This post was most recently updated on July 9th, 2019
Whether you know about it in advance or you’re caught by surprise, an airport layover can be difficult when you are traveling with children. And how about when that one- or two-hour layover becomes four or five hours long? What then?
It’s possible to make the best of a long layover with children, if you have a plan. And it doesn’t have to involve much preparation or money. Here are my tips for how to keep your children happy (and yourself!) on a long layover…
Prepare For the Next Leg of Your Flight
First things first! Know where your next gate will be. Physically go there and confirm that it will be your gate. If you wish to request an upgrade or seat change, take care of these things first.
This is also the time to re-charge your electronics, refill water bottles, and buy a meal or snacks. Call or text anyone that needs to know about your long layover, especially if it is caused by a delay. You can even download movies for the flight.
Explain to your children that there are a few things that need to be taken care of first, and then you will be able to go have some fun together!
Look for Child-Friendly Airport Amenities
Airports have realized the need to better accommodate families, and you will see many improvements these days. Look for play areas designed for children, nursing lounges, nurseries with rocking chairs and cribs, seating areas with soft and climbable furniture, hands-on exhibits and displays, or special kids’ clubs and tours. For example, the San Diego airport has the Airport Explorers club with games, activities, and behind-the-scene tours.
Nearly all airports have their own website and many include information about family-friendly activities and resources. Here are a few you might enjoy checking out:
If you are in the military, be sure to visit the USO lounges where families can rest and watch TV, use computers and enjoy complimentary snacks.
Discover Airport Art and Museums
Airports have increasingly become as beautiful as they are functional, and you can find art exhibits or even museums in most airports. On a recent trip, I enjoyed a historic aviation exhibit of early airplane seats, flight attendant uniforms, and the free games airlines used to provide for passengers. It was a cool exhibit and would have sparked some interesting discussion among my kids, had they been with me.
When we were in the Athens airport, we discovered a fascinating archaeological museum. The Dallas airport has a fascinating hanging art piece that highlights all things that fly. In the Salt Lake City airport, I found some beautiful paintings lining the walls. They also have a photography exhibit that showcases ballet dancers shot on location against natural backdrops.
Look for art galleries on the airport map…or just stroll the halls checking for art in open spaces, atriums, and on the walls.
Here are a few examples of airport websites with information about their art installations:
Day Trips During a Layover
If your layover is long enough, you might be able to take a tour of the city or nearby attraction. At the Salt Lake City airport, there’s a free shuttle that leaves every 30 minutes to take passengers on a tour of Temple Square. You’ll only need a 2-hour layover to take advantage of it!
San Francisco Airport has a whole selection of potential day trips you can make if your layover is at least four hours long.
Get Some Exercise
After all, you’ve been sitting on a plane, and you’ll be sitting again when you catch your next flight. And kids need to get their wiggles out, right? Take advantage of stairs, people movers, pedestrian paths, airport trams, and even indoor tracks to get some steps in and wear everyone out a little!
While you’re walking around, perhaps you’ll also see some scenery or spot a few amenities you didn’t know about — like a library, a chapel, a napping pod, or even an ice cream parlor!
Play Games Your Children Will Love
Here’s an easy game you can prepare before you travel. Keep it tucked away in your carry-on or personal item. It’s called “I Spy in the Airport”, and it’s a great way to kill some time and entertain the kids! Basically a flash-card scavenger hunt, you can all work together or divide into two teams to see who can find everything pictured first. I laminated mine and punched holes, so I could put them on a ring. That makes it easy to flip through the pictures. Click here for a free printable pdf of this game.
Another fun idea for older kids is to have a photo scavenger hunt. Give them a list of items to find and take photos with cell phone cameras. Keep the list general, so each child can be creative. You might even bring out the artist in each of your kids. By the way, children as young as three can take a picture with a cell phone, and they love doing it!
Here’s a sample list:
Something blue, a flag, a wheel, a pattern, something close-up, something edible, art, a sign, something shiny, and some kind of reflection. Do make sure an adult accompanies children on their hunts so they don’t get lost or separated!
Our family also loves to play card games, so we’re always sure to pack a few decks of cards. Depending on the age of your children, you can play simple games like concentration (matching pairs) and ‘Go Fish‘ (creating sets of cards) or more advanced games that require some strategy, like ‘Hearts.’ We have a personal family favorite called “Pounce” that keeps our heart rates up with stiff competition and fast-moving hands.
I know — airport shops can be expensive, but I’m not talking about shopping for a pricey handbag or new piece of luggage. Look for items that are unique to the area that will make fun souvenirs. My daughter used to collect keychains, and that is a cheap and easy item to find in airport gift shops. You can also search for specialty foods. When we were in New Orleans, we wanted to try a beignet at Cafe du Monde but didn’t have time. When we saw them in the New Orleans airport, we were so excited! We bought some fresh beignets and thoroughly enjoyed them — powdered sugar and all! They also sell beignet mixes that you can take home and make on your own.
A Few More Ideas
If you’re still looking for ways to entertain the kids, airport gift shops have lots of coloring books, sticker books, word search puzzles, and more. It’s better if you’re already equipped with these items from your neighborhood dollar store. But just in case you’re caught unprepared, these can be purchased for a reasonable cost.
You can also buy postcards for your children to write on and send to their friends back home. Stamps are usually available at airports, as well as postal boxes with daily pick-up.
Some airports have meditation rooms and yoga studios. A unique way to help your children relax at the airport is to take along a hand-held Tibetan singing bowl. It doesn’t take up much room in your carry-on, and it’s very soothing. Plus the kids love playing with it.
I do hope that armed with this list, you will be prepared should you encounter a long layover with your children. A layover can actually be fun – a chance to explore a new environment, rest before being crammed into a tiny space on a plane again, and a chance to have some family bonding time.
If you have found creative ways to keep your children entertained on a long layover, please share them in the comments below…