How to *Actually* Keep a Toddler Quiet on a Plane (10 Tips)

Take out your note pad and get ready to make a list of how to keep your toddler quiet on your next flight! Honestly, it’s us parents who are most bothered by our babies and toddlers crying on the airplane. 99% of other passengers are very understanding (and have headphones to drown out the noise if needed).

So take a deep breath, have a plan, and trust yourself. Remember that your baby feeds off of your energy and staying calm is your greatest asset. If everything is going completely to hell and all is chaos around you, remember that it’s only one day and tomorrow will come soon enough!

I surveyed over 100 moms who travel with their babies and toddlers to ask their advice on this topic and these were the tips that came up again and again. I myself have flown many times with my son, a budding toddler at 13 months, and I plan to implement as many pieces of advice on this list as I can on our next flight!

Our son chatting with the row behind us on the plane!

Book a Red Eye Flight

So many moms that I surveyed had this advice to give for keeping a toddler quiet: Fly when they are likely to sleep! That means either booking a flight during their nap times or an overnight “red eye” flight when they’re more likely to sleep longer. One mom said this:

I just travelled alone to Europe with my 23 month old. Depending on the length of the flight, if it’s a long one, try to fly the red eye. He slept the majority of that flight. On the return it was a day flight so…I packed a bag full of small toys…he played the entire time, read books, coloured, etc. etc…and lots of snacks. Both flights were great. My son was an excellent traveller.

She brings up a good point: Sometimes, if it’s a shorter flight, or for many other circumstances, we just aren’t able to book a red eye, so we’ll talk about what to do in those situations in just a moment.

Of course, even when we try to time it PERFECTLY, there is no guarantee in “baby world” that our toddlers will actually sleep when we want them to, and stay asleep, for any significant amount of time but we can plan the best that we can for the best potential for success. Even if it doesn’t work out, we can at least try!

One sleepy baby and two very sleepy parents.

Another fear that many moms have is that their baby will be very tired flying at their regular nap/bed time, but unable to sleep in a new environment — and thus more likely to be unhappy and scream. This is totally dependent on the age, developmental stage, and personality of your toddler, but trying to match your travels with their regular schedules still offers a better chance at success, according to some traveling mamas:

I would say try not to fly with a tired or irritable baby. Try to stay to their regular schedule. Our baby had great scheduled naps on the flights and stayed awake, alert and happy when we flew outside of nap time.

And same with this one:

Schedule the flight during their nap time or sleep time. Whatever I do and no matter what I prepare to lessen the hassle in flying I just tell myself the plane will land soon.

Pack These 5 Types of Activities

It’s no secret that a well-stocked carry-on bag of activities to keep toddlers busy is essential on a flight. And they DO NOT have to be expensive! I have a list of more than 20 cheap and easy airplane activities for toddlers here if you’d like more ideas than the ones on this little list here.

According to almost all of the moms surveyed, being prepared in the activity department is absolutely KEY to keeping your toddler quiet on the plane when they’re awake.

1. Disposable Toys

I agree with the many moms who suggested bringing cheap disposable toys that you won’t mind going missing or getting broken. Before your travel day, go to the dollar store or the cheapy section of Walmart or Target and pick up some items that are specifically for the plane.

These can be whatever you think your child will be most captivated by. Every toddler is different but some ideas might include: plastic figurines, suction spinners to put on the windows, and toy cars.

2. Food that is an Activity

An eating toddler is a quiet toddler. An overwhelming number of moms in this study said that an essential for a quiet toddler is “snack, snacks, and more snacks” and that “snacks ARE an activity.”

So remember to pack them! Bring snacks that are relatively more clean — so dry snacks — such as baby food pouches, goldfish, puffs, and rice cakes.

To make the snacks more interesting and fun to eat, consider putting them in a multi-day pill box or snack catchers (we use this brand – they’re great for encouraging independence while not making a huge mess for yourselves and the flight crew).

Another mom suggested bringing salmon jerky or other foods that take a long time to eat. This prolongs the activity and any way to take up time is a good thing when we’re trying to keep the noise down!

One more tip: if your child is snacking, they should only be snacking (not snacking and watching TV at the same time) — stretch out your activities by not overlapping them!

The best toddler quiet-makers: snacks and activities!

