Airplane Activities For Toddlers: Flying With a 2-Year Old

Airplane Activities for Toddlers: Flying With a  2-Year Old

Flying with a toddler or 2-year old can be a nightmare. Here are some strategies that may help you prepare and great airplane activities for toddlers!

Check out these sure fire strategies and airplane activities for toddlers. They worked for our cross-country flight with an active 2-year old. I hope they work for you too!

Our daughter was born five days before I turned 40 years old. So, basically I spent a good 20 years as an adult cringing every time a family with young children sat anywhere near me on a plane.

When we prepared to fly across the country with our 2-year old daughter for the first time, every judgmental stare and disapproving sigh came rushing back to me as an ironic reminder that everything that goes around really does come around.

Every parent dreads the idea of their toddler being that kid– screaming, kicking, crying. 

We found though that these tips and tricks for flying with a 2-year old will make your kid the one who gets airplane wings from the pilot at the end of the flight instead of the kid the other passengers need a break from. 

flying with 2 year old

This is a pretty comprehensive list of preparations, ideas, and considerations. If you are getting ready to travel with an active toddler or two year old, I hope some of these ideas will help you prepare for ‘Battlefield Toddler- Airplane Edition!’

Getting to the airport and through Security

Let’s face it. If you are traveling with children, you are not going to be traveling light. That being said, it is clearly not helpful to pack your entire house. I mean, you have to carry everything you bring and there are precious few capable hands to help with the hauling. What are some strategies for cutting down on the clutter?

Related: 11 Tips to Survive a Road Trip With a Toddler

What are essential items to pack and other essential pre-flight to-do’s?

A stroller

My husband and I debated the merits of bringing our daughter’s stroller. We ended up bringing it due to the bags-to-hands ratio and it turned out to be probably the best packing decision we made.

It allowed us to stow two of the carry-on bags, and our daughter loved the novelty of cruising around in a new place armed with her sippy cup and Daniel Tiger.

However, the stroller was the most useful though as we waited… waiting in line to go through security, waiting in line to board the plane. The stroller kept our active toddler contained and forestalled any early temper tantrums that could have arisen from our attempts to constrain her.

During our layover, when we had to walk about 1 mile between gates, it was also handy to be able to push, rather than carry a tired 2-year old. It was such a lifesaver all around. I would definitely recommend bringing your stroller and checking it at the gate.

Lots of time to burn energy before the flight.

Try to build in plenty of time before the flight to let your kids burn off energy at a local playground. If you are lucky. that will be enough that they will be ready for a nap when you board the plane!

Diapers and wipes.

This is dependent on where you are going and who you will be with, but if at all possible, plan to buy most of your needed diapers and wipes at your destination. There is no need to pack two weeks’ worth of diapers unless you want to justify an extra suitcase.

Liquids that are allowed past security.

Some of the items I wanted to bring on the plane for ‘happy toddler insurance’ included items considered liquids by TSA. I am happy to report that the following items breezed through security with no problems: Play-Doh (3 ounce container), Squeezable applesauce (3 ounce container), and Baby Tylenol.

Related: 15 Ways to Minimize Chaos During a Hotel Stay With Kids

On Flight Distraction Strategies

So, once you get onto the plane, the game changes. Ha! Here is the real test. Is your little one going to be happy and compliant? Or will he/she be a holy terror? The thing is, sometimes the kid who was perfect one flight will be horrible on the next one… and vice versa. Typically, the screaming kids have one of two issues:

  • They are uncomfortable.
  • They are bored.

Fixes for uncomfortable

Earplanes: Infants, toddlers, and young children oftentimes will have ear discomfort due to the changing cabin pressure. Unfortunately, they are too young to understand the concept of popping their ears. Earplanes help with the ear pressure and are supposed to be very effective. We did not end up using them on our flight because Sweet Pea didn’t show signs of needing them. We did have them on hand though.


Lollipops and sippy cups. If your kiddo doesn’t know how to pop his ears, sucking on something like a lollipop or cup of apple juice might help with ear pressurization. We brought Disney Princess Lollipop Candy Rings and Sweet Pea spent a good 30 minutes playing with and sucking on it.

