For babies and toddlers, Jumble Dream’s Sensory Activity Cube is a clever alternative. Made from smooth wood and fitted with a whole range of gadgets designed to boost cognitive development, it includes everything from a fidget spinner to an integrated lock and key set. Reviewers report that it can be really helpful for children with autism and ADHD as well.
Why we recommend: My son loved these, especially when he was around 18 months old. I usually find that the flight is never as bad as you think it’s going to be, but the journey from the airport is often an unexpected tricky part. When everyone is tired, and it’s just that last little bit of time until you get to your destination. For those moments, I recommend saving a fidget spinner in your bag and pulling it out, just to give your little one something fresh and relaxing to play with. Lauren Burvill
Teething babies can be challenging at the best of times, let alone in an enclosed space several thousand feet above the ground. A good teething toy can give them (and you) some much-needed relief. In addition, encouraging your infant to chew or suck on a teether during takeoff and landing can help their little ears cope better with the change in cabin pressure. You could keep it simple with Nuby’s IcyBite Keys, which are colourful, easy for tiny hands to hold and filled with a gel that can be cooled in the fridge when you reach your destination. Or you could opt for a plush toy like this crocodile clip-on from MEERO LONDON, which serves as a teether, a fidget toy and a snuggly comforter for when your little one is feeling sleepy.
Why we recommend: The first time we flew with my daughter, I wasn’t allowed to breastfeed on takeoff. When she started to cry, her IcyBite Keys helped distract her and also probably assisted with clearing the pressure in her ears.
Sometimes the old methods are the best. If your children are big enough for board games, consider investing in a few travel-sized versions to keep them occupied through your next flight. For younger kids aged roughly 3 to 6, we love Little Bug Bingo from Orchard Toys. It’s ideally sized for playing on a tray table and features colourful, sturdy cards adorned with adorable garden beasties. Bingo is also a more compact option than Pairs or any other game that requires space to spread out. Our top tip? Bring along a Ziploc bag for keeping errant picture cards and counters contained.
For older children, teenagers and even adults, chess offers hours of in-flight fun. This compact travel set from Peradix is beautifully made, with a foldable board and magnetic pieces that won’t slide off if you hit a patch of turbulence.
Arts and crafts
When we’re at home, my default way to entertain my daughter is to tap into her creative side with a craft project. For years I didn’t think there was a way to translate this to air travel, given the amazing amount of mess these artistic endeavours usually generate. But then she was given a mosaic picture kit from Baker Ross for her fifth birthday: game changer! The kits come with sheets of adhesive foam tiles that children can peel and stick to colour-coded squares on the corresponding base image. Other ideas for mess-free, peel-and-stick fun include this stained glass kit from Melissa & Doug (especially great if you manage to score a window seat).
Why we recommend: We haven’t had a chance to test my daughter’s mosaic kit on an aeroplane yet, but I can vouch for it keeping her entertained for hours at a time on a camper van adventure around the Inner Hebrides.
Let’s be honest: There are times when we win at keeping our kids entertained without resorting to a screen, and there are definitely times we don’t. And trust me, the middle of a long-haul flight is not the place to be stuck without access to your last resort. The Amazon Fire HD 8 Tablet Kids Pro Edition comes with a robust kid-proof case, extended battery life and the ability to pre-load all of their favourite games, books, series and movies. For bookworm school-age kids and older you could also keep things simple with a Kindle Kids e-reader. Just be sure to download enough content for the flight ahead of time.