The Best Airlines for Kids and Families
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Hilary Stockton
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Singapore Airlines-one of the best airlines to fly with kids

 

If you’re planning a summer family vacation that includes flying somewhere with the kids, especially a long-haul flight, you’re probably not looking forward to the flight. While we’ve covered some tips for flying with toddlers, and the Best Airports for Kids and Families, it’s also helpful to know which airlines offer the best discounts, service and perks for kids. Naturally, your choice of airlines will be determined by where you’re flying, but it’s good to know what you can expect:

U.S. Domestic Flights

With few exceptions, gone are the days of child fares for kids 2 years and older on domestic U.S. flights. Children 2 years old and up require their own seat and must pay the same adult fare as you, on virtually all U.S. carriers. Southwest is an exception, but don’t get too excited: the child fare, which is only available over the phone and not online, is only ~$10-20 off Southwest’s Anytime fares for children 2-11; the lowest price “Wanna Get Away” fares are not eligible for child discounts. So if you urgently have to take your kid from NYC to SFO you might at most save $40 on the roundtrip, but for planned leisure travel you're best off buying the cheapest available online adult fares for your kids. 

One way to take $400 off a flight is to Apply for the Barclays Arrival World MasterCard with 40,000 Miles that = $400 rebate on travel expenses. See more info in our Barclays Arrival Card Review.

Babies and toddlers younger than 2 (including on the return flight) do still fly free if you hold them on your lap. Not great to wrangle a wiggling high-energy toddler on a 12 hour flight from NYC to Honolulu, but if you can handle it, it’s free.

Unfortunately for anyone who has flown solo with one or more babies and car seat, there is no longer family pre-boarding for any of the major U.S. carriers, so if you want to board early you’ll either need to have frequent flyer status or fly business or first class. No meal service extends to kids too, so don’t forget to bring plenty of your own healthy snacks.

So what are our picks if you're flying domestic? While you'll probably go with the cheapest fare or one that you have status with, if prices are similar and you don't have loyalty reasons to fly one over another, our pick if it flies to your destination would be JetBlue for its extra room, good seatback inflight entertainment, and generally more pleasant crew, not to mention policy against overbooking. Overbooking may be great if you're looking to mileage run, but with an antsy 3-year old? Not so much.

Asiana Airlines Kids Meal

 

International Flights

On international flights, we have three words of advice: avoid American carriers. Not only are the modest discounts going away on some of them (it’s almost impossible to find child fares on international Delta flights these days), you’re less likely to be able to reserve a bassinet, there are fewer perks such as fun kid packs with activity books and stuffed animals, wide selection of child entertainment channels and often the U.S. carriers’ flight attendants just aren’t as friendly and helpful when it comes to children as their counterparts at many of the international carriers. Our top picks for child friendly service are Singapore Airlines, Japan Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Etihad, Virgin AtlanticEmirates and other Asian carriers.

Of course, it also helps enormously when traveling with kids on long international flights if you can both be comfortable and get some sleep, and for that we suggest traveling in business class or first class (see Top 10 Reasons to Fly First Class with Kids), especially if your child travels well and you can get him or her to sleep. There's no need to pay $20,000 per ticket or mileage run either--you can earn the miles you need through some strategic credit card signups and spend on those cards. For example, if you wanted to fly Singapore Airlines Business Class from NYC to Singapore, the roundtrip is currently 120K United miles, although note that due to the United Devaluation on Feb. 1, 2014, those and first class partner awards using United miles will increase in the number of miles required for an award. See United Award Chart Devaluation: Redeem Miles Before February 1, 2014.

Note that you cannot book Singapore First Class or Suites with United or other Star Alliance partner miles; for Singapore First Class and Singapore Suites you can transfer AMEX Membership Rewards points to Singapore KrisFlyer to redeem for those awards. Need Award Booking Help? Our fee is as low as $75 per ticket if you book your hotel through us.

For Cathay Pacific First Class or Cathay Business Class, we recommend earning American AAdvantage miles via Citi AAdvantage credit cards (see Best Travel Credit Cards for current offers) if you don't earn many AAdvantage miles by flying. We've personally flown Cathay Pacific First Class with a Kid and also Etihad First Class using AAdvantage miles and recommend both of them! Don't forget that Etihad now offers Flying Nannies on all its long haul flights to help keep your kids happy and occupied. 

