Non-Tech Options to Pass a Long Flight

R's window after 10.5 hours in the air.

R’s window after 10.5 hours in the air.

We’ve been home in the U.S. now for almost two weeks, and we’re just about settled back into the swing of things. We’re (almost) all unpacked. The kids have (just about) gotten over their jet lag. The lot of us has rediscovered our love for the true American pastime: Driving cars.

All of this has helped Powerwoman and I glean some healthy perspective on the logistics of our return. In particular, we can’t believe how easy the flight home really was.

Allow me to reiterate: The flight home was 10.5 hours. And our kids rocked it like pros.

Before I share the secrets to our success, it’s worth noting that we are not raising our children to be technology addicts. Yes, we allowed them to watch a few shows on their Kindle Fire devices over the course of the trip home. But this screen time was by far the exception instead of the norm; generally speaking, we used “Doc McStuffins” and “Peppa Pig” as rewards for good behavior at other times on the flight.

For the most part, our strategy comprised three tenets: Arts-and-crafts, story time and geography.

The arts-and-crafts was a no-brainer; both girls exhibited a true passion for creativity during our time in London, so Powerwoman and I made provisions to indulge this interest on the plane. We started with stickerbooks. We moved on to basic coloring (I pre-packaged two Ziploc bags with crayons and markers for each of them so they wouldn’t fight).

At cruising altitude, I broke out the window clings and let each girl decorate her window (we were sitting window-middle, window-middle in two consecutive rows; an intentional effort to divide and conquer).

Later in the flight, when R took the first of her two brief naps, L and I made paper-chain necklaces for each of the flight attendants—gifts that scored us free wing pins, free drinks (Scotch for Dad; milk for daughter) and enough special treatment to make the Big Girl feel like a VIP.

We interspersed art time with story time. This didn’t only comprise books on those aforementioned Kindles; Powerwoman and I took turns telling stories and encouraging both girls to make up their own. Some of this make-your-own-story play was open-ended; we also mined ideas from Rory’s Story Cubes, a product about which I blogged last fall.

Finally, we passed time on our LHR-SFO flight with interactive geography lessons. Using the real-time map feature on the seatback television screens, we prompted the girls to describe what they saw out the window and match it up to where we were in the arc of our flight.

Through this method, L learned once and for all that Greenland isn’t green, and that Nunavut (one of her favorite words to say) is covered in snow. R was able to distinguish mountains from plains.

Looking back on the flight, perhaps the only hiccup was that L didn’t actually nap until about three minutes before we disembarked. With all of these fun activities to keep her occupied in mid-air, perhaps that partially was our fault.

What are your secrets for surviving a long flight when traveling with young kids?


  1. I applaud you. We rely way to heavily on electronics and flying at night. We did do one short flight entirely electronic free with the use of sticker books and stories. I’ll have to try the window clings and paper chains next time. Thanks! And way to go, keep it up!

    • Matt Villano says:

      Thanks, Robin. I’ve softened in my old age. We used to be totally against all electronics in flight (there may even be some old-school blog posts to support this philosophy). Now I’m all about a healthy balance; we only ripped out the Peppa and Doc when meltdowns seemed imminent.

  2. Nice job! Pretty sure my 12- and 14-year-old will be watching 5 movies on our flight to London this summer…. though I am going to encourage my daughter to make paper chains for the FA in an effort to score Mom some wine…

  3. I wish I had had some arts and crafts to do myself on my trip from LHR —> PHL a few weeks ago because I didn’t sleep a wink. What I did do was update my journal reflecting on my time in London and all the amazing journeys I went on while working there. I also played with the Interactive Map and managed to write my holiday cards (i only had a 10 pack so that didn’t take too long). Overall, I enjoyed my quiet time airborne without technology as well. Sorry I can’t join in the conversation about flying with children but I really enjoyed reading your strategy and happy to hear about your success! Go Matt and Powerwoman!

    • Matt Villano says:

      Sheryl: You rock for reading, AND for commenting. Really stoked I got a chance to meet you in person over there. Also really excited to stay in touch and meet up again at the “Rise of the Sufferfests” launch party. Happy 2014!

  4. I am impressed too! I will say that we aren’t big electronic/tv people at home but we are pretty loose with those rules on planes. Same goes for snacks. For us in moderation it works, but I think it is great your girls can so long without it!

  5. Matt Villano says:

    The format of their favorite shows helps. “Episodes” of Peppa are only 5 minutes apiece, while most Docs are 10-12 minutes. They’re great rewards for good behavior.

  6. The window clings?!? Absolute genius! My girls are finally old enough to be interested in arts and crafts so I will be planning projects for them from now on. Reminds me of a red eye flight we took from LA to JFK for which my daughter did not fall asleep till we were landing. Sometimes night flights bite you in the butt!!!

    • Matt Villano says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Hilarye! I totally lucked into the window clings. Thought I was buying stickers (which I was planning to peel off upon landing); when I opened the bag, I saw that I had gotten something far more practical. How old was your daughter on that redeye?

  7. I totally admit I am an electronics junkie when it comes to air travel with my kids. Everyone is just so calm and peaceful. Sadly my oldest isn’t into arts and crafts… at all. I mean really kid? Not even a coloring book?! His baby brother is showing more artistic leanings at the moment though. As my kids get a little older I am mixing it up a lot more. We have our tiny backpack o’ fun with books, tiny airplanes, paper and crayons, etc. Those tiny airplanes get more use than anything else, especially during take off and landing. We do loop de loops, crash land, etc. I’m sure the other passengers just love us. Ha! As for little ones crashing just as you land. Yup. Happened last year on my way to Switzerland with my then 5 month old and 3 year old. My toddler fell asleep after a long flight and would not wake up when we landed no matter how much I poked him. I had to carry the baby and bags off. I couldn’t carry him too. He was such a trooper in the end but I learned a lot. No watching TV the whole flight! Bad mom move there for sure.

  8. Matt Villano says:

    Thanks for reading, Keryn, and for taking the time to comment. If I’ve learned anything in four years of family travel, it’s that you never can predict how the kids are going to roll. My motto: Be prepared and remember that screen time is a privilege, not a right. Love the tiny airplanes idea. I’m totally going to steal that one on our next flight (which, mercifully for the girls, won’t be for a few months…blog post about that coming later this week).

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