Flying with kids can be a challenge, but this Cheapflights guide takes a look at fun activities at some of the domestic and international key connecting airports.
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.
Family Friendly Security Lanes
Did you know that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) www.tsa.gov is starting to group security checkpoints, in hopes of speeding up the process for everyone?
If you're traveling with your family, look for the Green Circle lanes, designated for those who need extra time. You'll get a bit of breathing space, without in-a-hurry, laptop-toting frequent flyers breathing down your necks and demanding that you move faster. (Those folks can go in the Blue Square or Black Diamond lanes.) The 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.
AIRPORTS IN THE U.S.
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)
As the world's busiest airport, there's plenty of space for art and exhibits, like the awesome model train exhibition near the entrance to Concourse T. And don't miss Yangchuanosaurus! ATL partnered with the Fernbank Museum of Natural History to display the skeleton in the airport's atrium.
Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall (BWI)
Upstairs in the main terminal, in BWI's Observation Gallery, is a one-of-a-kind children's play area. There's an array of airplane parts: a wing, tail, wheels -- even part of a fuselage. Plus some fun equipment meant to be played on (don't fret -- the area is carpeted).
Boston Logan International (BOS)
In Terminal C (the departure level of the main terminal), the Children's Museum of Boston has created Kidport. It offers hands-on, educational exhibits like an airplane sculpture for climbing, a baggage-claim slide, an infant and toddler play area, and a "what's outside" window display. There's another Kidport in Terminal A (designed by Playtime), which sports a replica of the unique Boston control tower.
Charlotte Douglas International (CLT)
If you have a long layover, here's a great diversion that's just a 5-minute drive from the airport: the Carolinas Aviation Museum. There, you'll see more than 50 aircraft on display. Admission is $5 for children, $8 for adults. Hours: Sundays from 1pm-5pm; Tuesdays through Saturdays 10pm-4 p.m. Information: 1-704-359-8442.
Chicago O'Hare International (ORD)
Once you're through security at Terminal 2, head to the Chicago Children's Museum's Kids On the Fly interactive exhibit. Fully accessible to passengers with disabilities, there's tons to see and learn: an air traffic control tower, a tricked-out helicopter, cargo plane, luggage station -- plus a restored F4F-3 Wildcat, the kind that WWII hero, Lt. Commander Edward "Butch" O'Hare (the airport's namesake) flew.
Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International (CVG)
A Kidsport is located in one of the most prominent places in the airport: the top of the escalator on Concourse A. Kids can explore miniature buildings, parents can sit in rocking chairs and supervise, and the Cartoon Network is on in the background. Sweet simplicity.
Dallas/Fort Worth International (DFW)
Look for a trio of Junior Flyer Clubs. The largest one is located in Terminal B, at Gate 12. The 685-square-foot aviation playground has a runway, roadway, car, airplane, and control tower. The Terminal C club is at Gate 14. In International Terminal D, Gate D-30, televisions in the play areas broadcast the Boomerang channel. Need to wander more? Hop on the Skylink. Sure, Skylink can quickly connect passengers between terminals, but kids know better: it's an awesome ride through one of the busiest airports in the country.
Denver International Airport (DEN)
There's a small, unsupervised play area on the mezzanine level of Concourse B, but the coolest attraction is the free underground train. Kids find it fascinating, and it's a safe, easy way to pass the time.
Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW)
Detroit, a large Northwest Airlines hub, sports seven - count 'em - play areas. All are located in the relatively new McNamara Terminal, and are arrayed along the boarding concourses. You'll find four play areas in Concourse A, two in Concourse B, and one in Concourse C. In the check-in lobby of venerable Smith Terminal there's a neat Sturgeon display. Kids love it. These fish have been swimming in the Great Lakes since the days of the dinosaurs.
Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (LAS)
On the 2nd floor of D Concourse, little kids are drawn to control tower (it's their size, after all) in the play area. Older kids should check out the interactive videos, old newspaper clippings, dioramas, and a vintage Cessna 172 dangling from the ceiling in the Howard W. Cannon Aviation Museum on Level 2, above baggage claim.
Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
Got a long layover in L.A.? The Flight Path Learning Center of Southern California chronicles the golden years of commercial aviation, featuring aircraft models, extraordinary aviation displays ? and free admission. 6661 West Imperial Highway. Hours: Tuesday through Saturday from 10am to 3pm. Call: 1-310-215-5291.
Miami International Airport (MIA)
There's a children's recreation area at Gate 35 on the D Concourse. Or check out the most recent children's art exhibits in the Concourse D/E Connector after you go through security.
