How to Have Fun in the Airport on Your Family Summer Vacation

Taking your kids through the airport can actually be a lot of fun.

Everyone looks forward to taking off on a summer vacation. But, let's face it, traveling through the airport can be a challenge, even without kids. It's crowded, the lines are long, security is a hassle, and it seems like you have to walk for miles. However, keep in mind that your kids LOVE the airport. The walking sidewalks, luggage carousels, trams, and airport attractions are exciting to them. So, with a little attitude adjustment, you can keep the kids amused and actually have fun yourself while traveling through or waiting out that delay at the airport.

Whether your airport is small, nice and accessible, or you have to battle the crowds in Chicago or Atlanta, or walk a thousand miles within the airport like in Dallas or Denver, hopefully these tips will help you easily deal with your time in the airport with kids in tow.

Get there plenty early

You never know how busy the airport is going to be, so reduce your stress level and give yourself plenty of time to get to the gate with kids in tow. Don’t try and cut it close thinking that less time in the airport with kids is good. Trust me, you don’t want to be running to your gate with diaper bags, kids luggage or toddlers on your back before a fun family vacation. It takes years off of your life and turns your hair prematurely gray.

Take a Stroll

Chicago O’Hare is large. DFW is monstrous. Denver is a hike. Assume that you are going to have to walk and walk and walk. So, if you have babies or toddlers with you, make it easier on your back by using a small, inexpensive umbrella stroller to push the kids to the gate. You can check the stroller right at the gate and use it while traveling. Or pick up one of those Trunki rolling kids suitcases that can also be used to pull your kids through the terminals.

The airport is full of fun stuff

Think of the airport as part of the adventure of your trip. While watching planes take off and land has lost some of its glamour for me, my kids still love it. Go sit by a window and enjoy. If you do have extra time to kill at an airport, find an information desk or ask one of the gate attendants what you can do with kids. Most airports have some fun stuff - playgrounds, old model airplanes, etc. You can even check online on the airport’s website before you travel to see what's available.

At O’Hare airport, kids love the full size dinosaur skeleton in Terminal 3. Toddlers love the flashing lights and the moving walkway between B and C gates in the United Terminal. Take them for a walk in the tunnel, if you have the time. If you really have a lot of time to kill, our kids always love riding the People Mover or tram between the Terminals. Sit in the front car and they can pretend to be driving a space-age vehicle.

Munchies make a party

While there are plenty of places to grab food in airports, it can get expensive and if you are late or in a rush you might not have time to stop and wait in line. Always have a Ziploc baggie of goldfish crackers or Cheerios for toddlers or pretzels, raisins, or baby carrots for kids and adults to munch on while traveling. Do take time to buy a bottle of water before getting on a plane. You never know when the drink cart will make it around and you can always use the water for drinking, making baby formula, or even dabbing at spills on your clothes.

Here we are now, entertain us …

Traveling takes time and you’ll need to keep kids (and maybe some of the adults) in your group amused. Every traveler should have their own Boredom Bag, you know, a bag or backpack that is full of toys, books, crayons, stuffed animals, or games to keep them occupied. To keep kids amused during the flight or in case of delays, check out my age-appropriate ideas for a Boredom Bags.

Another way to keep kids entertained is the classic Travel Bingo game. You can download a kid-friendly airport bingo game here from Parents.com.

For more tips on road trip essentials or how to plan a stress-free, family vacation, check out all of these sanity-saving family travel tips. Don't forget to download my Free Family Vacation Packing List so you don’t forget anything at home.

What are your best family vacation travel tips? 


Sue Kirchner is a family fun coach, kids party planner, and weekly contributor to Patch.com. Sue and her family fun ideas have been featured on TV, newspapers, magazines, blogs, as well as her own family fun site ChocolateCakeMoments.com.

Sue Kirchner July 06, 2012 at 04:08 PM
Bernice - That's a great tip on saving money. Thanks for sharing it with us all and thanks for reading.
Gunter Hartmann July 12, 2012 at 03:34 PM
Good tips... As an adult, it's easy to lose perspective at the womder and marvel of an airport... Love the Nirvana reference too.
Sue Kirchner July 12, 2012 at 08:47 PM
Thanks Gunter! It's true. I hate spending time in the airport but it truly amazes our kids. So, it's nice to travel with them and see it through their eyes. Thanks for catching the Nirvana reference. No one expresses apathy and ennui as well as they do.
Sweetg August 01, 2012 at 04:30 PM
You left out a great educational opportunity. Ask the kids to help read signs that lead to your gate. Most gates are only one letter & one number so kids can handle it. This not only keeps them busy on the long walk to the gate and excersizes their mind, but also teaches them how to get around in a large public area and may help them find thier way back to base if they wander off. Younger children can be asked to identify picture signs (like washrooms, elevators, etc.). Older kids can be asked tougher questions like identifying airlines or determining plane models (DC10 vs 747, etc.). The later may require they use a smart phone or other device to access the web, but at least they are not wasting time playing Angry Birds. Finally, you don't talk about the joy of just people watching. Have to kids make up stories about the people they see, like where are they going or where did they come from. (Are their clothes or baggage a hint?) All of which costs nothing and requires no extra packing.
Sue Kirchner August 01, 2012 at 04:57 PM
Those are great ideas! Thank you for these creative ways to keep the kids amused in the airport. You're right, they cost nothing.


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