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By Travel writer
TODAY contributor

Explainer: Stuck at the airport? 10 best diversions for kids

  • Image: Kids play area, McCarran International Airport
    Courtesy McCarran International Airport
    McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas offers kids an aviation-themed play area.

    Adults who are stuck at the airport can spend their time shopping, getting a massage or having a drink at the bar. Kids waiting for flights are usually told to sit still with a book or an electronic game. But the amenities and activities at these family-friendly airports can make a long delay downright desirable.

    Story: Parents plan playdates for kids while on the road

  • Orlando International Airport

    Image: Snow White, Orlando International Airport
    Courtesy Orlando International Airport
    At Orlando International Airport, passengers can get their photos taken with Snow White, Mickey Mouse and other celebrities.

    Like the nearby theme parks, Orlando International Airport was designed with kids in mind. The first clue: There’s both adult and pint-sized seating in the main terminal. Then there’s the brand-new game arcade, the Kennedy Space Center shop with its video wall showing films of NASA launches and the statues offering photo-ops with celebrities such as Mickey Mouse and Snow White. Even the food court is entertaining: Inside the 3,000-gallon saltwater aquarium, kids will spot fish made famous by the Disney film "Finding Nemo."

  • San Francisco International Airport

    Image: San Francisco International Airport art exhibit
    Courtesy San Francisco International Airport
    "Second Chances," at SFO, features folk art made from recycled scrap materials.

    In addition to an AirTrain people-mover, which offers free train rides circling the airport, San Francisco International Airport has a trio of aquariums (Terminal 1), a weather-themed play area (by Gate 87A) and a series of family-oriented, self-guided tours. Best of all, many of the more than 40 exhibits offered annually by the airport’s accredited museum program are sure to appeal to kids. For example, through the end of March, the "Second Chances" exhibit in Terminal 3 displays a dress made from Tootsie Pop wrappers, a dustpan made from license plates and more than 200 other creative and whimsical works of folk art from tires, soda cans and other recycled scrap

  • McCarran International Airport

    Image: Kids play area, McCarran International Airport
    Courtesy McCarran International Airport
    McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas offers kids an aviation-themed play area.

    While adults are playing on some of the airport’s 1,300 slot machines, kids at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas can play in the aviation-themed play area that includes a miniature control tower and a mock jet engine. There’s also a 24-hour museum (on the walkway over the baggage claim, with display cases around the airport) that tells the colorful history of aviation in Southern Nevada.

  • O’Hare International Airport

    Image: The Kids on the Fly play area at O'Hare International Airport
    Courtesy O'Hare International Airport
    The Kids on the Fly play area is one of two play areas at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.

    There are two official play areas at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. The airport-themed “Kids on the Fly” play area (Terminal 2) offers kids the opportunity to tag and weigh baggage, load cargo, fly planes and direct air traffic. The "Play It Safe" area (Terminal 5) offers lessons about fire and home safety. In Terminal 1, it’s hard to miss the four-story model of a brachiosaurus in front of the Field Museum store or, in Terminal 2, the restored WWII F3F-4 fighter plane that’s just like the one flown by the airport's namesake, Butch O’Hare. And kids of all ages will find themselves mesmerized by the 744-foot-long light sculpture racing along the ceiling of the tunnel connecting Concourses B and C.

  • Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport

    Image: Junior Flyers Club, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport
    Courtesy Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport
    DFW's Junior Flyer's Club is just for kids.

    Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport has two Junior Flyer’s Clubs (Terminal B, gate 12 and Terminal C, gate 14) filled with aviation-themed toy structures. Two of the airport’s interactive sculptures in Terminal D are much larger and just as entertaining: Dennis Oppenheim’s Crystal Mountain includes an arched tunnel wide enough for two people and the sounds, glass walls and labyrinth-like floor pattern of "Circling," by Christopher Janney, form a walk-in game that needs no instructions.

  • Denver International Airport

    Image: Conestoga-themed playhouse
    Courtesy Denver International Airport
    The Conestoga-themed playhouse at Denver International Airport is on display through March 2011.

    At Denver International Airport, kids will enjoy riding on the automated transit system and looking for the floating steel “paper” airlines, the gargoyles and some of the other light-hearted pieces in the airport’s extensive permanent art collection. Through March 2011, kids are also invited to play with the miniature saloon, the Conestoga wagon and the other Colorado-themed playhouses that are part of a temporary art exhibition in the main terminal.

  • Pittsburgh International Airport

    Image: Mister Rogers shrine, Pittsburgh International Airport
    Harriet Baskas
    Pittsburgh International Airport is home to a shrine to the world's most famous neighbor: Mister Rogers.

    A nearly life-size plaster cast of a Tyrannosaurus rex dinosaur greets kids getting on or off the people mover at Pittsburgh International Airport, while on Concourse C there’s a well-padded play area located next to a memorabilia-filled shrine to Fred Rogers and the “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” TV show, which was filmed in town. Look for Mister Rogers’ signature sweater, his sneakers, a miniature Neighborhood of Make Believe and clay models of the show’s characters, including King Friday and Henrietta Pussycat.

  • Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

    Image: Play area, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport
    Courtesy Seattle-Tacoma International Airport
    Aviation-themed toys welcome kids at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

    “Talking” drinking fountains that gurgle loudly, quilts made from strips of recycled soda cans, and a two-part, 80-foot long “contraption” filled with found objects that move and play sounds are among the giggle-inspiring art installations at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. For young kids with energy to spare, there’s a 1,400-square-foot play area filled with aviation-themed soft foam play equipment, including an airplane, a control tower and a baggage cart.

  • Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport

    Image: The "Corncorde," Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
    Courtesy Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
    Craig Nutt's flying ear of corn, the "Corncorde," is one of the fun art pieces at the Atlanta airport.

    At Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, there’s a 33-foot-long cast of a yangchuanosaurus dinosaur (on loan from Atlanta’s Fernbank Museum of Natural History) in the Main Terminal Atrium. Giant ants — not real; they’re part of an art sculpture — march over the ductwork in the north and south terminal baggage claim areas. Elsewhere in the airport, kids will spot a flying ear of corn (the “Corncorde”) and other entertaining installations that are part of the airport’s permanent and temporary art collection.

  • Elsewhere

    Image: Slide at Singapore's Changi Airport
    Courtesy Singapore's Changi Airport
    The slide at Singapore's Changi Airport.

    There are plenty of airports outside the United States that are kid-friendly as well. Top among them: Changi Airport in Singapore , which has a butterfly garden, seven children’s play areas, free movie theaters, an arcade, interactive art stations, a jam studio and loads of other entertaining activities. Since September, 2010, there’s also been a twisty four-story tall slide at Changi, with a milder, one-and-a-half-story tall “preview” slide beside it.


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