Keeping your child occupied during a flight, 10 tips for a serene trip
16 March 2020
The plane is a safe, fast and comfortable means of transport. It allows people to travel with their families to the most remote destinations. However, we all know that travelling with young children is not always a piece of cake. Will the children have the patience to sit for several hours? What will our seat neighbour’s reaction be if our child gets a little too agitated? What should we bring on the plane to keep them busy? How can we prepare them for this trip? Don’t panic, here are some precious tips for a serene flight.
I have always thought that the secret to travelling peacefully with your family was simply “anticipation”! Anticipation allows parents to make the most of their trip by freeing themselves from material and administrative aspects in advance. Flying on a plane is the first phase of a holiday, it is during this phase that we need to keep the little ones busy for hours, which sometimes seem endless. For that, you should prepare yourself as well as possible before your departure, this will enable you to know in advance how your baby will be welcomed and installed on the plane. It also helps to reassure the children and wiping out any thoughts of heading for the unknown, which might be hovering in their minds. Since the plane is not their usual means of transportation, the trip can represent a source of concern for them, even if they do not voice it out. To resolve their concerns in advance, you can, pfor example, show them books on airplanes adapted to their age or consult this article to overcome his/her fear of flying.
Some tips before departure
- Contact the airline. For the flight to take place under the best possible conditions, it is important that you contact the airline to find out about travel arrangements with children. What is the minimum age for babies accepted onboard? Are cradles available on the plane? Can we take our stroller and under what conditions? Will there be a children’s menu, should we book it in advance?
- Provide comfortable clothing. Even if you are travelling to an exotic and sunny destination in midsummer, do not forget to bring along sweaters and warm clothes for the plane, as it is never very hot during the flight. Also try to choose comfortable outfits that do not scratch, scuff, and are not too tight.
- Bring pyjamas with you. Flying is a new and sometimes disturbing world for a little one. To help them feel reassured, nothing better than to recreate their familiar surroundings. Putting them in their pyjamas before sleeping is a ritual that they know well and that will encourage them to rest serenely.
- Bring along a change of clothes. This is important for young children who might getting themselves stained, but also for you to avoid spending a few hours with wet or smelly clothes!
- Anticipate earache. By bringing along a mini water bottle or a small feeding bottle in your bag. If you forget, you can always ask the flight attendants to provide you with some water before take-off and when descending.
- Take along a baby carrier. If you travel with a baby, I advise you to bring along a baby carrier that will allow you to rock your baby while stretching your legs a little during a long flight.
- Take a bag dedicated to your baby. It should contain everything that is necessary and be well organized so that you do not take half an hour to find the most needed pacifier when your child is crying out for it. For checked luggage, you will find all the details in our dedicated article.
- Adapt the contents of the luggage to each person. And to make sure that you haven’t forgotten anything based on the age of young travellers, the Little Guest Hotels site contains very useful checklists in its articles. These are adapted to each age: from 0 to 3 years old, from 3 to 6 years old and finally from 6 to 12 years old.
- Reassure the children. Don’t forget that the flight comes after several hours spent at the airport in noise with long waits and anxiety-provoking checks. You can reassure children by telling them that they will feel at home on the plane.
10 tips for keeping your children occupied on the plane
Prepare travel games
This remains the best way to keep the entire little tribe on board occupied. Board games are very beneficial for the development of the child. Playing as a family is always a great idea, it allows you to create precious memories and enjoy Mom and Dad in a different context than that of everyday life. There is an endless variety of board games that also exist in a travel format. My favourites are those from the HABA group. The illustrations are great, and the scenarios very well thought out. From the awakening and skill game for the little ones to the collaborative board game, there is a great selection on the brand’s website.
The little game boxes with deliciously quaint patterns designed by Marc Vidal are also very cool for children. The “Seamanship” box teaches how to tie sailor’s knots, while the “Do you know the stars?” Or “Do you know about dinosaurs?” boxes contain very playful illustrated cards. I do not recommend the series on multiplication tables or good manners which are much less interesting! Finally, card games of all types remain the most practical to carry around.
