Toys to keep the screeching to a minimum
June 3, 2008 10:34 AM   Subscribe

Toys for very long airplane trip with a 13 month old?

I will be flying LA to London and back next month, with my boyfriend and our 13-month old son. It's 11 hours each way, so I need suggestions for toys to keep him occupied for the trip. With luck, he will sleep for some or most of the outbound trip (overnight), but the return is one very long daytime flight. I have been reading up on suggestions, and I know to bring lots of finger foods for him. We will have a seat-back TV with a children's channel so he can watch some of that too. I will hide a few favorite toys this week, so they can be re-introduced on the flight, but I want to buy a few new toys and keep them hidden until they are needed. But what to get?

13 month old boy - so coloring books etc are no good, he's too small to use a pen/crayon and will just try to eat it/color his head.
It shouldn't be very noisy - for the sake of other passengers' sanity.
It will get dropped a lot since he isn't very dexterous yet, so balls, cars or other things that will roll down the aisle are no good.
He will be traveling as a lap infant, so we can have some items that are mom or dad supervised too.

posted by Joh to Shopping (33 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
posted by tristeza at 10:39 AM on June 3, 2008

yes, funny thing, our pediatrician said Benadryl when we took our son to Italy when he was that age.
posted by thomas144 at 10:41 AM on June 3, 2008

Yeah, Benadryl.

Also (and this is largely dependent on how your kid reacts to little sleep), put him to bed late and wake up early the day of the day flight. Add a little Benadryl to that and he'll be out like a light. Which is, really, the best option when it comes to the sanity of fellow travelers.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 10:45 AM on June 3, 2008

Stickers are a good choice - he can just stick them all over you or on a pad of paper. Our son also loved lift-the-flap books at that age.

Regular walks up and down the plane are pretty much essential.

Children that age also seem to love just taking things in and out of containers - a few coins in a little bag can be an hour's entertainment if they're in the right mood.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 10:47 AM on June 3, 2008

One thing that’s worked well for us on long car trips with our toddler – we’ve chickened out on Seattle-London flights for the moment – has been a sort of etch-a-sketch toy with a pen on a string, you might want to look into getting on of those.

When the kid gets a little older you might want to invest in a portable DVD player to break out at the last minute as a pacifier.
posted by Artw at 10:47 AM on June 3, 2008

there's a kind of play-doh that's super light weight and comes in glowy colors. Toys R Us carries it, many others do too. Our kids always loved that on planes. It won't roll around but it's fun to make squishy shapes with it and easy for their weak little fingers.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 10:47 AM on June 3, 2008

What we normally do when we took our son across the Pacific (at 24 months, 4 yrs and 5 yrs) is to buy a bunch of new toys and keep pulling stuff out of the toy bag at one hour intervals to surprise him. I don't think this will work with your 13 month old son.

It works for about three hours. After that, the only thing to do is walk up and down the aisles, over and over again. It's not an ideal situation.

My favourite part was when, at the age of four, my son wanted to "open the door" and get out of the plane at 30,000 feet above the Pacific. We noticed he could only tolerate about thirty minutes on the train or the bullet train before wanting to get off. It usually ended in tears.

The lesson: don't travel with kids under five.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:47 AM on June 3, 2008

Expect to spend most of your time trying to keep him amused and quiet - it is exhausting but necessary unless he is asleep.

at that age, my son's favorite activity was to walk up and down the aisle. I still need to hold his hand for balance so that meant I walked up and down too, slightly hunched over so we could hold hands.

Is old enough for a Leap Frog or some similar toy that will do something or make a noise when he touches it? The engine noise is so loud that a toy will normal volume will actually be hard to hear and so less likely to annoy the neighbors.

A set of small plastic animals that can have adventures on the trays and seats. Use tissues or cups to make houses and mountains for them.

Hand puppet or finger puppets.

An ice cube (just one at a time to limit the mess)

Favorite books that you can read a dozen times each.
posted by metahawk at 10:52 AM on June 3, 2008

Lollipops. Relatively neat, and they take a long time to consume.
Puppets / finger puppets. Prepare to become a stand up comic.
A collapsible hair brush kept my oldest entertained for 2 hrs at the DMV when he was a toddler.
posted by selfmedicating at 10:57 AM on June 3, 2008

Metahawk, I don't know how good your hearing is, but I assure you that if the Leap Frog is audible at all to the child, it would disturb me if I were nearby. Children's toys have sharp, obnoxious, exciting sounds that are likely to stand out from the dull, low rumble of the plane engine or normal conversation.

