Family vacations are great opportunities to create memories that last a lifetime, but painful travel experiences can generate unpleasant memories that never fade. Neverending car rides and missed flights can ruin otherwise fun trips. In my own travels, I have always avoided layovers in Denver because I still remember playing on the moving sidewalks until I was bored and irritable during two extended layovers in Denver International Airport. I’m sure my dad wished we were anyplace but a large, busy terminal for those seemingly endless delays. These days, even a routine flight can involve long delays at the airport thanks to increased security and reduced staff at check-in. So how do you keep the kids happy on the fly?
While you can never guarantee a trip free of delays and mishaps, you can nevertheless plan the best way to handle those situations when they arise. To help ensure good travel memories and smooth vacations, we’ve put together a list of the best kid-friendly airports for long layovers. These airports provide more than just moving sidewalks to keep the kids busy. Kid-friendly amenities include everything from aviation-themed play areas and educational exhibits to private family rooms and rocking chairs for mothers with infants.
We judged these airports based on their kid-friendly amenities, convenience as a stopping point, and proximity to great family vacation spots. Next time your family takes to the sky, plan for the unexpected by connecting through these family-conscious hubs.
While San Francisco is a common endpoint to a journey, it can also serve as a great connection to Asia-Pacific destinations like Hong Kong, Seoul, and Tokyo. Before stepping onto a long trans-Pacific flight, there are few airports better suited to entertaining kids than SFO.
The airport includes nurseries in Terminals 1, 2, and 3; Kids’ Spot play areas in three locations, and three different aquariums in Terminal 1 before security. Dedicated family lanes also help families get through security at their own pace. The convenient security lanes can be helpful on very long layovers, as SFO’s location makes it relatively easy to escape the airport and explore San Francisco for an hour or two between flights.
A-List Mom Travel ranked SFO the second best airport terminal for kids (after O’Hare). They point out that the airport has great options for older kids and parents in addition to the play areas, including the Commission Aviation Library and the 11,500 square foot Louis A. Turpen Aviation Museum. The museum, “conjures up a feeling of a bygone era when traveling was a sophisticated pastime for only the rarefied few.”
SFO is so dedicated to keeping your family happy and engaged between flights that they have put together self-guided tours of the airport terminals. The tours will lead you and your kids to the various exhibits, play areas, and airport features that make SFO unique. They also include questions and challenges to occupy the little ones. There’s no better way to spend a long layover than taking the family on a treasure hunt.
If you are taking the kids out of the country, then Boston’s Logan International Airport is a great place to catch your flight. The domestic and international terminals are connected by walkways, so transfers are quick and easy. The most popular international flights from Boston connect with European hubs London, Frankfurt, and Paris, though you can also fly direct to Tokyo and Beijing.
Families facing a layover in Boston will find the airport well-equipped to keep your kids entertained. Two Kid Port play areas, created with the Boston Children’s Museum, are located in Terminals A and C. Like O’Hare, Logan’s indoor playgrounds feature plane and tower shaped climbing structures. These play spaces also include seating for parents, as well as an area for watching TV. Atlanta-based blog, My Busy Children, advises, “I would definitely recommend waiting for the airplane there with kids instead of the gate area.”
Keeping the youngest jet setters in mind, Logan also features rocking chairs, family restrooms, and rooms for nursing mothers who want some space and privacy.
In addition to major domestic and international flights, Logan is also a hub for transportation to regional vacation destinations like Cape Cod, Vermont, and Maine.
Read more about Phoenix airport here.
Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport is the busiest airport in the world, and also one of the coolest airports for kids to visit (it came in first for amenities and third for families on a recent Travel Leaders Group poll cited on Gadling). Why? Dinosaurs. In addition to its two play areas, the Atlanta airport features a fully assembled skeleton of Yangchuanosaurus—a dinosaur that lived in China during the Jurassic period. This particular dinosaur now lives in the Hartsfield-Jackson Atrium, to the amazement of children and parents passing through.
Hartsfield-Jackson also features an Airport Art program that includes artworks and rotating exhibits that delight passengers of all ages. The Youth Art Galleries on concourses D, E, and T display art projects by Georgia students.
Atlanta is a major hub for Delta, and the most popular domestic flights connect with many cities in Florida, New York City, and Dallas, along with international hotspots like Cancun, Jamaica, and Nassau.
Keep in mind that Hartfield-Jackson is an enormous airport, and more than a few travelers have gotten lost in its concourses. While it’s one of the better airports for keeping the kids busy, you should also make sure your children don’t stray far, and remember to leave plenty of time to get from play areas and exhibits to your gate before your flight leaves.