25 Ways to Entertain a Toddler On A Plane Without Having to Bring a Toy


You’ve booked a flight with your little one and are looking forward to exploring the world beyond your local park. You’ve packed your bags, made it through security, and are now sitting in the plane. All seems to be going well until the 4 toys you brought with you are no longer interesting. You look at your watch: 5 more hours left on the flight.

Before you swear off air travel with a toddler forever, take a few deep breaths and read on for some free, on-the-fly in-flight entertainment options for your little one.

Taking Advantage of the Seat Back Pocket

I know what you’re thinking – and yes, the seat back pocket might be a cesspool. However, so is the airline seat you’re sitting in, the belt buckle, and really everything else in the airport. In short: buy some Purell and get over it.

Okay, now that we are paranoid and calm about the volume of germs we will encounter via air travel, let’s explore all the great activities our kiddos can do using what is in the seat back pocket.

The Airline Magazine

Think the airline magazine was second rate journalism? Me too. But, that won’t stop you from using it to your benefit.

  1. Ad-Inspired Story Time
    “Once she found her shirt, the Mardi Gras queen lived happily ever after. The end.”
    Use the pictures and ads in the magazine to create your own story … or to educate your child about advertising techniques.
  2. Origami
    Have a tattered magazine at the end of the month? Rip out a page (preferably in a useless section) and use it to make origami. You can make hats, paper airplanes, and cootie catchers (just to name a few).
  3. Art Time
    Break out a pen and start drawing anything on the pages. Scribbling on people’s faces is fun.
  4. Rip It
    If you have not yet seen the video of the baby laughing hysterically when their parent (?) rips up an envelope, you are missing out. Take a cue and let your baby rip out and up the pages from the free magazine. Just make sure you clean up the mess
  5. Flip It
    Use your finger to flip through the magazine really quickly. You can even bend it in the middle and fan the pages. Baby will love the breeze created by the moving pages and will marvel at the changing shapes and colors.

The Emergency Card

Despite it’s doomsday implications, the emergency seat back card has a lot of good uses.

  1. I Spy
    “I spy with my little eye, something that is burning.” Kids love puzzles and having them find the item you’re asking for is a fun game even if they aren’t fully talking yet.
  2. Emergency-Inspired Story
    “The princess flight attendant waved her magic wand and a big hugs slide popped out of the plane. Then everyone got to go swimming after they took off their shoes. What a fun day at the beach!” Kids don’t need to know that the emergency card tells them what to do if there is engine failure. You can still teach them the steps of what to do in an emergency without informing them what “a change in cabin pressure” really means.
  3. Peek-A-Boo
    The emergency card’s semi-cardboard-like texture makes it an excellent peek-a-boo prop.

Eating and Drinking Items

Take a cue from your own childhood and play with your food utensils.


  1. Drummer
    The other passengers will love this … as long as this stops crying. Let your little one use a plastic spoon to tap on the plastic tray, their hand, your hand, whatever.
  2. Hold the Spoon
    Toddlers are still working on their manual dexterity. Let them practice holding, catching, and grabbing the spoon.
  3. Drama Class
    Ready to look ridiculous? Put the spoon across your mouth like a dog bone and quietly bark or make other ridiculous noises. You can use the spoon as any number of props and entertain your kid for a while. Depending on their age, you can take turns pretending the spoon is something different and then guessing what it is.

Cup with Ice, a Lid, and a Straw

When the flight attendant asks you for a drink, ask them to bring you a cup with a lid on it, a straw, and some ice. Then let the games begin!

  1. Rattle
    Use the cup with ice in it as a rattle. Your child will be like “OMG I NEED ONE OF THESE.” Relax for 2 minutes. Note that you will want to keep an eye on your child, especially if they are old enough to be able to take the top off the cup. Having your kid choke on ice or spill it all over themselves would be a bummer.
  2. Hit the Ice with the Straw
    Show your little one how moving the straw around in a cup moves the ice with it too. You can turn it into a game and make sound effects while you take your feelings out on the ice in the cup.
  3. Sip the Drink (Straw Deluge) or Blow Bubbles
    Once the ice starts to melt a little, you can try to teach Junior how to use a straw to suck water up through it. You can also show him or her how to blow bubbles into the water for some mealtime fun.
  4. The Straw is my Trumpet
    This one is a classic. Take the straw out of the drink and make little sounds through it (“Doot-doot-doot-doooooooooot!”). You can play guess the tune.
  5. Swirlies (water and ice)
    These swirls are fun, unlike their toilet cousin. Here you put the lid on the beverage up and just swirl it. Your kid will be like “WHOA. HOW IS THAT HAPPENING.”
  6. Water Dots
    Pull down the setback tray and put baby on your lap. Use the straw and some of the water in the cup to dole out a couple drops at a time onto the tray. Your child can touch the water dots with their finger. They can also look totally bewildered when three small dots become one big dot (“Where did they all go?!”) and vice versa.
  7. Suck it
    Use the straw to gently suck on your kids hand or to keep a piece of paper suspended in air. Then stop sucking and see what happens. Pure insanity I tell ya.

Snack Items

  1. Sealed Peanut/Pretzel Bag
    Shake that sucker – instant rattle.
  2. Trash
    Up-cycle the trash you have into endless playtime. How much trash can fit into a cup. How much trash can fit into other trash. What sounds does the trash make? Can you make an art instillation with it and charge other passengers entry? The possibilities are limitless.


Sometimes we are so busy trying to find a toy to entertain our kids that we forget that we don’t even need one. Here are a few activities that use just your own hands.

  1. Classic Peek-a-boo
    Seriously, if this needs explaining, then I doubt you have children.
  2. Clapping
    You can quietly sing songs and clap with them. You can clap a rhythm and see if your child can clap it back (and vice versa). You can even play games like Patty Cake.
  3. Don’t Leave Me Hanging
    Play games like tag and high five and your child will be thoroughly entertained (and hopefully exhausted by the time you’re done).
  4. Pilsbury Dough Boy
    Raise your hand if you chunky baby tummies. Yep, I thought so. Well now you can turn nicely poking your little one into a fun game. Poke their tummy and say “hoo hoo.” Then poke their cheek and say something different. You can even turn it into a song. Note: Your child may need therapy after this.
  5. Magic Slight of the Hand
    You don’t need to be David Copperfield or Houdini to be able to impress people with magic. Little kids will be amazed with any kind of optic slight of hand. You can convince them you have their nose. You can flip the bird make them wonder how you removed the top part of your thumb. The possibilities here are endless (and so are the priceless looks on your kid’s face).

Well, I hope these activities will buy you at least another hour on your flight to freedom. If you’ve got another plane activity that you like to do with your kids, share it in the comments below. Happy Travels!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s