I have a one-year-old son who’s been on 13 flights (and counting), and as his interests become more sophisticated I have been compiling a small arsenal of activities to entertain him and keep him busy on a few big upcoming flights that we have planned. It’s a bit trickier now than it was when he was just 3 months old!
Here you’ll find a list of 20+ cheap and easy airplane activities perfect for a one-year-old. Most of these activities are comprised of everyday household items and can be reused or repurposed — a better alternative to traveling with a bag full of expensive toys that your baby will quickly lose interest in.
Even though I’ve been flying with my baby since he was young, I found that I was more nervous now that he’s a much more active budding toddler — but with a little preparation, I know now that this doesn’t have to be the worst age to fly with your baby.
To make myself feel more confident, I am totally over-preparing for our next flights and packing more activities than I will probably need. What if there is a really long delay and we need to bust out those activities during airport time? You just never know!
I recommend looking for the materials for these activities at your local dollar store, FB Marketplace, thrift stores, or by following my highlighted links. By the end of this article, you too will feel FULLY prepared and confident to take your baby/toddler on their next flight!
I don’t know about your one-year-old but mine is much more interested in non-toy objects (like utensils, wooden spoons, and remote controls) than he is in fancy toys. So what we adults see as a bunch of boring junk, a baby is often completely fascinated by! With a bit of creativity, we can choose the perfect plane activities that are affordable, small, and lightweight.
Don’t forget to review the important tips at the bottom of this article to make sure you’re using this activity list to its fullest potential!
Pill boxes and baby snacks
All you need for this activity is a monthly or weekly pill box (even better if it’s colorful) and a bunch of age-appropriate snacks! Pre-fill the little boxes with snacks and let your baby play with it — opening the doors and snacking to their heart’s content!
I picked up a few pill boxes to hopefully last the few flights we have coming up in the next month. For snacks, I got some that I know my son likes and then a few novelty ones that will be new for him. If your baby is anything like mine, they love a mixture of the familiar and the exciting when it comes to food right now.
Baby snacks can be a bit expensive (they tend to be organic and healthier and so… pricier), but you can save some money by shopping a few weeks early to go deal-hunting.
Pro-Tip: In the past, I’ve brought containers of sliced fruit on the plane for my baby but I don’t think I would especially recommend doing this (even though I know it’s tempting to pack something fresh). It got a bit wilty between the house and the plane and made more of mess than dry snacks and baby food pouches do.
Paper plates and ribbons/yarn
For this activity, you’ll only need a few paper plates and ribbon (or yarn, shoelaces, pipe cleaners, or some other kind of string).
Before you leave for the airport, poke some holes (maybe 5-10) in the paper plates with a pair of scissors. On the plane, pull the strings through the holes and let your baby practice doing it!
My son has a fascination with shoelaces and drawstrings on clothes so this is an activity that could easily keep him busy for a while. The best part is that it’s so lightweight and takes up so little space.
Sticker travel books
I bought this sticker book at the dollar store after a friend told me that stickers are the perfect airplane activity for toddlers — they’re cheap, lightweight, and can entertain little ones for a very long time. This one is similar (possibly better) than the one I found.
My son probably won’t use it the way it was designed to be used like an older kid might, but who cares — there are tons of stickers in here to keep him busy and (somewhat) quiet for a while! Just be prepared to scrape some stickers off the window and seats when all is said and done.
Travel wallet and cards
For whatever reason, my son really likes to play with cards (library cards, membership cards, etc.) so I’ve been collecting some for him to play with that I won’t mind him losing.
Matched with an old travel wallet — and voila! — we have a plane activity for toddlers. Try to find a travel wallet with lots of pockets and slots (and zippers!) for baby to explore. They can have fun putting in and pulling out the cards from the wallet.
Plastic figurines and masking tape
For this next activity, you just need some plastic animal figures (or cars, dinosaurs, whatever your baby is into!) and painter’s tape (the more colorful, the better). Babies love picking the tape, putting it all over the window and seats.
