Effectiveness of Various Airplane Toddler Activities 

A qualitative study, n=1; mean age- 23 months. Median age- 23 months. 

One of the things I could never do as a teacher was tag along with my husband on a business trip (I will get into the details of why this was nearly an impossible task another time). So when opportunity came up to be stowaways to Zurich for a week, I (cautiously) jumped all over it. We planned. We packed. We flew. 

Flying with kids is one of the most anxiety riddled things you could do if you are a people pleaser. There are so many stakeholders: Your kid, your fellow travelers, your flight crew. The challenge is that usually toddlers want to do anything but sit in a seat for hours. In fact that to them, it is a form of torture. To ease the anxiety, I planned and packed like a crazy hoarder mommy. Toys? Check. I have 12 activities plus books. Snacks? 5 with savory and sweet options so as not to burden my son with flavor fatigue (I may or may not be projecting a little here). Meds? Two Epi pens, anti-inflammatories and powdered pedialyte just in case he contracts a stomach virus in the 5 hours we are on the plane.

But (and this is a big one) the first lesson in parenting that you will learn within minutes of becoming one, is no amount of planning, praying and Pinterest have the power to guarantee your child will be eating/sleeping/happy every single time. It just doesn’t work like that. And thank goodness it doesn’t! It also doesn’t mean you don’t try. For me it means trying and then taking a cue from Elsa to Let it Go

Here’s what really happened on the flight. The plan is to read this years later and laugh and say it’s still worth it and even a great idea to travel with littles. 

 All times are in PST. 

2:30-3:20 Fell asleep in car seat while walking over to board our flight. Flight takes off around 3:10

3:15 I tell Tim in a stern voice, “He’s about to hit the end of his first cycle. If you want him to keep sleeping, do not stir. Do not make eye contact with him if he opens his eyes.”

3:20 Woke up from nap. Tim and I make like an opossum and play dead hoping he wouldn’t notice (??!?!) that he was suddenly in a roaring airplane ascending into the skies and squashed in a corner (What were we thinking.)

3:22 W looks over and sees his parents and gets angry that his mom is not within 6 inches and starts to cry. My plans of getting a breather from the harrowing couple days of trip prep are foiled. Middle seat here I come. 

3:30 I offer him W a lollipop (I bought an organic vitamin C pop to ease my guilt) to help with the ear pressure. Not that he’s ever complained… But why not. 

3:35 Over it. (And from here on out every time you read the words “over it,” imagine a toddler saying “All done! All done!” Hand over/throw to the ground any toy or activity he was so engaged in 8 seconds ago. Next. Imagine me immediately morphing into a court jester and having 20 seconds to suggest another acceptable activity before tears and frantic pulling at the car seat restraints begin. 

3:35-45 Play Doh 

3:45 Over it. 

3:45-3:55 Pretzel Snack. Thank you AA. 

3:55 Phone time. (YouTube playlist for Wesley, specially curated to include: Bob the Train, favorite Elmo celebrity collabs, a video of mommy vlogger that shares laundry hacks, music videos, and videos of people reading and flipping the pages of his favorite books by Mo Willems and Sandra Boyton)

4:15 Over it. 

4:15-4:18 Tim takes him to an empty row of seats. W enjoys some sparkling water to the view of clouds. Spills entire cups’ contents into the floor. 

4:30 Phone time. 

4:45 Over it. 

4:45 Glow sticks 

5:00 Phone time 

5:35 Snack- Dry cereal 

5:50 Sticker time with daddy.

5:53 Phone and snack time. (Apple sauce pouch)

6:30 Pringles and Poms. (Stuffed little Pom poms with his finger through a perforated Pringles lid.)

6:37 Started dropping poms on the floor and laughing. Pryed open lid with his mouth and threw lid on the floor. Mommy was over it. I crawl into the floor to pick up pom poms and said lid. 

6:38 Lacing activity 

6:48 Spongy block time. Over it. 

6:58 Airplane safety card. Over it. 

7:02 Drawing pictures with mommy. W asks for phone time.  

7:10 Phone time for the remainder of the flight. (Approx 1 hr) Hallelujah. 
If I read this two years ago, I would have deemed this flight a failure. Today I say this is solid A work from the toddler. There’s definitely room for improvement… But if one parent can do some work on the flight while the other parent get through an entire movie (You’ve Got Mail – in 2-10 minute increments) It’s pretty much to reason to put on your party clothes and high five your spouse.