amount of time. I tried to utilize the dollar store as much as I could in case of a fail. Thanks to experiencing 2-hour delays on BOTH flights to our destination, our family found what worked and what didn’t in the air and in the gate.

 What Worked

Felt Scenes 

This took plenty of prep work but was totally worth it in the end. These scenes will hold up, take up little space, and entertain as busy bags wherever we go. I made dolls, ice cream, underwater, alphabet (extra letters to make sure both of my daughters could make their names), rainbow, and weaving. I put the different sets along with a background in a labeled sandwich Ziploc bag. (Gymbo was the perfect model to trace for the dolls!) I found very basic colors of felt packaged together at the dollar store but ended up purchasing more felt through Amazon.

The time it took to make this was well worth it! The people and the ice cream were the girls’ favorites.

Water Wow books

I loved these! The girls could paint the pictures and I would hold the pages up to the air vent above me and they would be dry and ready to do again in minutes. The revolutionary paintbrushes can also work with the Paint with Water books I picked up at the dollar store.  Since the water is inside, you don’t have to worry about spilling. I did have to stop Ali from trying to unscrew the paintbrush as she likes to dump the water. I recommend screwing the paintbrush as tight as you can and hope you don’t have a Hulk baby like me.

Mess-free fun to do again and again!


I bought a variety of stickers from the dollar store and put them in several baggies. The girls raced to see who could put more stickers on the other’s bodies. We also used this as a copycat game. “Put a car sticker on your cheek.”

How many stickers can you put on a baby?

Painter Tape 

This tape is easily pulled and torn even by Ali, the 2-year-old. She happily peeled the tape and twisted it in up a ball. We found the painter tape at the dollar store as well. 

Painter’s tape is so much easier to get out of hair unlike, say, slime. Another day, another story…

Color Wonder Markers and Paper

Kids love coloring with markers and parents hate cleaning up markers. Meet Color Wonder. The markers only write on the special paper so you don’t have worry about cleaning any mistakes. Ali figured out that she could color on her hand (it’s invisible on skin so no mess) and stamp her hand on the paper to make color. Make sure you keep on top of re-capping the markers though. Once they dry out, they are unusable.

ID Bracelets

While this did work, it technically occurred before our travel. I made bracelets using stretchy thread and letter, number, and shape beads with their names and my phone number to be worn during travel. This was helpful in several ways. Madi can look at her bracelet to help her memorize my phone number and both girls have my contact information in case they were to get lost from us. (They didn’t.)

These helpful and stylish bracelets can also go on ankles or be made into a necklace.


iPad Videos

My girls are crazy about the band Skating Polly. I had purchased a splitter and adorable headphones so they could watch videos together. They were able to watch familiar music videos and dance in their seats.

“And I think I’m gonna be okay and I’ll be queen for a day” -Skating Polly

Digital Books 

My girls love listening to me read. (Please never grow up!) We are reading our way through the Ramona Quimby books. I downloaded three of the books free from our local library onto my phone to read on the plane. Since they are already familiar with the characters, they immediately were ready to listen to the books. Although the pages are much smaller on my phone, they could still see the pictures when they came up. My phone was much easier to hold out of their reach while I read as well.

Reading Books About Airports and Traveling by Air

We checked out as many picture and informational children’s books available in our library. I began this the month before we traveled. Madi had been Ali’s age the last time we traveled by air so she didn’t remember much. I was most concerned about how the girls would do with security.

Running Around Airport Gate

I wanted to play music for the girls to dance but was concerned that it would bother other people. No worries-Madi is a born performer and started belting out whatever words she could make into a song. Happy, singing children will always beat crying, whining kids so other passengers were fine.

Luckily there’s always something to see outside the windows.


Dave and I took turns taking the girls up and down the escalator near the gate over and over and over. If you ask Madi about our vacation, this is what she will say was her favorite part; not playing with cousins, seeing grandparents, or eating dinosaur ice cream.

“Best part of our New Hamster trip!” -Madi

Moving Sidewalk

Madi and I (wearing Ali), would race her dad. We were on the moving sidewalk and Dave was pushing most of the luggage on the regular floor. Madi would giggle and smile which was a plus in the busy airport. I’m not sure this was as much fun for Dave but this article is about keeping children happy when traveling, not husbands.


I did stretching and named them silly animal names. We got smiles from other passengers, mostly from the toddler falling over and giggling.

Don’t forget to stretch while traveling!

What Didn’t Work

Sticker Scenes

This was very surprising because they were a big hit in the car. I think if I had packed lap desks from the car they would have worked but it would have taken up more space in the already bulging carryon bags. The airplane tray table worked for Madi but not Ali, who was in a car seat, because the tray wouldn’t lay flat over her seat.

Fuzzy Stick (Not) Fun

Another activity that worked very well in the car but not the airplane was pipe cleaners with a mini strainer. In the car, they loved bending and making things or weaving colors to make patterns through the strainer but in the airplane? Mainly these fuzzy sticks just got tossed in the air from boredom and other passengers handed them back repeatedly.

I hope the next passengers enjoyed random pipe cleaners throughout the plane.

Paint with Water Books

Earlier, I discussed using the paintbrush from Water Wow books to paint. This will not work on the plane. I found I had soggy papers with nowhere for them to dry. Holding them above you to the air vent will only leave you with colored drops on your head and face. Humorous memory but not fun at the time. Save this activity for once you get to your destination where you have more space.


Since the girls loved their ID bracelets so much, I thought they might like to make their own on the plane. Tiny pieces, unsteady hands, and thrown beads made this impossible. While I did get a workout bending over a million times to retrieve beads, this was a complete fail.

iPad Games

It didn’t work very well with the girls trying to share the iPad. The apps that were easy enough for the 2-year old were way too easy for the 5-year-old who was ready to move on.

Digital Books

I thought I could get a break if the girls could listen to books they love. Those loving darlings did not want to listen to anyone read besides me. While it had worked in the car previously, it did not work on the plane. I think this was due to me sitting right next to them on the airplane as opposed to me in the front seat in the car. “Why can’t you read, Mommy, since you are RIGHT next to me!”

Walking in the Plane Aisle

I thought if the girls became antsy, we could take walks up and down the aisle but I found that if I took Ali out of her seat, there was no going back to the seat.

Wiggly Legs

I had to take their shoes off so when they started swinging their legs, it would less of a kick to the seat in front if they accidentally made contact.

Happy Travels!

What has worked well for you when traveling with young children?