Baby looking at planes


Expat family: how to entertain a toddler on a plane?

29 October 2020
The good news is with some preparation you can make flying with a toddler more manageable:
If your trip is planned you are likely to have more time to prepare than if you need to return home in a hurry. If you do have the luxury of choosing your flights in advance the following suggestions may make life on board a long-haul flight with a toddler much easier:
If you can, fly overnight to your destination. That way your toddler will (hopefully) spend some of the flight sleeping. 
Now is not the time to dress your little one in their most fashionable skinny jeans and fitted shirts. Instead focus on comfort, tracksuits are perfect. Easy for getting through the airport, they double as pyjamas on the flight. Always have an entire spare outfit of clothes in your hand luggage in case of major spillage or accident. 
  • This one might be trickiest if you have a fussy eater or if they are distracted easily by all the food on offer in the airport. Try your best to keep food in the run up to the flight light and healthy. Don’t introduce your child to anything new in the day or two before a flight. Stick to small portions of firm favourites and lots of liquids. 
  • Navigating the airport with children may not be a walk in the park either. Our overarching advice is having lots of time to deal with tantrums and toilet breaks. Once you get to the plane:
  • We are sure your house has echoed with the sound of ‘I want to do it myself’ [or a variation of this] when you have tried to help your toddler with everything from putting on their shoes to cutting up their food. Many toddlers love having some responsibility. Providing them with their own, very light backpack to bring on the plane will distract them from things they may not be able to do like showing their boarding pass and passport.  
  • Praising good behaviour is key to success when it comes to a toddler in an enclosed space. Did they get to their seat with their backpack? Make a big deal out of telling them what a great job they did when you get to your seat. Continue this throughout the flight for anything they do well.
  • If your toddler still has a bottle or sucks a pacifier/soother, have one at the ready for take-off. The change in cabin pressure can make their ears pop and swallowing will really help. 
  • Most long-haul flights have inflight entertainment to rival the best digital TV package complete with children's channels. If you do want your little one to sleep on board it might be best to limit screen time and have some unwind time once the excitement of take-off is over and your child has had time to settle. Drawing or colouring is a great way to get started. Consider having:

  • Mini magnetic board: with a pen attached to it, so you don’t have to crawl under airplane seats after a dropped pencil!
  • Reusable sticker book: maybe related to travel?
  • Triangular crayons: if your child wants colours, triangular crayons are less likely to roll off tray tables
  • Colouring book or paper
  • Small toys for imagination play

  • Once they have had some time to play and relax, move to the next phase and make their seat cosier with a blanket from home and their favourite soft toy. It’s worth including your child’s favourite story book to read to them for a familiar reminder of their bedtime routine at home.  
  • Pack plenty of snacks for your toddler to enjoy on the plane, bring twice what you think you might need to account for delays or give them out more than you normally would. In a confined space with a toddler, snacks are your last line of defence when it comes to distraction! Try to pack healthy treats like raisins, sugar free sweets or crackers to avoid blood sugar dips and the associated difficult mood. 

  • While there are no guarantees when it comes to flying with young children, hopefully some of these tips will help make plane journeys with the younger members of the family go a little smoother. 

  • If you are living and working overseas on expat assignment, protect the health and wellbeing of your family with expat health insurance tailored to your needs.