I would strongly advise against any toy that makes noise in general. Sharing a plane cabin is miserable enough even when everything is calm and quiet. No one should have to hear other passengers' toys, be they Nintendo DS or Leap Frog.
posted by explosion at 10:59 AM on June 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Something to suck on during takeoff and landing. That's an absolute must-have, otherwise his ears will make him - and everyone around you - miserable. Doubly so if he's got any congestion going on.

For you: Hand puppets. Funny hats to wear. You could totally do some Chaplin-style physical humor with them.
posted by expialidocious at 11:04 AM on June 3, 2008

Sounds like some kind of cloth finger puppet book/playset would be a good idea, though he might fling the puppets everywhere.

He's probably a little too young for it, but when I was very small my parents bought me this book to keep me occupied during a long flight. It has a little squirrel you can slip through the pages while he goes on a journey to find his nuts. If he likes being read to, he might really enjoy it. (One caveat: the back of the book has the squirrel saying, "Let's do it again!" I'm sure my fellow passengers did not appreciate me squealing "Let's do it again!" every fifteen minutes for the entire flight.)
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:04 AM on June 3, 2008

Search for I Spy bags on etsy. Fun, contained, easily portable.

"Lift the flap" board books. Lots of them.

Suckers. Good for getting your little one to quiet down in a hurry.
posted by Ostara at 11:10 AM on June 3, 2008

Oh my god, I just noticed in the OP that the flight is 11 hours. The play-doh I recommended is good for maybe 20 minutes every 2 hours.

As much as you maybe don't want to, it's going to be essential: Knock out the kid.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:16 AM on June 3, 2008

Is old enough for a Leap Frog or some similar toy that will do something or make a noise when he touches it?

PLEASE GOD NO. Just.. no no no NO. The potential of your kid screaming his head off for 11 hours is sphincter-tightening enough to your fellow passengers; adding a device that randomly bleeps and bloops? OH GOD NO.

As much as you maybe don't want to, it's going to be essential: Knock out the kid.

Yeah. It's best for the sanity of everyone else, for your sanity, and frankly it's in the best interests of the kid, too.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:22 AM on June 3, 2008

Dear god, for the love of humanity, nothing with sound. You know how annoying it gets in your living room? Well, it's about ten thousand times more annoying on an airplane, even more so if it's not your child's toy.

When I used to travel regularly with a small child, finger puppets, stickers, and those lift-the-flap, pat-the-bunny books were the easiest to deal with. What also always worked remarkably well was halloween grease paint sticks (and facial cleaning cloths) for facepainting (don't forget to have a hand mirror and digicam accessible). You'll end up with weird marks on your face, but that's less stressful than a cranky toddler.

Walking the aisle, as irritating as it is, will be a necessity, as will something to suck on during take-off and landing. But please please please, leave the repetitive noise toys in the suitcase or at home.

Mom and Dad took us transatlantic more than once when we were under the age of four. They lived in Europe; the family didn't. It's not the most fun anyone ever had, but it's not impossible to do. Just remember that less is more; you have enough things to worry about traveling a long distance with a small child. Trying to keep track of a million bags et cetera won't make it easier.
posted by crush-onastick at 11:22 AM on June 3, 2008

Nthing Benadryl. or Gravol. I survived it as a kid on frequent long hauls, my friends' kids are now surviving on it 30 years later on their own long hauls. It's the only way to go for your kid's sanity, your sanity, and your fellow passengers' sanity.
posted by meerkatty at 11:24 AM on June 3, 2008

Best answer: Benadryl is not a toy. Benadryl is a sedative and sedatives are not only not recommended for infants, but even older children the effect is totally unpredictable and can result in hyperactivity. Additionally, dosing in children is a crap shoot, so overdosing is a real concern.

