History has taught you to be prepped for just about any situation when it comes to flying with your kids. Luckily, more and more airports are offering major perks to help you and yours not only survive but maybe even enjoy the trip. From live music to therapy dogs, and even thoughtful play spaces that take the stress out of travel, flip through the album below to discover the best airports for families from coast to coast.
Portland International (PDX)
There’s a reason why PDX has been named the best airport in the country for the last five years, and we’ll give you a hint—it’s not the stylish carpet (although that’s definitely a draw). Parents love it because they can get a good cup of Stumptown coffee there, kids love it for the play areas, Powell’s bookstore branch and a brand new mini-movie theater in the C-concourse that plays a G-rated 10 reel loop that everyone can enjoy. Weird? Maybe. Awesome? Definitely!
Hidden family perk: Explore the Columbia River during your downtime at the airport’s interactive museum exhibit, found in the ABC Lobby.
Minneapolis-St. Paul International (MSP)
You’ll find not one, but two play areas in the Twin Cities airport, where it’s all about airplanes, control towers, and Snoopy (psst … Charles Schulz is a St. Paul native). Include plenty of parent seating (check!), and you’ve got yourself an afternoon of airport fun. We’re also crushing on the Navigating MSP Airport program, that helps kids with autism ease their anxiety about flying with a preflight run-through.
Hidden family perk: If you’ve got a wiggler, or need to stroll your wee one to sleep, check out the 1.4-mile walking path that runs throughout the airport.
Dallas/Ft. Worth International (DFW)
Soft play area? Check. Airport walking path? Check. DFW is all about keeping your Little happy and active when you touchdown in the Lone Star state. Families can also channel their inner zen at the Airport yoga studios or schedule a free 60- or 90-minute art tour before takeoff. Consider time spent here a pre-vacay treat!
Hidden family perk: Seek out DFW’s therapy dogs. There are 12 of them at the airport (hint: try Terminal B first) waiting for your mini animal lover to come over and say “hi.”
Part museum, part play space, the Kids’ Spots in Terminals 2 & 3 are where wiggle worms burn off their extra energy before boarding. They’ll find plasma walls, climbing structures, and interactive activities about changing weather patterns, designed in partnership with the Exploratorium, to keep them busy. Still got time to spare? Wander through the Aviation Museum & Library in the International Terminal, or check out these brilliant ideas to keep your fam busy at SFO.
Hidden family perk: If you’ve got downtime, take the self-guided Terminal 2 Tour with your sidekick. It ends with a prize!
Seattle-Tacoma International Airpot (Sea-Tac)
Whether your journey begins or ends in Seattle, there’s plenty to do with your sidekick here, starting with active playtime at the enclosed Playroom, located between the Main Terminal and the A Gates. It’s where kids can climb and jump around on soft, oversized baggage, a control tower and planes before take off. Then it’s time to watch planes and fill your tummies in the Main Terminal, and, if you’re lucky, catch some tunes there too. SeaTac rocks a daily musical lineup around the airport for passengers of all sizes to enjoy. Get the full scoop on SeaTac’s family-friendly finds here.
Hidden family perk: The number of nursing pods in the airport has tripled in the past year, helping families feed their babes with ease and privacy on the go!
Nashville International Airport (BNA)
This Tennessee airport is all about the kids. And keeping them busy with three themed play spaces is how the airport aims to make travel easy for families. Expect a mix of airplanes, animals, climbing walls and LEGO tables when you take your kidlet to play at the far end of any of the terminals. Then it’s off to walk, in search of fun kid shops, like Fly Babies or Nashville Zoo, before tracking down museum-worthy art exhibits.
Hidden family perk: Entertain your mini musicians with live music performances throughout the year. What else would you expect from Music City’s airport?
O'Hare International Airport - Chicago, IL (ORD)
Second only to Atlanta as the country’s busiest airport, Chicago’s O’Hare reigns when it comes to keeping kids busy on-the-go. Grab some Garrett’s popcorn and head over to the Kids on the Fly play space for starters. You sit back while they climb around the control tower and make repairs on helicopters and planes. When they’re ready to move on, take a ride on The Sky’s the Limit—the recognizable lighted moving walkway you probably recognize from that P-Diddy video. It’s one of those “never gets old” experiences your kiddo will love. Add plenty of mother’s rooms for feeding baby and free Wi-Fi, and you’ve got every reason not to sweat that layover. Get more O’Hare survival tips here.
Hidden family perk: Breath easy in O’Hare’s aeroponic urban garden located in Terminal 3. The fresh veggies and herbs grown there are used in the airport’s restaurants.
Dulles International Airport (IAD)
Whether you take off from the nation’s capital or land there, your little aviator will dig on the NASA-designed Kids FunWay in the B Concourse when you’ve got time to spare. It’s where they can play with interactive games, climb around on the soft foam pieces and learn about aviation, from the fun facts posted around the playspace. Add in parent seating and charging stations along the wall and you’ve got a spot where the whole fam can take a load off while traveling.
Hidden family perk: Families who have kids with special needs can take part in the Wings for All program. It’s the dress rehearsal for the real thing!
Los Angeles World Airports (LAX)
While most airports go with a flight-themed play area, LA has gone in a different direction. Little beach bums will love climbing, sliding and surfing at LAX’s beach-themed play area. And if that’s not enough to keep them smiling, check out the Flight Path Museum and Learning Center, located in the LAX Imperial Terminal.
Hidden family perk: Head to Terminal 4 to take a tasty tour of the rotating food trucks parked there. Yum!
Philadelphia International Airport (PHL)
Take your future pilot to play at Ready for Takeoff, the educational playscape at Philly’s international airport. It’s got everything your sidekick needs to play at aviation, including working radios that allow the tower and play plane to communicate with each other. It’s just one of the Kid’s Corner perks that put PHL on our list. The other is the various art exhibits that can be found throughout the airport. Go on a hunt to find your favorite pieces!
Hidden family perk: Download this free printable, developed by Philly International, before you head to the airport. It’ll keep your wee ones busy in the terminal or in the air!
John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)
Nursing stations, free Wi-Fi and charging stations are just the tip of the tarmac at this New York airport. The other big family draw is the kid's play area in JetBlue’s T5, where little travelers can climb, jump and run before getting buckled in for takeoff. Don’t forget to check out the T5 Rooftop for some fresh air if the weather’s nice.
Hidden family perk: Zip back and forth on the AirTrain. It doesn’t cost a thing, and the above-it-all views are sweet!
Have you spent time in any of these airports? Is there another you’d add to the list? Leave your thoughts in a comment.
— Allison Sutcliffe