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Entertaining children whilst travelling

Travelling with young children can be challenging at the best of times, but when the mode of transport is an aeroplane, things can get a little trickier. With long-haul destinations becoming more accessible, we're flying on longer journeys, and bringing the family isn't always easy. Here are ten tips to keep the young ones amused, so you can avoid the plane ride from hell...

1. Take an iPad loaded with some entertaining games or movies they can watch

An iPad or Android tablet is a great portable gadget to keep the kids entertained. With a large enough storage capacity, you could upload plenty of their favourite TV shows and films. There are apps that allow you to store YouTube videos for offline viewing, and the BBC's iPlayer app will let you download your children’s favourite shows, and store them for up to 30 days.

2. Take an iPod with some of their favourite music on

If your budget doesn't stretch to a tablet device, why not dig out the iPod or MP3 player and load it with your children's favourite music? Many airlines have seat-back entertainment systems with radio stations, but the choice can be limited. Prepare a few albums for your kids, or even download a few audio books in MP3 format for them – there are plenty of free children's stories in audio format to suit all ages.

3. Play regular games such as I-spy and twenty questions, or bring travel games such as snakes and ladders or cards

Many great kid's games have been miniaturised into travel versions – from Connect 4 to Guess Who, and these can often provide hours of quiet entertainment on a long flight. Card games like Top Trumps or Uno are often family favourites, so don't forget to pack them. If you're short on space in your hand luggage, children never tire of a game of i-spy,
and paper and crayons can often work wonders for a bored young one!

4. Get them excited about the trip with pamphlets/brochures so they know where they’re going and what to expect

Getting the kids involved with the holiday planning can pay off when you're in the air – bring along leaflets and brochures of all the great things you'll be doing, for them to pore over while you fly. Encourage them to be excited about the trip, and make the flight just another exciting part of it.

5. Bring snacks to stop them getting hungry/complaining

We all know what to expect from airline food, so be prepared and bring along your children's favourite snacks. Try to keep to their routine as much as possible, and be aware that air travel can be dehydrating, so keep them drinking. The food and drink selection onboard will always be fairly limited (depending on your seat class of course), so make sure you stock up before boarding.

6. Board the plane last and take them to see the airport to prevent them getting bored waiting to depart

Getting on the plane first isn't always an advantage. If your seats are allocated and you don't have too much hand luggage, try to wait as long as possible before boarding, and knock a few minutes off the time in that small seat. Encourage the kids to look out at the planes, and familiarise them with the airport experience while others are boarding.

7. Also take advantage of airport activities to use up energy

Many large airports have children's play areas, so use these as opportunities to let your kids burn off some energy. If you're lucky enough to fly first class, you might just find a first class lounge with a dedicated play area! Keep your kids as active as possible before the flight, and they might doze off long enough to give you some peace and quiet.

8. Wrap toys like presents and give them to them at intervals, to stop children getting bored with their toys. The unwrapping also creates a sense of excitement and surprise

A great way to make air travel fun is to wrap up toys and snacks as presents and hand them out at various intervals during the flight. It might seem like a bit much, but unwrapping a colouring set might just give your kids a sense of excitement for the next gift; helping those hours pass with a little less boredom.

9. Let them sit next to the window to keep them entertained by taking in the view. Bring a pillow with you so your child can sit on it to see out of the window easier

One all-important decision when flying is where to sit – bulkhead seats will take away the opportunity to kick the seat in front, but there's no under-seat storage space. Some families book the window and aisle seats in the hope the centre seat won't be taken, and they'll be able to spread out. Sitting near the galley can be useful if you need a bottle warmed, and window seats may at least give your children something to look at. Remember: the rear of the place tends to be noisier, and seats at the very back might not recline fully.

10. Create the ‘aeroplane police’ to prevent children playing up and kicking seats, playing with trays etc

If all your calming techniques and distraction tactics fail, you might find your children start to get a little unruly. It's not uncommon, and a parent's nightmare is often that of their child kicking the seat in front. You could try to instil some discipline with the threat of the 'aeroplane police', or take the opportunity to go for a wander – a quick walk can distract your child, and give those sat near you a break from the kicking.

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