3. Surprises

Keep all of your activities a surprise so that your toddler is more excited to see them. Babies and toddlers love novelty and the element of surprise will be your best friend for a quieter flight. Whatever activities you pack, be it new cheapy toys from the dollar store or toys from your attic that they haven’t seen in a long time, keep them hidden in your carry-on until the moment you plan to hand them over.

4. Stickers

For good reason, stickers came up as a must-bring again and again in this mom survey. Parents seem to universally agree that toddlers love stickers on the plane. They’re also lightweight and take up no space so it’s a win-win-win.

Pack some sheets of regular stickers (that hopefully aren’t too small that you have to worry about your toddler trying to eat them). Pack some sticker books of disposable or reusable stickers (I don’t think it really makes a difference) and window clings too if you plan on getting a window seat (which is the best place to sit on a plane with a baby according to over 20 moms surveyed!).

We’re bringing dollar store plastic insects and masking tape on our next flight for our toddler son!

5. Tape

Last but not least, bring a role of tape! Colorful masking tape/painters tape or duct tape work well for this, as long as it’s not too sticky and won’t leave glue residue on the airplane.

It’s the most simple thing to bring with you that offers TONS of fun for your toddler — and can be practical for you at your destination (for baby proofing and covering up outlets!).

Toddlers can have fun trying to rip the tape off the roll or you can put little strips around their area for them to pull off. You can tape little plastic figurines to the tray table for them to detach. The possibilities are endless!

Have a Screen and Headphones on Hand

I know that many parents are anti-screen and that’s fine — there are other ways to keep your toddler quiet on a plane. But if you’re open to screen time during travel days, and if your baby is bit older (this won’t work on babies 8/9 months and younger for the most part), a phone or iPad can be your best friend.

SO MANY moms surveyed said “iPad!” or “Tablet!” when asked what keeps toddlers quiet on a plane. Load up their favorite shows or shows that you think they might like (other parents suggested Cocomelon and Peppa Pig — my son adores Elmo and Sesame Street at the moment). Make sure to download them so that they’ll work off of WiFi and data.

You can let your toddler listen to the music/sounds out loud, which might drive you and your fellow passengers crazy (but may be the only way to go if your toddler is younger and fussy about having something over their ears)… or you can try out a pair of their own headphones for the plane. These are the ones we got for our son to try on our next flight!

The toddler headphones we got for our son’s next flight.

Keep Them Awake and Tire Them Out Before Boarding

A sleeping toddler is a quiet toddler so do your best to plan on your toddler sleeping at least part of your time in the air. That means keeping them awake as long as possible beforehand (going through check-in and security, and waiting at the gate).

This works out well because all of the stuff you have to do before boarding is chaotic (for adults and toddlers) and there’s much to catch their attention, keep them busy, and to tire them out.

Take advantage of airport play areas (check the airport map to find them) to keep your toddler busy and wear them out before boarding! Try not to burn any of the travel activities and toys that you packed at the airport — save them all for the flight itself.

A sample sleep schedule for a travel day with your baby/toddler might look like this:

  1. Nap in the car on the way to the airport
  2. Awake for check-in and security
  3. Awake at the gate to burn off some energy
  4. Awake but sleepy while boarding and takeoff
  5. Nap once in the air
  6. Awake for landing and deplaning

Make sure you, the parent, gets lots of sleep in the days leading up to your flight because you likely won’t have a chance to rest on your travel day!

My son always LOVES the airport playgrounds!

Board the Plane LAST

Remember that your toddler will be in a small, cramped space for a long time during your flight so it’s best to let them explore and play at the gate as long as possible. This could be the ticket to preventing load, energy bursts and meltdowns mid-flight.

Even though your airline will probably allow you to board early when traveling with a toddler, many mothers in this survey suggested not using it. As this toddler mom said:

I say get on LAST. The longer you are on that plane, the longer you entertain. Make them super tired but running around at the airport then board very very last! I have found it to be a HUGE help! That’s my biggest tip.

If you’re traveling with another adult, consider splitting up for boarding. One parent boards early with all of your stuff and sets up the area (sanitizes the seat, tray table window, arm rests and stows the baggage). The other parent stays with the child and continues to let them play until boarding at the last possible moment.

Have one parent stay back and tire that kiddo out at the gate before boarding.

Pack all the Snacks and Water

Snacks were already mentioned above, but that’s how important they are to the cause — they get mentioned twice! In addition to packing your toddler’s snacks (a combination of their favorites and some new ones), remember to bring a water bottle.