They can stick the figures to the tray table in front of them, or you can make a little “road” for them out of tape for them to line up their toys on. Really, just give them the items and let them surprise you with how they decide to play.
Another wonderful thing about painter’s tape (also called masking tape) is that it can be used to baby-proof at your travel destination. Use it to cover up electrical outlets and to tape the toilet shut!
Plastic mini shot glasses
On our next flight, I’ll be bringing these mini plastic shot glasses (the plastic mini red cups are a good choice too). They can be stacked or used to put snacks in (the combination of interesting new containers and snacks is a winning combination for babies, in my experience).
You can also stack the cups upside down and make mini towers out of them on your tray table for your baby to destroy again and again. My son also loves playing with utensils so I might pair these cups with some plastic party spoons!
Used books and stickers
I mentioned stickers previously but it’s also a great idea to pair them with some used kid’s book. Pick some books up from the thrift store that you won’t mind your baby destroying (sorry books — but it’s for a good cause!). Let your baby stick the stickers all over the books!
Zip-up wallet and hair ties
Your baby may be interested in zippers at this age and I recently discovered that my son likes to steal and play with my hair ties! I recommend picking up some little change purse/wallets or containers with zip closures and filling them with items you’ll actually use for your hair (so you can get double uses out of them — if they don’t all get too scattered and lost on the plane!).
Travel toothbrush holders and Q-Tips
Travel toothbrush holders are easy enough for a toddler to pull apart and challenging enough for them to put back together to be an interesting little game. Make it even more interesting for them by handing them some Q-tips to put inside and take out again (on repeat, of course).
Dollar store games
At my local dollar store in the birthday section, there are some little party favor games like this pinball game. I imagine these kinds of things used to be very interesting to kids before video games were invented. Fortunately, our babies are still easily entertained! I recommend browsing the birthday party favors to see if there’s anything you think your baby might be into!
Sticky Notes (Post-its)
Much like stickers (but way easier to clean up) post it notes can be a fun distraction for your baby/toddler. Let them stick them all over the place — including your face 🙂 And enjoy!
Coloring books/used books and crayons
My son can’t really use crayons for coloring yet, but he does love trying to eat them and break them! And he really loves taking them out of the box and putting them back in again. I recommend bringing washable, non-toxic crayons and a small coloring book (or one of those used books) for your baby to practice coloring in. Many moms I asked recommended bringing triangular crayons for the plane because they won’t roll away!
Retractable tape measure
I carried a tape measure with us traveling during our first year with our son so that I could measure his length and head circumference every month.
Around 7 or 8 months old, he became interested in playing with it. And then just recently, when we bought a new tape measure that RETRACTS when you press a button — he was even more interested in it! This is an item that’s useful for traveling (you never know when you’ll need to take a measurement) and also a fun plane activity for your baby.
Water Wow book
I just ordered one of these Melissa and Doug Water Wow books based on the recommendation of many moms in travel Facebook groups. They’re books of line drawings that fill with color when wet — and are reusable. They come with a chunky pen that’s easy for little hands to hold. I’m really excited about my toddler using this on the plane!
Snack catcher cups (and snacks)
Snacks are activities! I will keep saying this mantra to myself in all of my travels with my son. I recently bought these snack catcher cups and I’m super excited to use them on the plane. The snacks go in the containers and baby can get them out himself without spilling them all over the place.
The design is intended to give our babies a bit of independence while snacking without causing a complete disaster. Also… it’s a fun activity to keep them busy for a bit! Remember that when they’re snacking, they’re only snacking. To stretch out activities and make them last as long as possible during travel, try not to overlap activities (snacking while watching a movie, for example).
Baby headphones and videos downloaded for phone/tablet
I just bought my son Dorian his first pair of baby/toddler headphones and it feels like a big step! He loves putting on my husband’s headphones and so we figured we’d try it. I agree with many other parents who throw screen time limits out the window when it comes to travel days.
We don’t have a tablet for him so I’ll let him watch videos on my phone. My plan is to download some Elmo and Sesame Street videos (these are the only thing he likes to watch right now) and have them on hand in case of a meltdown emergency!
