I am in month 11 of my adventures in traveling mommyhood. My little guy has already logged over 25,000 miles in the sky (too bad the American Airlines AAdvantage program only allows adults to collect miles – Baby would have had a great start to become a member of the Million Miler club – but I digress). Our shortest plane ride was about one hour and longest flight about 10h 30 minutes, both in the day and at night. Here is my experience on how to keep your small child entertained (and your sanity intact) in a confined space 37,000 feet in the air.
Before I get into it, a couple of YMMV notes. First, my child does not yet walk. I imagine long plane rides will become much more challenging once he wants to run around everywhere. Second, even small changes in age make a huge difference to your experience.
Flying with a 3 to 4 month old
The first time my son was on a plane, he was 3 months old minus two days. We flew to Portland (an awesome adventure described here:Baby’s first trip – Portland, Oregon), which involved a one hour flight, followed by a two hour flight and finally an almost three hour long flight. Baby slept almost the whole time and when he wasn’t sleeping he was either eating or looking around. To sleep, I laid him diagonal across my lap and used his ergo infant insert as a little pillow. All the toys and books I packed in my carry on just took up valuable space.
Pretty much the same thing happened when my child was four months and on his first night transatlantic flight. He slept in my lap (I didn’t have a bassinet due to a nightmare delay and rebooking situation). He was still small enough to fit there comfortably. I buckled him in with the seatbelt extension and I got some good zzzz’s too.
Flying with a 6 month old
Things started to change when baby was six months old. We went to Washington DC, a new three hour flight and Baby was not sleepy. He was squirmy and whiny on my lap in our cramped middle seat. It felt like a very long flight. I had some toys with me but he found it much more fun to pitch them under the seat than to play with them. Given the cramped quarters and baby on my lap, retrieval was not an option. I was already getting antsy and we still had 2h 59 to go (approximately- maybe a touch less). I did like most modern parents would do in this situation and pulled out my ipad.
Apps and Electronics
The in-flight entertainment options, even cartoons, did not sustain Baby’s interest. He kept touching the screen and shutting the tv off. Seat back tv’s are also not available on many flights, so I needed to find another entertainment option.
Before this trip, I probably would have told you, naively, that Baby is too young to use an ipad. But desperate situations and desperate measures and all that. My mind has been changed. Fortunately I had installed some baby apps that kept my boy’s attention for at least a few minutes at a time. All the apps below are free in the Apple app store (edit: I now have a post dedicated to baby apps):
– our favorite app was Touch the Ladybug. The concept is very simple (at least to most adults but fascinating to babies). A lady bug walks across the screen and flies away every time you touch it. Baby loved trying to catch the lady bug and see it fly away. Minutes wasted: a solid 15.
– a close second was Giggle Gang by Fisher Price. Colorful shapes dance on the screen when you touch them (there is also a sound option with a piano but I wasn’t 100% comfortable putting headphones on my little one). It held his attention for about 10 minutes.
– a third app I love is Kidloland. The free version comes with about 10 animated nursery rhymes, including a cute version of itsy bitsy spider, which happens to be Baby’s favorite song. You can touch the characters on the screen and they do something. Another ten minutes went by.
Improvised Toys available In Flight
To kill more time, we read the American Way in flight magazine (I turned pages and pointed things out to him in the photos and let him crumple a few pages – which he probably found the most entertaining as it occupied him for a good ten minutes). I also sang some songs in his ear, he rode horsey on my knees and “we” played bouncy baby on my lap (fabulous exercise btw for sculpting biceps and triceps while amusing a baby – two birds, one stone 😜), a lot. After feeding, going to the bathroom three times and just looking around, we managed to whittle away the rest of our three hours in the air without a meltdown (either mine or his).
Toys (and how not to lose them)
For the next flight, I was more prepared. I attached or clipped some of Baby’s favorite toys to an elastic race number belt – the ones real athletes use (including two rattles, o-ball – his favorite toy ever), a lots-of-loops and a crinkly book. I attached the rope to my seatbelt.
No more looking for toys in tiny, dark (and often sticky) spaces under/behind/between airplane seats. While the toys amused him here and there, my empty water cup kept him entertained for a good half hour. So glad I went through all that effort!