Long airport layovers are a special kind of torment. Sitting for hours in a crowded terminal with hard plastic seats and blaring intercom announcements is bad enough if you’re on your own—but what if you’ve got kids in tow? The challenges of keeping little ones occupied in airports have surely led countless parents to reconsider road-tripping.
It seems safe to say that no U.S. airports qualify as places where anyone would actually want to hang out. (If you think that’s true for airports everywhere, think again: Switzerland’s Zurich Airport does a brisk business hosting kids’ birthday parties at its flight-themed play areas.) Still, there are domestic terminals that have taken real steps to minimize the discomfort of long delays for families.
To find out which of America’s airports earn their wings at catering to children, Travel + Leisure, in our first-ever airport survey, asked readers to rate 22 domestic airports in a variety of categories, including family-friendliness. Once we had the results, we took a look at what the top-ranked airports actually offer to keep kids entertained.
Some airports made the list for their unique exhibits and art displays. Orlando International Airport, for example—the portal for families en route to the “happiest place on Earth”—has a massive aquarium filled with sea creatures. Denver International Airport, meanwhile, is home to 30-odd art exhibits, including a mile-long subterranean light and sculpture installation.
Other airports were tapped by travel-savvy parents for their high-tech amusements. At Seattle–Tacoma International Airport, kids interested in the city’s vaunted indie music scene can check out local bands with video screens, audio recordings, and even a free smartphone app showcasing top performers. Many other airports on our list (all but three, in fact) were also touted for their free Wi-Fi—a universal blessing for bored teenagers.
Still other airports made the family-friendly list for their plethora of kid-centric play areas, shops, and eateries. Some have airplane-themed play zones, featuring mock airplanes with radio towers and slides; or self-guided scavenger hunts that lead kids to clues and let them win prizes. And what child wouldn’t show at least a passing interest in video arcades or sandwich shops specializing in gourmet peanut butter and jelly?
So if you’re headed on a family vacation anytime soon, read on for details about which American airports make getting there half the fun—or at the very least, tolerable.