Old vs. New: Entertaining Kids on Planes

by  Mike Barish | Oct 11, 2012
Baby on plane
Baby on plane / tatyana_tomsickova/istock

At the risk of sounding like a crotchety old man who incessantly starts every sentence with, "kids today," I'd like to discuss kids today. Specifically, how kids pass the time while flying. I should preface all of this with the disclaimer that I am not a parent. There's a reason that we have Paul Eisenberg cover family travel for us: he knows what he's talking about. That said, I'm an observant traveler. Lately, I've been spending a great deal of time thinking about how kids kill time on long flights. Young children (and, by proxy, their parents) get lambasted for disturbing everyone on flights, so keeping them occupied is critical. Flying with kids is not a new concept, but devices like iPads, smartphones, and LeapPads are. So, are today's kid-friendly entertainment options better than they were [wait for it] when I was a kid?

I decided to compare some of my favorite in-flight activities with what the kids are doing today. What's better? What's easier? What's most beneficial for everyone sitting near all of these tiny travelers? There's absolutely nothing scientific to this. It's not a study. There's no control group. It's just me. You might disagree. That's what comments and Twitter are for. Sound off whether you agree with me or think that I'm a nimrod (kids still call people nimrods, right?). Let's get to it.

Books vs. eReaders – If you can get your kids to sit still and read for a few hours, it's a fantastic in-flight scenario. It's educational, quiet, and sedentary. The problem when I was a kid? Packing tons of books. Children's books are short, so you need to pack enough to keep kids interested. My parents and I didn't want to schlep around an entire library. Nowadays, Kindles and Nooks hold thousands of titles, allowing kids to read for the length of a trip (often on a single charge of the batteries) without lugging any extra weight. Advantage: New

In-Flight Movies vs. Tablets – Remember when there were only a handful of small televisions located throughout the cabin and everyone had to watch the same movie? It was horrible! Kids would get fidgety, the movies were snoozers, and everyone was miserable. Now? You can preload your iPad or Android tablet with all of the Yo Gabba Gabba! and Finding Nemo that you'd need for a transatlantic flight and let your kids listen with some headphones. Advantage: New

Invisible Ink Books vs. Nothing – I'm not sure that [wait for it] kids today even know about Invisible Ink books. They used to be sold in every gift shop in every airport across the United States. A special pen would allow kids to solve puzzles, play word games, and generally use their brains. If there's a modern alternative, I don't know it (and that makes me very sad). Advantage: Old

Handheld Video Games vs. Tablets/Smartphones – I definitely annoyed many travelers over the years with Tiger Electronics video games. They didn't always have mute buttons, so the constant beeping surely drove many of the adults on my flights to drink (clearly not enough to keep TWA in business). Today, kids can play Angry Birds while using headphones on their parents (or, insanely, their own) devices. The LeapPad, at least, is specifically geared towards children. Advantage: New (I wanted to vote Old here, but the Tiger Electronics football game was just too arbitrary with the interceptions, to the point of intense frustration).

Well, there you have it. New beats Old 3-1. Maybe things weren't better in the "good ol' days." Would I have loved an iPad when I was a kid? Of course. That said, I was pretty content with my Invisible Ink books and an apple juice. Of course, if you ask adults who fly frequently, they'll tell you that the best activity for any kid on a plane is sleep.

What was your favorite in-flight diversion as a kid? What do your kids use now? Share your thoughts, suggestions, and comments below!

Aerial view of Transylvania, Romania
Find The Best Cruises
Find a cruise

Find the best deals!

Click on multiple sites to get the lowest prices

Click on multiple sites to get the lowest prices