10 Ways to Keep Kids Entertained on Flights Without Tablets

Aug 3, 2018

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

When you fly with kids, it is very important that you pack and strategize for the flight accordingly, to increase the odds that you’ll have a blissfully uneventful trip.

We all know how energetic kids are in general — and that already makes being in a small, confined space a bit tough. Being unprepared for a flight with kids can result in an exhausting experience for you, the child and other passengers.

A tablet may be an easy way to keep the kids entertained in the sky, but with the increasing amount of time children spend on electronics devices, it is important to remember that tablets are far from the only source of entertainment available at 35,000 feet.

Ten Ways To Keep Kids Entertained On Flights Without Tablets
The Mom Trotter and her flight crew

There are several (mostly) low-tech ways to ensure you and your kids survive the next flight. After all, when most of us grew, there was no such thing as tablets and we all managed to survive our travels — it is totally possible.

Our family has been on several flights and we have tried and tested a number of ways to keep the kids engaged. I recently traveled with four kids five years of age and under (without another adult), and I was able to keep them entertained on all of the flights without using any electronic devices. Looking to cut down on the screen time in your family? File away these 10 ways to keep kids entertained on flights without whipping out a single tablet.

1. Surprise your kids with a new toy

Before you leave home, give your kids a chance to pick some of their favorite toys for travel. But save room for a surprise toy — or two. You can pack the surprise toy(s) in their backpack or yours, but don’t reveal them until the flight. Kids are more likely to stay engaged with a new toy for a longer period of time. And though one new toy may be plenty for a flight, on long-haul flights, consider at least two. Surprise new toys such as Play-Doh, Silly Putty, Play Foam are a great place to start — or use this opportunity to give your child a specific toy he or she has been asking for.

2. Bring school supplies

Pack an empty notebook with crayons, and when your kids become restless, bring out the notebook and encourage them to become in-flight artists. Depending on the age of your children, coloring books may be preferable. Melissa & Doug Water Wow is great for mess-free painting — just keep a close eye on them and make sure the plane itself isn’t turning into a masterpiece

You can also use a flight to set aside time for learning. Pack an age-appropriate activity book or a homework packet — just makes your kids are studying their favorite subject to prevent them from feeling stressed or pressured. (I usually let them pick the activity book themselves.) My own kids are all about writing right now, so for our most recent flight, I purchased a pencil pouch and packed a few crayons, markers, pencils, a pencil sharpener, a glue stick and a pair of blunt kids scissors. I also purchased a wide-ruled notebook for free writing and an activity book for learning. This worked wonders on the plane!

Ten Ways To Keep Kids Entertained On Flights Without Tablets

3. Download music or audio books

I have yet to meet a kid who doesn’t love listening to music, so download your kid’s favorite songs in advance of the flight. Get them involved from the beginning to make sure they’re excited about the selections. Audio books can be a great option, too. My son’s favorite song is the “Thomas & Friends” theme song. He can listen to it on repeat for a long time and that keeps him happily entertained. Just remember to pack headphones.

4. Try a magnetic game

Magnetic board games are a great resource for your next trip. The pieces stick to the playing board (making it more difficult to lose them in-flight) and even parents will have fun challenging their little ones with classic games of chess, checkers and tic-tac-toe. Stretch the game time for as long as possible and let them win every so often so they don’t get discouraged. You can also purchase magnetic building blocks for your kids to play with on the flight. There are many different types available such as Mini Magnets and Tegu Blocks. Those are great because kids can build independently without help.

5. Read a book

Most passengers on the plane would prefer listening to you read to your kids, as opposed to listening to them have boredom meltdowns. Bring a few of their favorite books so you can give them options and variety. After reading a story through once, depending on the age, challenge your kids to practice reading the book back to you. Comic books are also great, and relatively inexpensive and lightweight. Do not give them all the books, either. Pull them out as needed throughout the flight. If you have kids who can read on their own, let them pick a new book to take with them.

