Surprising source of free kid entertainment: the airport

Brian’s one of the few people I know who willingly takes his kids to airports:

We live relatively close to a major airport (Chicago O’Hare) which gives us access to a cheap morning of entertainment. Elevator and escalator rides are fun, especially the glass elevator, but the real fun is what the elevators and escalators connect. First, there are the moving walkways. Kids can’t get enough of these. Then there is the train that goes out to long-term parking and back to the terminals. Part of the track goes right under the flight pattern for one of the runways so there are lots of opprotunities to see airplanes in action. Aside from a few dollars for parking all of it is free. We usually go on a Sunday morning when the crowds are non-existant (your religious commitments may vary).

Beautiful! (Keep Brian’s ideas in mind if your holiday travel includes a flight.)

Related: How to keep your kids entertained during airport delays


  1. says

    Many smaller local or regional airports have “observation areas” outside, which are under major flight paths, so on days with good weather you can take the kids there to watch planes take off and land. Bring a picnic lunch and a blanket! Depending on the airport, there may even be free parking nearby. There may also be indoor observation areas that are outside the security perimeter, so you can go to them even if you don’t have a ticket.

    When I was a little girl, my mom would take me and my sister to our (VERY small, VERY local) airport and just spend the afternoon watching planes land and take off. This was well before Sept. 11, so we could go right to the gate (such as it was – and yes, there was only one) and we basically had the run of the place.

  2. BT says

    Not just for kids. I ride the tram/bus from one terminal to another and back again every time I have a layover. It sure beats sitting around for an hour or two and once the bus driver figures out that you are just riding around to waste time, they almost always start telling you about all the little things that the general public never knows about the airport.

  3. Stephanie says

    Do your local airports let you get past the security checkpoints without an airline ticket? We live near the Los Angeles Airport and, if we don’t have tickets, we can only get to the ticket counters. Maybe I’m wrong….

  4. says

    During the holidays, major airports also have a LOT of FREE entertainment. You will find bands, orchestras, choirs, and vocalists. Good way to expose your kids to quality music without them knowing it.

  5. says

    Another fun thing to do with your kids is to sit in your car in an observation area with a good view of landing and departing planes, and patch a quality scanner into your car’s stereo speaker system. Plug in the airports departure and arrival and tower frequencies, and bring along your laptop computer and enter each flight number into the proper field on a free web based program and you will get the destination or origin information, type of plane, capacity, etc, and you can help them learn Geography without them realizing it.

  6. says

    Another learning opportunity for kids at airports is to stand near the wheelchair staging area near the entrance. As elderly people enter who need the wheel chairs, let your kids offer to push it for them while you hover around with an approving look. This will free up their family member to take care of ticketing arrangements. They can also help people overburdened with too many bags. People will appreciate the help. They can also give out directions to people who appear lost and help foreign travelers with directions to where maps are — or carry some with you and offer yours to them. It is simply amazing the amount of joy a smiley faced and helpful kid can bring to a frazzled traveler.

  7. cw says

    I think there is (was?) an In-n-Out Burger right under one of the runways at LAX. We used to go and get a burger and watch the air traffic before kids.

    Since kids, we’ve driven to the top of the parking lot at PDX to watch (sans jet fuel dropping on your head), on a clear day, two runways in perfect view. It costs an hour of parking but I love it, probably more than the kids.

  8. Brian says


    I was the one who posted this hack. We can’t get past security at O’Hare (ORD). Everything I mentioned is accessable without passing security. Since O’Hare is so large, they need ways to transport people from the parking garage to the multitude of terminals.

    One thing I forgot to mention in my submission is that kids are also entertained by the baggage claim conveyer belts. After passing by the baggage claim my son always asks to go home and watch the airport scenes of Toy Story 2.

  9. Dave says

    Call me scrooge, but aside from the obvious, that parents shouldn’t fear airports when traveling because there’s a lot to entertain the kids, I, for one would hate to think that the traffic i sit in to get to and then park in an airport is being added to by families out for a ‘day trip’. There have to be parks, museums, and other public spaces that are more appropriate than just going to the airport for the sport of it.

  10. says

    @Dave: OK, I’ll call you Scrooge. Did you notice that the original hack specified going on a Sunday morning when the crowds are “virtually non-existent”? Did you notice the suggestion in the very first comment to take public transit to the airport? Did you notice that my comment specifically refers to smaller, regional/local airports?

    If the airport is so congested that one has to “sit in traffic” to get there and park, I seriously doubt whether a parent is going to decide it’s a good idea to pack the kids in the car and go there as a day trip. It seems pretty obvious to me that you’d want to pick a location and time (of the day and of the year) when the airport isn’t too terribly busy to do this hack. I thought it went without saying, but maybe it doesn’t that this isn’t the kind of thing you’d want to do on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

  11. says

    We’ve got a hospital near us that has a life flight helicopter and my son loves to go see it. He understands that sometimes its out helping someone and doesn’t get upset when it’s not there.