15 Worst Airports and How to Survive Them With Your Kids

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Even if you prepare for your flight with sticker and coloring books, a treasure trove of snacks, and even a resolve to lift the one-hour limit on your kiddo’s use of the magic that is the iPad, there’s still a high chance you’ll encounter some roadblocks and delays during your holiday travel this year. Since nobody wants to get delayed (or worse yet, stranded) with a sleepy four year old in-tow, we’ve come up with ways to survive even the least family-friendly airports.

Our friends at Hopper evaluated the 100 US airports with more than 5,000 flights per year. The analysis was based on average departure delays, number of flights canceled, on-time departure percentages and weather delays (both frequency and duration). The 15 airports featured here are the ones most likely to derail a family trip. Chances are you’ll be heading through these airports at some point so read on to see what makes each of these airports rank low on our list, and how to survive them.

15. Atlanta, GA: Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International (ATL)

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The Bad News: You’re probably not surprised to find Atlanta on a ‘worst airports’ list, but you might be surprised to find that it’s actually the best of the worst. A dubious title, to be sure, but we still give Atlanta kudos for its 83.75% on-time departure rate. It’s not A+ territory, but it could definitely be worse. That said, Atlanta does rank pretty high on the ‘canceled flight’ list, with 1,038 nixed in 2011 alone.

How to Survive: Atlanta knows how to take care of kids, with 13 family bathrooms in the airport, Delta Kid Sky zones, playstation recharging stations and 10 restaurants with kids menus. Also worth noting if you end up with time to kill, take the kids to check out the skeleton of the Yangchuanosaurus in the airport’s atrium and the model train exhibition near Concourse T.

14. Knoxville, TN: McGhee Tyson (TYS)

photo credit: Alipyon via photopin cc

The Bad News: With an average departure delay time of well over 13 minutes, this small airport isn’t doing Knoxville any big favors. It faced 3,535 weather delays in 2011, and has an on-time departure rate of just 81.22%, well below industry averages. However, while it doesn’t do too well by the numbers, travelers seem to like the airport, which is clean and modern, if small.

How to Survive: While the airport doesn’t advertise a kid’s zone for frollicking, it does include a fun airport activities guide on it’s website, with downloadable games and activities to entertain the kids.

13. Houston, TX: William P Hobby (HOU)

photo credit: MichaelB in Houston via photopin cc

The Bad News: They say everything’s bigger in Texas, but apparently that doesn’t include the on-time departure rate at Hobby. At just over 75%, it’s well below the industry average. On top of that, Hobby is without a children’s play zone, meaning you’ll be carralling kids in the terminal.

How to Survive: If your plane gets canceled, as it did in 1.19% of cases in 2011 (far above the industry average) you’ll have a chance to check out Houston’s highly regarded Children’s Museum or the Houston Zoo.

12. New York, NY: John F. Kennedy International (JFK)

photo credit: rskoon (Richard) via photopin cc

The Bad News: The 43,124 weather delays that JFK sees each year cements its place on the ‘worst’ list. Though New York deals with its fair share of thunderstorms, it’s really the snow that puts JFK over the edge, making its weather delay batting average even higher than Miami’s. JFK is still no Dallas, but its paltry 83.29% on-time take-off rate is nothing to get excited about.

How to Survive: If you’re delayed with kids, jump on the free Airtran for a ride on the monorail around the airport. However, if you’re on one of the 400 or so flights that get canceled each year, there’s plenty things to do in New York with kids. 

11. Miami, FL: Miami International (MIA)

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The Bad News: An impressive 38,705 weather delays in 2011 earned Miami its spot on the ‘worst’ list. With tropical storms blowing through the sweltering southern city on an alarmingly regular basis, there’s a good chance your plane will be grounded for a while.

How to Survive: Miami offers a couple of kid friendly ammenities including a recreation zone in the D Concourse and art displays by local children in the Concourse D/E Connector.

10. Fayetteville, AR: Northwest Arkansas Regional (XNA)

photo credit: Thomas Leuthard via photopin cc

The Bad News: Claiming the dubious title as the only regional airport to make our ‘worst’ list, Fayetteville had an exceptionally high flight cancellation rate of 2.13% in 2011. The tiny airport saw 151 cancellations and a less than 84% on-time takeoff rate.

How to Survive: If you’re delayed here, there is no children’s zone. So plan on paying for wifi to keep the kids entertained, or bring extra activities. Should you find yourself spending an impromptu night in Fayetteville, take the kids to check out the University of Arkansas campus or the city’slarge farmer’s market. Also nearby is Bentonville, AR, the world headquarters of Walmart. The good news is that if you forgot your toothbrush, or pajamas or inflatable dinosaur-shaped pool toy or pretty much anything else… Walmart’s got you covered.

9. San Francisco, CA: San Francisco International (SFO)

photo credit: Don Fulano via CC

The Bad News: With a less than 75% on-time departure rate in 2011, SFO ranks near the bottom of the barrel when it comes to getting planes off the ground. They also sported 2,283 cancellations in 2011.

