If you’re worried about any looming travel plans with your kids—fret not! A slew of U.S. airports are wising up to the plight of parents and adding kid-friendly perks like playgrounds and nursing stations to their terminals. So whether your kids want to do yoga while they wait or pal around with airport pups, these airports aim to make layovers a little less daunting for kids.
Orlando International Airport (MCO)
It's no surprise that the city that's home to Disneyworld (and Epcot! And Universal!) has an airport that's ready to take on loads of excited little travelers. Escaped the theme parks without souvenirs? Not so fast. Kids will be dragging you to check out the Disney, Universal or Space Center stores (Hint: Be sure to get a picture with Snow White outside the Disney store)—all of which are located in the airport mall before through security. Video game addicts will want to head for the Power Arcade, an expansive game spot located before security on Level Three of Departures. Want to find Nemo? The airport has a 3,000 salt water tank located in the main terminal's food court, so keep your eye out for the real-life orange fish and his pals.
Hint: If you've got a lot of time to kill, the adjacent Hyatt Hotel has "day use rooms" (available from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. for $109 per day) that allow you to unload your bags, hang out at the rooftop pool or sneak a nap in before your flight.
Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW)
With seven play areas scattered throughout the airport, there's plenty for tiny travelers to do at DTW. Kids will also love riding the Red express tram train, which is operated by Delta and goes from one end of the concourse to the other. If you've got time, check out the groovy underground light tunnel connecting Concourses B and C, featuring 9,000 ft. of glass panels illuminated by LED lighting and set to an original musical score (you can check it out on Youtube first. The tunnel has a moving walkway running both directions, so your kids will probably want to go back and forth (and back and forth and back and forth) basically until your flight departs. Don't say we didn't warn you.
Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (LAS)
Besides the fact you'll have to explain, over and over, that slot machines aren't arcade games, little kids will have a blast in Vegas—even inside the airport. Check out the indoor play area located on the second level of the D gates, where aviators-in-training can run through the mouth of a life-size airplane engine and direct traffic inside a mini control tower. Older kids will want to check out the 3,000-square foot Aviation Museum (located on Terminal 1, Level 2, above baggage claim) which details the aviation history of southern Nevada.
Pssst: Make sure your kids check out the view as you're landing or taking off! Sin City's twinkling lights—as well as its Eiffel Tower, an Egyptian pyramid and towering Eye (the huge Ferris wheel)—make for great eye candy.
Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International (CVG)
Two indoor play areas, free wifi, designated nursing stations and a killer outdoor play area are just a few of the cool family perks at Cincinnati's biggest airport (which is actually located in Kentucky). Kids hungry for food and play will want to check out the Funway Runway located near the food court in Concourse B. The indoor play area features high-tech educational games like an interactive floor that reacts to motion and an augmented reality ride that puts the rider's face into the game. Concourse B also has a small playground for younger tots sponsored by the Cincinnati Zoo and featuring animal-themed play elements.
Hidden perk: Got some time to spare before your flight? There's an awesome playground and viewing area just outside the airport with aviator-inspired play equipment and picnic tables. It's a great spot—located right next to the airfield—where you and your brood can hang and watch the planes roar by.
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.
If you're a local and want to arrange an aviator-inspired tour or birthday party, the airport is the place to do it! We are digging the "Dogs of Dulles" tour (offered for groups of 10 or more every fourth Thursday of the month) that shows kids the different types of K-9 teams that work at the airport and what kinds of things the dogs do.
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!
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. Be sure to snap a pic of your little city slicker next to the Big Apple at the entrance to the terminal.
Hidden family perk: Zip back and forth on the AirTrain. It doesn’t cost a thing, and the above-it-all views are sweet!
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 (Hint: Be sure to snap a pic of your little one catching a wave!). 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!
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, yoga rooms for de-stressing, and free Wi-Fi, and you’ve got every reason not to sweat that layover. Get more O’Hare survival tips here.
If your flight falls prey to Chicago's famously unpredictable weather, take a load off and book a day use room (for as low as $79!) at the Hilton Hotel, which is connected to O'Hare via the underground walkway.
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.
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?
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!
Philadelphia International Airport (PHL)
Take your future pilot to play at Ready for Takeoff, the educational playscape at Philly’s international airport in the Terminals A-B connector. It’s got everything your kids needs to play at aviation, including radios that allow the pretend tower and play plane to communicate with each other.
Nursing mothers will want to locate the various nursing stations throughout the airport. These include the space capsule-esque Mamava pod, a 4-foot by 8-foot self-contained, mobile lactation room that features comfortable benches, a fold-down table, an electrical outlet and a door that can be locked for privacy. It's located post-security in Terminal F and is available at no charge. You can even download the Mamava app to receive notifications when you’re in the immediate vicinity of the pod, to unlock the room, and to monitor the availability status.
Hidden family perk: Download this free printable, developed by Philly International, before you head to the airport. Families also enjoy PHL's entertainment program Enjoy PHL which includes live performances and demonstrations by magicians, caricature artists, face painters, acrobat artists, singers and bands throughout the terminals and Food Courts. Children can read one, three, or five-minute stories as they wait for their flight using our short story dispenser in collaboration with the Free Library of Philadelphia in the Terminal D-E connector.
Dallas/Ft. Worth International (DFW)
Soft play area? Check. Airport walking path? Check. DFW is all about keeping your kids happy and active when you touch down in the Lone Star state. Families can also channel their inner zen at the Airport yoga studios (Gates B1 & E31) or schedule a free 60- or 90-minute art tour before takeoff. Consider time spent here a pre-vacay treat! Find out more about the family-centric spots here.
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.”
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 a slew of iPads attached to counters everywhere (screen time!), 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. Kids can also play pinball and a few other games at Lucky Lindy's, a small arcade located at Terminal 1-F. 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. Online:
San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
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. If you or your little ones have the pre-flight jitters (or if you just love dogs!), SFO has a friendly, furry "Wag Brigade" always wandering the terminal in search of cuddles. Just look for the pooches wearing "Pet Me" vests.
Hidden family perk: If you’ve got downtime, take the self-guided Terminal 2 Tour with your sidekick. It ends with a prize!
Portland International (PDX)
There’s a reason why PDX has been named the best airport in the country for the last six 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: Looking for a private place to breastfeed your little one? Nursing mothers can find eight comfortable nursing rooms located throughout the airport.
— Allison Sutcliffe and Melissa Heckscher