Traveling with kids is its own form of torture. Not only is there extra gear to drag through the airport, and a tendency for young children to want to be carried everywhere, but throw in flight delays, cries of “I’m bored!”, and dreadfully long layovers, and welcome to vacation hell. Worse still, you haven’t even left your hometown yet.
Which is why a lot of parents come to the airport armed with “busy bags” full of toys, books, and games they imagine will keep their kids entertained. What often happens, however, is that kids blow through that bag before they’re even settled in at the gate ⏤ and the silent siren of screen time will start to beckon. Resist the urge to break out the tablet too soon. The airport is packed with interesting people and full of fun ways to engage, entertain, and otherwise occupy bored kids before you’re stuck in an airplane seat. And to help on do just that, we’ve come up with seven fun games to play with kids in an airport terminal that require little more than a creative imagination and a traveler’s spirit for adventure.
Airport Scavenger Hunt
Entertainment Time: 5-10 minutes.
What You’ll Need: A store.
It’s a game of “Who can find it first” involving items located in one of the airport stores. Obviously, this works best in a Hudson News or store that sells magazines, beverages, snacks, etc. To play, one person does a quick run-through of the store and picks out three items — preferably ones that are low-key, like a pack of gum, a magazine, or bag of chips, and not located near one another. Then they tell the other players what products they’re hunting for and say “3-2-1-Go!” The player who finds all three items and brings them back to the chooser is the winner. Obvious note: Make sure the chooser is standing inside the store to avoid any accidental shoplifting. For younger kids (or if you’re getting dirty looks from employees), you can make it a “guess which item I want to buy” from a specific section. No touching of the merch required. You can also play with two players, and instead of a race, have your Finder beat the clock.
Guess the City
Entertainment Time: 10-15 minutes.
What You’ll Need: The ‘Departures’ board and at least two or three older kids.
First, select one player to silently choose a city from the ‘Departures’ board. That person then provides hints to the other players about which city they chose. For example: “I’m thinking of a city that starts with the letter ‘P,'” or “This city is located in the state of Alabama,” or “The flight to this city is boarding at a gate higher than 12.” If you have older kids who know about specific cities, the hints can obviously be more detailed, i.e. “This city has more restaurants per square mile than any other in North America…” (Okay, maybe not that detailed). The hints continue until a person correctly guesses the city/flight and becomes the chooser in the next round. Note: If the selected flight disappears from the board in the time it takes the others to guess, then the Chooser plays another round.
Airport Alphabet Game
Entertainment Time: 30 minutes or more.
What You’ll Need: Nothing, except a phone or piece of paper/pen to keep track of all the letters.
Take your kid on a tour of the terminal and try to find a word that begins with every letter of the alphabet. You can use signs, brochures, people’s tee shirts, etc. to complete your mission — just keep track of the words on your phone or a slip of paper. To make it harder, go in order as you walk from one end of the terminal to the other. To make it even harder, start with ‘Z.’ The game sounds super easy but will likely take a while to complete. Just don’t miss your flight.
America’s Top Airport Model
Entertainment Time: 20-25 minutes.
What You’ll Need: Airport ads, and possibly something on which to keep score.
Airports are full of posters and advertisements of smiling, happy, traveling people. Have one person be the ‘judge’ while the other players are the ‘models.’ After identifying a good advertisement, each ‘model’ stands in front of the picture and does their best impression of the ad. The judge can rate each person’s pose based on any number of pre-determined criteria: ‘ability to not laugh,’ ‘most like the picture,’ ‘most able to stand still while posing,’ anything really. You can judge each round for fun or keep score on a phone/piece of paper if you’ve got competitive kids.
Guess How Many (Travelers)?
Entertainment Time: 5-10 minutes.
What You’ll Need: People about to depart at a gate.
This is like ‘Guess How Many Gumballs Are In The Jar’ but with people. Find a gate where passengers are about to board the flight. Without counting them, each player makes a guess as to how many people are waiting in the gate area. Once each player has thrown out a number, count the actual number of travelers (do your best, an estimate is fine). The player who whose guess was the closest to the actual number of people, wins that round. (To make it harder, use ‘Price Is Right’ rules and require that guesses can’t go ‘over’ the actual number.) Then, go onto the next gate! Can be played with as few as two players.
Airport Obstacle Course
Entertainment Time: 10 minutes.
What You’ll Need: Nothing.
This one works best in larger airports that have more space and/or in a terminal that’s not particularly busy. Designate an area of the airport where nobody is sitting as your course and come up with a series of obstacles that they have to overcome. For example, hop around the empty gate agent desk to the recycling bin, then skip over to the row of chairs and sit on each one, etc. etc. until they find their way back to a specific starting point. Players can either race against one another, compete in a relay, or try to beat the clock.
Entertainment Time: 15-20 minutes.
What You’ll Need: Nothing except a surface to write on.
Write down a number of items (on a napkin, receipt from an airport store, phone, etc.) that people would often carry with them when traveling. For example, a hat, a neck pillow, a backpack, a book, big headphones, an animal in a crate, etc. If you want to make it harder, be specific about each thing ⏤ the hat must be a fedora, the neck pillow purple, etc. The first person to spot every item on the list yells BINGO and wins that round. The first person to win five rounds gets to choose the next game you play.