Minneapolis/St. Paul International (MSP)
This airport has a couple of nicely outfitted play areas: one in the main Lindbergh Terminal (Concourse C), the other in the Humphrey Terminal (Concourse C, second floor). Each is about 1,000-square feet. 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.
Milwaukee Mitchell International (MKE)
The Mitchell Gallery of Flight, located near Concourse C, tells the story of General Billy Mitchell, the visionary Army Air Corps officer who foretold the shape of modern aerial warfare. There's also a cool collection of model aircraft. It's free, open 7 days a week from 7am to 10pm. Call: 1-414-4503.
Nashville International Airport (BNA)
Nashville is Music City, USA, even at the airport. There are three live music stages (for all kinds of music, not just country): the Welcome to Music City Stage is on the baggage claim level, and two other stages, are at each of the security checkpoint entrances. If a live band won't distract the kids, there's a play area in the Concourse Connector.
New York John F. Kennedy International (JFK)
JFK was 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 (and maybe even a peek at the Manhattan skyline).
Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)
Newark also has a free AirTrain, one of the very best diversions around. The set-up is supposed to be there for connecting travelers, but lots of folks ride just for the fun of it.
Orlando International Airport (MCO)
Families come for Disney and Universal Studios, but before they even hit the theme parks, they can get a peek at the fun right at the airport. First, the art. 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. For real fish, in the main terminal's food court, there's a 3,000-gallon salt-water tank filled with 100 aquatic creatures. At the 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 Power Arcade -- yes, it's as fun as it sounds -- is on the South Walk of the Landside Terminal building.
Portland International Airport (PDX)
PDX totally gets families with children. Pre-security near the checkpoint for Concourses D and E, you'll find a multi-colored jungle gym, with padded surfaces, stairs that lead to a couple of slides and a "lookout" with a toy telescope and steering wheel so kids can spy aircraft out on the tarmac. (Lots of steam to be blown off here!) Post-security on the C Concourse, the play area sports Lego tables, bead maze, play cars, and child-friendly channels on the TV. Best of all, the area is close to restrooms and has plenty of seats for parents. Before you board, stop by Creative Kidstuff in Concourse C and nab some travel-worthy games to keep them occupied during the long flight.
Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)
Four play areas are fitted with padded climbing gear, designed for young children, and are post-security. You'll find them in Terminal 2's upper concourse area, on both of Terminal 3's concourses, and in Terminal 4's International Concourse, near Gates B15-28. Looking for kid-friendly art? There's a pre-security gallery in Terminal 4, on Level 3. It's free and open 24/7.
Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC)
Kids can burn off extra energy during a layover or before a long flight at play areas in concourses A, B and E. And Creative Kidstuff (Terminal 2, Concourse C) sells many creative, hands-on learning toys that will keep them occupied in-flight.
San Francisco International (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. For older travelers, the new international terminal boasts the elegantly retro Francisco Airport Commission Aviation Library & Louis A. Turpen Aviation Museum. The 11,500-square foot facility is modeled after an SFO 1937 waiting room. Hours: Sundays through Fridays from 10am to 4:30pm. Call: 1-650-821-6700.
Seattle/Tacoma International Airport (SEA)
In the Central Terminal, post-security, the 1,400-square-foot play area is fitted a bunch of soft foam structures for climbing. Kids especially like the airplane, control tower, and baggage cart. There's a family-friendly restroom here with rocking chairs for parents and babies as well as seating around the play area for mom and dad.
Calgary International Airport (YYC)
Kids love the Spaceport -- a free, 5,800-square foot educational and entertainment center located pre-security on the Mezzanine Level near the Destinations Food Court. Here you'll find a piece of moon rock on loan from NASA, a one-quarter scale space shuttle, and plenty of interactive displays. Need your kids to burn off energy before boarding? Head to the playground in the Concourse D check-in area, or smaller "activity centers" near most departure gates post-security.
Who's Who in the Zoo or Just Plane Fun are some good toy stores found pre-security in the Main Terminal. If all else fails, there's always the Sweet Factory candy and ice cream shops in Concourses A and D.
Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ)
Put your kids in some "Comfy Cars." In Terminal 1, you'll find them in the Domestic Departures area next to Gates 140, 144, and 106. In Terminal 3, look for a Comfy Car and jungle gym next to Gate C34. More Comfy Cars are on Pier B, near Gate B14 in Terminal 3. Also in Terminal 1, you'll find play areas with plenty of room for parents, too.
