As my kids have gotten a little bit older, they are now 5 and 9 years old, I find that time spent waiting in airports is almost more challenging than time spent on board the airplane. Once we're in the air, they have their little entertainment-screens to keep them busy, there are drinks and snacks and meals being served, and they often get sleepy on longer flights.
However, in airports, they seem to get way more antsy. Maybe it's because time spent in airports means you're just waiting rather than actually traveling somewhere. I know I often feel restless before I get on board the flight, and the same is probably true for the kids. Sometimes you will also end up waiting at the airport a lot longer than you planned on: delays do happen when you travel by plane!
Of course, there are things you can do in airports, and what you choose to do to entertain your children (or how they choose to entertain themselves), will depend a lot on their ages, personalities and preferences. Here are 10 ideas for how to spend your time at the airport:
Many airports have a play area for kids somewhere on the premises. For younger kids, this can be the best option: they can run and play freely before they have to sit still on the airplane. Ask at the information desk, or look at an airport map to try to locate available play spaces.
2. Watch the planes & your luggage
This is my son's favourite activity at the airport. He's quite happy to stand at any window and watch the planes on the tarmac. It's even more fun if he can see the plane we'll be boarding, and especially extra fun if he can see the luggage being loaded onto the plane. He loves trying to spot our suitcases as they're being put into the hold.
3. Eat in peace & quiet
Eating on board an airplane can be challenging for kids: too much going on, and a lot of awkwardness when you try to eat off your tray-table. Adding to the difficulty: food often doesn't taste as good at high altitude, and kids who are anxious or excited sometimes have a hard time settling down for a meal on board. Having a sit-down meal at the airport before departure can help both pass the time, and fill some hungry stomachs. Go to a restaurant, or buy some foods you can take with you and eat while sitting at your gate.
4. Play some hands-on games
There are travel-versions of many popular games that are perfect to bring out when you're getting bored at the airport: chess, 4 in a row, card games of all kinds, memory games... Pick one you know your kids like, and bring it in your hand-luggage.
5. Run around
Younger kids can find it very challenging to sit still, and stand around in lineups. When you're traveling by plane, you will probably be doing a lot of both those things. One way to help them burn off some steam is to find a quiet, relatively spacious part of the airport (away from security areas and other passengers), and let them goof around and even run around a bit. Don't bug other passengers, and don't cause a security alert, but let them get moving for a while and then they might be better able to handle sitting still on board the plane.
6. Read a book
I find that the engine noise on board often make it difficult to read books aloud. A book is a lot easier to share with your children when you're sitting waiting at the gate at the airport, whether it's an e-book, or a regular book.
7. Use the internet
These days, most airports have some kind of internet access. Some have free wifi for a limited time, other airports offer free wifi for as long as you're there. If you've brought along a tablet, laptop or other electronic gadget, this might be the time to let your kids browse the net, play some online games, check their email and favorite websites, and generally just kill time on the web.
8. Go to the bathroom
Going to the bathroom on board a plane is a very cramped and sometimes very dirty experience. Spend at least some of your airport time in the bathrooms there: it's a much easier place for kids to get comfortable in, and for mom and dad to do things like change baby diapers, wash hands and faces, and so on.
Maybe the time at the airport can be used to get some cool local souvenirs, books, magazines, snacks for the flight, candy, or whatever else is on offer. Most airports have a lot of shops in them, and if your kids are into shopping, this might be a good time to do that.
10. Do some arts & crafts
My kids usually prefer using their coloring books and drawing pads when we're waiting at the airport. Find a good table, or a space on the floor, and break out the crayons, markers, sticker books, and whatever other supplies you've packed. This can be a nice, relaxing way to spend the time until your flight is ready to depart.