10 Essentials to Pack for Long Flights with Kids

The key to surviving long flights with kids: being prepared

Matt Villano
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In for the Long Haul

For many parents, the notion of a multi-hour flight with a small child (or small children) triggers high blood pressure. But the experience doesn’t have to be stressful, nor does it need to include non-stop movies on a handheld device. With the right tools and the right attitude, lengthy airplane trips with little ones can be easier than one might think.

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Instant Canvas

Regular old blue painter’s tape comes in handy for turning tray tables, windows, and walls into canvases for artistic kiddos. Kids love the tape because they can draw on it. Parents love it because it comes off easily before deplaning. The tape even works for covering power outlets in the hotel room once you land. Bonus: It’s one of the most affordable items on this list, often retailing for a few bucks per roll.

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Imagination Station

Think of Rory’s StoryCubes as the ultimate storytelling engine. A standard set (there are many options with different themes) comprises nine dice with images of moons, keyholes, wizards, and more. To play, shake the cubes, dump them out on the tray table, and tell a story that incorporates each of the images that show. There’s an app version available, too.

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Bookworms on the Fly

If the kids must use the tablet, why not have them access books and programming rented from the local library? Apps such as Overdrive and Hoopla give library-card holders access to online content and ebook loans. Access is temporary, much as it is with media we check out from the library. Another benefit: Opting for online, you never have to worry about late fees.

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Sticky Situation

All kids love stickers, and the right kind can help little ones pass time in mid-air. For a creative approach, check out reusable sticker pads from Melissa & Doug—self-contained booklets with a number of scenes and over 160 stickers that enable kiddos to stick, peel, and stick again. For a DIY spin, hit the local dollar store and pick up some gel window clings kids can affix and remove from the windows.

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Blocking out Time

It would be unwise (and, let’s be honest, very heavy) to bring an entire block set on board. But a small set of Tegu magnetic wooden blocks is another story completely. Most of the 14 pieces are squares, rectangles, and triangles—all the shapes kids need to make some fascinating creations. Because the blocks are magnetized, they don’t fall en route. Many sets even come in their own little carrying pouches.

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Water Colors

The best thing about Water WOW books from Melissa & Doug is this: They enable toddlers to paint and color simultaneously. Because the “painting” process uses only water, which you can get from the flight attendant’s cart or even the bathroom sink, pictures remain colored until the water dries, then kiddos can start again.

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Ace up Your Sleeve

As rapidly as times change, a deck of cards remains the most timeless tool when traveling with kids. Beginners can bask in the glory of games such as Go Fish, while older kiddos can learn to play Spit!, Gin Rummy, Hearts, Solitaire, or War. For next-level gaming, introduce a pot of marshmallows or roasted peanuts and teach ‘em some poker. It’s amazing how quickly the youngsters will learn for treats.

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Safety First

That year between ages 1 and 2 presents a challenge: Declare your kid as a lap child or buy him/her a seat? The CARES harness is helpful with the latter, as it provides a safety restraint that is safer and snugger than the standard-issue seatbelt. The harness has a belt that slips over the back of the chair and two straps that connect to the seatbelt below. It’s good for kids up to 44 pounds.

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Wardrobe Options

Any parent who has endured a diaper blowout or potty training-related accident knows to never leave the house without at least one (if not two) changes of clothes for every child under the age of three. On airplanes, where just about anyone can spill apple juice or field-test the barf bag, it’s also a good idea to carry extras for everyone else—including mom and dad.

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Everyday Essential

There’s utility in the simplest objects, hence the reason Ziplocs are on this list. The plastic zip-tight bags are perfect for divvying up snacks, storing smelly garbage (such as banana peels), and for stashing all of the crayon sets kids receive over the course of the vacation. They also come in handy for transporting wet bathing suits or running shorts.