Flying with kids can be a challenge. Cooped up in a confining airplane for hours, herded through security, and generally cranky, they crave entertainment and diversion. Cheapflights.com has provided a great Kids Airport Diversion Guide to help you find diversion and entertainment for your family in airports across the United States and in major international destinations.
This Cheapflights.com report examines the country's key connecting airports and what they have to offer. Interestingly, some otherwise wonderful airports are all but bereft of things to keep kids entertained. Others, such as Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) and San Francisco (SFO) offer places to either blow off steam, or engage in flights of childlike fancy.
Airports with Family Friendly Security Lanes
What parents really want in an airport is a way to get their family through security with the least possible stress. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is starting to group security checkpoints. The TSA is hoping this will speed the process for everyone. Green circle lanes are for those who need extra time, such as families. Blue squares are for casual passengers who may not have as much "baggage" as families. Lastly, black diamond lanes are for flyers that know the drill and want to get through fast, such as business travelers.
TSA says the idea is to give people who need extra time-families traveling with small children in strollers for example-a bit of breathing space, without in-a-hurry, laptop-toting frequent flyers breathing down their necks - demanding they go faster. Look for the green circle, which designates the family lane. TSA says separating its security lanes has already increased efficiency and saved time for family travelers. Next time you travel with kids, it could just save your sanity.
A caveat: while lots of airports are opening new, innovative play areas and museums, don't leave your child there unattended. No matter how secure it seems, supervised play is safe play.
UNITED STATES AIRPORTS
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL): Atlanta lays rightful claim to being the world's busiest airport, it's also the prime hub for Delta Air Lines and AirTran Airways. There's an array of changeable art spotted throughout the airport, and a model train exhibition near the entrance to Concourse T. The current hit is a skeletal Yangchuanosaurus. ATL partnered with the Fernbank Museum of Natural History to display the skeleton in the airport's atrium.
Chicago O'Hare International (ORD): Chicago has some of the best museums anywhere and one of them has migrated, at least in part, to O'Hare International. The Chicago Children's Museum sports a Kids On the Fly interactive exhibit. It's post-security, in Terminal 2. There's an air traffic control tower, a fantasy helicopter, cargo plane, and luggage station. Kids On the Fly is fully accessible to passengers with disabilities. O'Hare International Airport is named for an authentic hero: Lt. Commander Edward "Butch" O'Hare, who won the Congressional Medal of Honor during World War II. In ORD's Terminal 2 you'll find a restored F4F-3 Wildcat, the kind of craft O'Hare flew. Teach your children well here. The display is more about the man than the machine he flew. Also, the Chicago Fire Department and the Chicago Children's Museum partnered to put together an educational area in Terminal 5 where kids learn how to respond in case of emergencies.
Dallas/Fort Worth International (DFW): Dallas/Fort Worth International is American Airlines' largest hub and one of the most kid-friendly airports around, thanks to a trio of Junior Flyer Clubs. One is located in Terminal B, at Gate 12. The 685-square-foot area is aviation themed with runway, roadway, car, airplane, and control tower. The gear is padded, and there's a place for mom and dad to sit and exercise parental control. The Terminal C club is at Gate 14. It's a bit smaller at 600-square feet. Over in International Terminal D, the Junior Flyer's Club is at Gate D-30, next to McDonald's, which makes for a convenient combination. Television monitors in the play areas broadcast the Boomerang channel. DFW also boasts one of the most bewitching airport rides in the country – Skylink. Ostensibly Skylink is there to connect flyers from one terminal to another. Kids know better. Its prime reason for being is to provide them with a swift, phantasmagorical panorama of one of the busiest airports on the planet. Skylink is free. Just add imagination.
Los Angeles International Airport (LAX): Los Angeles International's Flight Path Learning Center of Southern California chronicles the golden years of commercial aviation. Located adjacent to LAX at 6661West Imperial Highway, you'll have to leave the airport to get there, but if you've got a decent amount of time between flights, it's worth it. The center features aircraft models, extraordinary aviation displays and free admission. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10am to 3pm. Telephone 1-310-215-5291.
Miami International Airport (MIA): Looking for a place kids can play in Miami? Go to Gate 35 on the D Concourse, the American Eagle gates. There's a children's recreation area there. The airport also has rotating children's art exhibits post-security in the Concourse D/E Connector area. Miami is a major Latin gateway for American Airlines.