Technically, you’re supposed to be able to bring it through security with water in it (according to the TSA website) and I’ve never personally had a problem doing this up to this point — but you could also bring an empty bottle and fill it after security.

Flying causes us to become dehydrated so it’s essential to make sure your toddler is drinking enough. A sick, dehydrated toddler is NOT a happy and quiet toddler!

Get Them Their Own Seat, If Possible

This would never work for my son as he hates his car seat (currently, at least) but for many, many toddlers a car seat on the plane is a safe space where they know they can relax and feel at home in this unfamiliar environment.

If you’re bringing your baby on board as a lap baby (under 2 years old) and not purchasing a separate seat for them, you still might be able to bring on your car seat if there are some empty seats available. Ask your airline at check-in and you might get lucky.

For a guaranteed seat, you’ll have to purchase one for your toddler. Make sure that your car seat is compliant with your airline and the country you’re flying in (everyone has different rules, of course — just to keep things interesting!). And you’ll most likely need to be placed at the window seat if you’re taking a car seat onboard.

My son and husband sussing out the in-flight entertainment — these screens can be another life-saver for keeping your toddler quiet and entertained!

Plan for Sore Ears

The reasons some toddlers cry on the airplane is due to not being able to pop their ears on takeoff and landing like an adult can. I still remember being a little kid, flying with my dad, and him telling me how to hold my nose and blow to pop my ears and release the pressure. I wish we could do this for toddlers!

What we can do for them is to offer them something to suck on during takeoff and landing: a pacifier will do, or you can try and time breastfeeding for these moments (easier said than done, I know!). A bottle will also work.

A couple of times, I’ve successfully timed breastfeeding for takeoff and landing and my son had no ear issues — fingers crossed for our next flights!

Explain What Will Happen in Advance

More than one mom offered the advice of preparing your toddler in advance for the flight, even if they seem much too young to understand. At the very least, explaining what to expect to your toddler in advance will make YOU feel calmer and more prepared. When we are less stressed, they are less stressed. One mom put it this way:

Explain what is going to happen to your child regardless of their age. Use words like security, line, plane, whatever to describe what is going on to them and what to expect. They’re in a new and chaotic environment and the grown ups might be stressed or worried so respect that they will need some explanations and help to understand.
Leaving yourself plenty of time to navigate the airport and all its traps and bells is so so helpful for maintaining your sanity and therefore having a positive experience with your child.

When we respect our toddlers by taking the time to give them an explanation, they’re less likely to feel stressed out on the day of travel. I love this advice, because it’s honestly something I’ve never thought of doing that I think will be useful to my own sense of calm. This mom said it made her child look forward to flying, which is great if you have an older toddler:

Talk to them about the flight before so they know what to expect and can be prepared. This made my three year old super excited. It wasn’t perfect, but he was so excited.

Prepare Yourself: Think Through Every Scenario

Even though toddlers are innately unpredictable and love to destroy carefully thought-out plans, going into a travel day without a plan entirely is a recipe for disaster.

The more you think about the details beforehand and plan how you’re going to react in certain situations, the more likely you are to feel calm when they happen — and the better/quieter your toddler will end up being on the plane.

Before the day of your flight, think through certain elements of your travel day, such as:

  • what your toddler will be wearing
  • what you will be wearing
  • how many bags you’ll have and how you’re going to carry and maneuver them all with baby
  • how you’re going to go to the bathroom with all your bags and baby
  • what items need to be easy-access (diapers, wipes, snacks, water, important documents)

Here’s what one mom’s advice was on this topic:

I fly solo with two toddlers. Think through scenarios. How are you going to use the restroom? How are you going to carry everything? How are you going to get them to be okay waiting in line? How much snacks, clothes, diapers, wipes… do you need? It’s going to be fine, just plan ahead. iPads and headphones are great! Don’t drag along a lot of toys. There’s so much more exiting stuff going on that they’re probably not going to care. Pick a few favorite activities and rely heavily on the screen. Have enough diapers and food, but pack really light. You’ll need your hands free. Oh, yes, time! Lots of time! Everything takes longer with toddlers.

You’ll notice that more than one mom gave the advice of arriving early to the airport and that’s also something I can’t stress enough based on my own experience. Get to the airport at least one hour earlier than you normally would because everything takes so much longer!


Brittany is a Wayfaring Human who loves to adventure with her husband and son. When she's not having adventures, she's taking pictures of them and writing about them.

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