Busy Boxes for Airplanes

Two metal old style lunch box stacked on top of each other

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Entertain Kids on the Fly

Two metal old style lunch box stacked on top of each other

  • What: Toys for air travel
  • When: Ages three months until they can entertain themselves
  • Why: Keep them entertained with novel items
  • Where: During flights

Before a trip, I combine toys into a box based on my kids’ ages and interests. I like to call it a busy box, but no matter what you call it, it works. I collect small things, like the prizes from kids’ meals and things I pick up for next nothing in drug store toy aisles, and save them up. Then I put them in a box and give them to my kids once we reach cruising altitude on the airplane.

Hulk metal lunch box packed with small toys
One of my packed busy boxes.

I have strict rules for our busy boxes. Kids can only select one toy at a time. If they want a new toy, they have to return the previous toy before getting another one out. That not only makes the entertainment last longer, it means I spend less time trying to pick stuff up off the floor and get it all back in the box when rows and rows of people behind me wait to get off the plane.

Curious George Tin Keepsake Box with Latch on Amazon

I like to pack into old school metal lunch boxes. I had one of my own I used, but upgraded to a bigger one once I had multiple kids. I didn’t want to lug multiple busy boxes on airplanes, so I upgraded the amount of storage in my lunch box to handle more stuff. They all share the same busy box on airplanes because I haul as little as possible.

Curious george and incredible hulk metal lunch boxes side by side
I upgraded to a slightly bigger metal box for multiple kids.

I like the metal part of the boxes. The latch itself with entertain a toddler for quite a while as they try to figure out how it works (without biting me in the butt down the road when they can open something else they shouldn’t). The metal surfaces also work great for magnet play on board, and it makes a hard surface for drawing and writing in case the tray table doesn’t work out. But really any container will work.

Old cell phones as toys and key ring
A couple old cell phones for use as toys along with a key ring of spare keys.

You can find safe small items even for the youngest infants. Anything before three months old, and I find they don’t really need much entertainment. They seem happy to sleep and eat as normal. Once they get a bit older, I like to have more options. I use old keys on a key ring to create a real set of keys. I also like to collect plastic cards (like the loyalty ones from grocery stores or the random ones that appear in the mail with special offers) and stash them in an old wallet of mine. Young kids will take them in and out repeatedly, and they like having access to what they perceive as my stuff without the actual risk of letting them play with my credit and debit cards. I also almost always include my previous phone. Older phones with buttons have more appeal, but if you have a smartphone that still works, charge it up and throw it in for fun, too.

Little Airport Sticker Activity Book on Amazon

You can get tiny sticker books, called Dover Little Activity Books with many different themes once your kids can manage stickers. They can move the stickers around the included plastic scenes many times before they stop sticking. A deck of cards can also go a long way, even if your kids can’t follow rules or play actual games yet. They will enjoy looking at the cards and you can talk about the numbers or colors to help hold their interest. I also usually have a couple of these tiny books in there somewhere.

Old membership cards in wallet as airplane entertainment
Old membership and discount cards loaded into a slim wallet.

For older kids, I toss in the Spot It game they love. No matter what I have in there, my kids love having access to it. And I love not having to entertain them as much on board. I usually have a couple bigger books or workbooks too. We also always have their personal electronic devices, but since batteries die and they don’t always work the way they should, I find the busy box indispensable.

Contents of airplane busy box for young kids
Contents of my busy box

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