Check out TravelSort's chart below to see at a glance why these airlines are our favorites, and how they stack up against others when it comes to flying with kids:

Airline

Child Discounts?

Service and Perks

Air New Zealand

  • International: Under 2 pay 10% if held on your lap; 2-11 typically pay 75% of adult fare in economy, but full adult fare in business/first
  • Bassinets may be pre-reserved for babies <8 months (26 lbs maximum)
  • Baby and child meals may be preordered
  • Children’s meals served first
  • Bottle warming
  • Limited amounts of diapers, baby food and formula available on long-haul flights for emergency use
  • Kid packs featuring native New Zealand critters Kerry the Kiwi, Phizz the Fantail and Ted the Tuatara available, with versions for kids 3-6 and 7-11. Packs include coloring pencils, activity books, magic slate and stickers
  • Note that no children’s meals or kid packs are available on short haul flights across the Pacific islands; only available on long-haul flights

American Airlines

  • Domestic: Under 2 fly free on your lap; no discount for own seat or for children over 2
  • International: Under 2 pay 10% if held on your lap
  • Long haul: Bassinets may be available but cannot be reserved in advance

British Airways

  • International: Under 2 pay 10% if held on your lap; 2-11 typically pay 75% of adult fare
  • Child discounts available only by calling a BA office
  • Child who turns 2 during trip will receive infant fare for entire trip, but will have own seat after turning 2
  • Children 5+ may be booked into into a different cabin
  • Infant seats and bassinets are available (29 lbs maximum)
  • Bottle and baby food warming
  • Children’s meals served first
  • Skyflyer activity packs available on flights >3 hours, with a backpack including cuddly toy, sticker book, electronic games
  • Inflight entertainment includes Disney channel, Cartoon network and movies
  • Parental blocking is available on some systems, to ensure kids only view child-friendly entertainment

Cathay Pacific

  • International: Under 2 pay 10% if held on your lap; 2-11 typically pay 75% of adult fare
  • Bassinets are available (26 lbs maximum)
  • Bottle and baby food warming
  • Baby meal: strained meat, vegetable, dessert
  • Child meal: hamburger, fries etc. in special box
  • Colorful backpack with games, activity books and stationery

Continental Airlines

  • Domestic: Under 2 fly free on your lap; no discount for own seat or for children over 2
  • International: Under 2 pay 10% if held on your lap
  • Long-haul: Bassinets are available for infants up to 22 lbs and should be requested in advance, although they cannot be guaranteed

Delta

  • Domestic: Under 2 fly free on your lap; no discount for own seat or for children over 2
  • International: Under 2 pay 10% if held on your lap; for kids 2-11 child fares have mostly been eliminated, but may be available on select routes and dates if you call Delta

 

Emirates

  • International: Under 2 pay 10% if held on your lap; kids 2-11 pay 50% of an adult fare
  • Babies: Baby and toddler kit with wet wipes, cream, bib, teething ring, and glove puppet
  • Baby food, formula, bottles, diapers available on request
  • 2-12: Colorful bag with stuffed animal, Dr. Seuss story, coloring book with puzzles and games, and child eye mask
  • Book ahead for child meal (vegetarian option available)
  • Kids receive their own child-size headsets
  • Seatback TV with children’s channel, interactive channel with 50 games

Japan Airlines

  • International: Under 2 pay 10% if held on your lap; 2-11 typically pay 75% of adult fare although rates can vary by route and date
  • Infant bassinets are available (22 lbs maximum) to prebook
  • Baby meals (baby food for up to 8 months; casserole, banana, crackers and pudding for 9 months and older) and child meals (such as hamburger or mac and cheese) may be prebooked
  • A limited number of baby kits with diapers, wipes, baby food,  formula, baby bottle, bib) are available on request
  • Kid packs vary by route but can include stationery, pencils, ruler, notepad and eraser; some routes also have origami, building blocks, picture books, model planes and soft toys available

JetBlue

  • Domestic: Under 2 fly free on your lap; no discount for own seat or for children over 2
  • International: Under 2 pay only applicable international departure taxes if held on your lap
  • More room
  • TV on each seatback with DirectTV, including Disney and children’s channels

 

Lufthansa

  • International: Under 2 pay 10% if held on your lap; 2-11 typically pay 75% of adult fare

 