For toys or things to keep him occupied, here are a few things that helped us on our travels:
- Tape yourself reading some of his favorite books. That way you don't have to be actively reading and holding him and turning pages. My son just really liked hearing the story in my voice at that age.
- Box of adhesive bandages - depending on his dexterity, let him try to open and then stick band-aids wherever he wants.
- Magna doodle or "waterpaint" pad (I forget the names of these, but you paint with water then it dries and you can repaint)
- Something like this shopping cart cover or this multi-sensory book work well. A big hit for our son was Tails by Matthew Van Fleet.
- Seconding stickers and baby toy catalogs that he can "read" and rip.
- Also, for your own sanity, agree on times when each of you will be on entertainment duty and try to alternate. If you're rested, start out with a 2.5 hour shift each, then a 1.5 hour shift, then an hour, then half hour shifts till you're there.
posted by cocoagirl at 11:26 AM on June 3, 2008 [5 favorites]

Best answer: My toddler has endured 9 flights already since she was born. She is 2 1/2 now. We've been pretty successful keeping her busy and quiet on trips. Here is how we've done it.

- Sticker books. Different ones. Take them out one at a time. Use them on the in-flight magazines or the arms of the seat.
- Hand puppets from Ikea. We use the chicken one as a "surprise bird" that drops new stuff into her lap every so often.
- Fun, healthy snacks. Frozen grapes (cut into small pieces). Animal crackers. Etc.
- Hand held fan that is run on batteries. Some pieces of tissue to blow around.
- Booklight that we got at a drug store which slowly unfolds when you push a button. This was a big hit.
- One of those Doodle Pro thingies where you can reuse it over and over (like Etch a Sketch).
- a Koosh ball attached to a rubber band where we could bounce it and it would come back again and again.
- A few small books that haven't been seen before with touch and feel elements to them.
- Smaller things that we could stick velcro to. She could attach and pull apart things.
- One of those Russian nesting dolls. I think ours is from Poland, actually.
- Mr Potato Head (the pieces fit inside of the new ones).
- Portable DVD player that she could hold in her lap (last resort option). Winnie the Pooh was popular, as was Elmo at that age. She wasn't as interested in the noise, just the moving pictures. We kept the volume extremely low and we couldn't hear it unless we put it up to our shoulders (the white noise of the plane masked it).

The trick is to only play with one toy at a time with transitions between them. My daughter would become overwhelmed if we bombarded her with choices.

Our only bad flight was when we used Benadryl. We were excited when she became old enough to give it to her, and were dismayed to learn that it produces excitability in some children. That was the worst flight ever. YMMV.
posted by jeanmari at 11:33 AM on June 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: And one more thing! We haven't tried this on a plane yet, but it worked on our one and only long car trip. A small camcorder with the LCD screen. Spend time taking seconds long videos of child and parents making silly faces and then letting them watch the playback. This was awesome. We're going to try it again on one of our next long flights in (gulp) 3 weeks.
posted by jeanmari at 11:38 AM on June 3, 2008

If your little guy usually listens to music as he falls asleep, bring it with you! Sometimes just having something normal and usual around them when they are in a new and exciting place can make them settle down and chill out. They make toddler-sized headphones, so you won't have to worry about disturbing others. (Also see if there's a headphone jack on the leapfrog, if that's a thing you want to do.)

I had my first plane trip (that I was conscious of) when I was about a two years old. Granted, the trip was many hours shorter, but one thing my mom did was wrap a (very small) small doll (came with, like, two dresses I think...enough to keep my little fingers busy) up like a birthday gift, so that she could "reward" me for being good in the airport and on the plane. This might be a more difficult concept to convey to a one year old, but having something to unwrap was entertaining and made the experience memorable. (That I remember getting a gift/being on that plane at all should be pretty telling.)

