Just where Concourse A meets Concourse B, or across from the W. H. Smith's at Terminal Z, a brilliant notion has taken flight: Why not give kids something to do, something to make their airport time constructive and fun?The indoor playgrounds cropping up all over the country (and also in London, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Tokyo, and Sydney) are so clever that you'd be happy to land in one even if you weren't stuck in an airport.
BOSTON'S LOGAN INTERNATIONAL: The 3,000-square-foot Kidport, created by the outstanding Children's Museum of Boston, is the star of Terminal C. An interactive cockpit shows how a plane is steered, and a slide that looks like a conveyor belt lets kids succumb to the temptation to hop on with the baggage. For poets, there's a five-foot steel wall with word magnets. Stop by if you can on arrival: a 50-foot mural depicts the best Boston has to offer.
BONUS: A branch of Legal Sea Food—chowdah!—is right next door, so you can knock that one off your vacation to-do list.
BALTIMORE-WASHINGTON INTERNATIONAL:The Observation Gallery is a great place for kids to blow off steam before a flight or while waiting to make a connection: the climbing options range from a baggage cart to a fuel truck to an airplane. Audio panels are tuned in to air-traffic controllers, and a 3-D model of "sky highways" shows what a pilot's navigational screen looks like.
ORLANDO INTERNATIONAL: The Child's Play zone—a padded area with vinyl sea creatures in Airside Terminal 3—doesn't have quite the production values you'd expect at the threshold to Disney World. But in the main terminal there's Sea World's 2,000-gallon aquarium, plus a real astronaut suit and simulated moon rocks on display, courtesy of the Kennedy Space Center.
CHICAGO'S O'HARE INTERNATIONAL: Kids on the Fly, in Terminal 2, has a 10-foot-high Sears Tower made of Lego blocks; a padded, crawl-through cargo-hold tunnel; and a cargo treasure hunt. All this—plus a mock helicopter with a cockpit control panel, steering wheel, and foot pedal; a luggage scale; and a two-story do-it-yourself air-traffic-control station—was designed by the Chicago Children's Museum. Worth the five-minute walk: outside the Field Museum gift kiosk in Terminal 1 stands a 40-foot-high, 75-foot-long brachiosaurus.
PITTSBURGH INTERNATIONAL: At the center of Kidsport,a child-sized, carpeted amphitheater in the Airside Terminal, are miniature planes and ticket counters, a 12-foot floor map of the United States, and temporary installations by local institutions, such as the Pittsburgh Children's Museum, the zoo, and the Carnegie Science Center. Behind a curved wall look for a quiet section ideal for babies and toddlers en route to the land of Nod.
SAN JOSE INTERNATIONAL: Come in, come in, do you read me?The twin-tower structure inside Terminal C is the Gordon Reynolds's KidPort, with video monitors displaying real-time plane traffic, and headsets for eavesdropping on live conversations between pilots and air-traffic controllers. There's also a huge interactive map of the States, a "baggage claim" seating area where parents can take in the scene, and a slide with runway markings for a quick takeoff.
The Sunday after Thanksgiving is the most heavily trafficked day of the year.
Fly on Christmas and New Year's Day, and you might have a little more legroom: the two holidays rank among winter's quietest times to fly.
February is the sleepiest month for airlines; July is the busiest of all— parents in America have taken their kids out of school in order to travel.
Wednesday is the calmest day at airports; Friday is the most mobbed.
Citing a handful of infant air fatalities that would have been survivable had car seats been in use, the FAA is pushing forward on a law making it mandatory that airlines provide restraint systems for children under 40 pounds. British Airways has introduced its own kids' chairs. Other airlines, meanwhile, have started offering up to 50 percent discounts for parents who pay for a separate seat (and, in most cases, carry on a car seat) for a kid under two who would otherwise ride free as a "lap child." Cribs, too, are flying. American, Continental, British Airways, and Virgin Atlantic all supply bassinets—sky cots, in airspeak—on request. Lacking restraints, these are for use during smooth sailing only.
Airline food has never quite met adult standards, but things are looking much tastier for the 16-and-under set. Request a kid's meal at least 24 hours before departure, and you'll most likely send its recipient onto his or her own culinary cloud nine. Here's what's out there (note that, to keep frequent fliers from despairing, most airlines rotate the pickings from week to week).
BREAKFAST: banana, Kellogg's cereal
LUNCH/DINNER: burger or fried chicken
FOR LUCKY DOGS: Nathan's hot dog
DESSERT: Jenna's cookies
BREAKFAST: fruit yogurt
LUNCH/DINNER: turkey with pasta, fish sticks with rice and peas, hamburger, tortellini with butter and tomatoes, or peanut butter and jelly sandwich
PARISIAN PALATE: poulet-frites (roasted chicken with french fries)
DESSERT: Smarties (European M&M's), brownie cake, or cookies
BREAKFAST: Cheerios, French toast sticks, peaches
LUNCH/DINNER peanut butter and jelly sandwich, Graham crackers
DESSERT: animal crackers, Gummi Bears, Mott's Fruitsations
FOR TOOTHLESS FLIERS: Gerber baby food
FIRST DIBS: kids are served before adults
BREAKFAST: Fruit Loops
LUNCH/DINNER: fish sticks, chicken fingers, burger, or grilled cheese
SNACK: cheese and crackers, grapes, Kit Kat bars, Oreo cookies, raisins, Sun Chips