  • Baby food and bottle warming available on long haul flights
  • Free children’s meals can be ordered up to 24 hours ahead
  • Coloring book with crayons, puzzles, card games provided onboard
  • Children flying Business/First Class receive an airplane-shaped backpack with their own toothbrush, ear plugs, socks and toys

 

Qantas
  • International: Under 2 pay 10% if held on your lap; there are limited discounts for children 2-11 that vary by route and date, call Qantas directly
  • Bassinets are available (25 lbs maximum) and should be requested in advance
  • Baby, toddler and child meals are available and should be requested in advance
  • Qantas carries a limited quantity of baby food, milk (but not infant formula), baby bottles, and cereals for emergency use only.
  • Qantas offers some fun kid packs:
    • o Mr Messy and Little Miss Sunshine cases with activity cards, coloring pencils and drawing paper (3-6 year olds)
    • o Sesame Street Kids Kit with Elmo or Cookie Monster satchel, activity book, magic slate, coloring pencils, pencil sharpener and stencil (3-6 year olds)
    • Race Around the World Kit with travel pouch, activity book, time zone card, deck of cards, coloring pen and puzzle (7-11 year olds)

Singapore Airlines

  • International: Under 2 pay 10% if held on your lap; 2-11 typically pay 75% of adult fare
  • Infant tickets for children under 2 may be bought online
  • For infant tickets bought online, bulkhead seat and bassinet reserved subject to availability
  • Infant bassinets are available (30 lbs maximum)
  • Infant and children's meals may be requested up to 24 hours before departure
  • Children's meals are served before adults'
  • Diapers, wipes, bibs, bottles available by request onboard
  • Kris World inflight entertainment features a Just for Kids channel with Dora the Explorer and other cartoons, kids movies and video games that can be played against players in other seats
  • Parents may request blocking of any channels, prior to flying
  • Kids under 12 receive a Dora the Explorer pack with plush toy, activity book, Dora watch and Dora slippers

Southwest

  • Domestic: Under 2 fly free on your lap
  • Children 2-11 eligible for $10-$20 off Anytime Fare (not the cheapest online fares) each way
  • Must call 1-800-435-9792 to reserve a child fare (not available online)

 

United

  • Domestic: Under 2 fly free on your lap; no discount for own seat or for children over 2
  • International: Under 2 pay 10% if held on your lap; 2-11 typically pay 75% of adult fare
  • Long-haul: Bassinets are available for infants up to 6 months (26 lbs maximum) and should be reserved in advance
  • Babies’ and children’s meals available and must be pre-ordered
  • Inflight entertainment includes popular children’s movies and Disney

 

Virgin Atlantic

  • International: Under 2 pay 10% if held on your lap; 2-11 typically pay 75% of adult fare

 

  • Infant bassinets are available (20 lbs maximum) to prebook
  • Child seats available (44 lbs maximum)
  • Diapers, bottles and baby food available
  • Special children’s meals may be prebooked and feature main dish, fruit, gingerbread cookie, and sweets
  • Inflight entertainment includes dedicated children’s channels and movies, as well as games such as backgammon, trivia challenge and hangman
  • Parental blocking is available on some systems, to ensure kids only view child-friendly entertainment; must ask a crew member
  • Kid packs include a book, magazine, watch, and pencil


Related Posts

Flying with Kids: Tips for Taking Toddlers on Long Plane Flights

Best Airports for Kids and Families

Top 10 Reasons to Fly First Class with Kids

Cathay Pacific First Class with a Kid

What's the Best Portable Travel Bed for Kids and Toddlers?

10 Tips for Fine Dining with Toddlers

 

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Comments
Avatar_60_img_20130404_150640 Elizabeth L. commented 13 May 2013
Very informative, thank you!
Picture?type=large Gejo G. commented 07 Nov 2013
Just wanted to thank you for the elaborate information. Recently travelled Singapore airlines with our twins who are 2 months old. Singapore airlines staff were so good all the way from the ground crew through to the cabin crew. They were accommodative on all our requests and one of the staff helped us to look after one of the babies while we were feeding and changing one of them. I would totally recommend Singapore airlines to all parents and try to book the bassinet which can actually make a lot of difference on a long haul flight.
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 08 Nov 2013
Hi Gejo, so glad you had an enjoyable flight on Singapore Airlines with your twins! Traveling with kids is an adventure and sometimes we parents need all the help we can get--it's always great when the cabin crew go above and beyond the call of duty.
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