An expedition through Dubai airport with my 20-month-old son delivered a revelation last year.
As we unfurled ourselves after a 14-hour flight, the lad was keener than a Melbourne Cup hopeful to stretch his legs. We negotiated Customs and were assaulted by the familiar assortment of glamour brands selling the lifestyle of jetset utopia.
The real estate included a prayer room to appease the religious community, a smoking room to pacify the inhalers of lung darts, and a smorgasbord of restaurants and bars for those needing sustenance or resolve in transit.
But, hang on a minute, where was the playground to give parents a breather?
A search of CSI proportions was undertaken for evidence of a rope ladder, a slide, monkey bars or a climbing wall. Hell, even a see-saw would have sufficed to exhaust our chap. Alas, the search for an oasis of gaudy plastic failed.
The airport has since opened a play area, presumably after experiences like ours. It is euphemistically described as "for kids who need to burn off excess energy before their flight". In reality they tend to be chaotic zoos, but such facilities should be mandatory at international airports. Surely investing in the kids could alleviate myriad problems:
1. For those not travelling with children, a playground reduces the number of boisterous kids milling around the airport.
2. For those travelling with children, a playground provides an arena to unite parents and bolster spirits for an ongoing journey.
3. A playground tires out a child and, in theory, benefits everyone flying to their next destination.
If an airport doesn't have a playground, alternative means are required to occupy attention and mediate peace. That's where a tennis ball comes into its own. I'm not saying it's Mahatma Gandhi, but the humble furry sphere can broker harmony with its sheer versatility. Bounce it against a wall, kick it around the floor, throw it over empty lounge seats - a tennis ball occupies minimal space and is one of our first items packed. Sure, like an airline lifejacket or oxygen mask, its value is usually limited on a flight, but once you're off, it becomes fuzzy gold.
A suggestion to run in-sync with playground construction - and tennis ball use - is to boost the dimensions of bulkhead bassinets.
Perhaps a seat or two might be lost, thereby reducing airline profits, but that would be a minor price to pay for greater traveller wellbeing.
If the bassinets cater for those up to 2 or 3 years old, rather than 18 months, that results in more sleep for kids, their parents and potentially all passengers. Everyone's a winner.