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Four Ways to Pass Time on an Airport Delay

Matt Villano

With Hurricane Sandy bearing down on the Northeastern corner of the country this week, it’s safe to say that tens of thousands of air travel passengers—and likely thousands of family travelers—will end up waiting out long airport delays.

When we grown-ups travel alone, these lost hours can be excruciating. Toss kids into the mix and even the shortest delays can seem interminable.

There are, however, ways to deal. A handful of airports—including Seattle-Tacoma International—have free public play areas that enable kids to burn off some serious steam. For surviving delays in just all the other airports across the country, here are some suggestions to make time, er, fly.

Make your own playground
Most airports are big places. While delays often create crowds near gate areas, other parts of the facilities—say, walkways between terminals—remain pretty deserted. These spots therefore are the best parts of the airport to bring the kids and let them run around.

We almost always travel with a tennis ball or two, just in case we need to spend some time in one of these empty areas playing catch. On a four-hour delay earlier this year, I bought my toddler a set of Matchbox cars at the airport gift shop and she was perfectly happy sending them up and down an underutilized handicapped ramp for almost the entire time.

Team up with other parents
Delays impact all travelers. This means that if you’re stuck with your kids, odds are that other parents are stuck with their kids, too.

Finding these other families and sharing toys can keep everybody happy—the kids are stoked because they get to play with (new humans and) new stuff, while the parents like it because they can commiserate with others (or just veg out while the kiddos are otherwise occupied).

Lean on the Kindle Fire
So long as the airport has WiFi, if you’ve got a Kindle Fire (or other eBook reader), you’ve got access to a virtually unlimited number of children’s books during the delay. Many of these devices and tablets also offer users the option of downloading or streaming videos. No, I’m not a huge fan of increasing screen-time for our kids. In a pinch, however, this technology can help keep the kiddos entertained.

Reinvent ‘I Spy’
Because humanity is so diverse, it’s always fun to play “I Spy” in a public place. In a crowded airport, however, the game works best with some tweaks.

Start by challenging your kids to “spy” odd and unusual suitcases. Next, move on to scenes unfolding out the windows, on the runways. No, this modified version won’t gain you more than an hour or so. In conjunction with some of these other tricks, however, it should help mix things up adequately. At least for a while.