6. Make friends with the cabin crew

You can extend your kid’s in-air excitement by bringing a new pal into the picture. Befriend the cabin crew and ask them to drop by now and then to say hello — and congratulate your child for being so well-behaved. This is a great way to build self-esteem and keep him or her excited about their next trip. During downtime (when the seat belt sign is off), you can take your kid to the back of the plane so he or she can talk to the flight attendants and ask questions when they aren’t too busy with their official duties. Flight attendants are usually very caring and attentive, and in our experience, they enjoyed chatting with our kids. The kids, in turn, loved being able to talk to someone new.

7. Play card games

Card games are a favorite for many parents flying with kids. Carry a few of your kid’s favorite card games and, as with every activity on a flight, try to push the game for as long as possible. Remember that your primary goal is to keep them distracted until you arrive at your destination. To make it more fun, you can jot down a score chart to see who wins the most. Some of my kids’ favorite card games are Uno, Old Maid and Go Fish.

8. Give your kids a camera

Buying my kids a camera is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, because it keeps them occupied and I love being able to see the world through their eyes. When you’re flying, it helps to have them seated next to the window (and remind them to not take photos of other passengers without permission). When you get home, you can go through the photos together and print their favorites — you can even create postcards on the road using a service like PostSnap. Consider purchasing a child’s camera, such as the VTech Kidizoom, or simply an affordable (and durable) digital camera. And bring along a large memory card, because once your kids get excited about having a camera and taking pictures, they just may take pictures of every single thing.

Ten Ways To Keep Kids Entertained On Flights Without Tablets 5

9. Pack plenty of food and snacks

Don’t underestimate how distracting and entertaining snacks can be for kids during a flight. When kids (or, let’s be honest, adults) get hungry, they can get very fidgety and unhappy, so keep bellies full. Packing an easy, healthy meal or snack for your kids to enjoy on the plane is very important. Bring familiar foods that your kids love and enjoy at home, and then pack a special treat that they wouldn’t normally get — you know the one — as a last-ditch trick up your sleeve. Just avoid especially pungent foods as a courtesy to your inflight neighbors.

10. Have a conversation with your kids

In my experience, this is the easiest, and also the most overlooked way to keep your kids entertained during a flight. Both parents and children are often so absorbed in their electronic devices that no one takes advantage of the fixed conversation opportunity. On your next flight, discuss with your kids where you are traveling, what you will see and do and, on the way home, what everyone enjoyed most about the trip. If you aren’t sure where to start, a good conversation starter can be a map or a small globe. We always travel with one, and that gives us an opportunity to teach the kids about the cities, states or countries we are flying over. If you don’t have one on hand, the airline’s inflight magazine should have a route network map that will suffice.

