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8 ways to keep your kids entertained on a plane: top tips and advice from parents

Jetting off on holiday with kids in tow? Flying with young children can be a daunting experience, particularly for first-time parents. But fear not. We’ve got some creative tips and tricks from Mumsnet’s community of frequent flyers to keep little ones entertained and relaxed on your next flight.

By Rachel Erdos | Last updated Apr 21, 2023

A child playing with a toy on a plane

Travelling with young children can be a brilliant experience, but it's no secret that it can also be challenging and stressful, especially when it comes to long flights. The thought of keeping little ones entertained for hours on end can be overwhelming, not to mention having to deal with mid-flight tantrums and disrupted naps. But with some pre-flight planning, a carry-on bag full of treats, a lot of patience (and an in-flight gin), you can make your next flight (or parts of it, at least) fun for the whole family. 

We’ve navigated the Talk forums and our family holiday guides to find top tips from parents on how to keep kids entertained on flights. Who better to ask about how to nail fuss-free flights than well travelled Mumsnetters? 

To keep you organised on the go, we’ve got handy guides to the best suitcases, the best kids’ luggage, the best packing cubes and the best beach bags.

How to keep kids happy on a flight

1. Pack a surprise goodie bag

“I do this for my children when we go away/on a trip and just stock up on stuff from Poundshop/Wilko etc. The key is to keep it hidden from them until the plane as the novelty factor makes it last longer” - Mumsnet user, EmpressJewel

"Prepare a bag of activities - stickers, mini toy, comic etc. Give them out at regular times - works a treat as they quickly learn that they play with one item and soon there will be another. Key to a successful flight is in the planning!" - Parker312

Fill a bag full of small gifts and treats for your child to open during the flight. Aim to include things like stickers, colouring books, small toys, and snacks, and wrap each item individually to add an element of excitement and surprise. This can work especially well if you’re able to stagger the present opening throughout the flight. Top tip: try and hold back a gift or two to whip out as and when you need to diffuse tantrums or sibling disputes.  

Read next: The best suitcases to buy for your next family holiday

2. Play games 

"Games like Uno and Exploding Kittens are great and very portable" - Mumsnet user, Insomniac79

From portable travel games to classics like I Spy, it’s well worth having a stash of options up your sleeve for when boredom strikes mid-air. Games with fiddly components are best played when you’ve reached your destination but card games travel well. If you have more than one child, encourage them to play together to keep each other entertained. Keep a pen and paper handy for noughts and crosses and hangman. 

Read next: The best kids' luggage to buy, as recommended by parents

Mother and child on a flight

3. Say yes to screens

"Definitely load up the iPad with apps and tv shows and plug in kids’ headphones rather than bluetooth" - TakeMe2Insanity 

"I agree with downloading stuff to an iPad and taking that along to watch. It's the simplest way to kill time and realistically on a flight that long you will sometimes need them to sit quietly" - LollyLol

Make room for electronic devices in your hand luggage. While screen time should be limited on a day to day basis, a kids' tablet can be an absolute lifesaver during a long flight. And watching a familiar film, tv show or game can soothe, calm and entertain in an unfamiliar setting. You’ll find many a Mumsnetter agreeing that an iPad or a tablet is a non-negotiable for holidays near and far. Don’t forget to download your child's favourite shows before take off. If you’re sharing a screen between kids, be sure to pack a headphone splitter.

Read next: The best cabin bags to buy, as recommended by Mumsnetters

4. Pack snacks. And then pack some more

"Gogo squeeze pouches (both fruit and yoghurt), Bear Yo-yos etc, little bags of biscuits (such as party rings), boxes of raisins, crackers or breadsticks" - Mumsnet user, Littlehouseinthebigcity

"I took a 1 yr old on a flight last year and took small sized snacks that take a while to eat to act as a type of entertainment. So Cheerios, raisins, tiny cubes of cheese, hoop crisps, breadsticks, those tiny cheese crackers in different shapes etc" - Mumsnetter, linerforlife 

Kids snaffle snacks at an alarming rate so it’s well worth overpacking on the food front to ensure you’ve got enough to get you from A to B. Aim for a mix of healthy and treat snacks to keep hunger (and guilt) at bay. Mumsnetters recommend packing fun mess-free options like fruit pouches and boxes of raisins. 

Read next: The best packing cubes to buy for on-the-go organisation 

5. Read books

"We take books they can read or we can read to them, little travel games/card games, Lego, simple puzzle" - Mumsnet user, TheRealPooTroll 

Bring along a few of your child's favourite books, as well as some new ones that they haven't read before. Books that feature something relating to the destination you’re heading to can build excitement about the trip. Consider downloading audiobooks or read-aloud books to listen to together.

Read next: The best beach bags to buy for your next holiday

6. Buy a magazine 

"My advice, buy one of those kids magazines at the airport with the free plastic toys and take decent over the ear headphones for him. Good luck" - Mumsnet user, olivesnutsandcheese

Yes, they’re expensive and full of plastic tat but kids’ magazines are fun for children to choose, open and lose themselves in for a surprisingly long time. And buying one at the airport can make for an exciting start to the trip - just make sure you factor in enough time for your kids to pick up and put down every magazine in the shop before settling on the perfect freebie bundle. Kids’ mags typically feature puzzles, stories, games and pages of stickers - plenty to keep little ones occupied for a good chunk of the flight. 

Read next: The best family hotels in Tenerife, according to parents

A child drawing a colourful picture

7. Create a travel journal

Pack a notebook and some colouring pencils, pens or crayons and encourage your child to create their own travel journal. They can draw pictures, write stories, add quotes, and document their travel experiences. Save tickets, postcards and receipts for a scrapbook element. It’s a great way to pass time on a flight and a brilliant talking point on your return.

Read next: The best tote bags to buy, as rated by Mumsnetters

8. Accept help from fellow passengers 

"Gratefully accept help from any willing fellow passengers (I flew alone with mine, there was always someone trying to make eye contact with the kids and offering to read to them)" - Mumsnet user, gogohm

"You'll be fine. People like to help. Sometimes you'll find a nice person who loves babies that will amuse them for ages" - Youdoyoubabe

It’s worth accepting that some passengers just don’t like travelling with kids in close proximity, regardless of how well behaved they are. But there are plenty of fellow travellers that have been there, done that and clocked up the airmiles with kids in tow and will likely lend a hand, pull a funny face or strike up a conversation if needed. Seek out those people early on - it’s good to know who your allies are when you need an extra pair of hands, particularly if you’re flying solo.  

Read next: The best family holidays, according to Mumsnetters. Tips, advice and hotel recommendations from parents