Minneapolis/St. Paul International (MSP): Minneapolis/St. Paul has a couple of nicely outfitted play areas: one in the main Lindbergh Terminal, the other in the Humphrey Terminal. Each is about 1,000-square feet. The Lindbergh play area is on Concourse C. The Humphrey facility is on that terminal's second floor. Kids can climb about on a mock airplane, control tower, and lounge about in seats that resemble luggage. The walls are decked with interesting facts about aviation.
Nashville International Airport (BNA): Fly to Nashville and you expect music. You won't be disappointed even at the airport. BNA, which is a major focus city for discount airline Southwest, sports three live music stages for all genres and rhythms, not just country. There's a Welcome to Music City Stage on the baggage claim level, and two other stages, one at each of the security checkpoint entrances. If music hath powers to soothe the savage beast, it might just work on kids too. If it doesn't, there is a children's play area in the Concourse Connector. Once a major makeover of BNA is complete, there will be six music stages, and new play areas on Concourse C between Gates 15 and 17, as well as at the end of Concourse A.
New York John F. Kennedy International (JFK): New York Kennedy is an airport built for business travelers, but here's one of Kennedy's best-kept secrets for kids. The AirTrain is free when you're using it to connect between terminals. It's sleek, fast, elevated and guaranteed to give you and your children a fascinating bird's eye view of one of the most colorful airports anywhere.
Orlando International Airport (MCO): Children flock to Disney and Universal Studios, but before they even hit the theme parks, they can get a taste of the area's entertainment options right at Orlando International Airport. First, the art. We don't mean highbrow, unapproachable art, but stuff that's accessible by kids. Look for whimsical characters at each level of the parking garage. One kid-favorite is the life-size bronze called The Traveler. It's on the "A" side of the Hotel Atrium. Gates 100 through 129 are decorated with large floor mosaics of fish, flowers, and ferns. Children love to trace the patterns with their feet, and jump from one image to another. As for real fish, there's a 3,000-gallon salt-water tank with 100 of the aquatic creatures. You'll find it in the main terminal food court. On occasion, a diver descends into the airport depths to feed the critters. Orlando has a couple of Kennedy Space Center stores in the main terminal. Kids can actually touch a portion of an asteroid from Mars, and see life-size astronaut models. The airport's game room is the Power Arcade. It's on the South Walk of the Landside Terminal building. Outside the terminal is a pair of parking garages. Nothing special there except that the ones at Orlando contain a central atrium filled with Florida fauna, fountains, streams and such. It's a great place to escape while waiting for a flight. Speaking of escape, if you can afford the time to leave the airport, check out the B-52D in Memorial Park. It's a short drive from the terminal. The massive airplane is impressive.
San Francisco International (SFO): San Francisco International is one of those airports that speaks of an earlier, more elegant era of air travel. If you want to transport your children to that time, take them to San Francisco Airport Commission Aviation Library & Louis A. Turpen Aviation Museum. It's free, and you'll find it in the new International Terminal. The 11,500-square foot facility is modeled after the 1937 waiting room at SFO. There are some extraordinary Pan Am exhibits, and lots of fascinating models. Kids of around nine or ten will find it flat-out fascinating. The museum is open Sundays through Fridays from 10am to 4:30pm. It's closed Saturdays and holidays. Information: 1-650-821-6700.
In search of something soothing? There's a nice aquarium in Boarding Level C, the Departures/Ticketing Level of Terminal 1. Something more active, even interactive? The SFO Kids' Spot is post-security, in Terminal 3, Boarding Area F, near Gate 87A. There's a crawling apparatus, and a Plasma Wall, which shoots arcs of energized color activated by sound. It's a great place for children to de-energize before boarding.
Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD): Perhaps the most magnificent aviation enclave on the planet is a quick drive from Washington Dulles International. It's the National Air Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. There the family can see the Dash 80, the prototype 707, the airliner that ignited the modern jet age; a super-secret SR-71 Blackbird; the B-29 Enola Gay, the craft that dropped the Abomb on Hiroshima; and even the space shuttle Enterprise. How close is Dulles? The Donald D. Engen Observation Tower offers a panoramic vista of the international airport, the East Coast transatlantic gateway for United Airlines. While there's no admission charge per se, there is a $12 parking fee. The easiest way to access the center, and save some money, is to catch the Virginia Regional Transit System bus from Dulles. Board it outside the Main Terminal on the Ground Level, at curbside location 2E. The fare is $0. 50 per person. For a schedule, go to the airport Web site. For information about the Udvar-Hazy center, call 1-202-633-1000.
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