I almost wanted to call this post “the least hated airlines with kids” after reading a recent online poll done by New York Times travel Writer Michelle Higgins. From her poll of more than 800 people, the best grade given to domestic U.S. airlines when it came to travel with kids was a stellar “C” and most received “D’s”.Obviously there is huge room for improvement here (airlines are you listening??), but for the sake of this topic, I have compiled a list of what I believe to be the best six domestic airlines and the best ten international airlines for flying with kids.
An airline that welcomes babies and small children will try to make family travel more comfortable with things like baby basinets, early boarding privileges, free checked bags, kids meals, coloring books, and in-flight cartoons and games. Generally, however, if you stick with the following list you will be better positioned for a good flight with your infant, toddler or small child.
Best North American Domestic Airlines for Travel with Kids
- Southwest Airlines (one of the few domestic carriers to offer child discounts)
- Jet Blue
- Virgin America
- Frontier Airlines
- Alaska Airlines
Best International Airlines for Travel with Kids
- Singapore Airlines
- Air New Zealand
- Virgin Atlantic/Virgin Australia
- Cathay Pacific
- Air Canada
- British Airways
- Japan Airlines
- Etihad Airways
In addition to showing a preference for the airlines listed above, it is also advantageous to secure some or all of the following (even if it means paying a little bit more):
- a direct flight allowing you to minimize transit time
- a newer plane (visit the website seatguru.com for plane and seat details for your flight)
- a flight time that will not interfere with you child’s regular sleep schedule
- a routing that takes you through one of the best domestic or international airports when a stopover is necessary (one should avoid dreadful Los Angeles International whenever possible)
- minimal or non existant charges for standard baggage allowance
Also important is a general understanding of airline ticket pricing when traveling with little ones. Here are the basics:
- Babies (under two years, sitting on your lap) fly either for free, or 10% of the adult ticket price, depending on the airline. You may want to consider purchasing a seat anyway, especially if your child is very active, or if it is a long haul flight (the infant will be eligible for the children’s discount when available).
- Outside of periodic “Kids Fly Free” specials, there are rarely discounts for children (2-11 years) on domestic flights and short haul international flights (between Canada-USA, USA-Mexico etc.).
- For long haul flights, most commonly overseas, the discounts range from 0-50% off the regular adult fare, with most airlines settling in around a 25% off. The taxes and fuel surcharges are usually fixed (same for adult and child).
- A good seat sale usually beats any kind of kids discount off the regular fare.
- A few airlines periodically offer specials for kids. Watch the fine print since the terms usually include a requirement to book a complete vacation package (including a hotel with a minimum stay), and a limitation of one child flying free per full fare adult ticket booked. Here are a few of the promotions that have shown up in the past year.
Air Transat (Feb – Jun 2012) – Kids Fly Free To Disneyworld (from Toronto) with vacation package
Alaska Airlines (Jan-Apr. 2011) – Kids Fly Free to Disneyland with vacation package
West Jet (Sept-Oct. 2011) – Kids Fly Free to Disneyland with vacation package
Air Pacific (Jan -Feb. 2011) – Kids Fly Free to Fiji with vacation package
Air Transat ( Apr. Oct. 2011 ) – Kids Fly Free to Florida with vacation package
Delta Airlines (Jan-Jun. 2011) – Kids Fly Free to Disney World with vacation package
Etihad Airlines (Aug. 2011) – Kids fly free to Abu Dhabi with vacation package
One final tip on air travel. Increasingly, domestic airlines are charging for everything from bags to headphones. I was happy to find this consolidated list of surcharges on US domestic airlines from Farecompare.com. to help you better assess the true cost of your travels.