If you are planning to travel with kids soon or in the near future, then it is very important that you pack for the flight accordingly. We all know how energetic kids can be, which makes being in a small confined space without anything to keep them entertained tough. Such an instance can be exhausting for both the parent and the child. With the increasing amount of time that children spend on electronics devices, it is important that we as parents do our part to limit our children’s screen time as much as possible. A recent survey revealed that over a quarter of parents would think twice about flying with their young children if they didn’t have access to technology such as a tablet. There are several ways to ensure that parents and kids survive both short and long-haul flights. Surprise! Did you know that you can successfully keep your kids entertained on flights without tablets? When I traveled years back as a kid, there was no such thing as tablets. I remember finding ways to entertain myself, so when I had a child, I decided to do my best to limit screen time when we travel. Our family has been on several flights and we have a tried and tested a few things to see what works and what doesn’t to keep the kids entertained. I recently traveled with four kids five years old and under alone and I was able to keep the entertained on all flights without using a tablet or any other electronic devices. So, when heading out on your next flight, consider trying one or more of these ten ways to keep kids entertained on flights without tablets listed below. 1. Surprise your kids with a new toy Before you leave home, give your kids a chance to pick some of their favorite toys to travel with. Do not let them pack too many toys, as you will also have a surprise toy for them. Also make sure the kids pack easy to carry toys that are not too heavy. You can pack a surprise toy or two, or as many as you need in their backpack or yours and do not reveal it to the kids until after sometime into the flight. Bring out these toys one by one like and watch them be amazed. Let them play with one toy until they get tired of it, then you can offer another surprise toy. Sometimes one toy is plenty for the entire flight, and sometimes on long haul flights you’ll need more than just one toy. This will keep you kids occupied for a while and give you the peace of mind you need. Surprise toys such as play-doh, silly putty, or even a toy they've been asking for a long time. The perfect time to bring out a new toy is soon as you sense that your kids have grown weary of the toys that they brought along with them. I use this trick on flights all the time and it works like magic. The kids get excited all over again and I can keep them busy for at least another couple of hours. I recently traveled with all 4 kids by myself, and I put silly putty in their backpacks as a surprise. That kept them entertained for the whole 3 hour flight. 2. Pack art and writing supplies Pack an empty note book or coloring book, not forgetting crayons, and when your kids become restless, bring out this book and encourage them to become little artists. You can let them draw whatever they want to; just make sure to keep encouraging and praising them when they accomplish something good on paper. You can draw and let them color along or you can let them draw something on their own. If your kids can’t draw yet, and prefer to color, then buy a coloring book so that they can color the pictures in it. If your kids love learning and writing, you can use this opportunity to extend the learning process. Pack an age appropriate activity book or a homework packet and let them do some learning on the flight. Just makes sure that you are studying their favorite subject to prevent them from feeling stressed and/or pressured. My kids are all about writing right now, so for our most recent flight, I purchased a pencil pouch from Walmart and packed a few crayons, markers, and pencils in it. I also purchased a wide ruled note book for free writing as well as an activity book so that they could do some learning. They spent hours on the plane just writing. 3. Listen to music or any audio I have yet to meet a kid who doesn’t love listening to music. Download your kid’s favorite songs to any digital music player or MP3 player of your choice such as an Ipod or SanDisk Clip Jam. Make sure to ask your kids what they would like to listen to before you download it to make sure it they something that will keep them entertained on the flight. They can even listen to audio books as well. My son’s favorite song is the ‘Thomas & Friends’ theme song. He can listen to it on repeat for a long time and that keeps him entertained. Just remember to pack headphone as well as remind your kids to sing with their inside voices as they may not realize how loud they are when they have headphones on. 4. Magnetic games for the win Magnetic games are a great resource to keep kids entertained throughout the flight. These pieces stick to a board and you can have a great time playing games such as bingo, chess, checkers or tic tac toe. Stretch the game time for as long as possible and make sure you let them win every so often so they don't get discouraged, but do not make it too easy for them. You can also purchase magnetic building blocks for your kids to play with. There are many different types available such as Magna Blocks and Tegu Blocks. Those are great because your kids can build them independently allowing you to be able to read a book or do something on your own. Magnetic games are great on flights because it the pieces are held together. I cannot count how many times the kids have dropped or lost things under the seat of the plane. 