11 Best Toys for Toddlers on the Airplane
Toddlers can be like angry drunks at 35,000 feet. Here’s my list of material interventions. Plus, the toys to avoid.
Toddlers, hands down, are the worst airline passengers. Babies tend to sleep, and they can’t move around that much. Kids over three have a longer attention span for any activity, and even the most anti-screen among us tend to be more lenient with TV in the confines of an aircraft cabin. But toddlers—squirmy, screamy, my way or let me on the runway 1- to 2.5-year-olds—can really test you, and your desire to ever travel again. (More on that here.)
To help you survive a flight with a toddler, I’ve put together a list of plane-tested distractions. And here’s a tip you may have heard before: Wrap these toys up, like little presents, and pull each one out periodically throughout the flight.
So basically it’s freaking Christmas every time you fly? Listen, I hear you. It feels incredibly indulgent—not to mention time consuming on the front end—to prep a mini-holiday every time you pack your carry on. But like so many thing that fall under the parenting category, there are two sides to this big plastic coin. Yes, your toddler gets little packages, but this is really a gift to you, moms and dads. The better your in-plane plans, the easier your life is on board.
That being said, I encourage all things cheap. I’ve included Amazon links below for your convenience, but you can also wrap the toys your kiddo discarded under the couch back in February. And if you do shop, keep in mind that it’s going to be a while before your tot knows the difference between Saks and the Dollar Tree.
Let’s get to the list. The criteria? It holds the attention span of my toddler for five or more minutes. A low bar, you say? I can only assume you’re pregnant with numero uno and still blissfully in the dark.
1. Magna-tiles or Tegu Magnetic Wooden Blocks These are a staple in our house and I bring a handful for every plane ride. They’re addictive, and since they literally stick together, you’re less likely to loose them.
2. Finger Puppets I buy these guys in bulk, and not only for my own kids. I also hand them out on the airplane with my business card. I get funny looks…until their children stop crying.
3. Stickers Forget raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. (For one thing, they wouldn’t make it past TSA.) Stickers are my favorite things. Nothing distracts a tot like a sticker.
4. Post-it Notes For some reason, stickers’ less glamorous cousin provide a whole different kind of entertainment. I think it’s the repetition of peeling them off the stack, and you can put them anywhere.
5. Teething Necklaces Put them on, take them off. Put them on, take them off. You get the idea. And they’re ok to chew, unlike the beads my little lady picked up on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans…ten months after Mardi Gras.
6. Matchbox Cars Little trucks and sedans can explore your limited airplane seat real estate.
7. Interactive Board Books Toddlers destroy books with flaps and pop-outs with therapy-worthy aggression, but I find versions with sliding windows to be more durable. One or two of these—not so many that they’ll weigh you down—are not only distracting, but also make you look like a great parent because your tot is “reading.”
8. Crayons Will your toddler try to eat them? Probably. But for a few glorious moments, they’ll also try to draw. On that note, don’t forget the paper.
9. Big Plus-Plus Blocks I’m not exactly sure what these are, but my 1.5 year old is obsessed with taking these apart and putting them back together. Bristle Blocks or Joyn Toys Connecting Balls are also great.
10. Toys with Velcro Ripping Velcro apart is almost as satisfying as rolling a hand-chipped ice cube around a cocktail glass. A few fruits like this should do the trick, or you can just buy these stickers and Velcro your whole world.
11. Whatever Desperate times call for serious creativity. When the toy bag has been exhausted, try utilitarian items: Plugging the USB into its wall charger. Watching water splash around in a clear plastic bottle. Crinkling a bag of airplane pretzels. Snapping open a carabineer. Peek-a-boo, patty cake, and a few Hail Mary’s.
Toys to Avoid
Balls Won’t you be my angry neighbor?
Play-Doh If your toddler is anything like mine, you might as well put Play-Doh in the snack category.
Instruments Say no to drums.
Electronic noisemakers If it emits so much as a peep, check it.
Cars with spring wheels See “balls.”
VITs (Very Important Toys) When traveling with toddlers, the chances of you leaving something on the plane are at a 98%, so don’t bring something your child can’t survive without. The exception here is if it’s something that will help your child sleep. Then by all means, bring it. Cling to it. And maybe even microchip it.
What is your favorite toy for toddlers on the plane? Let me know below!
Please note: While I’ve hand picked and road tested every item I’ve included here, this story contains affiliate links, meaning I might earn a commission if you click and end up making a purchase. Affiliate programs help support Half Pint Travel, and for your support, I thank you! Happy Tripping.