It’s got to be a parent’s worst nightmare: Losing a child in a noisy, crowded, impersonal airport.
It doesn’t happen often, but it happens. In a recent scary incident, a family from the Philippines that was immigrating to Canada misplaced their 2-year-old boy, when — during a mad scramble for a connecting flight — the family got separated. Each of the four adults thought the child was with one of the other adults, and … well, see for yourself.
With the busy summer leisure travel season coming up, it’s worth reviewing a few points, and pointing to some options, for parents flying with children.
It may seem abundantly obvious, yet it can’t be said enough: Children, especially the littlest ones, must be supervised at all times by adults. Letting children roam and simply forgetting about them for a few minutes of badly needed grown-up R&R just isn’t an option.
Fortunately, airports are beginning to realize that engaging the attention of child travelers makes it less likely that they or their parents will just wander off, wondering what on earth to do. Airports in the United States and abroad are installing imaginative, interactive children’s play areas, and some airports are sprouting child-centric shops that have entertaining and educational items on offer.
Some of the smartest features are aviation-themed play areas. These places keep kids occupied during the otherwise antsy down time resulting from the inevitable flight delays and cancellations, while also teaching kids something about aircraft and air travel.
Baltimore/Washington International Airport has a flight-themed play area in the observation gallery. The area displays airplane parts — a wing, a tail — to let kids see aircraft up-close. The play area is also carpeted, a nice feature given how often little kids take a tumble.
Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport has an aviation-themed play area with a miniature air traffic control tower, runway, aircraft and so on. The gear, meant to be handled, is padded, and there is a place for parents to sit down while they keep an eye on the young ones.
San Francisco International Airport showcases a museum — the Louis A. Turpen Aviation Museum — that’s built on the footprint of SFO’s 1930s passenger terminal and replicates its handsome design. There is a wonderful, and huge, globe of the earth, vintage Pan American pilots’ and flight attendants’ uniforms and other mementos. On the mezzanine level are sterling wall-mounted photographs of early air travel. This museum, located in the international terminal, appeals most to children 11 or older.
Some U.S. airports have also opened shops that feature Discovery Channel, National Geographic and other educationally minded toys, books, and maps.
Overseas airports are going through a similar kid-friendly upgrade. Copenhagen's Kastrup Airport, one of Europe’s more pleasant and better-organized hubs, has play areas that are open 24/7 and shops such as Teddy & Co. with clothes for kids up to age 12 and Ecco with good selections of children’s shoes.
None of the bells and whistles can replace attentive parenting, of course, but making use of them can help make sure the lost-child nightmare scenario doesn’t become reality.