Travel is often a wonderful, broadening experience, but delays and long layovers can taint it with frustration. Families often handle it the worst, with impatient, cranky children and parents who are quickly nearing their last straw. This is no secret to airports, and some have stepped up to make traveling easier on families. Some individual airlines at various airports offer children's amenities, like kids' lounges, that are only available to passengers. For instance, John F. Kennedy International's Air France and Los Angeles International's Air New Zealand present play rooms with games, toys, coloring books and a flat screen television. The following American airports are the most family-friendly to all travelers, no matter which airline you are flying. They were selected for their number of play areas, accessibility of family restrooms, presence of kid-friendly stores and quality of aesthetic, calming environments.


1. Chicago O'Hare International (ORD)

As one of the busiest airports in the United States, Chicago's hub is famous for its crowds of people and flight delays. As a result, they have set up kid-friendly pastimes to ease frustration for families. As a cultural city with many state-of-the-art museums, the airport reflects this enriching presence, instilling a sense of wonderment in children. The Children's Museum of Chicago has designed a playground called "Kids on the Fly." The aviation-themed interactive exhibit features a cargo plane that needs fueling, a cockpit in a fantasy helicopter, a luggage station and an air traffic control tower. Kids can learn the inner workings of an airport first-hand, or simply relax and play with LEGOs. The play area is fully accessible to all children, including those with disabilities. Kids on the Fly is around the corner from Gate F1 in Terminal 2.

Chicago O'Hare was named after a World War II hero, Lt. Commander Edward "Butch" O'Hare. Older kids may enjoy the exhibit dedicated to his memory. It showcases a restored F3F-4 fighter plane and information about the pilot's life. The O'Hare historical exhibit is also located in Terminal 2.

Donated by the Field Museum, a 72-foot, life-size Brachiosaurus skeleton towers over the B Concourse of Terminal 1.

In Terminal 5 near Gate M12, the "Play It Safe" exhibit -- an educational area sponsored by the Chicago Fire Department -- teaches kids about the importance of safety and the proper responses in emergencies.

Thanks to the tourist office, families can also learn about Chicago's main attractions on over 50 interactive, touch-screen displays throughout the entire airport. Before you visit the airport, check out Chicago's educational children's website to get kids excited about their trip.

2. San Francisco International Airport (SFO)

San Francisco International Airport evokes a more elegant, earlier period when air travel was only for the upper-class, sophisticated traveler. This sophisticated ambience is conveyed in the Commission Aviation Library & Louis A. Turpen Aviation Museum. Free to travelers, the museum spreads over 11,500-square feet of the International Terminal's Main Hall. It conjures an old-world charm of a waiting room from the 1930s. Best suited to kids around age 10, the exhibit is open every day (except Saturday) from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Up to 40 other cultural, historical and children's art exhibits, sponsored by SFO Museum, can be found sprinkled throughout the entire airport.

A particularly kid-friendly feature of San Francisco's transportation hub is the SFO Kids' Spot. The Exploratorium of San Francisco has designed a weather-themed play area. The fun zone presents crawling equipment and the Plasma Wall -- a display of colorful arcs that jump around when activated by sound in the airport. This often serves as a calming influence for children before a flight. SFO Kids' Spot is located after passing through security in Terminal 3, Boarding Level F near Gate 87A.

Visit the Ticketing Level of Terminal 1 for a trip to the underwater world. Three different aquariums offer a window to distinct fish communities across the planet. The aquariums, presented by the Steinhart Aquarium and the California Academy of Sciences, are usually a big hit with kids.

San Francisco offers self-guided, educational tours for kids that consistently end with a small prize at an Information Desk. Tours explore the International wing, Terminal 1 and Terminal 3. Tour guides can be printed off the San Francisco website. An AirTrain also provides a fun way to explore the whole airport -- baggage claim to rental car port. This activity fills about 20 minutes of your layover.

3. Boston Logan International (BOS)

Boston Logan International has not one, but two separate play areas for kids. Terminal C is home to a Kidport designed by the Children's Museum of Boston. The indoor playground features a baggage-claim slide, a climb-worthy airplane and window display area. The floors are soft, lessening the impact of tumbles. The educational, hands-on exhibits are fun for kids. Infants and toddlers enjoy a separate play area, and parents have plenty of seating room.

The second Kidport, produced by Playtime, is situated post-security in the Satellite building of Terminal A near Gate 18. This indoor playground features a replica of the air traffic control tower, colorful slides, climbing structures and a child's version of Terminal A. Concessions are nearby so children never have to leave the play area.

For families with babies, there are rocking chairs strategically located throughout the airport. Family restrooms with changing stations and private rooms for nursing mothers are located in Terminals A, C and E.

4. Orlando International Airport (MCO)

As if being so close to Disney World wasn't enough, the Orlando International Airport welcomes kids to a world of fantasy and whimsy. Kids can watch real wildlife in the airport's 3,000-gallon aquarium in the main food court on Level 3 post-security of the Main Terminal. The huge tank holds more than 100 creatures, giving travelers a taste of what they could see, should they visit Sea World.

Families with an interest in space travel can visit one of the two Kennedy Space Center stores on Level 3 of Terminals B and G. Kids will flip as they touch part of an asteroid from Mars or see a life-size model of an astronaut.

Hours will fly by at the King of Kong Arcade in the Main Terminal. The small game room sports well-kept pinball machines, racing simulators, gun shooting and claw machines.

If your layover is long and you feel comfortable leaving the airport for a quick rendezvous, check out Memorial Park. Maintained by the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, the park is within the airport, just off runway 18L. A Boeing B-52D Stratofortress is a humongous strategic bomber airplane from the 1940s. Just viewing it will enhance your child's trip by tenfold.

