How to Entertain Your Kids in An Airport: Survival Guide for Airplane Travel With Kids

Imagine it’s your birthday.  You woke up at 4AM to get on a flight for a family vacation.  You arrive at the airport, ready to go, get on the plane, are all seat belted in, kids and all, and then the pilot comes on the PA to announce that you can’t leave, your flight is cancelled.  The airport is a mess there was a plane crash the day before and the airport is down one runway.  You get off the plane and get in the long customer service line to find out what is the next plane you can get on.  TBD.  There are a few more flights leaving that morning, but no telling which will have space for your family.  Check back in a few hours.  All the while, your 2 year old is whining, tired, and cranky.  Worst birthday ever?  It actually turned out OK.  We rode the air train to different terminals, browsed the airport museum, ate cupcakes (it was my birthday after all) and 7 hours later got on a new flight for our destination.  Yes, true story of my 2013 birthday.  As a parent travel with kids can be hard, there is nothing worse than hearing “your flight is delayed”.  Entertaining kids at an airport is not easy, depending on how long your delay is, it can be torturous.  Here are my top 10 tips for entertaining kids at an airport to make those delays fly by and actually make airplane travel with kids fun.

Set Up Camp

When we are facing a LONG layover or delay, we find a less crowded space to set up camp.  We put down all our gear and get comfortable.  We try and do it in a quieter corner of the airport, so if the kids want to run around al little it won’t bother other travelers.  Set up camp, get comfortable, break out some activities, books, etc.  If we are traveling super far, we also bring the kids pajamas with us.  If its night time or near night time, get the kids in pajamas so they are comfy while you are hanging out at the airport.

Leave the Airport

Do you have enough time to leave the airport?  Is there something nearby worth seeing?  A long layover can be a great way to get a flavor of a city that you otherwise might never visit.  Some airports are too far from town to make it worth it (ie. Denver), but others, it is super close and easy (ie. Washington DC).  If you have enough time to escape the airport, do it!
How to Entertain Your Kids In an Airport: Layover Survival Guide

Go For a Walk

Once we have set up camp, if I am traveling with another adult, one adult will stay at “camp” with one kid while the other one takes kiddo #2 for a walk to see what they can find.  Browse the stores, look at art in the hallway, scope the food options, whatever.  We find it really helps to split up the kids so they don’t drive each other crazy and to get moving.

Find a Playground

I was talking to my sister after I had arrived home about our 3 hour delay in Boston, and she asked me, “did you go to the playground?”  What?!!!  They had a playground!!!  That would have made my life so much easier.  Net takeaway, always scope and see if there is a playground.  Some airports have them, some don’t, but if they do, it can be a good hour of entertainment (or more), which is priceless.  SFO, Boston, Frankfurt are just a couple of airport playgrounds we have liked.  What are our favorites?

How to Entertain Your Kids In an Airport: Layover Survival Guide

Find Food

Kids always need snacks.  When we travel, we tend to be pretty loose on the nutritional content of our snacks…3 hour delay, yes we can get ice cream!  Find some snacks that your kids can get excited about, make it an adventure, walk by all your options and then go back to the best looking one.

How to Entertain Your Kids In an Airport: Layover Survival Guide

Use Your Resources

One on trip, we were flying through Houston and had an unexpected 6 hour layover.  Houston is not the best airport for playground, no art, not much to do, so sometimes you have to make your own fun.  If its not too busy, you can play on the moving walkways or escalators.  Get creative.  Even finding some spinny chairs can be fun for kids.

Watch the Planes

When all else fails, I always fall back on watching the planes.  There is so much happening on the runaway and you can play a bunch of games just looking out the window…eye spy, which plane will leave first, etc.

How to Entertain Your Kids In an Airport: Layover Survival Guide

Play With Luggage Carts

This really only works when the airport is not super busy, but kids of all ages love it.  Find a luggage cart (who wants to carry all your stuff anyway) and let the kids have fun.  I promise you, it could be hours of entertainment.

How to Entertain Your Kids In an Airport: Layover Survival Guide


Take a Nap

Kids, especially when they are young, can nap almost anywhere; travel can be exhausting.  Exhausted kid = cranky kid.  If you can, try and find a space where your young kids can take a nap, whether it is on your lap or on the floor (like big D below), whatever works.

How to Entertain Your Kids In an Airport: Layover Survival Guide

Do Your Research

Some airports are better for kids than others (check out the below links for some ideas).  If you know you have a long layover, do some research ahead of time to find out what there is to do at the airport.  If it’s one of the worst airports for kids, bring some extra supplies to get you through your layover..activity books, iPad games, whatever works for your kids.

Best Airports for Traveling with Kids

10 Best U.S. Airports for Travel with Kids

The Best (and Worst) Airport Hubs for Traveling Families

Ride the Train

A lot of airports have trains in one form or another.  Kids love trains.  Therefore, trains = easy airport entertainment.  Ride the train between terminals, ride the train in circles.  Last time we flew from SFO and didn’t ride the train there was major disappointment.

How to Entertain Your Kids In an Airport: Layover Survival Guide

Airplane travel with kids can be tough, and long layovers are super annoying for adults, but I have found that our kids don’t really mind layovers and easily find ways to entertain themselves, so they don’t seem to long.   What are your best tips for entertaining kids at the airport?

For more tips airplane travel with kids, check out my post here.

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