Traveling with kids

How to keep you and your kids from going crazy at the airport


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?

Orlando_Airport_Snow White

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

Mr Rogers at PIT

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 theWorld’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?

Traveling with kids? Some helpful resources


I was honored and, I admit, a bit surprised to find my name and on a list of recommended people to follow on Twitter if you’re traveling with kids.

But Frances Judd seems to have done her research. And there among a list of great focused-on-kids blogs, writers and resource sites such as Colleen Lanin (@TravelMamas), Suzanne Kelleher of, Debbie Dubrow of Delicious Baby and Anya Clowers of, she was kind enough to include my Twitter feed (@hbaskas & @StuckatAirport), my USA Today column and my posts here at as a useful resources for travelers.

If you are traveling this week – with kids or not – be sure to pack some patience. And if you find yourself stuck an airport, see if the 50 airport guides I keep maintained for USA Today can help. They list kids plays areas, good places to eat and shop and offer tips on art exhibits and other amenities.

Babysitters on airplanes


Inspiration strikes when you least expect it, and last summer it hit Julie Melnick on a flight from Los Angeles to Florida.

She struggled onto the plane with a car seat, her 2-year-old son and assorted carry-on bags, and then had a tough time enroute. “My child didn’t want to sit still and he needed to be walked up and down the aisle 5,000 times,” Melnick said. “It was just such a draining experience.”

Melnick knew other moms deal with the same thing, and she thought there had to be a better way. Her solution: Nanny in the Clouds, a website that will match parents seeking in-flight babysitters with a fellow passenger on their flight who has experience caring for children.

Signing up is free, but once a match is made, parents pay $10 for an introduction to a potential babysitter. Then it’s up to the sitter and the parents to work out a fee — and to call the airline and ask to be seated together or request adjoining seats during check in.

“We’re recommending the going rate, which is $10 to $20 an hour,” said Melnick. “But a lot of people are willing to pay a premium when they’re traveling.”

Nannies must provide two references upon signing up, but Nanny in the Clouds does not do background checks. “If they’re a teacher, a college student or a grandma, they are qualified in our eye,” said Melnick. Instead, the site encourages parents to do their homework and have phone conversations and/or an in-person meeting to ensure that the match is right.

Several family travel experts gave Nanny in the Clouds the once over.

“My first reaction was: How lazy are parents that they can’t even watch their own children during a measly flight?” said Colleen Lanin, editor and founder of But after thinking it over, she decided a sitter in the air could be a lifesaver for a mom or dad who is traveling solo with two or more young children. “It would also be a great service for parents who are prone to air sickness or who are nervous/phobic flyers,” said Lanin.

“I would predict more crying, not less,” said Suzanne Rowan Kelleher, editor-in-chief at We Just Got Back. “Most small kids would want to sit with their parents, not a stranger, on a flight.”

Airplane travel “takes the whole family out of their routine” by adding anxiety, excitement, and, usually, sleep deprivation, said travel comfort specialist Anya Clowers of “If the timing and the match were correct, and parents remain in control by using the nanny mostly as an assistant to help, this may be a blessing.”

For those who do hire an in-flight sitter, though, Clowers advises scheduling a get-to-know-you session before boarding. “A photo or Skype session prior to travel is a good idea so the nanny is not a stranger on the day of travel,” she said.

Nanny in the Clouds launched in November 2011, although Melnick said that, so far, no matches for in-flight sitters have been made.

“There are 30,000 flights a day, and right now it’s a long shot that there will be a registered sitter on the flight you’re on,” said Melnick. So within a few weeks the site will add a feature that allows travelers to search by city pairs instead of specific flight numbers. That will expand the options and allow a mom going from Los Angeles to Miami to choose a flight that already has a registered nanny.

While Melnick has high hopes for her service, she’s not the first to create a program that provides in-flight babysitters. One airline, Gulf Air, already offers specially trained Sky Nannies as a complimentary service on its wide-bodied aircraft flying long-haul flights and in its airport lounges.

Still, whether there’s a sitter on board or not, Clowers said, “Parents still need to take responsibility for their children and be prepared to meet their needs at 37,000 feet.”

What do you think? Would you hire a nanny to watch your kids on a flight?

(My story about Nanny in the Clouds originally appeared on


Spotted at LAX: Happy Mom service

Passing through the International Terminal (TBIT) at Los Angeles International Airport last week I noticed signs at the Asiana Airlines check-in lines for something called Happy Mom Service.

Asiana Airlines Happy Mom Service

I got in line and found out that Happy Mom Service gives moms traveling with babies an expedited check-in line, complimentary breastfeeding covers and infant slings, and cabin baby seat installation and rental. The service also offers express boarding and express baggage delivery for moms with infants.

Asiana tested the service at Incheon International Airport and at airports in New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago, London, Frankurt, Paris, and Sydney and last year expanded the service to all airports it serves.

Great idea!

Asiana Airlines Happy mom poster