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Flying with kids is, let’s face it, occasionally challenging. Consider standing in long lines, being stranded due to weather delays, cramming bodies and bags into tiny spaces for hours on end and traveling at odd hours. It’s no wonder even the best-behaved children (or adults) have meltdowns from time to time.
Thankfully, some airports are doing their darnedest to ease the hassles parents may encounter when traveling with tots. From play areas to museums to workout trails and quiet spaces, the best airports in the US can almost make a two-hour layover feel like a casual Sunday at home.
Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL)
As the country’s busiest airport, finding space at Hartsfield-Jackson for your little ones to enjoy themselves may seem like an arduous task — it’s not. Head underground and you’ll find expansive walkways filled with amazing art installations. Kids will love the forest walk (which cost $4 million to build). At 450 feet in length, between A and B concourses, kids will feel as if they have entered a forest, complete with chirping birds, rainfall and a canopy of trees created with 24,000 LED lights. As most travelers at ATL hop on the trains to move between terminals, you’ll also get a break from the crowds.
Nashville International Airport (BNA)
Music City keeps the music pumping — even at the airport. There are six, yes, six music stages around Nashville’s terminals, providing live music throughout the week. Kids are welcome to dance and get their groove on to rising artists from the area, with more than 80 bands performing at the airport every year. In between acts, kids can play in one of three play areas, located at the far end of concourses so you won’t have to worry about toddlers darting out of sight. Concourse C’s padded play area was created in partnership with the Nashville Zoo, so its animal theme is a popular break from the aviation-themed play areas at Concourses A and B.
Miami International Airport (MIA)
Families traveling to the Caribbean often find themselves with a layover in Miami, which is the hub to the Caribbean and South America. Young kids can release their energy climbing in and on the Plane Fun interactive play area, which is found near Gate E5. (Concourse D and E can access it.) From remote-controlled airplanes to a hot air “balloon” with a virtual screen floor simulating takeoff, this space is so unique that even teens won’t be able to resist a peek. Miami also caters to infants by providing quiet and calming MIAmamas nursing stations in every concourse.
Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD)
One of the hardest parts of traveling is being stuck indoors, but O’Hare airport brings the outdoors in with its aeroponic garden — the largest at any airport in the world. You can relax surrounded by more than 1,000 plants in the Rotunda Building and then head to the 744-foot-long “Sky’s the Limit” kinetic light sculpture at Terminal 1. The sculpture was designed by Canadian artist Michael Hayden, and the thoroughfare works as a space for kids to have a bit more freedom.
You can also checkout Chicago Children’s Museum “Kids on the Fly” play area that is located on the upper level of Terminal 2, just past security. Here kids can climb on airplanes and aviation-themed structures. If you’re really stuck at O’Hare with lots of time to burn, a Hilton is connected to the airport and offers day passes to enjoy its pool and amenities.
Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
The City of Angels welcomes you to California, but if you are trapped inside at LAX, you can still enjoy the coast at its beach-themed play area, found in the International Terminal. Sharing La-la-land’s entertainment vibe, you and your brood can also sometimes catch complimentary performances throughout the airport, such as from the University of Southern California’s Trojan Marching Band and local, emerging artists. When checking out the art installations found around the airport, don’t miss a visit to the 30-x-15-foot LAX 9/11 Memorial in the historical Theme Building, a special tribute for those lost in flights bound for LAX on Sept. 11, 2001.
Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)
Planning ahead with kids is key, so it’s nice to know you can schedule tours at DFW to occupy time between layovers. The airport features free 60- to 90-minute tours of its art exhibits, as long as you schedule your tour in advance. If you are delayed in Dallas, the airport ups the amenities game with the DFW Airport walking path. Follow the signage and 12 medallions along the nearly mile-long trail found in the D Concourse, and give the kids a chance to burn off some energy.
Another kid-pleaser at DFW is simply an extra ride or two around the airport on the SkyTrain.
DFW also features children’s play areas, such as one near Gate D8 or the family room for Platinum Card from American Express card holders at the brand-new Amex Centurion Lounge in Terminal D. If you get stuck or needs a true break, there is also an attached Grand Hyatt property. If you have the World of Hyatt Credit Card, you can use one of your annual Category 1–4 awards to lock in a stay at the Grand Hyatt DFW, which truly is a couple notches above your standard airport hotel.
Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (LAS)
Dallas isn’t the only city with a walking trail to keep your family moving at the airport: Las Vegas offers walking paths throughout its terminals with maps giving you options for 0.5- to 1.5-mile routes. Pick your length and set a course! The trails are part of the American College of Sports Medicine’s Fly Fit!, and you’ll see exhibits from the airport’s Howard W. Cannon Aviation Museum. Stretch your kids’ little legs on the trails, or set them free at D Gates’ aviation-themed playground.
This McCarran Amex Centurion Lounge is also host to a family room and can be found in Concourse D near Gate D1.
San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
As the second-busiest airport in the state of California, the City by the Bay makes it easy to kill time between flights. If your kids are old enough to enjoy scavenger hunts and museums, take part in the self-guided tours available in Terminal 2. With iPad kiosks, you’ll spend at least 30 minutes exploring the seven stops on the tour. (If you’re in a different terminal, no worries, just hop on the AirTrain’s Red Line. This train takes about 10 minutes to encircle all four terminals — and gives your kids a ride with a view of planes landing and taking off. Got more time? Visit the International Terminal to enjoy the Aviation Museum and Library, which offers exhibitions and educational programs for free.
SFO is also host to an Amex Centurion Lounge with a family room, just in case you need a place to contain your kiddos while you enjoy a cool beverage or a warm plate of food from the buffet.
Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport (MSP)
This small airport is big on fun because it connects directly (and quickly) by light rail to the Mall of America — the largest mall in the country. Shopping isn’t the only thing at this mall. There is an amusement park and aquarium to excite the kids. Don’t want to leave the airport? There are play areas in both terminals for the kids (with more aviation themes). And — we’re seeing a growing trend here — the airport has its own 1.4-mile walking path in Terminal 1, thanks to the American Heart Association’s Start! Walking program.
Layovers don’t have to be meltdown-inducing endeavors. Before you leave home, do a bit of research and see what amenities your layover airport offers for families. You may be pleasantly surprised. And, if all else fails, you can just spend some time in the airport lounge or a restaurant covered by Priority Pass. Mommy Points has some tips for getting four people into an Amex Centurion Lounge and feeding your family “for free” at an airport courtesy of Priority Pass.
What airport layover facilities have your children most enjoyed in the United States?
Featured image by aoldman / Getty Images
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