5. Portland International Airport (PDX)

Portland offers many opportunities for kids to blow off steam waiting for a flight. The airport has a vibrantly colored, padded jungle gym situated in the Concourse Connector just before you pass through security on the way to Concourses D and E. The play area also presents slides and a lookout telescope where kids can see plane on the tarmac.

Concourse C is another great area to spend some time with the kids. The end furthest point of the Concourse, near Gate 18, offers LEGO tables, bead mazes, play cars and a television that constantly airs children's channels. Restrooms are close at hand and there is plenty of seating for parents to take a load off.

Outside of play areas, the post-security ABC lobby is home to an interactive museum exhibit on the Columbia River. Here kids will read journal entries about the adventures of Lewis and Clark, study old world maps and view historic artifacts.

Among the many retail shops, Creative Kidstuff is an award-winning toy store than will transport kids to a daydream world far from airport security lines. The store showcases a "Best of the Best" toy selection for children under age 12. Many games are appropriate for flight play. It is located in Concourse C near Gate 6.

6. Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)

Dallas International, the nation's largest American Airlines hub, is more of a small town than an airport. The facilities are so expansive that the building could have its own zip code. Similar to a real town, families can find kid-friendly activities to pass the time. Three Junior Flyer Clubs are large play areas at the airport. One, sponsored by Pepsi, sits in Terminal B by Gate 12, offering a 658-square foot area with aviation-themed, padded playing equipment. There is an indoor runway, an airplane, a car and a traffic control tower for kids to climb on and play make-believe. A cozy area for parents to relax and keep a watchful eye is nearby.

International Terminal D presents a second indoor playground, featuring a similar, if not slightly smaller, layout to the first. It sits near Gate 10. The third play area, also in Terminal D by Gate D30, is next to McDonald's, conveniently located to facilitate grabbing some kids' meals and busting out the toys for play. This comes complete with a playscape and games. Televisions in all kid zones continuously broadcast the local children's channel.

If the play areas are too tame for your kids, take them on one of the best airport rides in the nation -- Skylink. For practical purposes, Skylink transports travelers between terminals, but to kids, this is a mild adventure park ride. Rides allow families to catch a quick glimpse of the airport, as they whizz by, above all the commotion below. Skylink, of course, is free.

7. Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW)

Detroit's airport values families as regular customers/consumers. Detroit trumps most airports with a whopping seven play areas for children. All of the indoor playgrounds are located in the newer section of the airport: McNamara Terminal. Concourse A has four kid zones, Concourse B has two and one is in Concourse C. If your layover seems like its lasting forever, all you have to do is walk along the terminal and hit all the play areas on the way to your gate. This is sure to appease cranky, young travelers. Comfy seating accommodations are available for parents.

KidZoo is a children's toy and apparel store worth checking out. It is close to Gate A43 in the McNamara Terminal. Inside, visitors find an onslaught of toys, games and souvenirs. A flat-screen television plays children's shows. Kids will be as almost excited as if it was a real zoo, and they'll soon lose their crankiness over traveling. KidZoo has a cool program where you can buy a book at one location, return it at another within six months and receive 50 percent of your money back. It's an easy task if you're flying to another airport with a KidZoo location, just read it on the plane. Some of these sites include Dallas, Houston, Memphis and Sacramento.

8. Nashville International Airport (BNA)

Music-loving families can get their fix during a layover at Nashville International. As a major hub for Southwest Airlines, Nashville has mastered the management of crowds by installing six concert stages throughout the airport. Check the airport website's monthly calendar of concert events for specific details.

Besides live music, the airport hosts various art exhibitions and has three padded, play areas for kids. The brightly colored playgrounds feature LEGOs, tunnels to explore, slides and climbing walls. They are located towards the far ends of Concourses A, B and C.

Fly Babies is a children's store chock-full of cute little onesies, trousers and dresses. Kids Works is a colorful, inviting store that offers toys, crafts, games and book for children at affordable prices. Big name brands are available, like Disney and Barbie. Both stores are located near Gate C-10.

9. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA)

Thanks to Alaska Airlines, the Seattle airport is constantly buzzing with children. A 1,400-square-foot play area displays aviation-themed play equipment made of soft, foam. The playscape dons a landing airplane, control tower, baggage cart and even a smiling ladybug -- all ready to be climbed and explored. A padded floor presents illustrations of the runway and a "grassy" area where children are instructed to count the flowers. Padded walls exhibit mounted educational games to touch, flip and count. To get to the play area, head from the Central Terminal towards Concourse A. It's on the left, just past the exit to the Main Terminal.

10. Philadelphia International Airport (PHL)

The East Coast US Airways hub is known for being one of the easiest airports to make a connection. This is due, in part, to its lengthy and frequent flight delays, which can feel even longer for kids. The airport has sought to compensate by adding a variety of time-filling amenities for families. Kids' favorite airport features at Philadelphia are the two aviation-themed play areas. Playscapes exhibit educational, interactive displays that teach kids about aviation. Hands-on equipment includes a huge jet that kids can crawl in and pretend to be a pilot or members of the flight crew. Smaller planes offer hand controls that trigger a rotating propeller. The A Terminal indoor playground showcases a control tower, another large jet and a plane tug. Aviation Play Station is set near Gate D10 and Ready for Takeoff is by Gate A1.

For more ways to make flying more fun for the kids (and easier on you), check out:
  • 10 Ways to Amuse Kids at the Airport
  • Surviving the Airport with Kids
  • 8 Family Travel Mistakes Not to Make

  • Written by Whitney Rife



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