The holidays are fast approaching, and that means lots of families will be heading to airports with their kids.
Adults forced to hang out in airports can visit bars, tour shops or treat themselves to a nice meal, but I thought this would be a good time to share some tips I worked up last year for Travel + Leisure about giving kids something to do at the airport beyond crying, whining and getting underfoot at the gates.
Airport or a theme park?
An arcade, a 3,000-gallon aquarium in the Main Terminal food court, a fun fountain and photo-op ready statues of Mickey Mouse, Snow White and other celebrity characters make Orlando International feel more like a theme park than an airport.
Shops for the Kennedy Space Center, Disney, SeaWorld and Universal Orlando offer one last chance for must-have souvenirs. And the top floor of the parking garage is a great spot to watch the area’s nightly theme park fireworks – for free.
Robots and Mr. Rogers
Pittsburgh International Airport entertains children with its freshly refurbished Kidsport area filled with interactive displays, an exhibit honoring the Steel City’s own Fred Rogers and his “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” TV show and a giant Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton.
PIT is also home to an art installation billed as the “World’s only in-airport robot repair shop,” and a giant transformer-like robotic figure inspired by the city’s bridges.
Child-friendly in Chicago
At Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, the ever-popular “Kids on the Fly” play area in Terminal 2 lets little ones climb on airport-themed toys while, in Terminal 1, a four-story tall, 72-foot long skeleton model of abrachiosaurus looks down from its spot outside the Field Museum.
Kids get exercise and entertainment walking along the 744-foot-long kinetic neon light sculpture in the Terminal 1 underground walkway and a reason to look up “sustainability” after visiting the 26 soil-free plant towers in O’Hare’s aeroponic garden.
Play with pups – or pigs
Teams of adorable, stress-busting therapy dogs wearing “Pet Me!” vests regularly make the rounds at dozens of U.S. airports and the specially-trained pups (and, at SFO, a token pig) are happy to get hugs and kisses from kids.
The pooches will patiently pose for photos and their handlers usually have souvenir trading cards to give out featuring head shots and stats (i.e. age, breed and favorite treats) for each animal.
An airport or a museum?
Many airports stage family-friendly art and history exhibitions year-round. Check your airport’s website for what’s on view when you’re traveling.
Sometimes the best part of hanging out with kids at the airport is the great show put on by the airplanes and the bustle of activity out on the airfield.
Watch from a window seat in a gate area or food court, or head for an airport observation deck.
Baltimore-Washington International Airport has a large pre-security viewing gallery (with exhibits and a snack bar) and there’s a small post-security viewing deck at the entrance to Terminal 2 in Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
Got some ‘kids at the airport’ tips to share?