While the availability of activities, access to kid-friendly attractions, and the destination itself can be major factors to take into account when planning family travel, the “getting there” is often times the biggest challenge in itself. Whether you are planning a road trip, taking a cruise, or flying for your upcoming family vacation, there are a number of ways to avoid painful travel experiences and reduce the stress of traveling altogether. If you plan on flying, you can never guarantee a trip free of delays or layovers, so our friends at FlipKey have put together a list of the top kid-friendly airports in the U.S. These airports offer a variety of kid-friendly amenities as well as designated family areas, and are all conveniently located within close proximity to great family vacation spots. Here are the top five on the list:
One of the world’s busiest airports is also one of the best kid-friendly terminals in the country. The airport boasts multiple play areas, including Kids on the Fly in Terminal 2. The 2,000 foot playground installed by the Chicago Children’s Museum features airport-themed climbing structures that the museum says allow kids to, “play, pretend, and practice skills.” The airport also has many kid-friendly, post-security dining options, including Garett’s Popcorn (Terminal 1) and Macaroni Grill (Terminal 3). While O’Hare is a busy international airport with popular flights to and from London, Toronto, and Frankfurt, we recommend avoiding it when you travel abroad with kids because the international terminal does not feature all the family-friendly amenities of the domestic terminals.
The airport includes nurseries in Terminals 1, 2, and 3; Kids’ Spot play areas in three locations, and three different aquariums in Terminal 1 before security. Dedicated family lanes also help families get through security at their own pace. The convenient security lanes can be helpful on very long layovers, as SFO’s location makes it relatively easy to escape the airport and explore San Francisco for an hour or two between flights. SFO is so dedicated to keeping your family happy and engaged between flights that they have put together self-guided tours of the airport terminals. The tours will lead you and your kids to the various exhibits, play areas, and airport features that make SFO unique. They also include questions and challenges to occupy the little ones. There’s no better way to spend a long layover than taking the family on a treasure hunt.
Families facing a layover in Boston will find the airport well-equipped to keep your kids entertained. Two Kid Port play areas, created with the Boston Children’s Museum, are located in Terminals A and C. Like O’Hare, Logan’s indoor playgrounds feature plane and tower shaped climbing structures. These play spaces also include seating for parents, as well as an area for watching TV. Keeping the youngest jet setters in mind, Logan also features rocking chairs, family restrooms, and rooms for nursing mothers who want some space and privacy.
Considering a family trip to Hawaii but worried about how the kids will handle long flights? Think about connecting through Phoenix. Phoenix Sky Harbor is one of the five most popular airports in the lower 48 for flights to Hawaii, the others being Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and Las Vegas.
One of the biggest perks about flying to Hawaii from Phoenix is that the airport has four play areas for kids. The flight across the Pacific is long, and it’s better to let the kids wear themselves out beforehand so they won’t be running up and down the narrow airplane aisles all the way to Honolulu.
Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport is the busiest airport in the world, and also one of the coolest airports for kids to visit. In addition to its two play areas, the Atlanta airport features a fully assembled skeleton of Yangchuanosaurus—a dinosaur that lived in China during the Jurassic period. This particular dinosaur now lives in the Hartsfield-Jackson Atrium, to the amazement of children and parents passing through.
Hartsfield-Jackson also features an Airport Art program that includes artworks and rotating exhibits that delight passengers of all ages. The Youth Art Galleries on concourses D, E, and T display art projects by Georgia students.
The music capital of the South puts its reputation on display in Nashville International Airport. Hit the airport at the right time and you’ll be lucky enough to catch live musical performances on one of the airport’s four stages. 80 to 100 bands perform at the airport each year, and Thursday and Friday afternoons are the best times to catch a show.
The airport also has an extensive public art program, including permanent installations and rotating exhibits.
For kids with the kind of energy that can’t be burned off enjoying art and music, the airport also features three play areas – one in each terminal. Airport guide, TravelNerd ranked Nashville the sixth most kid-friendly airport thanks to its three play areas, entertainment, and Redbox DVD vending machines.
Nashville is a regional hub serving 49 markets. It’s a great connection point for travelers headed to Memphis, Indianapolis, and Raleigh/Durham. The most popular flights to and from the Music City connect to Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, and Chicago.
Minneapolis St. Paul
Stuck in Minneapolis St. Paul between flights? This hub, which connects major US cities with Canadian airports and other international destinations, is subject to weather-related delays that may be impossible to avoid – especially if you’re traveling in winter. The good news is that it’s a great place to spend a few hours between flights because the airport is conveniently located near Mall of America and other local attractions.
Light Rail Transit connects MSP to downtown Minneapolis and Mall of America. The ride takes about 12 minutes each way and children under five ride free when accompanied by a ticketed adult. The train also provides convenient access to Mall of America, which could be worthy of a vacation itself. This modern American icon is home not only to shopping, but also to movie theaters, an Aquarium, and experiential stores from American Girl and Lego. Not to mention Nickelodeon Universe: this kid-centric indoor amusement park comes complete with characters and rides for all ages.
For layovers too short to leave the airport, there are two play areas located right in the terminals that have aviation themes. There are also rooms for nursing mothers and a family center where parents and children can relax together and take advantage of amenities such as a family bathroom, rocking chairs, and cribs.
McCarran airport is a stop on the way between Southwestern destinations and major cities like Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Seattle. For travelers with kids, it’s not a bad place to pass an hour or two between flights.
For the kids, McCarran features a huge unsupervised kids’ play area in Terminal D. The area has play structures and an interactive control tower. The airport is also home to some cool vintage planes, which will garner the attention of kids interested in aviation. The Las Vegas airport has also appeared in many Hollywood movies, so you can entertain the family by finding spots where famous scenes fromUp in the Air, Ocean’s 13, and Rush Hour were filmed.
Seattle-Tacoma offers a host of family-friendly amenities from car seat and stroller rentals to a private room for nursing mothers, complete with adjustable lighting and rocking chairs. The Mother’s room is situated in the Kids Play Area, so parents can easily take care of multiple kids. (It’s also located across from the Seattle Tap Room, so parents can take care of themselves as well.)
Cascadia Kids, a family travel website in the Pacific Northwest, highlights the airport’s rocking chairs as a major attraction for parents and children alike. Lora Shinn writes, “Near the gorgeous, floor-to-ceiling central terminal window, Sea-Tac offers wooden rocking chairs, so you can rock a toddler and watch the aircraft… Or let the kids rock while you eat lunch (it’s essentially the dining area for the food court).”