O’Hare for Kids

Amy Hatch gets the scoop from Chicago’s Department of Aviation on how parents can occupy the kids during delays at Chicago’s O’Hare.


The first time I traveled through O’Hare International Airport in Chicago with my daughter, the trip went off without a hitch. The second time? Not so much.

We were supposed to be on a 6:30 p.m. flight into our small-town home airport, Willard, a short 30-minute hop away. But our departure was pushed back to 9:30, which meant my then-2-year-old and I spent four hours (delays plus the anticipated lay-over) looking for ways to stay occupied. We ended up tormenting other passengers by running around the gate playing hide-and-seek.

What I didn’t know then, and what I do know now, is that thanks to its children’s play spaces, getting delayed at Chicago may not be as bad as you think. I interviewed Gregg Cunningham, the media relations coordinator for the City of Chicago Department of Aviation, to find out what’s so hot about these O’Hare play areas, and other interesting facts about the airport.

Amy Hatch: How big is O’Hare Airport, and how many people travel through it on a daily basis?

Gregg Cunningham: O’Hare Airport comprises approximately six million square feet. There are 178 gates and a total of 51 commercial airlines operate from O'Hare. An average of 210,000 travelers pass through the airport each day.

AH: O’Hare has been in the news lately as being a hub that experiences a lot of delays. Do you see many families struggling to deal with the cancellations and delays?

GC: No airport is immune to flight cancellations or delays caused by adverse weather, however, we believe no other airport in the world offers the same level of customer service and amenities for families. Throughout the terminals at O’Hare, there are a number of points of interest including several art exhibits, a 72-foot long Brachiosaurus dinosaur skeleton model and a replica of the historic WWII fighter plane flown by airport namesake Edward ‘Butch’ O’Hare, to name a few. The airport also has several family companion restrooms, which accommodate families with small children, the elderly or anyone who may need extra assistance when using restroom facilities.

AH: Does the airport have any facilities for children?

GC: The Chicago Children's Museum operates a space in Terminal 2 called ‘Kids on the Fly’ and in Terminal 5, a space known as ‘Play It Safe.’ In the ‘Kids on the Fly’ play area, children can interact with airport models such as an airplane, helicopter and control tower. The play area is updated every year with new and exciting activities. The latest update is Chicago Scoops, a three-dimensional, interactive shop where kids can order and serve pretend ice cream treats, and ring up customers at the cash register.

‘Kids on the Fly’ was the 2003 recipient of Nickelodeon Magazine's ‘Most Awesome Airport Play Area’ award. The ‘Play It Safe’ play area features a fire safety exhibit, which was funded by a grant from the Chicago Fire Department. Children can learn about fire and home safety at this interactive exhibit.

AH: How long have the play areas been in place?

GC: ‘Kids on the Fly’ was originally installed in 1996, and ‘Play it Safe’ was installed in April 2005. Both play areas are visited daily. ‘Kids on the Fly’ averages about 650 visits per day. ‘Play It Safe’ averages more than 150 visits per day.

AH: Next time I’m flying back East, you can bet I’ll be one of those visitors. 

Destinations: Chicago

Themes: Family Travel

User Comments

dino I'm headed for the Brachiosaurus next time I have a three hour delay in O'Hare.

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