Since my family lives on the other side of the country, I have spent many hours on planes with my children. For a while, my husband couldn't travel with me, so I regularly took four little children all by myself on the plane. It was a scary experience to say the least--one I wouldn't want to repeat.
Through the ups and downs of my airplane travel, I learned to pack a few small items that keep kids quiet. Here is my list. You can modify it to suit the ages of your children:
Tiny notebook and pen. I'm often surprised how much a little child can enjoy writing and drawing pictures in a brand new notebook.
Origami kit. This always provides at least fifteen minutes of entertainment as I help the kids fold their origami creations. Usually, they like to play with them afterward too.
Tape, kid's blunt-tip scissors with short blades, paper.
Crayola Secret Reveal. We discovered this on our last flight. My five-year-old loved it. Younger children might like a different art kit. As you color, patterns appear inside the pictures.
Snack food that kids usually don't get. My kids like m&ms, fruit loops or chocolate cheerios to thread on pipe cleaners, dried fruit, goldfish crackers, and protein bars. I always take a wide variety of foods packed in small snack bags. Make sure to bring some gum if your child is old enough for it.
Paint with Water book. I pack a few q-tips in a Ziploc sandwich bag. When the child is ready to paint, I drip some water from my water bottle into the bag. Presto, the q-tips become paintbrushes.
Fast food toys. I save these toys in the weeks leading up to our flight, pick them up in thrift stores, or buy a kids meal in the airport. The picture at the top of this post features a Wendy's toy we got in the airport before boarding the plane.
Magnetic Personality Toy like Wooly Willy. This is always a favorite with early Elementary-age children.
Little toys that come in a tube. We find these at toy and craft stores. There are a wide variety of "toobs" for all types of interests. We have gotten coral reef animals, knight, and pioneer toobs. If you get a tube with a wide variety of toys, kids can play with these for a long time. We re-use them for other trips too.
Books and Magazines. I usually save up some two or three magazines the kids already receive. These can get heavy, so I try to take only a few. Older kids like it when I get them a new book from a favorite author. Toddlers sometimes like to read the same books they read at home. Preschoolers and toddlers love sticker books. I avoid bringing board books because they are so heavy.
A few printouts of Mad Libs, mazes, and other activities. You can find print these out from classroomjr.com and similar websites.
Children's Dramamine and Ibuprofin. Babies sometimes need Ibuprofin for ear pain. Older kids sometimes need Dramamine when the flight gets bumpy.