How to Survive: What SFO lacks in on-time flights, it makes up for in kid friendly activities. The airport features an aviation museum, children’s art exhibits and a weather-themed play area designed by SF’s innovative Exploratorium. At least the little ones will be entertained while you give the airlines a piece of your mind.


8. Denver, CO: Denver International (DEN)

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The Bad News: Though Denver boasts a relatively low departure delay average, it also faced 1,246 canceled flights in 2011. Furthermore, the city scored 36,700 weather delays last year, in large part due to snowstorms. Yikes.

How to Survive: If you’re stuck here with children there are a couple options to pass the time, hunker down in the children’s play zone in Concourse B or hop on the underground train for a ride to entertain young ones or lull them to sleep.

7. Savannah, GA: Savannah/Hilton Head International (SAV)

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The Bad News: With a measly 5,560 flights taking off each year, you’d think Savannah wouldn’t have any trouble getting them off the ground on time. Not so, as the airport still puts up a less than 80% on-time departure rate. 1.73% of flights were also straight-up canceled in 2011, often due to weather.

How to Survie: Bring toys!! There’s no kids play area, so we suggest hunkering down at one of their 9 dining options (best bet: Phillip’s Famous Seafood, kids will love their chicken tenders, and parents can snack on steamed shrimp & their “famous” crab cakes). If you’re stuck in Savannah overnite, take older kids in town for a haunted carriage ride tour.

6. Greensboro/High Point, NC: Piedmont Triad International (GSO)

photo credit: GSO airport Facebook page

The Bad News: The third-largest city in North Carolina unfortunately features a lame 80.32% on-time departure average, putting it well into our 15 worst airports list.

How to Survive: It’s a shame GSO does not have a kid-friendly zone. They do however, have a dog walking spot. So we suggest taking the kids down there to check out the puppies.

5. Dallas/Fort Worth, TX: Dallas/Fort Worth International (DFW)

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The Bad News: Fun fact: DFW covers more than 26.9 square miles, making it larger in area than Manhattan. DFW features a dismal 72% on-time departure rate, the nation’s largest American Airlines hub.

How to Survive: DFW offers several kid-friendly activities to pass the time, including Three Junior Flyer Club play areas.

4. Newark, NJ: Newark Liberty International (EWR)

photo credit: HDPort via CC

The Bad News: With a whopping 17-plus minute departure delay average, there’s a pretty decent chance you’re going to be spending more time in Newark than you had hoped. Pass the time with kids on the free Air Tran.

How to Survive: On the bright side, if your flight gets outright canceled (which happens about 1.79% of the time), you can hop on a commuter to New York and take the kids to check out the Intrepid Museum or the Central Park Zoo.

3. Houston, TX: George Bush Intercontinental/Houston (IAH)

The Bad News: Represented on the ‘worst’ list with three different airports, Texas is almost as well-represented on our list as it is in Congress. If you’re flying out of this Houston airport, you have a greater than 25% chance of taking off late. It doesn’t help that the airport also faces an average departure delay of 15 minutes, a number that in many cases climbs much higher.

How to Survive: Bring toys. Here you won’t find any kid friendly play zones, so plan on carrying extra toys and supplies to tackle your wait.


2. Washington, DC: Washington Dulles International (IAD)

photo credit: Chris Devers via photopin cc

The Bad News: With an average departure delay of more than 14 minutes, Dulles clocks in as the second-worst airport in the nation by our calculations. They suffer 28,485 weather delays each year and must contend with an average on-time departure rate of just 77.82%.

How to Survive: One option for riding out the wait? Catch a 15 minute bus ride to the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center where kids can view all sorts of planes and spacecraft.

1. Chicago, IL: Chicago O’Hare International (ORD)

photo credit: Chicago Dept. of Aviation

The Bad News: And finally, Chicago tops our list of the ‘worst airports’ with over 160,000 weather delays every year, second in that category only to DFW. Not surprisingly, its on-time departure rate is a paltry 77.15%. What can we say? They don’t call it the Windy City for nothing. With 3,771 flights canceled in 2011 and an average departure delay of nearly 14 minutes, there’s a good chance you’ll be spending more time than you bargained for in ORD.

How to Survive: Due to the high probablity of frustration, ORD is full of kid-friendly areas, inlcuding a playground in Terminal 2 designed by The Children’s Museum of Chicago and an exhibit dedicated to World War II hero and airport namesake Lt. Commander Edward “Butch” O’Hare, which includes a restored fighter plane.

For the full “Worst Airports” chart and many more fun travel articles, check out Hopper’s blog.

About Hopper
Planning a trip can be tedious and frustrating. Information is scattered across the web, making research difficult and time-consuming. Eventually, people feel like they have to settle for just “good enough.” At Hopper, our mission is to bring the joy and inspiration back to travel planning. For more information visit Hopper.com, or follow us on Twitter @HopperTravel and Facebook.