Keeping kids entertained at 30,000 feet is no easy task, especially on a long-haul flight. Infants need changing, 5-year-olds need coloring books, and teenagers need their own TV screen for games and movies. Finding the right family-friendly airline can really make all the difference in the skies! Unfortunately, with more airlines charging for small things like seat assignments and meals, flying just isn’t what it used to be. Luckily, we’ve broken down three airlines that still go the extra mile keeping your family travel light-hearted and stress-free.
OUR INTERNATIONAL CHOICE: EMIRATES
Emirates hasn’t been voted the 2017 Best Airline in the World by Tripadvisor Travelers’ Choice Awards for nothing. This exceptional airline tops the charts in service and quality, and this virtue extends to their family-friendly policy.
Among Emirates’ many comforts, they offer advanced seat assignments, free stroller checked luggage, an extra bag for nursing, and change tables in toilets. Baby food, a children’s menu and special snack box are available for kids up to 12 years of age.
Little flyers receive different perks based on their age range. For infants, there are bassinets, soft toys and baby formula handy on board at no cost.
Toddlers and younger kids are treated to a “We Fly With Me Animal” to cuddle during the flight. The special in-flight kids’ magazine, Fly With Me Monster, comes with collectible fuzzy toys, blankets and Sketcher seatbelt critters. Generous parents can also pick up Quicksilver wallets, backpacks, brightly colorful headphones and storybooks.
On some planes, flight attendants pass out the free Lonely Planet-inspired kid’s pack, crafted to inspire your budding adventurer: a travel journal, a magazine with puzzles and activities, colored pencils and an eye mask.
The award-winning, inflight entertainment system ICE delivers 100 games, 60 movies, 90+ children’s TV channels and selected music. Select from a huge range of much-loved chart hits, movie soundtracks, musicals and age-appropriate podcasts. Or enjoy a friendly battle with a sibling with an interactive game of chess or Tetris.
Kids can choose from over 50 Disney classic films and more recent hits, from 101 Dalmatians and Cinderella to Finding Nemo and Toy Story. So your child can’t live without Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon? On Emirates, they don’t have to. Flip to the Airshow channel for breathtaking live views from the plane. On the double-decker A380s, the tail fin camera allows incredible glimpses of the aircraft speeding through the clouds.
The Skysurfers frequent flyer program, for ages 2-16, even awards points for those future jetsetters. Apply these miles to future flights, bookshop gift certificates, or the Wild Wadi Water Park in Dubai.
Emirates’ service-first policy extends even before you board. At their Dubai hub, families can pick up complimentary strollers at special family check-in points. Wander into the first- and business-class lounges for their dedicated play areas and video game consoles. Lounges also offer a mother and baby room where you can change and feed your infant. The kicker? Families always board first, a lifesaver for parents with lots of luggage.
OUR TRANSATLANTIC CHOICE: VIRGIN ATLANTIC AIRWAYS
“Boredom is banned” Virgin Atlantic’s website states, and they sure mean it, from the kid-friendly food to the KiD backpacks crammed full of hands-on goodies. Before boarding, the gate staff hands out these free packs, designed to keep kids busy on board and take the stress out of family travel. Each waterproof bag contains a child-sized eye mask, warm socks, sunglasses, baseball cap, travel journal, activity book and a rainbow pen. Some flights even hand out the children’s book The Great Hot Air Balloon Adventure by Stephen D. Holmes.
Virgin Atlantic is one branch of the Virgin brand that really goes all out when it comes to your child’s safety and well-being. Flight attendants will provide a special infant seat, shaped to fit each seat regardless of cabin class. The airline also provides baby cots, complimentary diapers, bottles, baby food and changing facilities on all flights.
The airline also enlisted Top TV chef Lorraine Pascale to create delicious and nutritional meals just for young passengers. Lorraine is known for her healthy, light dishes with a touch of class: mac and cheese with pancetta, crispy tender chicken strips with potato wedges and crushed peas, sweet and sour pork balls with sunshine rice and Mum’s chili con carne with calypso rice.
Virgin has got the kids’ snacks covered, stocked with ice cream, jam sandwiches, cheddar cheese, raisins, fresh fruit yoghurt tubes and dinosaur pasta. Even the baby gets his or her own menu. Just note that special menus need to be ordered online at least 48 hours before you fly.
Each seat is equipped with its own seatback TV, allowing your kids to flip through channels, movies and games at leisure. Age-appropriate entertainment features parental controls. You can rest easily knowing that your child is surfing family-friendly channels.
Note that these amenities are not universal among the Virgin brand, they’re unique to Virgin Atlantic. However, Virgin America also offers priority boarding for families with children ages 5 and under (after first-class).
OUR CANADIAN CHOICE: WESTJET
WestJet may be a low-cost carrier but this certainly doesn’t mean it sacrifices quality. This budget airline doesn’t bother to nickel-and-dime you, instead it’s chock-full of amenities to keep your kid happy all flight long.
Westjet’s policies strive to be child- and parent-friendly. They have pre-seat selection available, and prioritizes seats for families traveling with young children. Guests of 12 years or older can travel with an infant under two years in their lap at no extra charge, so say goodbye to those pesky lap child fees. Child and infant equipment, such as car seats or strollers, can be checked in addition at no charge.
WestJet Connect streams more than 650 hours of kids’ movies and tv shows to your seat. On select Boeing 737 flights within Canada, they even offer free live satellite seatback television. Kids can choose from fresh sandwiches, and even vegetarian and gluten-free options. On international flights, passengers pre-purchase hot meals of their choice. All kids are offered complimentary juices and snacks for the duration of the flight, so keep those popcorn chips and pretzels coming!
A close runner-up on our list is JetBlue, the airline that keeps the onboard entertainment hopping, with Cartoon Network, Animal Planet, Nickelodeon, and 36 other free DirecTV channels to choose from. Kids can also jam to their favorite tunes on Sirius XM Satellite Radio. On flights one hour or less, your younger adventurers can enjoy free reading printables from Soar with Reading and PBS Kids (print before you head to the airport!). Flights longer than two hours will screen at least one child-friendly movie.
Not all airlines are created equal when it comes to family-friendly skies. Luckily, a few airlines still know how to pamper parents and kids – which as we all know makes a huge difference in your family’s overall travel experience.