Another really simple thing that always brings down the house when babies are involved are those stuffed animals whose arms can clip onto things like they're hugging. I don't know how to better describe them so I can't find a picture of what I mean online, but I always see them hanging on the impulse aisle caps in toystores. Have fun clipping the little hugging dog onto your son's shirt, your shirt, your seatbelt, the traytable, the air vent in the ceiling, your son's toes, your hair...every freaking clipable thing will be clipped, and your kid (if he's like any other baby I've encountered) WILL LOVE IT.
posted by phunniemee at 11:40 AM on June 3, 2008

jeanmari - sounds like an ideal job for a flip.
posted by Artw at 11:42 AM on June 3, 2008

Best answer: Maggie Mason has a list on her blog
posted by sararah at 11:49 AM on June 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

Don't forget a box of Kleenex, it will get double duty as a toy when Boy pulls them out one by one and you are sure to find a lot of uses for the tissues too.
posted by jamaro at 11:57 AM on June 3, 2008

Just want to add another voice of dissent re: the use of Benadryl. Not only is it unpredictable and not appropriate for infants, but our pediatrician (who is on faculty at the University of Washington Med. School and actively involved in this kind of pediatric research FWIW) actively and vehemently advises all parents and guardians of his patients from using this OTC drug, ever. He's apparently privy to research that may contribute to other ongoing studies that will result in Children's Benadryl being pulled off the shelves in the next few years. Certainly many, many kids have done fine over the years and this drug has been around for a long time; I understand that and don't want to encourage fear-mongering, but our ped is not normally an alarmist and feels strongly about this one. The research he is concerned about involves Benadryl's ability to change heart rhythms in infants and children.

Everyone's suggestions are awesome and what we do--I would also suggest not revealing any toy or activity you pack until the moment you pull it out on the plane. Also, do not underestimate how much all of the various doo-dads and "stuff" of the plane will facinate (seat buttons, window shade, earphones, tiny pillows, cups, drop down tray). If your babe likes water, we have taken ours to the airplane lavatory during a non-busy time and done a little sink/washcloth bath for a change of scenery and fun. If you sense a row or seatmate is very anti-kid, you will inspire much goodwill if you engage the flight attendant to help you move to a friendlier location on the plane. We have gotten lucky finding row and seatmates who are parents travelling with kids (everyone can entertain each other and take turns being silly) or with baby-loving grandmas who like to flirt with babies and so entertain yours. Have fun!
posted by rumposinc at 12:08 PM on June 3, 2008

Oh, you lucky mamma. All that quality time to spend with your baby. :-)

We started flying with my son when he was 30 days old (on the first day of the liquids ban, actually. that was fun.) and did a Boston to Vegas flight (and home) when my son was 9 months old. We regularly do 5 - 7 hour car trips (about once a month), so here are my suggestions.

No Drugs. For lots of reasons, but just don't do it.

If possible, try to get the seats in the very last row. Yes, you're right by the bathroom (good and bad points) but you're also normally in a small alcove (with the bathroom across the isle from you instead of more passengers) and have the flight attendants right at hand. Less distractions back there.

Your son is a ticketed passenger right? You're not going to try to hold him on your lap for 11 hours, right? So bring his car seat, and install it rear facing, just as you did when he was under 12 months old. That means you can face him and talk with him and interact much more easily with him than you would be able to if he's forward facing.

For the overnight flight: Try to keep as much of his bedtime routine as you can, and start right now incorporating things into that routine that you can do on the plane. Maybe I was lucky, but my son slept for six solid hours on our 8 hour overnight flight, and I attribute that mostly to him being in his car seat (which is a familiar environment) and our being able to do all his regular story/songs bedtime routine.

For the flight home: Snacks! He'll be too distracted to eat much at any one time, so keep plying him with small snacks every hour or so. A full tummy makes for a happy baby.

We actually bought some toys that made noise and lit up (notably one that has about 25 buttons and each makes a different noise and lights up some lights when you press the button), but we "fixed" it by putting caulk (like window caulk) in the speaker, so you could only hear it if you were very close to it. My son was in the window seat, I was next to him, and my husband was next to me and my husband could not hear it.

It doesn't really matter what the toys/books in the bag are, they key is that they are a) new and exciting, and b) that there are enough of them. At this age nothing is going to keep your baby interested for more than 20 minutes, max. Our routine every hour was this: New toy at top of hour (15 - 20 minutes of interest), reading for 15 minutes, snack (eating 25 goldfish or ten bites of applesauce can take a few minutes), then something random for 15 minutes - maybe naming noses and ears or just letting him chill out if he wanted to - constant stimulation can be a lot for baby, too, - then back to the top of the hour. We would each do a two hour shift, then switch.

