On a recent trip to Italy, our return flight got cancelled and we ended up with a seven hour layover in Montreal. The horror! We were all tired and just wanted to get home, but we had seven hours to kill. From the moment we entered the terminal, everything we did was referred to as “an adventure!” Here are 9 seriously helpful tips that helped us all survive.
See what it would take to get upgraded to club level so you can enjoy the benefits of the lounge. If you don’t already have access through your ticket, credit card or miles, ask at check-in or the information desk what it would take to have access. You have nothing to lose and so much to gain. In my experience, airline employees often take pity on parents traveling with small children and will try to accommodate them as much as possible.
Discover All the Play Areas
I’ve never been in an airport without a children’s play area. Some of them are no more than an activity cube, but it’s still something. You can use a map to find out where they are in advance or go “exploring” on your own. Even if they’re all the same, the kids will have fun searching for another and wondering if it will offer something different. Fingers crossed!
(We are working on a master database of kids areas in airports – want to be notified when its ready? Sign-up and we will let you know when its ready!)
Leave Your Terminal
If you’re in a large airport, chances are there will be a shuttle or tram that connects all the terminals. If an adult is able to stay behind with all the carry-ons (read: if one of the adults wants a break and some quiet time), the other can take the kids on an adventure. While just riding the shuttle is enough fun for little ones, seeing what the other terminals have to offer is also a fun discovery. To be safe, take your boarding passes and IDs with you in case you end up needing it to re-enter your terminal. In my extensive airport walking experience, this has never happened, but it’s best to be prepared. And be careful not to exit any of the terminals if you don’t want to deal with the hassle of security again.
Find a deserted or close-to deserted part of the terminal. There are always a few gates that look forlorn and lonely. Cheer them up with some kid shenanigans. We let our kids climb on and crawl under the seats and tables (hand sanitizer and wipes used later!), we do running races, walking races, skipping races, backward races, any kind of racing that tires them out, then we lay down and read books. We once found an abandoned desk chair and spun each other around until we were so dizzy we couldn’t walk. In short, when you’re not around other weary travelers, you don’t worry about disturbing others and you can let them do what they want and need to do–within reason–to burn energy.
Airport terminals have no shortage of corridors, staircases, shops and restaurants. Tell your little Lewis and Clarks that you’re off to make great discoveries. If you have a notebook, you can quickly create a scavenger hunt or bring it along to take “explorer notes.” Their observations are sure to delight and entertain. You can even collect things like perfume samples from Duty Free, ketchup packets from the grill and luggage tags from gate desks. Get into it and your kids will play this one for quite some time.
Go to the Races
As you may have gathered, we’re into races. The great thing about airports is that staircases are usually right next to escalators and they provide an excellent race track. If you’re kids are old enough to be conscientious of other travelers, you can all partake in escalator vs. stairs races. These are walking-only races to see which one is the fastest. (Yes, we all know the escalator is faster, but does that really matter?) Encourage them to do the stairs as much as possible. Moving sidewalks are also excellent for racing. Sometimes we just resort to walking laps on moving sidewalks.
Go To a Sit-Down Restaurant:
If your kids aren’t belligerently tired, treat everybody to a meal at one of the real restaurants in the terminal. They usually have a children’s menu and crayons and activities to keep kids occupied. Dining in this fashion will eat up more time and give you and your spouse a chance to sit and maybe even enjoy a drink.
Get Desperate and Creative
Sometimes you can break the rules–minor ones–for the sake of keeping your sanity. During our seven-hour visit to Montreal, I saw the little shuttle that takes people from one terminal to the next; it was unoccupied, just waiting for riders. The driver saw desperation in my eyes and agreed to take us on a drive. I pretended to be a tour guide while the boys checked out the sights. This was probably the highlight of their layover. They noticed the shoe-shine station on our tour and the shoe-shine person was on break, so we sat and played shoe shine for a good thirty minutes after our tour. Even just sitting in those chairs was a novelty for them.
Avoid Your Carry On
You know that carry on bag you strategically packed to keep your kids occupied during the flight? Don’t open it unless you have to! Remember, after this layover, you still have a flight to get on and kids get even antsier on flights when they’re restricted to their seats. Unless you really know that they’re going to sleep for most of the flight, try to save those distractions for later.