Favorite blanket: If you want your child to sleep on the plane, it might be helpful to pack a favorite blanket in your carry on… something they associate with sleep. It might help them ramp down too, especially if they are overstimulated.

Car Seat or no Car Seat?

The decision we agonized over the most in the run up to this trip, was the question of whether or not Sweet Pea should be in her car seat during the flight. Even though safety is always a concern, safety was not driving this decision.

The notion of keeping a 2 year old contained in a five-point harness was definitely a consideration. Ultimately we decided to gate check the car seat. Our daughter was fine without it and sitting in her ‘big girl’ seat allowed the flexibility to put her head in our laps to fall asleep, and be able to use the tray table to eat and play. It was a good decision to not have our 2-year old in the car seat.

Food on flight?

It is definitely worthwhile to decide how you will feed your kiddo while you are 30,000 feet above sea level. Logic would seem to dictate that high sugar foods and drinks should be avoided.

However, special occasions (like airplane travel) also call for special treats, right? We tried to mainly stick to healthy snacks and meals, but then splurged on the candy lollipop ring and a small pack of Oreo cookies.

Before take-off

We arrived at the airport early enough to get through security and have time to eat a decent pre-flight lunch. Pasta salad, fruit cups, and anything with protein are always a good idea for a pre-flight meal.

On the flight

On the flight, we tried a number of snacks like the standard goldfish crackers and gummy fruits. Other snacky winners included dried apricots, crackers and hummus, packets of dried banana and carrot chips, and applesauce pouches.

We decided to stick with water to drink both because we didn’t want liquid sugar pumped directly into the veins of a very active 2-year old, and because we knew she would get dehydrated simply from flying.

Airplane activities that are great for a Bored Toddler

There are lots of great, cheap ideas for toddler activities that will keep crazy toddler at bay during a flight. I packed wayyyy more than we ended up needing, but will probably end up using most of the unused boredom busters as hotel/vacation toys anyway. Here is the quick list of what I packed:

Airport and Airplane-related activities.


We packed a set of Ultimate Sticker Book: Airplanes and Other Flying Machines: More Than 250 Reusable StickersRichard Scarry’s A Day at the Airport, and Sticker Fun! At the Airport Reusable Sticker Tote.

Small toys that allow for imaginative play.

You could bring a few toys that won’t make a mess but will keep your kiddo entertained for at least 20 minutes. Toy trucks, plastic Disney toys, or My Little Ponies are favorites!

Pipe cleaners and Wikki Stix are awesome for airplanes. Everyone has heard of pipe cleaners, but Wikki Stix? They are kind of the same concept as pipe cleaners but sticky. Very nice for creating and manipulating in a confined space like an airplane. Our favorite set is the WikkiStix Traveler Playset.

Dress up on the airplane! Costume jewelry is all the rage and you can get great stuff really cheap at a party goods store. Load up a little tin with rings, bracelets, sunglasses, scarves, necklaces… and spend some time playing airplane dress up!


Special travel toys made especially for the airplane!

Lauri Toddler Tote. This is a neat little travel-friendly toy that made of a foam-like material. It is a bunch of punch-outs, little pegboards, etc… So much fun!


Wind up toys and other ‘silly’ toys. I packed about 5 or 6 small wind up toys and they were quite the hit for about 30 minutes on the flight. Also, you can get fun silly toys like mini-slinkies, squishy heads, etc… anything novel will entertain a toddler for at least 10-15 minutes, right?

Mini Play-Dough Packs. I packed a ziploc with 4 colors of play-dough plus a few mini cookie cutters. Sweet Pea had a great time pulling it apart, cutting it, etc… Again, this probably bought us close to an hour of happy toddler time during the flight. Score!

Washi tape. Fun designs and really inexpensive. You can pick a few rolls in different prints up at wide variety of craft, toy, and home goods stores (like Target).

 Airplane activities for toddlers that will keep your kids busy for a long time

Stickers. Really, need I say more? You can keep a fussy toddler happy for a good 20-30 minutes with a few sheets of stickers and a 25 cent spiral notepad.