At around four hours he wanted to get out of the car seat and stretch - at nine months he wasn't walking but we did hold him on our collective lap and let him do things like press his foot against our hand and sit up and such like. He only got seriously fussy once, and at that point I took him into the bathroom for about five minutes until he got calmed down.

Changing diapers on the plane sucks sucks sucks. Buy some hardcore overnight super-absorbent disposables and hope he only poops once.

The Travelmate is far and away the most useful "gadget" I've ever bought. We thought we were spending a ton on money on something we'd only use once, but it saved my sanity on the Vegas trip.

I did mean what I said at the top, by the way. If you go into this looking at it as a wonderful opportunity to spend serious one on one time with your baby, I find things go much better.

Have fun and have a safe trip.
posted by anastasiav at 1:56 PM on June 3, 2008

Well, one thing you can do is to spend $5 on a package of 10 or so ear-plugs at your local drug-store.

Then, when you get on the plane, you hand them out to everyone in your direct vicinity. Explain to them that you have a 13 month old, and that you will be doing everything you are legally allowed to in order to keep them quiet and happy, but that the ear-plugs are your backup plan.

This way, if your kid is not kept entertained, at least you don't feel bad for all of the other passengers. You will likely get a lot more empathy and fewer bad looks.

Just an idea...
posted by xotis at 1:59 PM on June 3, 2008 [4 favorites]

We just got back from a San Francisco -->France --> San Francisco trip with our three month old son. One thing we had to learn the hard way is that at least one bathroom on the plane will be equipped with a flip-down changing table. Ask the flight attendants where it is. Then diaper changes aren't quite as much of a challenge.

Good luck!
posted by ambrosia at 3:02 PM on June 3, 2008

Dunno if this is any good for your kids, but on long trips, I throw my kids first-gen GameBoys. Yes, the gray brick kind.

They love the GameBoys. I can buy them at the second hand shop for maybe $10 per and the carts cost $5 or less per. If a kid drops one on its screen and makes it unplayable, it'll be no big deal.

But honesty, those gray bricks have lived this long, what's the chance my kids will kill them?

Your kids might be too young for this, but it's cheap and perhaps worth a try.
posted by SlyBevel at 3:04 PM on June 3, 2008

My doctor, who is on faculty at the University of British Columbia and head of a hospital department, told me that, not only is using Benadryl as a sedative illegal and child abuse, but it's also incredibly risky and can lead to hyperactivity, death, etc. She said it is not even approved for infants. So Nthing what was said above.

When I took my child on a plane ride, I wrapped several toys in wrapping paper. Every 15 minutes, I would bring out another toy. Unwrapping it can take a while. I got stuff at the dollar store because I would be there to watch everything. I don't normally trust dollar store toys. I had a digger, dump truck, books, airplane (huge hit), helicopter, letters on a spinning wooden frame, edible cooked Play-Doh, animals, crane, doll, etc. The excitement of opening something every few minutes kept my child busy. I also had lots of little snacks.

I was still nursing, so I did that during takeoff and landing. No problems with crying. My doctor, a former flight attendant, said that most kids have no trouble with the air pressure if they have lots to eat and drink and especially if they can nurse.
posted by acoutu at 3:36 PM on June 3, 2008

nthing the "one new toy every 20mn" strategy, it has worked well for me in a transatlantic flight with a 15month old.
also: food, snacks... keep him fed
and: be prepared to take turns, even if everything goes fine, you'll be exhausted.

(I also found that slightly shifting sleep schedules before leaving to make sure he sleeps his "night" during the flight works wonders)
posted by motdiem2 at 10:28 PM on June 3, 2008

When I was young we went on lots of long flights and my mum would give us pipe-cleaners to play with (make animals, etc). However, this may be a ludicrous idea for a 13 month old - I'm afraid I have no idea what kind of dexterity children of that age have.
posted by primer_dimer at 8:09 AM on June 4, 2008

Here is the most important advice


Ask in advance for the first row, there is way more leg room and sometimes a basinet - useful as a shelf.

This row is preferentially given to small children and the handicapped. Make sure you ask your travel agent to inquire...

This will give the child room to sit on the floor and move around - 'nuff said.

It saved my bacon many many times.
posted by ironwolfe at 3:15 PM on June 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

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