5. Read a book or magazine Most passengers on the plane will tolerate listening to you as you change your voice and tonal variations to suit the characters in the book you are reading compared to your kid kicking the seat in front of them. Take some time to read a book to your kid and encourage them to follow your cue as well. You can have a number of their favorite books close so that you can be able to give them a variety and avoid monotony. After reading, you can let your kids practice reading on their own as well. Comic books are also great asset to have if you want to keep your kids entertained during flights, so make sure to buy a few editions. If you can find something they have not seen before, that would be great. Do not give them all the comic books or magazines at once. Let their anticipation build up, so that by the time they are done going through the pile you had for them, you will have covered considerable distance. Packing books or magazines can get heavy, so make sure to pack small books so that you can take more than just one. Bob books are great for beginner readers, as well as the ‘I Can Read’ series books. If you have kids who can read on their own, then let them pick a new book to take with them. 6. Make friends with the cabin crew You can extend their excitement by bringing in a third party into the picture. Befriend the cabin crew and have them drop by now and then to congratulate your kid for being good and calm all along. This is a great way to build up their self-esteem and keep them anticipating. During down time when the seat belt sign is off, you can take your kids to the back of the plane so that they can talk to the flight attendants or ask them questions. The flight attendants on all the flights we have been on have been very caring and attentive, and loved chatting with the kids about all sorts of things. The kids in turn loved being able to talk to someone new and share all about themselves. 7. Play card games Card games are a favorite among many parents flying with kids. Carry a few packs of some of your kid’s favorite card games and engage your kids during the flight. Try to push the game as long as possible. Remember that your goal is to keep them entertained them until you arrive at your destination. You can pack several different card games and switch them up so that none of you get bored. To make it more fun, you can jot down a score chart to see who wins the most times. Some of my kid’s favorite card games are Uno, Old Maid and Go Fish. There are many other games you can play such as I spy and spot it. These games require your kids to be very engaged and will definitely pick their interest for a few hours. 8. Give your kids a camera Take a camera along and let the kids take pictures at will. This works best if they are seated next to the window. Discuss with them what they are taking photos off and try to make everything seem interesting, not forgetting to praise their photography skills. This gives them their own perspective. Don’t forget to go through the photos and print them when you get back home so that they can admire the photos that they took. Buying my kid’s, a camera is one of the best things I’ve ever done because I love being able to see the world through their eyes. You can purchase a kid’s camera such as the Vtech Kidizoom Duo or even just a cheap digital camera. Just remember to purchase a big enough memory card, because once they get excited about having a camera and taking pictures, they will take pictures of every single thing. 9. Make sure you have enough food and snacks You’ll be surprised how distracting food and snacks can be for kids. When kids get hungry, they can get very fidgety. Packing an easy healthy lunch or snack for your kids is very important. You want to make sure to pack familiar foods that your kids are used to at home, and also don’t forget to pack a special treat that your child wouldn’t otherwise get when at home. This is enough to keep them entertained for a little bit. I pack food for the kids on every single flight that we take because the kids won’t eat any of the food or snacks on board. So as soon as they tell me they are hungry, I have something for them to eat. 10. Have a conversation with your kids This is the simplest and easiest, and also the most looked over way to keep your kids entertained on flights. Most of the times parents and children are engulfed in electronic devices as well as with headphones on, and no one really talks to each other. Talk to your children about where you are traveling too. If you are travelling away from home, talk to them about what they can expect to see and do. If you are travelling home, talk to them about your trip and what they learned from it. There are so many things you could be talking to your child about, take this opportunity to spark up a conversation with them, and you both are guarantee to be entertained. A good conversation starter is a map or a small globe. We travel with a map or small globe and that gives me an opportunity to teach the kids about different city and countries that we are flying over. This definitely gets them interested and asking questions for a long time during the flight. There are numerous ways to keep the kids entertained on flights without the presence of tablets. You know your kids the best and hence you know what can get their attention the best. Each child is different, and each child will be entertained in a different way, you just have to pick the best for your child. Make sure to put these tips to use to keep your kids entertained during flights so that you can give yourself and other passengers a calm and peaceful flight. Who knows, you might probably end up enjoying flying with your kids as much as I do!

There are numerous ways to keep kids entertained on flights without introducing screens into the mix. Even if you’re simply putting off tablet use as long as possible, employing these tricks can help you turn your next flight into genuine quality time between you and your little ones. 

For more help in planning for your child’s next flight, check out the TPG Family survival guide for your child’s first flight. You can follow Karen and her family’s travels on her blog, The Mom Trotter, and on Instagram.

The All-New United Quest℠ Card

WELCOME OFFER: Up to 100,000 bonus miles

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,040

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 3X miles on United® purchases

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 80K bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Plus, an additional 20K bonus miles after you spend $10,000 in the first 6 months
  • $250 Annual Fee
  • Earn 3X miles on United® purchases, 2X miles at restaurants, on select streaming services & all other travel, 1X on all other purchases
  • Earn 3X miles on United Airlines purchases
  • Earn 2X miles at restaurants and on select streaming services
  • Earn 2X miles on all other travel
  • Earn 1X mile on all other purchases
  • Each year, receive a $125 credit on United® purchases and two 5k-mile anniversary award flight credits. Terms apply.
Regular APR
16.49% to 23.49% Variable
Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent, Good

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.