Traveling with kids – it’s something everyone wants to do – besides for the airplane part. That we’d rather skip. Having the right airplane activities for kids can make or break your long haul flight and I’m here to share. You can check out my list of must-haves for international travel first if you want, or scroll down for this list of fantastic tried-and-true travel activities for kids, endorsed by my own. This post contains affiliate links. Some of these were gifted to me in the hopes I’d share with you.
Activities for Kids on Airplanes – what to look for + entertaining tips:
When sharing airplane activities for kids, I decided to divide this by age group to make it more skimmable. However, beyond the whole choking hazard age thing, most age recommendations that don’t include sharp items (these don’t – you’re flying!) or anything else hazardous, are simply skill suggestions.
So take the age categories with a grain of salt, and know your kid. M is not so creative, so with crafty things, we look in the 3-year-old skill group (he’s six). But he’s a very smart kid, and very tinker-y, so we often jump ahead a few years with those things.
Also, when categorizing by age group, I put each item in the youngest group allowed. So if something is for 4-7 year olds, it’s in the 4+ age group. So, once again, know your kid, read through them all, enjoy our suggestions and feedback, and keep ’em busy!
You won’t really know what your child will fixate on, so bring plenty of options.
Don’t forget to stash some airplane activities for kids for the trip home! You’ll want some repeats of the most popular items, but have a good few new options to put in.
Yes, They WILL spend most of their time on the screen. And the airplane is the right time and place for it. But especially for long haul flights, and just in case there’s any problems with the in-flight entertainment, bring activities for variety. And you also have the wait in the airport, your hotel stay so you’ll want it all. Plus, too much screen time and not enough variety can make ’em cranky. (Note: I do NOT limit screen time on the airplane, I just try to tempt them to do other stuff with cool new activities)
Re-bag items that aren’t self-storing before your trip! You don’t want your child pulling apart that plastic bag and watching everything fly all over and, well, there goes that activity. Bring a stash of Ziploc bags in case you forget so at least you have how to store it.
New stuff – all the new stuff. Especially older kids are harder to convince to play with things that aren’t big and shiny and do stuff, and the trick with entertaining kids on an airplane is to have them do the stuff. I’ve learned with M that new toys are that much more entertaining.You also don’t want to have to worry too much about lost pieces on favorite toys, so having dedicated travel toys can help with that concern.
Buy 3-4 slightly nicer toys that will be super duper special, and hit up Bullseye Playground, the Dollar Tree, and your local discount stores to stock up on lots of inexpensive extras.
Give them their own personal bags/backpacks. M carried his most of the time (we took over when he was too tired). And it made him feel a certain level of pride in possession that made him want to entertain, leaving us freer to worry about all the other little stuff – plus entertaining Y. Also, we added snacks so he could keep busy with those without having to ask us.
We were sent a backpack by Fenrici for our trip. Their sales help support research for rare childhood diseases and we love it when our travels contribute to a good cause. And it has a buckle (the most important feature if you ask M).
A few weeks ago, I shared some toddler airplane activities. Some were included in this list if M played with them too, but some were left out, so if you have a preschooler or younger, or if your kid likes to play with younger toys, you might want to check it out.
Now for our airplane activities for kids sorted by age group:
This brilliantly simple toy concept kept both my boys busy throughout our trip – airport, airplane, the various places we stayed…
The simple shape is like two +’s attached and you can make endless combinations. Because each piece is the same, if you drop one on the plane or lose one in the airport, it doesn’t matter. Also, because it’s so affordable it’s okay to lose pieces!
The tube is slim, takes little space, and is easily accessible so it doesn’t get buried in the backpack. And it gets TOP scores for being a self-storing toy! Yaaasss! No Ziploc bags needed for this one!
2. Plane Puppets:
I packed these plane puppets printed on card stock and pre-cut, together with some crayons and peel-n-stick craft sticks. The boys loved those craft sticks!
They learned all about flight attendants, and the other staff that makes the airport run.
You can also bring other puppets in the same style activity pack if it’s your kid’s kind of thing!
Especially if you have an early reader, having some fresh reading material can keep them quite busy! You can hit up your local dollar store and discount stores for thin paper back books that are very portable and inexpensive. Or pick up thin paperback readers from Scholastic.
4. Mental Blox Go! (5+)
If you have a 5+ year old who loves games, but you don’t want to bring a lot, Mental Blox Go! is perfect! It’s a self-contained puzzle game with ten different types of challenges. Some can be completed solo, making it perfect for travel! Some involve two or more players, so it’s great for siblings too.
It’s a wonderful, educational game to have after your trip as well as it uses math, critical thinking, and problem solving skills. It allows your child to use that brain and avoid sliding while traveling!
You’re getting many games in one easy-to-clean toy.
Flying was a new experience for my kids (M was too young to remember the last time). So an activity book full of airplane themed activities was perfect for M!
From simple things like connect the dots, to drawing prompts like “design a travel poster”, this full-color book has in it hours and hours of entertainment. It even has a removable world map in the back!
These educational dry erase cards are very compact, and have lots of activities in them! And because the marker is dry-erase, it won’t be permanent if you get some on the tray.
7. Snowflakes/disc building toy:
This is another great travel building toy option and was enjoyed on the way home. We lost a LOT of pieces but that’s the point in having dedicated travel things.
8. Rhyming words puzzle:
Similar to the colors and shapes puzzle I got for M, this rhyming puzzle is perfect for your beginning reader. Because it’s a 2-part matching puzzle, it doesn’t require lots of space to dump out. And it’s very small and compact. It was great to have as entertainment where we slept as well.
