Can you believe there was a time when you had the stones to complain about things like lack of legroom or not enough booze in your Bloody Mary? Now, with your kids in tow, you only wish that drink cart would come around more often. Because no matter how well you prepare, air-travel with children is turbulent.
To give you some relief on your journey, here are 9 airports that have fun activities for children, and it’s not just eating their weight in Cinnabon. Each features actual entertainment, like giant aquariums, play areas with crawl-through planes, light-up art exhibits, daily live musical performances — because watching take-offs and landings isn’t stimulating anymore. Thank them the next time you have a long layover. Then curse them, because your flight is probably delayed another hour.
Flying to or from Orlando? Chances are, you’re knee-deep in Disney. If you’re not suffering from Minnie and Mickey-induced overexposure (symptoms include shuddering at the sound of any helium-high laughs and going into the fetal position when you see Mouseketeer ears), then there is an enormous Disney store to explore. The airport also includes Universal Studios and Kennedy Space Center stores (that’s a lot of Harry Potter swag and astronaut ice cream) for older kids to check out. MCO’s best feature might be its 3,000-gallon saltwater aquarium located in the food court, with more than 100 fish. See if your kid can find Dory.
Denver’s airport has more than 30 art installations for the art afinidade inside you. Do yourself a favor and check out the Open Windows, near gate B51. The installation features an 11-foot tall interactive light tower, which uses more than 120 custom LED lights and a 3D motion-detection camera that adapt to passengers’ movements. The tower is also constantly updated, so no two visits will be the same. Older kids not impressed? DIA has offered free Wi-Fi since 2007 — way before Netflix.
Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport
If everyone is feeling a bit loopy from spending several hours sitting in the air, DTW has not 1, not 2 … but 7 play areas divided among the terminals. There’s also the Light Tunnel installation that connect McNamara Terminal. Depending on what kind of kid you have, this 9,000 ft. of LED lighting synchronized to music will either be like Laser Pink Floyd to them, or just a bad acid trip.
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport
If they haven’t spent enough time in a wide-body jet, the 1,400-square foot padded play area features a giant plane kids can crawl through. There are also a few smaller ones that feature trigger-enabled rotating propellers (don’t worry, it won’t end badly). Older kids will enjoy daily musical performances and music-themed art exhibits — like Pearl Jam’s concert poster exhibit with 80 posters by 35 different artists. What, no Temple Of The Dog?
San Francisco International
Because you always feel judged on how fast you can fold an umbrella stroller, SFO offers a Family Lane at its security screening zone. Once through security, the airport has an Exploratorium with long tunnels for kids to crawl through, a giant sound activated Plasma Wall, and 3 large aquariums for frequent flying fish. For you, there’s the Louis A. Turpen Aviation Museum which has a replica 1937 waiting room. But no smoking or calling the flight attendants “toots.”
Minneapolis-St. Paul International
Minneapolis’ airport has play areas with control towers with attached slides — just like how you wished real control towers were. For older kids, if they’re already bored of Pokemon Go, there are 3 video arcades. And, if you’re traveling with an infant, note there are baby product vending machines in the terminal. If you’ve ever been paralyzed with fear after running out of diaper cream, you’re covered.
Chicago O’Hare International
Thanks to Chicago’s Public Art Program, ORD is packed with dozens of paintings, sculptures, and murals. Younger kids can get their dino on with the 4-story high, 72-feet long model of a Brachiosaurus in Terminal 1, Concourse B. O’Hare also has an aviation-themed educational area, so they can learn why planes never leave on time. And if you want to get cultural before departure, head to the tunnel between Terminal 1 and 2, where there’s a 208-feet long mural inspired by Langston Hughes’ poem “I’ve Known Rivers.”
Boston Logan International
The Boston Children’s Museum, one of the best attractions in the city, has set up Kidport (that’s an airport … for kids) in Terminal A and C. In C you’ll find a plane they can crawl over. In A there’s a replica of Logan’s control tower. But enough about your children — there are rocking chairs for you scattered throughout the facility. Go pull one up near the Harpoon Tap Room and talk about how the Red Sox can break their 3 year curse.
PDX has multiple play areas that are a little more unique than the usual airport holding pens. One comes with large LEGO tables, while another has a telescopes that allow kids to see grounded planes up-close and personal. Hey, what’s that baggage handler doing?! And if you’re hungry, TripAdvisor’s latest airport food study named PDX the best airport for dining with family-friendly eats like The Country Cat, Rogue Ales Public House, and MOD Pizza.