Toys on a plane – seriously?

The other day I read an article about the best ways to occupy children on a plane trip. Top of the list was loom bands, followed by Play-Doh. Play-Doh?! Had these people ever actually travelled by air with kids? It got worse, another toy on the list was Lego!

I could already imagine the small balls of coloured dough sticking to the floor, seats, child’s clothes, your neighbour’s coat….then adding to that the small bricks of razor-sharp Lego causing screams from anyone unfortunate enough to be padding by in their specially provided airplane socks….And not to mention the wretched loom bands – which, as anyone with a child under ten knows, seem to breed the longer you have them around. At least losing a few on the plane wouldn’t be that bad an idea.

loom bands

It was clear that the authors of this report had never, in fact, been anywhere near a plane with children. They’d obviously made the whole thing up.

So what is the best way to keep your children quiet on long air journeys? In my day (back in the 70’s), it was staring out the windows at clouds for 7 hours flat. Followed, if you were lucky, by the communal watching of an age-inappropriate movie on a tiny box either too far away to be able to see properly or so close you had to crane your head backwards to see what was happening. And forget being able to hear anything, the “headphones” had all lost their foam surrounds before you even took possession of them.

Of course these days almost all long-haul flights come complete with seat-front tv’s and up-to-date movies. Airlines have finally worked out that the best way to get people to book with them again isn’t to offer free champagne, foot massages or stewardesses in low-cut blouses. It’s to make sure all the children on the flight are kept as quiet and still as possible – hence why they always include a number of the most recent and popular kid’s movies in the package. I don’t want to think how many times M watched Frozen on our flight to Florida last year.

But apart from that, for us with the age our children are, the best thing to bring on the plane with us is a tablet. After that, it’s a book. According to the report, I-pads (and the report actually said I-pads and not tablets – does Apple now control the media?) are most definitely NOT the best thing to keep children occupied on the plane. Oh no, that’s small, fiddly toys and adult interaction. As if! The last thing I am going to do on an eight-hour flight, when there’s movies to be watched, books and magazines to be read, food to be eaten and free wine to be drunk, is to spend the entire time playing with bloody Play-Doh or loom bands!

Of course we are lucky in that our children are now old enough – 7 and 9 – to occupy themselves pretty much for the entire flight. With Minecraft, e-books and wall-to-wall movies, I could actually pretty well forget they are there were it not for the fact I still have to walk the youngest to the toilet every hour or so. And come in with her because she’s terrified – understandably – of the horrendous sucking noise it makes when you flush it.

Never turning right again!

Never turning right again!

But our children haven’t always been this easy on flights and given that we have been flying with them since we took the oldest to Jamaica when she was five months old, we’ve certainly had plenty of experience with the best ways to keep them occupied.

And was it Lego, loom bands and play-doh? Was it heck! Luckily the list does have a few more sensible options on it – sticker-books (which would be my number one for younger children – you can peel the stickers off and hand them over with one hand. While holding your wine glass with the other) and Top Trumps, for example. But it doesn’t include simple pens and paper, which keeps most small children occupied for oooooh, a whole five minutes or so, and another favourite of mine: food. Specifically small food that takes quite a long time to eat, like cereal hoops and raisins.

I have often heard people talking about how they have wrapped little presents for their children and brought out a new one every hour or so. This sounds like a good idea but a bit too high maintenance for me. Plus, I am not sure that unwrapping a present actually keeps them amused for more than thirty seconds. Although I suppose you could always use lots of sellotape.

The only other suggestion I have is to get others to occupy them – if you can find a friendly old-granny or a broody stewardess (or steward) to take them off your hands for an hour or two, then you are really doing well. However, these days you’d be lucky to get more than a smile out of most cabin crew – I assume that cutbacks mean they are waaaaay to busy to help out with childcare. But you never know, maybe there is an airline somewhere that does this?

And if all else fails? Well, there’s always drugs…

***DISCLAIMER NOTICE**** The author of this article is not suggesting you give drugs to your child. She is just suggesting that keeping some Calpol or similar drowsiness-inducing drug with you on long-distance flights is never a bad idea.