Making the most of a flight delay with kids

Tips and Tricks to Family Travel

We have all been there. You’re sitting patiently at your gate, waiting for the agents to announce that it’s time to board. Minutes tick by with no communication, while you wonder what’s going on. And then it finally happens, they announce your flight is delayed for four hours. Being stuck in the airport is no fun, and it is particularly difficult when you are traveling with kids. So what do you do when you are faced with a flight delay with kids?

Unfortunately, my family has experienced extended flight delays with three of our last four trips (two of which resulted in an overnight at our connecting cities). Keeping calm yourself is the best thing you can do because the kids react better and roll with the punches a little more. I have even started building in an extra day into trips just because we seem to face this more and more. That way we don’t have to worry about it cutting into the activities that we want to do if we face an extraordinary delay. I’ve found that it definitely makes me and my husband not as stressed, which trickles down to my 8- and 10-year old boys. In fact, we saw it as an opportunity when we had to

Texas – state #27 thanks to a flight delay

spend the night in Houston on our way to Salt Lake City for Spring Break. The kids had never been to Texas and were excited to add state number 27 to their list.

If you have an extended delay at the airport, here are some ways to pass the time without losing your mind, meanwhile keeping the kids happy:

  • Find a spot out of the way and let your kids dump everything out of their backpacks, so that they can play with whatever they want.
  • Take long walks throughout the airport and make it a geography lesson. Note the destinations on flight departure boards or at the gates. Talk about what’s in that city or if it’s somewhere you want to visit.
  • Go on a scavenger hunt. Make a list of things you’re looking for (a flight to San Francisco, a pilot, a purple suitcase, a souvenir keychain, etc) and walk around to find them and check them off. You can incentivize with a small prize from the gift shop.
  • Many airports now have play areas (Amsterdam even has a mini science museum with interactive exhibits that we discovered), so we seek those out to get rid of some energy and pass the time. Check out your airport or connecting airport before you fly to see if they have any kids’ areas: Chicago’s O’Hare has a Kids on the Fly space; Portland, Oregon’s airport has four great play structures for kids; Charles de Gaulle in Paris has arcades and play areas to keep les enfants occupied.

    Schipol Airport in Amsterdam

If your delay is longer than five hours, leave the airport and find something to do locally. Take their transit system or grab an Uber and find a museum or another local attraction. We just did this on our trip to Europe. We were delayed 22 hours in Detroit trying to get to Amsterdam. So, we got a hotel to spend the night, and went to the Detroit Institute of Arts the next day since our flight wasn’t until 8pm. And as luck would have it, they were having an awesome Star Wars Costume Exhibit, so we definitely made the most of our delay.

We visited an awesome Star Wars Costume Exhibit at the Detroit Instiute of Arts thanks to a delay on our way to Europe

Also, in cases of extreme delays (4+ hours), ask the airline for a hotel voucher, even if you’re not spending the night. It’s good to leave the airport and have a place to relax and nap, particularly if you have infants or toddlers. Many airports have hotels attached to them (Houston, Denver, Dallas, Chicago, etc). And some of these hotels even allow you to just use their pool area for a small fee. You can also use to find a hotel to hang out at just for the day for as little as $30, depending on location.

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