LayoverLuge: DTW to well, DTW (for kids and kids at heart)

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As a lifelong Northwest flyer (even continuing during the Delta ascension, wiping away the tears at the lost value of his WorldPerks account), The Rapid Traveler has passed through Detroit Metro Airport (DTW) many times, but has never had the time to step outside. Without a convenient rail link or must-see sight nearby, DTW would not normally qualify for LayoverLuge treatment, but passing through this weekend reminded The Rapid Traveler that DTW is one of the most improbably kid-friendly airports in the world, IF traveling on a SkyTeam Airline (Delta, Air France, KLM) at the McNamara Terminal. If flying any of the other airlines at the North Terminal you get pot luck, and it would be no fun for kids at any age to transfer between the two on the shuttle that runs every 10 minutes (The Rapid Traveler is leery of any transfer that does not involve walking or a train).

Express tram at Detroit airport

File photo with the correct livery, photo by monkeyatlarge

DTW’s appeal to kids operates on the bubble wrap theory of toys – the intended toy can’t compete with the unintentional appeal of the bubble wrap. And DTW has some great bubble wrap.

First is the Express Tram that runs back and forth in McNamara with a bird’s eye view of the action below. The Rapid Traveler saw a peck of children gleefully riding the rails.

The second is the improbably cool Light Tunnel that connects A concourse with B and C, Wikiepedia describes it thus:

The “B” and “C” concourses are connected to the main terminal building and the “A” Concourse by a pedestrian walkway under the tarmac. This walkway, known as the Light Tunnel, features an elaborate multi-colored light show behind sculpted glass panels extending the entire length of the walkway, as well several moving walkways. The light patterns are synchronized with an original musical score composed byVictor Alexeeff, which runs for nearly a half hour before repeating. This installation, one of the first large scale uses of color changing LED lighting in the United States, was produced by Mills James Productions with glasswork by Foxfire Glass Works of Pontiac, Michigan. The display won multiple lighting design awards including the prestigious Guth Award of Merit. For passengers who are prone to medical conditions such as seizures, there are buttons at each end of the tunnel that will suspend the light show for five minutes so they can pass through with no adverse affects.


In a country where playgrounds will eventually be reduced to flat rubber mats to prevent any conceivable injury or incident, it is refreshing to see a public space do something bold, while making a reasonable allowance for those who it would trouble.

The strategy here is best employed with two parents: station one at each end with book of choice and let kids ping pong in the tunnel.

For adults, DTW should also get kudos for having one of the few truly in-terminal hotels in the US, The Westin Detroit Metropolitan Airport. Transit hotels are a staple of airports in many countries, and while the Westin does not offer the hourly rates of true transit hotels, for the US it is already a big step up. Just book that flexible rate way ahead of any winter weather delays – you’ll prance like a king while others lay in the terminal and grumble at the sparce DTW food options.


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