For older children, most classic board games are also available in pocket format: Trivial Pursuit, The Game of Life, Monopoly,… Note that it is not always the most complicated or sophisticated games that keep children occupied the longest.
Organize creative and manual activities
A study conducted a few months ago by British Airways and a child psychiatrist showed the benefit of manual activities on the plane. The most popular activity seems to be playdough, which allows children to make use of their imagination by creating 3D objects, characters or animals. You can, for example, have them make an animal that they will probably meet during the stay.
For the youngest, skill games such as lacing, embedding or magnetic games will be welcome. For the older children, colouring, making Brazilian bracelets, Scoubidous, origami and other crafts will keep them busy. You should, of course, avoid cutting because scissors will be confiscated from you at the airport; or messy and sometimes too odorous glueing.
Another hobby that is always popular with almost every young child is the creation of a personalized holiday logbook. They can start feeling the logbook on the plane by giving their first impressions, by listing their astonishments (the child dictates to Mom or Dad if he/she doesn’t know how to write), they can have the cover page decorated, then fill the logbook according to the stay by sticking a postcard, a photo, a museum ticket, a grain of sand or a flower. This is a nice souvenir to take back to school and to keep carefully.
Use language games
They have the enormous advantage of not requiring any material and make it possible to call upon the child’s imagination, the sense of observation, and knowledge. The dialogue that takes place with the parents during these privileged moments is generally a source of great pleasure for the children, far from the concerns and the frenetic rhythm of the rest of the year.
With the little ones, you can have fun inventing a nursery rhyme about the plane and its passengers, while the older ones can imagine a poem. The guessing game is also very popular. They are invented ad infinitum, being inspired from what surrounds us. What are we going to have for dinner on the plane, how many flight attendants are there with us? Without forgetting the endless “who am I” or the “neither yes, nor no“. And why not the king of silence to catch your breath a little!
Take books along
This is certainly the most rewarding and enriching activity to offer a child. If he/she is used to reading, he/she will be able to take advantage of this moment in the air to immerse himself/herself in a good book on his/her favourite theme. If he doesn’t like to read or is still too young, it’s up to you to tell him stories that will mark the trip. A book that talks about the destination you have chosen, its people, its flora and fauna will be a great choice. Go for books with lots of pictures for younger children and encourage them to talk about what they’ve found out in the books. It will also allow them to be confident once arrived at destination because they will feel like they already know the place a little.
Lonely Planet offers a great selection of travel guides for children. It contains valuable information about European and world capitals. In collaboration with the publisher Gründ, the brand even published a very interesting French book entitled “Travel around the world” which takes children on a discovery journey through 200 countries around the world. It contains lots of ideas for original activities and fun information.
Organize role-plays with a plush or doll
A simple idea that requires very little, but which will be able to enchant the younger ones and save them from boredom for a little while. Take along his cuddly toy, a plush toy or his favourite doll. These little mascots will certainly be just as worried as their owners, that’s why it will be necessary to explain to them how the trip goes, how the plane is designed, who will fly it, who will take care of them … Through his favourite little companion, the child will also learn things and relax.
Prepare a little surprise for them
One of the best ways to keep your child focus and help him/her to remain calm is by promising him/her a surprise during the flight. I therefore advise that, before your departure, you should buy him/her a very entertaining little game that suits his/her age and which corresponds to his/her usual interests and offer this gift to him/her during the flight (not at the very beginning of course!). Children love surprises and will be delighted and proud of this gift. Also, it is preferable you go for lightweight and noiseless toys. I personally prefer small wooden characters or animals that can be carried in a nice little fabric bag. I love the pretty Belgian brand Lilliputiens, which offers a range of fabric toys. There, one can find small suitcases that look like doctors’ or farm’s briefcase, which can be taken everywhere.
Bring along some treats
You might be against candy and you are not wrong there! But rules are also meant to be broken, especially during the holidays. Without completely giving away your principles of education and nutrition, I therefore advise you to provide a small assortment of sweets for the trip. You should, however, avoid chocolates, since they are likely to end up melting on the seat or in your jacket. All organic store chains and some online sites offer an increasingly wide range of organic sweets that will allow you to clear yourself a little despite this little infringement! And, I assure you, your children’s smiles will quickly make you forget this delicious little loosening.