Vancouver International Airport (YVR)
There are children's play areas throughout the airport. But if you're in search of a nursery with cribs and changing tables, there's one located across from the U.S. Airlines check-in on the Departures Level. Traveling with older children? The food court on Level 2 of the Domestic Terminal has a bunch of video games. For in-flight entertainment, head Kids Works and grab your child a game or two -- post-security, Level 3 of U.S. Air Departures.
London Heathrow Airport -- London, England
If you have a layover in London on the way to your next European vacation, don't despair -- there are plenty of options for keeping the kids occupied. First stop: the information desk (near the departure areas of each terminal), hands out free coloring and activity packs. Terminal 2 features the Penauille Servisair lounge and welcomes kids and adults. For £17.95 per person, you get snacks and drinks, and you can even take a nap or watch TV. At Terminal 3 you'll find the Jetterz Kids Club, a supervised play area for children ages 5 to 14. Hours: daily from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Cost: £15 for two hours per child, and £10 per hour afterward. The club comes complete with a TV, DVD player, books, movies, computer games and a range of toys to excite any age. At Terminal 4 the KLM Holideck Family Lounge is open from 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. and offers three floors of activities for families, including a Flight Deck with an observatory area featuring panoramic views of the airfield and the latest Playstation games.
Frankfurt International Airport -- Frankfurt, Germany
If you're in Terminal 1, head to the two free play areas between Halls B and C. Or, the Visitors' Terrace has a (not free) airfield activity center where kids can explore aircraft models and watch planes leave and land from panoramic window views. In Terminal 2, the Food Plaza has a large play area next to the McDonald's and in transit areas D and E.
Narita International Airport -- Tokyo, Japan
Narita has several kid's parks near various boarding gates, surrounded by padded benches for the parents. A Children's Playroom on the third floors of Terminals 1 and 2 come equipped with toys, games, TV, and videos.
Incheon International Airport -- Seoul, Korea
With playrooms located on the third floor in the main terminal that remain open 24/7, even with the time changes and napping schedules, your kids can still get their exercise in while traveling. There is also an electronic game room and an Internet lounge for the older kids.
Paris Charles De Gaulle Airport -- Paris, France
There's much to do in Paris, even at the airport. Located in the boarding lounges of Terminals 2C, 2D and 2E, play areas come equipped with ball pits, toboggans, and mazes. For the older kids, there are pay-to-play areas that feature pinball machines, pool tables, video games, and more. Arcades are located throughout Terminal 3. At the international boarding area at Terminal 3, the Gully play areas feature distorting mirrors, interactive world maps, mini-tunnels, hopscotch and TV rooms clad with beanbag chairs and comfy coaches so kids can relax while watching their favorite flicks.
Hong Kong International Airport -- Hong Kong
The play area is in Terminal 1 on level 6 between gates 23 and 25, and comes stocked with four TV lounges and plenty of games. If you have a few hours to kill at the airport, you won't want to miss the SkyPlaza at Terminal 2. Here you can take in a movie: The 4D Extreme Screen Cinema has over 300 seats and a 3D projection screen that is the largest in all of Asia! The Aviation Discovery Center at the SkyPlaza has themed exhibits for kids that include flight simulators, motion rides, interactive aviation games and more. Also in the SkyPlaza is i-Sports, a recreation area for sports lovers featuring sports simulators for soccer, basketball, golf, boxing, skiing, car racing, and others.
Singapore Changi Airport -- Singapore
Rest assured, if you have to spend some time here, there's plenty to do before your next flight. For starters, grab a nap in one of the napping centers located in Terminals 1 and 2. Rates vary based on occupied space, but it might be worth the price to keep the kids on a napping schedule. Also in Terminal 1 is a swimming pool open to all travelers in Singapore airport. Bring your swimsuit with you and you'll get towels and shower amenities at the pool. Fore more in Terminal 1: visit the Bamboo Garden and the Cactus Garden. Level 3 has the Explorers Lounge, a movie theater, and the 24/7 Nexus Lounge with plasma TVs and free Internet service. In Terminal 2, walk through a fern garden, gaze at a Koi pond, or marvel at the orchid and sunflower gardens. There's also a 24-hour movie theater and gaming station. For longer layovers, take a trip though Shopping City, the airport's shopping center filled with more than 300 retail stores. Then there's the recently-opened Terminal 3, where families can enjoy a state-of-the-art fitness center including a swimming pool and natural retreat full of sandstone art and waterfalls. Not a bad place for layover!