$1 packs. Target, Wal-Mart, Michaels, Hobby Lobby, Toys R Us– pretty much any store like this will sell a wide variety of $1 play packs– usually with stickers, crayons, an activity book, and sometimes even paper dolls. Added bonus– they are pretty small.

Movies,Videos. I might suggest saving the latest and greatest Elmo or Daniel Tiger episodes for a crisis moment on your flight— turbulence, hungry kid, really tired kid. However, as long as you have a decent pair of kid-sized headphones, letting your toddler zone out for a few episodes of their favorite show is a great way to peacefully pass the time!

Books! There will probably be enough ambient noise to make reading to your child difficult. However, that doesn’t mean they won’t love looking at the books anyway… especially a new ‘lift-the-flap’ book or a search and find book.


Faux/Non-Messy coloring and painting items. There are a few options here that are pretty decent and cheap. The Crayola, Color Wonder Mess-Free Coloring, Stow & Go Studio, Art Tools, Great for Travel, Colors may Vary is a great option because you can customize the coloring pages to suit your kid’s interests. As long as you have access to water, you can also get a mini watercolor book as well.

Colorforms or Window Gel Stickies. Colorforms has a number of kits that appeal to younger children. Window clings are super cheap as well (and not messy). You can usually pick up seasonal sticky sheets at the dollar store. This colorform set is our favorite– Colorforms – House Picture Panels Play Set

Cheap party favors. Go to a party store and scour the party favor aisle for cheap and fun airplane toys. For less than $5 total, you can pick up a wide variety of rubber bugs, a sunglasses assortment, notepads, edible necklaces and rings, jewelry, musical instruments (ok, maybe not appropriate for a flight), etc…

Magnetic or suction cup activity sets. These are fantastic because they are basically magnet sticker sets! Your kids will love this! (just make sure they don’t eat the magnets). We love Create-A-Scene Magnetic Playset – Zoo!

So, all in all, our first flight with Sweet Pea was quite successful. I know I may have over-prepared, but the extra packets of stickers and goldfish crackers boosted my confidence that we would all make it through without having to profusely apologize to our fellow passengers for a screaming kid.

What ideas have you tried in the past that have worked? What didn’t work so well?

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  1. Very helpful! I’ll be traveling with my 2 year old daughter very soon (4 hour flight) and this is what I was looking for, a mother who understands what we go through in these cases! I was thinking about taking or not the car seat but after reading this I think I’m going to go without it and see how it goes! First time flying solo with her.?

    1. Oh yeah! I am so glad the post was helpful to you. Good luck on flying solo! I would love to hear how it went when you get back!

  2. Pingback: Tips for Traveling With a Toddler - Sunshine Whispers
  3. This is a totally thorough blog about a potentially difficult problem. Your ability to assess problems and find solutions is crystal clear. Good job, Sara.

  4. Elaine… wow! What a horrible experience but what a great story. ha! 🙂 Yep… I am definitely packing way more diapers on the carry on that a reasonable person would think is necessary. Holly– who are you kidding? You and your kids are pros! Thanks for the comments you all!

  5. I’m impressed! Granted, I’ve never flown cross-country with my littles – I think the longest flight has been 2 1/2 hours – but all I can manage is some snacks and a movie or episodes of Dora.

  6. First off I have to say it, Sara, you rock. I agreed with you on all counts, save one, and it’s a minor blip. I flew with my son, Jamie, when he was a year old, and on the return flight, I only took along a few diapers, and a small baggie of wipes, because I had way more than I needed on the flight there. Wouldn’t you know it, Jamie got sick on the flight home. I used up all the wipes cleaning him up after he hurled all over himself and me, and a half hour later what hadn’t come up earlier came out the other end. I had to clean him up in the tiny airplane bathroom, in the tiny airplane bathroom sink, and dry him with paper towels. One outfit was covered with barf, the spare outfit with poo, so after I put on the last diaper, I had to wrap him up in an airline blanket for the rest of the flight. Thankfully, the airline allowed me to keep the blanket. So for your return flight, make sure you have six diapers instead of three, a jumbo pack of wipes, and plenty of spare outfits, so Sweet Pea doesn’t end up wearing an airline blanket home.