Survive Long Layovers at the Airport with Kids

It’s a rite of passage to stress out over taking small children on an airplane and facing the reality of being locked down with them for hours, just hoping they won’t have a meltdown and brand you as a bad parent for life. But there’s less focus on what to do when you get to an airport and, due to missed connections, weather, or just bad luck, realize you have hours to fill on a long layover.

The good news is there’s plenty you can do to turn a long layover at the airport into a somewhat enjoyable experience. Here’s your roadmap for airport fun.

Turn It Into an Adventure

Don’t discount the fun and wonder that’s right inside an airport that your kids have never seen. Talk up the idea of exploring your family’s new digs and turn it into a grand adventure. Whip up a scavenger hunt-style list where a parent and kids split up. When you find the items on a list, like fine chocolates or a leopard print suitcase, you get to check it off your list and the winner gets a small prize from an airport store.

Kids using tablet at airport

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Your team can also load up on a plane train to take a cruise through the airport and pretend you’re on a safari looking for wild animals. Given the state of most crowded airports, this probably won’t feel like much of a stretch.

Find the Fun Stuff

The added benefit of turning your airport layover into an adventure is finding fun stuff along the way. There’s a play area in Baltimore Washington International Airport, a Children’s Museum of Chicago play area at Chicago O’Hare, and a movie theater right in the airport at Changi Airport and Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport, to name a few. You may find your kids don’t want to leave the fun at all to catch the next flight out.

Indulge in a Treat

You can still enforce healthy eating at the airport by grabbing outrageously overpriced yogurts, granolas, fruits and smoothies for your kids. But if your family has an occasional treat policy, make the airport the time to indulge. There’s no shortage of treats from ice cream sundaes to candy. A treat can also be a special toy from an airport store or new game downloaded to their devices to make a never-ending layover more bearable.

Get In Some Exercise

Languishing around the airport all day can feel akin to being trapped, especially if you need to hover close to the gate to monitor constantly changing timetables. Pick a corner of a waiting area or see if you’re near the dead end of a concourse hallway and get in some exercise. Work on stretches, jumping and lunges with the kids and encourage them to lead the workout. In a pinch, a headstand contest helps change the mood of your kids.

Make it Cozy

There’s a 100 percent chance your long layover will spill over into naptime and bedtime with no end in sight. This moment can feel like utter defeat, but it is possible to just roll with the punches. Make it cozy by laying down a blanket or sweatshirts to create a soft area for the kids to stretch out with a book or their gaming device. Throw an extra pair of socks in your suitcase the kids can ruin at the airport when they take off their shoes to stretch out and relax. When they get up and sprint across the gate to explore the candy shop for the 10th time, you won’t worry about the state of their sockwear when they’re just throwaways or for the bleach pile anyway.