I got it at Target’s Bullseye Playground – a great spot for finding airplane activities for kids!
9. Small slinky:
You can’t go wrong tossing a small version of the classic Slinky toy into that suitcase! Because it’s one piece, you don’t need to worry about parts, making it perfect for airport lines, and other times you might need to grab things and run.
Another “no mess” craft-type of activity, scratch art is refreshing, highly entertaining, and oddly satisfying. Kids as young as four can really enjoy scratching off the entire design, making scratch art a great choice for airplane activities for kids across a broad age range.
11. Fidget cube and other fidgets:
Fidgets are easy to toss in and play with, without parts to lose! We brought this DIY infinity cube that we made a while ago, as well as this dancing giraffe, and this bendy snake.On our flight home, the airline actually had similar toys in the little kit that they gave the kids! It included a dancing animal just like the one we bought.
12. Magnet drawing toys:
We got these magnetic drawing toys – and M really enjoyed this mess-free coloring toy, another grab-n-run option! You can go with any type of portable drawing toy: downgrade to a cling film- style one, or upgrade to a Boogie Board if you believe this has the potential for longer-term entertainment.
13. Coupon File with mini activities:
I plan to do a whole post on this… but I wanted to prioritize the big list of airplane activities for kids that you have here. I’ll update with links when I do, but meanwhile, I’ll give you the gist.
I got a coupon file, and filled it with small activities and a set of stacking crayons (DON’T get the set that we had – it was terrible. This one has much better reviews.) This included toy cars, the puppets above, small coloring pages, a memory match game, stickers, sticky notes, mini coloring posters, and more. Anything that makes a good standalone activity (outside of the coupon file) will be on this list as well.
14. Educational tablet with games + volume limiting headphones:
Even if the airline provides or if you are trying to limit screen time, BRING a kid-friendly tablet as well as volume limiting earphones! You never know and this can be a lifesaver.
The timing on our flight home was terrible. We left for the airport at 8PM after a long day. Our flight took off at 1. It was two hours, and then we had a four hour stopover. They didn’t get onto a long, nap-friendly airplane until 6:30 AM!
Not only that, but M fell asleep as we were landing from our first flight – at 3 AM on his clock! And we had to wake him. He could hardly walk a straight line and was miserable. Screen time was our savior. Make sure to download anything you’ll want before your flight! Shows that you buy from Amazon Video can be downloaded for offline use. Do it!
15. Paper Airplanes:
Cut these out in advance and let your kids color them on the plane! Or, get the full-color ones and have it as a travel toy. Your kids can also play with them in the airport if you have a good, open space to fly them. It’s a great way to build excitement for the trip, as well as a tool to let them be active in a structured way when they need it most.
16. Spiral art:
You might see a theme in these airplane activities for kids. Many of these are actually crafts or art ideas that are portable and refreshing. Creativity, and the ability to DO something is a great way to entertain kids during tough times. A spiral art throwback to my own childhood kept M busy along the way.
It’s labeled for ages three and up, but probably requires more coordination than most three year olds have. It’s great for your five year old, and possibly even your four year old.
Airplane activities for 6 year old and older:
One of my favorite airplane activities for older kids is to keep a travel journal full of memories and favorites!
17. Get Smarter: Super Fun Travel Activities to Baffle Your Brain (7+)
Activity books make fantastic airplane activities for kids because they are so compact and each page is essentially a new thing to do!
More of a travel-themed book, this one is great for slightly older kids! It’s packed with unique brain teasers, drawing prompts, road games, and more! Lots of the games in this book are collaborative and can be done with siblings. With over 80 pages, it contains many many hours of activities.
While we never managed to do this while traveling, we’ve been working on Jixels on the weekend and I know it would make a fantastic travel activity!
Jixels is a new concept in pixel art. Use small, solid-colored puzzle shaped pieces (that are all the same, so you only need to find the right color) to create either the art template in the kit, or your own art.
The pieces interlock and don’t need ironing. They hold together quite well, making them something you can easily create on your airplane tray. You can then fold your started artwork into the paper pattern as a “folder” and store it in the box that it came in.
Repack it in a Ziploc bag before you go so that you can find the pieces you need without spreading out, since they’re small.
19. Drawing books:
I picked up all sorts of drawing books for M before our trip, once again having in mind that each page is another activity!
20. Mini tumbling blocks game:
I grabbed these on a whim, thinking that the kids can decorate or color them, but in the end they made a great travel game for spare time while we were at our destination. They double as a building toy too!
21. Tanagram puzzles:
M loved this Tanagram puzzle I picked up for him! On the way back, he also played with this Tetromino puzzle.
Airplane activities for 8 year old and older:
22. Rubiks Cube:
The classic puzzle cube is a single piece game/puzzle that can entertain for hours! Start with a 2×2 cube for beginners, or up your ante with whichever level you wish.
23. Playing cards and other compact games:
Card games are perfect for the road. We brought a few different types for family game night, but a classic set of cards is perfect for a mid-flight game of War with Daddy.
24. Tablet loaded with age-appropriate shows and games + headphones:
For your slightly older kid, you might prefer a grown-up tablet that has games such as Minecraft, and other games that can be played offline. Download shows and movies you don’t mind your child watching, for at the airport, just in case your child’s screen doesn’t work (or doesn’t interest them), for at your destination. It can be a true sanity-saver!
What airplane activities for kids do you recommend for the different age groups? Comment below to share!