On my first airplane trip, when I was very little, I got a silver pin that looked like pilot’s wings, a coloring book, and a peek inside the cockpit. When I was slightly older, the cockpit was off-limits, but I got a plastic pin, and a coloring book, and a flight attendant took me on a tour of the plane (one of the double-decker ones). Now, kids are lucky if they don’t get thrown off the plane for crying.
I saw this post the other day on the most kid-friendly airlines, based on, as the author says, such things such as “priority boarding, snacks, entertainment, etc.” I love lists–who doesn’t?–but this was left me wanting more.
First, I can’t find anywhere in the post where this list came from. Did the author do the research and compile it herself? (Super cool if she did–that must have been a lot of work.) If so, was it based on feedback from friends and family, from social media, from the airline’s PR departments, or from her own experiences? Without knowing how the author compiled the list, I’m not sure how much weight to put on it.
Second, how is this different from a list of major domestic carriers? Did any of the big airlines NOT make the cut? Was the list compiled specifically to target American carriers, or did no foreign carriers rate? (Reading other posts about parents’ favorite airlines, I don’t think the latter can be true.)
Third, how were the ratings tallied? What was the criteria? Was each criterion weighted equally, or were some given more importance? For example, was boarding priority given the same weight as gourmet kiddy food and a backpack full of gifts?
Fourth, did the creators of this list award points for things that make flying nicer for humans in general (snacks for all, free entertainment) or only those perks enjoyed by children?
When we flew Icelandair last fall, I wasn’t expecting much. I’d read countless travel-review blurbs that said Icelandair had terrible food and was a pretty cut-rate experience. Flying with Granuaile, however, was a joy. Before the plane had taken off, an attendant had given her crayons, Icelandic coloring pages, headphones to keep, a pillow, and a blanket. As soon as we’d reached cruising altitude, before the beverage cart started circulating, an attendant handed her a hot grilled cheese sandwich, cookies, and a drink. Best of all, in Granuaile’s eyes, everybody had full control of a TV screen, built into the seat back in front of them, and there were plenty of kids’ shows at the touch of a button. Adults have to pay for their own food and entertainment, but Icelandair treats kids lavishly.
In doing a quick search of the Internet, it seems plenty of parents have opinions about their favorite airlines for kid travel. I’ve seen great love given to Air Malta, British Airways (repeatedly), Japan Airlines, Air New Zealand, Virgin, Quantas, Turkish Air, Gulf Air (two words: SKY NANNIES!), Emirates, and Lufthansa. While each of these airlines sound wonderful for their frills and perks, these are special-occasion airlines for most Americans. Seventy-five percent of my family travel is domestic, usually between Columbus and Seattle.
Frequent flyers usually have definite airline opinions, but I don’t have great brand loyalty, usually choosing the cheapest flights. Most domestic American carriers seem the same to me, especially in their rush to cut frills. Since starting to fly with children, I can’t remember an airline giving Granuaile special treatment. In fact, most have even cut priority boarding for families.
Sky Nannies sound pie-in-the-sky wonderful, but I realize they’re not likely to be embraced by American cost-cutting carriers any time soon. Failing that, I’d still like to see:
Bassinets/carry-cots: I’ve only read about them, never tried one, but they seem to appear only on foreign carriers, on trans-oceanic flights. Flying coast-to-coast in the US is a long haul, and a long time to have a tired child on your lap.
- Snacks and drinks (water is fine) for children. Yes, parents should bring their own, but things happen.
- Roomier restroom changing tables–hah!
- Airline staff should be familiar with various travel apparatus. Parents who fly semi-regularly knows that a Sit ‘n Stroll exists, even if they don’t have one. Yet each time we take ours on board, the staff seems never to have seen one before, questioning us repeatedly about what it is, whether it meets FAA regulations, etc.
- Free TV with even just a few G-rated shows–kids don’t mind watching repeats, and PG can be too violent for younger kids.
- Airport playgrounds and lounges for families. The few times I’ve used an airport lounge to wait for a flight have been wonderful, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable taking my young children into one. Airport playgrounds are a wonderful thing, just not as common as I’d like.
- Priority boarding. It’s hard enough maneuver children, bags, and a car seat without the added pressure of people pushing past you, lifting bags over your head, and huffing angrily.
- Family sections on the plane. Travelers without kids don’t want to be kicked in the seatback or listen to crying babies–I get it, and trust me, I don’t want my kids to kick or cry. That said, if they do, I’d rather be seated with other kicking, crying kids and parents who–it would be hoped–might have a bit more patience.
Do you have a favorite airline for family travel? What sort of amenities are important to you when you fly with your child?