Adults who are stuck at the airport can spend their time shopping, getting a massage or having a drink at the bar. Kids waiting for flights are usually told to sit still with a book or an electronic game. But the amenities and activities at these family-friendly airports can make a long delay downright desirable.
Like the nearby theme parks, Orlando International Airport was designed with kids in mind. The first clue: there’s both adult and pint-sized seating in the main terminal. Then there’s the brand new game arcade, the Kennedy Space Center shop with its video wall showing films of NASA launches and the statues offering photo-ops with celebrities such as Mickey Mouse and Snow White. Even the food court is entertaining: inside the 3,000- gallon saltwater aquarium kids will spot fish made famous by the Disney film Finding Nemo.
In addition to an AirTrain people-mover, which offers free train rides circling the airport, San Francisco international Airport has a trio of aquariums (Terminal 1), a weather-themed play area (by Gate 87A) and a series of family-oriented self-guided tours. Best of all, many of the more than 40 exhibits offered annually by the airport’s accredited museum program are sure to appeal to kids. For example, through the end of March, the Second Chances exhibit in Terminal displays a dress made from Tootsie pop wrappers, a dustpan made from license plates and more than 200 other creative and whimsical works of folk art from tires, soda cans and other recycled scrap.
While adults are playing on some of the airport’s 1,300 slot machines, kids at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas can play in the aviation-themed play area that includes a miniature control tower and a mock jet engine. There’s also a 24-hour museum (on the walkway over the baggage claim, with display cases around the airport) that tells the colorful history of aviation in Southern Nevada.
There are two official play areas at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport: the airport-themed “Kids on the Fly” play area (Terminal 2) offers kids the opportunity to tag and weigh baggage, load cargo, fly planes and direct air traffic; the “Play It Safe” area (Terminal 5) offers lessons about fire and home safety. In Terminal 1, it’s hard to miss the four-story model of a Brachiosaurus in front of the Field Museum store or, in Terminal 2, the restored WWII F3F-4 fighter plane that’s just like the one flown by the airport’s namesake, Butch O’Hare. And kids of all ages will find themselves mesmerized by the 744-foot-long light sculpture racing along the ceiling of the tunnel connecting Concourses B and C.
Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport has two Junior Flyer’s Clubs (Terminal B, gate and Terminal C, gate 14) filled with aviation-themed toy structures. Two of the airport’s interactive sculptures in Terminal D are much larger and just as entertaining: Dennis Oppenheim’s Crystal Mountain includes an arched tunnel wide enough for two people and the sounds, glass walls and labyrinth-like floor pattern of Circling, by Christopher Janney, form a walk-in game that needs no instructions.
At Denver International Airport kids will enjoy riding on the automated transit system and looking for the floating steel “paper” airlines, the gargoyles and some of the other light-hearted pieces in the airport’s extensive permanent art collection. Through March 2011, kids are also invited to play with the miniature saloon, the Conestoga wagon and the other Colorado-themed playhouses that are part of a temporary art exhibition in the main terminal.
A nearly life-size plaster cast of a tyrannosaurus rex dinosaur greets kids getting on or off the people mover at Pittsburgh International Airport , while on Concourse C there’s a well-padded play area located next to a memorabilia-filled shrine to Fred Rogers and the “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” TV show, which was filmed in town. Look for Mister Rogers’ signature sweater, his sneakers, a miniature Neighborhood of Make Believe and clay models of the show’s characters, including King Friday and Henrietta Pussycat.
“Talking” drinking fountains that gurgle loudly, quilts made from strips of recycled soda cans, and a two-part, 80-foot long “contraption” filled with found objects that move and play sounds are among the giggle-inspiring art installations at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. For young kids with energy to spare, there’s a 1,400-square-foot play area filled with aviation-themed soft foam play equipment, including an airplane, a control tower and a baggage cart.
At Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport there’s a 33-foot long cast of a Yangchuanosaurus dinosaur (on loan from Atlanta’s Fernbank Museum of Natural History) in the Main Terminal Atrium. Giant ants – not real; they’re part of an art sculpture – march over the ductwork in the north and south terminal baggage claim areas. Elsewhere in the airport, kids will spot a flying ear of corn (the “Corncorde”) and other entertaining installations that are part of the airport’s permanent and temporary art collection.
There’s an entertaining, educational and (somewhat) hidden treasure for kids at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. Located in the upper level hallway (behind the ticket counters between Concourses B and C), the BWI Observation Gallery lots of comfortable seating, giant windows that look out onto the airfield and aviation exhibits that include several part of a Boeing 737 aircraft, including the nose cone with cockpit and landing gear, the right wing and the vertical stabilizer.
There are plenty of airports outside the United States that are kid-friendly as well. Tops among them: Changi Airport in Singapore , which has a butterfly garden, seven children’s play areas, free movie theaters, an arcade, interactive art stations, a jam studio and loads of other entertaining activities. Since September, 2010, there’s also been a twisty four-story tall slide at Changi, with a milder, one-and-a-half-story tall “preview” slide beside it.
(This originally appeared on msnbc.com)