What To Do When You’re Stuck In The Airport With Kids

california sunsets are hideous.

Guess what I got really, really good at last week?

Existing in an airport with a three-year-old.

When we came to terms with the fact that yup, our flight was leaving without us and settled in at 8AM with a good twelve-plus hours before we could even begin thinking about boarding on the horizon, I was not a happy camper. I mean, airports are fun for about twenty minutes when you’re buying fashion magazines and eating Mounds bars, and then they become a whole lot less fun and a whole lot more Groundhog Day-ish (with a dash of The Shining thrown in), and you would just like to get on the plane now, please. I can’t even entertain myself in an airport for that long; the idea of keeping my son non-miserable was intimidating, to say the least.


It wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. It wasn’t actually bad at all. It was even a little bit…dare I say?…


airport air tran

airtran relay races.

How To: Survive A Long Airport Layover With Kids

1. Google “What to do with kids at ___ airport.” Most major airports will at least have a cool, kid-friendly display or activity, and some even have things like aquariums, playspaces, and aviation museums. (Click here for a rundown of cool things to do in the major domestic and international airports.)

skymiles lounge

nighty night.

2. Find The Lounge. This is a huge one: go buy a day pass for the SkyMiles lounge (or American Express lounge, or whatever’s available at your particular airport). It’s usually in the ballpark of $50/person (and free for the under-two set), and it is so worth it: there’s complimentary food, and drinks (and usually an open bar, whee), and TV, and clean bathrooms, and nice big chairs. Oh yes: and there’s free internet that doesn’t require you to get a Boingo subscription that will haunt you and result in odd little (or big) charges appearing on your credit card for the rest of your days. At the very least, this is an excellent way to handle nap time; two lounge chairs pushed together makes for an excellent kid-sized bed, and there are no loudspeaker people trying desperately to wake up your child.

fun with trains.

fun with trains.

3. Ride the AirTran. Get in that front car and it feels pretty amusement park-y, and is solid entertainment for a good forty-five minutes or so (we did this at an off-peak time, and it was completely empty, so we threw in some relay races up and down the departure platform for good measure).

airport art


4. Gallery Hop. Hunt down the best artwork; airports are often home to really cool large-scale designs, interesting light displays, and weird sculptures (there is a wood-and-wire horse-shaped thing at the Delta gate at SFO that my son is completely – and somewhat inexplicably – obsessed with).

airport food court

taking a world tour via the food court.

5. Take A Culinary Tour. No, food courts aren’t usually the most delicious places in the world. But they are perfect for kids, because: variety. Head over to the International Terminal if there is one – that’s where you’ll likely find the widest selection. Then let your kid pick out one dish from each region represented in the court, and create a little family tasting experience.


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