Lonely Planet Writer

How do you keep children entertained and quiet on the plane?

Every so often, I see a meme going around social media where some anxious parent has created a little goodie-bag of sweets, earplugs and a cute note to apologise in advance to fellow air passengers that their kid might cry on the plane.

Girl looking out the window of an airplane
Keeping children entertained in the air can sometimes be tricky. Photo by: Brandi Thompson/EyeEm/Getty Images

While it’s always very cute indeed, I’m a firm believer in the fact that parents who are doing their best shouldn’t have to apologise for children being children, and that we all have a responsibility to be as understanding as we can be of our fellow travellers. (I also recall a lot more disruptive adults than disruptive kids!)

But if you’re concerned about keeping the kids quiet, here are a few tips. First off, I chatted with broadcaster Josh Szeps, since he and his husband have two eight-month-olds.

For the younger crowd, Josh recommends, try to find bigger planes (an A330, A340, A350, A380, or Boeing 767, 777 or 787) if you can, because they have cribs. “Select an aircraft that has bassinets, as some mid-haul routes like Sydney-Auckland offer both narrowbody and widebody aircraft,” he notes.

But, Josh says, “check the bassinet allocation policy, as some airlines assign them at booking (Norwegian) and some at check-in (Qantas, giving priority to the youngest child).”

For smaller children, “don’t bother with strollers at the airport,” Josh recommends. “Check them at the check-in desk, not at the gate, and carry your baby through the airport on you in a sling.”

Entertaining babies in-flight can be tricky
Pack a toiletry bag full of random items for your baby to play with. Photo by: Caiaimage/Agnieszka Olek/Getty Images

And don’t think you have to splash out on expensive new toys if your kids are still fascinated by the everyday. “Pack a large toiletries bag with random items your baby will be interested in exploring throughout the flight — a plastic spoon, some cellophane, a wooden block, a toothbrush,” Josh suggests. “That’ll buy you a half-hour of peace.”

Being flexible with your “screen time” rules may well be a good option. Many, but certainly not all, planes offer on-demand in-flight entertainment these days, which is great for older kids.

Some flight comparison websites — I tend to prefer Google Flights, but it’s not the only one out there — will let you know whether it’s available, and if so what sort it is: streaming video to your device, or a seatback screen so you can save your battery, for example. Those websites will also tell you if your flight has at-seat power and Wi-Fi to keep kids (and parents!) happy.

There’s often a kids mode for the in-flight entertainment system, so do ask the crew if you need some help figuring out how to block it so that you don’t wake up from your nap to discover little Skylar is watching the latest version of the Saw franchise.

Children watching videos on a plane
Don’t hesitate to download videos. Photo by: Tetra Images/Getty Images

Don’t hesitate to download videos to your (or the kids’) phone or tablet either: most of the major streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and so on have offline modes. See if you can find something relevant to the destination, or even help the kids practice a foreign language by enabling subtitles.

And don’t forget that if you’re in another country your streaming services may still work. Netflix, for example, gives you access to an entirely different set of content with your own subscription, so something local may be a fun watch, especially on the return flight. If you get a wrong-region warning when playing, just set the device to airplane mode and try to play it again — Netflix tries to find the address you’re connecting from, but if your device is offline then it can’t.

Keen on more tips for family travel? Let me know on Twitter (I’m @thatjohn) or drop me an email to john@walton.travel — I love hearing from readers!