W hen it comes to air travel, the GCC is pretty much the centre of the universe. Well, planet Earth anyway. As the schools kicked out last June, hundreds of thousands of us jetted off from here within 48 hours to all four corners of the globe, clocking up another round of air miles to escape the merciless heat with kids, suitcases and buggies in tow. And we’re about to do it all again.
For most of us, budget will dictate the route we take, but what if you could get the inside track on the airports worth diverting to, to break up the journey? Anyone with kids under six will tell you how appreciated a playground, swimming pool or even just a decent café overlooking a clean soft play area would be on a layover for families who’ve been cooped up on an A380 for eight hours together – not least when there’s still another seven hours to go. Here’s our pick of the best...
Europe - Munich Airport, Germany
Europe’s first five-star airport awarded by Skytrax, they seem to have pretty much thought of everything. In fact, you may struggle to get the kids out of Kinderland, a newly-renovated, supervised play zone in Terminal 2, and on to your connecting flight. Pretend to check in and board a real-life A330, run off steam in the impressive play area, chill out in the children’s cinema, use the entertainment technology for free, and get creative in the make-up studio set up especially for any wannabe mini supermodels. There’s a separate play zone for toddlers aged three and under and a separate Parents’ Lounge for you to relax in with a cuppa, get some work done, or just switch off. If, after all that, you’re still feeling whacked, book yourselves into a Napcab sleeping cabin to re-charge the batteries before the next leg.
America - Chicago O’Hare Airport, North America
Nickelodeon magazine named the airport’s Kids On The Fly zone “The Most Awesome Airport Play Area!” so expectations are pretty high. This action-packed exhibit located in Terminal 2, past security, is an interactive educational play area where youngsters can explore an aeroplane, see inside a control tower and play in a model helicopter. If you’re going through Terminal 1, you can’t miss the 72-foot-long Brachiosaurus skeleton model, on loan from Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History, and a replica of a World War II F4F-3 fighter plane is on display near the security checkpoint in Terminal 2 to amuse any budding plane-spotters.
Asia - Changi Airport, Singapore
Named the Skytrax World’s Best Airport for the fourth consecutive year, this airport is ridiculously family friendly with everything from mega-slides instead of escalators (see pic), playgrounds across all three terminals and five themed gardens on butterflies, sunflowers, orchids and cacti, as well as a fairy tale-style enchanted garden. There’s a rooftop pool at Terminal 1, cinemas screening free movies at terminals 2 and 3 and the chance to experiment with kinetic rain and art installations. Check out their website for more.
Australia - Sydney Airport
Terminal 1 now has free new dynamic gaming technology for its youngest passengers, providing interactive virtual and touchscreen entertainment. Virtual Kick-Off on level two, Departures, uses augmented reality to simulate a football match so kids can use their legs and hands to manoeuvre a virtual ball through the goal posts. For smaller travellers, “The Cubby House” is a series of large touchscreens using lively music to encourage kids to “play” with animated animals in a modern version of tag, pop as many colourful balloons as they can
and help a band play their musical instruments.
Middle East - Hamad International Airport, Qatar
Skytrax awarded this the Best Airport with the Best Airport Staff in the Middle East this year, so if you’re passing through on your travels, you should find it a breeze. Activity nodes stationed around the passenger terminal on concourses A, B and C are designed to keep young travellers entertained with lots of fun things to do such as watching movies, playing games on the Mac stations and exploring the interactive art pieces. Dedicated family rooms and family toilets – so as to avoid the issue of sending your kids to the bathroom unaccompanied – are a welcome touch, especially for mums travelling alone with sons. (Oh, and good luck with that...)