Old-school games to keep you amused on your flight

Use your next flight to have some good old-fashioned family fun by cracking out these surprisingly entertaining games.

Tic-tac-toe on the table
  • Janine Eberle
  • August 2018

Remember (or, if you’re too young, imagine) the days before devices? People didn’t have screens to keep them entertained, so when they were stuck together in confined places for long periods, they often played games requiring nothing but their own resources and creativity.

On your next flight, if you’re travelling with family or friends, why not take the device-free challenge and see if you can keep yourself amused using some of these old-school boredom busters?

Young girl coloring her book by the window seat of an airplane

I Spy

Everyone knows this one, and it’s probably only going to rock the boat of really little kids. Player 1 chooses a thing that they can see, and recites the classic line, "I spy with my little eye, something beginning with...", ending with the first letter of the object they’ve decided on.

The other players have to guess what the object is by taking turns to ask questions about it, but they must be answerable with either ‘yes’ or ‘no’. The winner is the one who guesses the object first, and then it’s their turn to choose an object.

The objects for spying might be somewhat limited inside an airplane, but why not use the in-flight magazine, so that anything pictured in the magazine could be the ‘I Spy’ object? Hours of entertainment!

20 Questions

This is like a free-form version of ‘I Spy’, and will work well for kids who are a little older, as it requires a little more deductive reasoning. Player 1 thinks of any object that can be classified as animal, vegetable, or mineral, and the other players ask yes or no questions to try to guess it. After 20 questions have been asked, all the players can guess what the object is. The winner gets to think up the object for the next round; if no one can guess, it’s player 1’s turn again.

Little girl playing with her puzzle aboard an airplane

I Went To Market

This might seem like a simple memory game (and it makes a great mental exercise), but it’s also about using mental associations to think of things that only you can remember; and about being silly. It can be played with 2-5 players.

Player 1 starts with, “I went to market and I bought a…” – let’s say it’s a pork chop.

Player 2 follows with the first item, and adds another item to the list: “I went to market and I bought a pork chop and a sunhat.”

Player 3 does the same: “I went to market and I bought a pork chop, a sunhat and a chainsaw.”

And so on until someone can’t remember an item the list and is eliminated – the winner is the last player standing (or sitting).

Girl in pink sweater playing with her cardboard airplane

Celebrity Head

This classic party game is great for older kids and all adults – you just need to tailor your celebrity choices to the age of the players. You’ll need some Post-it notes, or some other way to affix small slips of paper to the players’ foreheads.

Everyone writes the name of a celebrity on a piece of paper and affixes it to the forehead of another player – without the other player seeing the name, and so all the other players can see it. Then, each player takes turns to ask the group questions to try to guess who their celebrity is. Starting questions might be things like: “Am I a woman?”, “Am I American?”, ‘Am I an actor?”

As they get more information, each player starts to get an idea of who they might be and asks more specific questions to test the theory – “Am I a Scientologist?” – until they can finally make a guess: “Am I Tom Cruise?” The winner is the one who guesses their celebrity first.

Boy with binoculars looking outside a window of an airplane


This simple game is an excellent opportunity to get really silly. It’s a storytelling improvisation exercise that can go to some crazy places and let your imagination run wild!

Player 1 comes up with a scene-setting premise: “Once there was a dog who could talk.”

Player 2 continues the story with another sentence, but they must start with the word ‘unfortunately’: “Unfortunately, he swore a lot.”

Player 3 adds another sentence, but they must start with the word ‘fortunately’: “Fortunately, he was also funny, so he was discovered by a talent scout and become a stand-up comedian.”

The game continues, with sentences alternating between ‘fortunately’ and ‘unfortunately’ until it gets too crazy or until everyone gets bored and goes back to their iPads.