To travel happily with children, travel zen! This is what I always try telling myself, even though the reality is sometimes a little less simple. Why not teach your children to practice certain yoga or relaxation postures that will occupy their body and mind for a few minutes? The virtues of yoga to soothe the little ones no longer need to be demonstrated. Even schools have already started carrying out this activity. I recommend that you consult this article about children’s relaxation. It will teach you some very simple methods of keeping your child(ren) relaxed during the flight.
Dream while watching the clouds
While it is entirely honourable to rack your brains to find the most original and suitable activities to keep our children occupied during the trip, let’s not forget the essential. Children also need moments of calm to simply think, imagine and dream. This peaceful little moment can be envisaged by looking through the window and observing the clouds to try to identify forms of animals or trees. The vastness of the sky, the special sunlight from the plane and the feeling of flying are perfectly conducive to daydreaming so take advantage of these conditions.
Accept display devices
Have you noticed? This activity comes last! But, why? For the simple and good reason that it is a time-consuming hobby, which I will not encourage to become a daily habit. However, we should all know that these screens could serve as a last resort, if needs be.
For this point, you have two options; bring along a tablet with appropriate games and movies or let them watch children’s programs on the screens provided by the airlines. There are often also audio channels dedicated to children. In any case, I must admit that it is very effective in letting Mom and Dad relax a little too.
If your kids get a little out of hand and you’re running out of ideas, there is an unstoppable little way to channel them. I’m not very proud of it but it works every time, you just bring up the story of a plane police who walks around looking for disobedient children!
What do the airlines provide ?
During the flight, the flight crew will remain your best ally in order to make the trip as pleasant as possible for the children. Each airline offers its own program for young travellers.
From 0 to 2 years old
Except in the event of a medical contraindication, children can fly as from 7 days. They travel at this stage on their parents’ lap, although most major airlines like Air France, Air Canada or Continental Airlines will loan you a carrycot to allow baby sleep in the best conditions. Please note that their number is generally limited, so the principle is first come, first served. You should book this cradle upon check-in, as well as the baby’s meal. I also advise you to favour, if possible, the seats in the front row which offer more space.
Emirates airlines reserves entire rows of seats for families and your baby stroller will be waiting for you right out of the plane. Note that airlines generally give priority to families with young children. Gulf Air also provides special boarding assistance for families. This will allow you to settle in with peace of mind. In any case, if you are a little stressed, consult the guide “How to travel with children” developed by the company Corsair with the help of a pediatrician.
From 3 years old
Children have their own seat but usually desire to get up regularly, that’s why we advise you to opt for a seat close to the aisle so that they can move around whenever they desire. ETIHAD and Gulf Air both have a Sky Nannies service on board which will make use of their expertise to keep your children occupied during the flight. Games of all kinds, make-up, competitions, everything will be done to entertain the children. Other airlines all offer a pack of activities for children. This is the case with KLM, which offers each child a mascot and a set of games. While Emirates airline distributes bags filled with travel-themed treasures or a cooler stocked with educational books. Turkish Airlines gives eco-friendly and sustainable toys. Corsair provides parents with a baby box and all the necessary equipment, and the older children receive a pilot’s diploma in due form at the end of the flight.
As for Lufthansa, they had the brilliant idea of offering the children a logbook. They will be able to record and list the next flights there and receive a budding pilot’s certificate when the entire log is completed. Emirates even offers the services of a photographer on board. Note that Air France provides families with a kid’s zone at Roissy Airport. Here you are, enriched with lots of precious tips on how to live through your flight with peace of mind, if you are still looking for the ideal destination, you will find some ideas in our article which lists the most beautiful hotels with baby-clubs.
In conclusion, I can only strongly recommend that you have several strings to your bow when it comes to pastime, because the little ones can hardly be preoccupied for very long by the same activity. And above all, do not reveal all your resources at once!
If it is possible, I recommend that you try a first trip by plane on a short distance or medium-haul flight.
Now that you’re ready to travel by plane with your kids, why not take a European itinerary? Little Guest has just planned a family-friendly tour of Europe just for you!
Catherine, married, Mom of Justine, from Paris