Terminally bored families can now stretch their legs and expand their minds as they count down the hours till boarding time, thanks to an influx of new play areas and interactive exhibits at airports across the country (scope out the offerings by looking at airport Web sites). There's also some decent local food to be had (Chicago-style hot dogs, anyone?). Our top three places to get stuck:
Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport; bwiairport.com At the Observation Gallery between concourses B and C, little ones can get behind the wheel of kid-size planes, trains, and automobiles (don't worry, they're not going anywhere), examine the inner workings of a deconstructed Boeing 747, and watch airplanes come and go on three runways from a 147-foot-long window on the upper level. And once you pass security, stop for pre-flight crab cakes at Baltimore standby Phillips Famous Seafood.
Chicago O'Hare International Airport; flychicago.com If you missed the Field Museum downtown, check out the four-story-tall brachiosaur skeleton model in Terminal 1, outside the museum's satellite gift shop (good for King Tut and Sue the Dinosaur coloring books). Then, let your crew romp in the airport-themed play areas in Terminal 2, complete with kiddie control towers. This being Chicago, every moving sidewalk leads to pizza, popcorn, and the country's best-dressed hot dogs.
San Francisco International Airport; flysfo.com Watch small-scale tornadoes and lightning at the Kids' Spot interactive weather zone in Terminal 3, gaze at the Amazonian fish gliding by in one of three 140-gallon tanks in Terminal 1, then look up at scaled-down Pan Am planes suspended from the ceiling of the International Terminal's on-site aviation museum. Let them dig into a San Francisco treat from Just Desserts, a Bay Area bakery, while you fuel up on Berkeley-based Peet's Coffee.