Babies under 18 months often don’t need much in the way of entertainment besides a food source, maybe a pacifier and some mommy or daddy snuggles.
But when you’re taking your little one on a flight, it helps to have a few extra tricks up your sleeve for after the pacifier comes out and the amusement of the safety pamphlet and airsick bag wear off.
We spoke to some parents who have traveled with little ones to get their kid-tested recommendations for airplane toys for babies you can bring along next time you fly.
1. Skip Hop Baby Activity and Teething Elephant
Several parents recommend the Skip Hop Baby Activity and Teething Elephant as a great airplane toy for babies because it provides a variety of textures and surfaces for babies to grab and mouth, while also being a pretty quiet toy.
“For young babies under 1 year old, sensory toys like this are a great source of entertainment with many places to grab and textures to feel,” said Laci Lynch, mom of two and blogger at Meandering Little Feet.
2. Buckle Toys Whale
The Buckle Toys Whale plush toy combines the soothing comfort of a lovey while also challenging your little ones with some fine motor control and hand/eye coordination options. There are six different colorful straps that allow your toddler to practice fastening—and the click sound is always very impressive, even if you have to help. The zippered mouth also should provide lots of entertainment. Maybe your baby will practice feeding the whale a Goldfish cracker! The Buckle Toys are great toys to keep baby busy on an airplane.
3. Water Magic Coloring Books
Once your little one has some fine motor control, test the waters with a Water Magic coloring book, which only uses a water-based marker to bring colors to life on the page. This is one of the best toys for the airplane for a one-year-old because it uses limited space and isn’t messy—and they can be used and reused. “By the time the last page is painted, the first page is dry and ready to paint again,” said Lynch.
4. Busy Books
Busy Books have pages with quiet, sensory types of activities kids can do in a variety of settings (think: buttons, felt shape sorting, counting games, etc.). These can be elaborate DIY projects for aspiring Pinterest moms or dads, or you can make it easy by ordering one (even personalized) on Amazon.
Liz Jeneault, vice president of marketing for Faveable, used to always pack this item when flying with her daughter across the country from Texas to the East Coast to visit family. “Inside the book there are areas where baby can try to button a shirt, learn shapes and grab hold of them and even tie a shoe. All the pieces are tethered, so you don’t have to worry about them falling on the airplane floor,” she said.
5. Puffy stickers
Babies and toddlers have simple needs and wants (the entertainment factor of the safety pamphlet is the truth). One mom recommended bringing something as simple as a bag of cotton balls and a bottle to stuff them in.
Want to keep it simple, but a bit more fun? Invest in some Puffy Stickers, a “fan favorite” of Kelli Finelli’s kids after they were about a year old. “They can play with the different animal shapes and stick them all over the plane window or tray table without getting stuck or leaving a sticky residue,” says Finelli, marketing and public relations strategist for The Tour Guy.
6. Lift-the-Flap Books
For all of our latest advancements in gadget-driven electronic entertainment, babies still can’t resist a good lift-the-flap book (Eric Hill’s “Where’s Spot?” has been a bestseller since it was first published in 1980).
An airplane adventure is a great excuse to add another one of these books to your library. Kids love Where is Baby’s Belly Button? and Dear Zoo. Or stick with the theme and read your son or daughter an airplane book.
7. Bright Starts Clack and Slide Activity Ball
Another airplane toy for babies that provides a great sensory experience is the Bright Starts Clack and Slide Activity Ball. It can be used to roll around in the airport terminal while waiting for your flight, and then held up close in-flight while your baby examines all the moving pieces and parts.
“My husband and I have taken multiple 12-plus hour flights with our son before he was 18 months old,” says Emma Brown, a blogger for Wandering Cubs. “I would recommend this activity toy because it has a lot of different textures, colors and rings that can be moved, as well as a mirror to hold your baby’s interest.”
8. Codi Educational Robot
This adorable food grade silicone robot is safe for your baby to put in his or her mouth, with a smart tech interface that doesn’t overwhelm young children with too many bells and whistles. At about 9 inches tall, it’s small enough to stuff in a carry-on bag for use during your flight.
Designed for kids 12 months and older, Codi is interactive and can tell your child stories and sing songs that they (or you) can choose, but you don’t have to worry about “screen time.” We also like how Codi can be used to send and receive messages between parents and kids, making it an airplane toy that has the potential to grow with your kids.
9. Go Happy Kids Tray
If you’re bringing toys or snacks for your babies, tuck the Go Happy Kids Tray into your carry-on, too. The silicon liner prevents toys and Goldfish crackers from sliding off, and also provides a much needed barrier between your baby and all the germs lurking on typical airplane tray tables. It also doubles as a dry erase board—just bring along a few markers and let your toddler go to town.
Disclaimer: Some products have been provided for review.
Cynthia J. Drake is a travel writer based in Austin, Texas, where she lives with her husband and two sons. Since becoming a mom, she’s been stranded at sea with her family, gotten lost in the Rocky Mountains, dealt with more than her fair share of public vomiting, and still can’t wait for the next trip. She writes regularly for AAA magazines, Austin American-Statesman, Texas Highways and Cruise Critic. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.