The headphones might not be necessary until he’s a bit older but I’m excited to give them a try right now (mostly so I hopefully don’t have to listen to Elmo a million times!). You can decide for yourself whether or not your baby/toddler is ready for this step!
Push poppers and mini slinkies
Here’s the stash of cheap toys I bought for my son for a couple of flights he took a bit before his first birthday. He couldn’t quite use the popper toys as they’re meant to be used (for popping in and out) but he had a lot of fun trying to figure them out anyway. These had a bit of a popularity explosion recently and were being sold everywhere I seemed to look for airplane toys.
The other item is a set of party favor mini slinkies. My son loved stretching these out and basically destroying them (not actually “playing slinky”). Between the poppers and the slinkies, he was very entertained for the duration of our two (short-ish) flights that day! Please be advised that the packaging sometimes doesn’t recommend these toys for little little babies, so as always — use them with close parental supervision.
Baby flash cards hold a baby’s interest much like books do. They’ll require you to play with your baby of course — they will love you talking to them, pointing out what you see on the cards (colors, shapes, letters, animals, etc). Even better if you can find them free or cheap on FB Marketplace like I was able to with this pack!
Window suction spinner toys
Granted, these window suction spinners ARE actually toys and don’t really have a second use. BUT they were highly recommended by many other traveling moms for older babies and young toddlers around the 1-year mark. I actually haven’t tried these myself yet and debated whether or not to get some for my son just because they are so highly rated.
In the end, I didn’t end up getting them just for the sake of space and because I’m not sure if we’ll have the window seat on all of our flights. Though I suppose they can also come in handy at the airport gate — they can be stuck to any window. Maybe they’ll work well for you and your travels with baby!
Window cling stickers
Another big recommendation from other moms that I plan to try in the future when my son can appreciate them a bit more: window stickers. You can get all different kinds of window decals online (or perhaps at your local dollar store) but these reusable Melissa & Doug sticker books (the same brand that makes the Water Wow books) are super popular in travel mom Facebook groups so I might go for something like this.
Edit: I have tried these and my son loved them! They are an awesome activity if you have a window seat.
TIPS for choosing and packing baby/toddler airplane activities
- Keep all of these activities a surprise until you’re on the plane. Babies and toddlers love novelty and you’ll want to use that to your advantage to keep them interest in each activity as long as possible.
- Wrap the items in tissue paper or keep them in their original packaging. The unwrapping is half the activity in some cases!
- Maximize the time your child is interested in the activities by giving them ONE item at a time (and keep the other items hidden in your diaper bag or carry-on until you’re ready).
- Don’t overlap activities — If your child is eating a snack, they are only eating a snack. Don’t let them snack and play with a toy/watch a movie at the same time, for example.
- Do some “airplane math”: Calculate how much these items/activities weigh and how much space they take up in your carry-ons VS. how much time your baby will actually play with them. You know your baby best and what kinds of activities are most likely to work for them.
- Don’t bring any nice toys or items that you would be sad to see lost or destroyed.
- Don’t bring any toys that they usually play with at home, unless they are proven to keep their attention for a long time. My son isn’t interested enough in any of his at-home toys to justify packing them for the plane!
- These activities are all cheap and easy, but if everything goes south and you’re desperate: Let your baby/toddler pick something out from an airport shop to eat or play with on the plane. One mom recommended this to me and said it worked like a charm for her very independent toddler!
What activities you should NOT pack for your one-year-old on the plane
Leave anything heavy, bulky, or that doesn’t have an alternative use (with some exceptions) at home. Even if it’s a toy that your child really loves. In fact, if your child really loves it, you probably shouldn’t take it on the plane in case it gets lost or broken. The exception might be a comfort item that your child really needs to fall asleep/feel safe.
Don’t bring puzzles or activities with lots of small pieces that will essentially render them useless if you lose some parts. Stick to cheaper items such as the ones on this list that you won’t mind losing pieces from.
Don’t bring anything very messy like Play-Doh, paint, or messy foods. Trust me! You don’t want to clean it up and neither does the flight crew. The messes can wait until your destination or for when you return home.