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These airport activities will keep them from going crazy — and from driving you crazy, too.

Harriet Baskas
June 23, 2018

Adults forced to spend hours in an airport can go to the bar, tour shops, or treat themselves to a nice meal.

Kids? Their go-to airport activities usually involve crying, whining, and trying to trip other passengers at the gates.

Fresh toys and gadgets loaded with games and movies is one way to keep kids entertained before a flight. But family-friendly airports and kid-oriented amenities will have young travelers wondering why adults whine about being stuck at the airport.

Check Out the Planes

Sometimes the best part of hanging out with kids at the airport is the great show put on by the airplanes and the bustle of activity out on the airfield. Watch from a window seat in a gate area or food court, or head for an airport observation deck. For example, Baltimore-Washington International Airport has a large pre-security viewing gallery (with exhibits and a snack bar) and there’s a small post-security viewing deck at the entrance to Terminal 2 in Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

Airport Art Exhibits

Many airports stage family-friendly art and history exhibitions year-round. Through September, there’s a fun exhibit of antique coin-operated machines — including one that dispensed perfume — at San Francisco International Airport. A few cases filled with ships-in-bottles have been spotted at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (which also has excellent planespotting) and Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport has rotating exhibitions of artwork in Terminals 2, 3, and 4.

Playing With Pups

Teams of adorable, stress-busting therapy dogs wearing “Pet Me!” vests regularly make the rounds at dozens of U.S. airports, and the specially-trained pups (and, at SFO, a pig) are happy to get hugs and kisses from kids. The pooches will patiently pose for photos and their handlers usually have souvenir trading cards to give out featuring head shots and stats (i.e. age, breed and favorite treats) for each animal.

Orlando Airport's Theme Park Attractions

An arcade, a 3,000-gallon aquarium in the Main Terminal food court, a fun fountain, and photo-op ready statues of Mickey Mouse, Snow White and other celebrity characters make Orlando International feel more like a theme park than an airport. Shops for the Kennedy Space Center, Disney, SeaWorld and Universal Orlando offer one last chance for must-have souvenirs. And the top floor of the parking garage is a great spot to watch the area’s nightly theme park fireworks – for free.

Robots and Mr. Rogers

Pittsburgh International Airport entertains children with its freshly refurbished Kidsport area filled with interactive displays, an exhibit honoring the Steel City’s own Fred Rogers and his “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” TV show and a giant Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton. PIT is also home to an art installation billed as the “World’s only in-airport robot repair shop,” and a giant transformer-like robotic figure inspired by the city’s bridges.

Kid-friendly in Chicago

At Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, the ever-popular “Kids on the Fly” play area in Terminal 2 lets little ones climb on airport-themed toys while, in Terminal 1, a four-story tall, 72-foot long skeleton model of a brachiosaurus looks down from its spot outside the Field Museum. Kids get exercise and entertainment walking along the 744-foot-long kinetic neon light sculpture in the Terminal 1 underground walkway and a reason to look up “sustainability” after visiting the 26 soil-free plant towers in O’Hare’s aeroponic garden. When it reopens in mid-March, the airport transit system will once again provide free rides and airfield views as it travels between terminals.

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