There’s only one thing worse than getting stuck on a flight with a screaming baby and that’s being the parent of said baby, in charge of keeping him or her quiet and happy. The stakes feel even higher after the March news story of the toddler who threw a tantrum and got her family of four kicked off a JetBlue flight.
Making sure your baby is fed and rested is the best way to keep the peace, but bringing some toys on board will help, too. Airplane toys have some special restrictions: They can’t be bulky or heavy because they have to fit in the diaper bag. Balls don’t work because they’ll roll down the aisle in two seconds and you’ll never see them again. They also can’t be super noisy and annoying. You don’t want to make your seatmates listen to a computerized voice say, “Amarrillo…yellow! Verde…green!” from takeoff to landing.
I’ve flown cross-country with my daughter three times so far. The trips have ranged from nightmarish (she had an upset stomach from D.C. to Oregon. I’ll leave it at that.) to pretty easy. As the mother of a 9-month-old, I don’t pretend to know what would entertain older children, so I’m sticking to infant toys.
Here are a few suggestions for keeping your baby happy and entertained during the next flight, which for many of us will be soon as Memorial Day weekend and summer vacation quickly approaches.
● Cups, headphones and safety instructions: You can kill a good hour with all the junk that’s already on board. When the flight attendants walk by offering earphones, take them, even if you know you won’t be able to settle into the movie. Give the empty plastic cup to your baby (just make sure to order water rather than juice or soda, which will leave the cup—and your baby’s hands—sticky). Let him or her play with the safety instructions pamphlet, with its eye-catching, bright illustrations.
●Jellykitten Carousel Owl ($24, Hanna Andersson): This stuffed animal has all kinds of ribbons, knots and fabric for baby to (silently!) explore, plus it will squish down in the carry-on bag. The Eric Carle firefly ($14.61, Amazon.com) serves the same purpose, with its mirrors, crinkly wings, light-up abdomen and fabric antennae and legs to tug on.
●Board books: Most take about three minutes to read to your baby, so they don’t seem like they’d be good in-flight entertainment. However, my daughter loves to open and close the pages, turn the book over in her hands and gnaw on the edges (until I catch her!). Any book will do, but how about the classic “Goodnight Moon” by Margaret Wise Brown (HarperCollins, $8.99)? Maybe your little one will be lulled to sleep by the familiar rhyme…ah, a parent can dream.
●Calculator: This may sound like a strange recommendation, but my baby loves to press the buttons. I think it reminds her of a TV remote control or a cell phone (two things that she really wants but can’t have). It’s slim and silent: two great qualities for airplane toys.
●Plastic keys: Teething babies will love to suck and bite them; almost all babies will get a kick out of shaking them and making them rattle together.
Which toy was your saving grace on a long flight with a baby? Tell us in the comments section.
Rachel Saslow, a former editorial aide for The Washington Post, lives in the District with her husband and daughter.