03 DEC 2019
Best Airlines for Travelling with Children
By Alexandra Harris
Some friends of mine recently returned from an epic holiday in New Zealand and when I casually asked whether they tried the Sky Couches on Air New Zealand, they looked at me blankly. They had never heard of them, and when I explained, they were upset to say the least as it would have made the 12 hour flight with three young children in Economy infinitely more pleasant had they flown with Air NZ over Cathay Pacific. We all dread the thought of long-haul travel with young children - especially when flying at the back of the bus, so wouldn’t it be useful to know which airlines are trying their best to make the experience as stress-free as possible for us weary parents? My findings, in order of most family friendly airline first are below.
Air New Zealand
The option of being able have a ‘bed’ in Economy class is by far and away the most appealing perk in terms of making a long-haul flight with children as palatable as possible. SkyCouches are available on most international routes on Air NZ - to check availability, please contact the Travel by Timothy Oulton flight bookings team, who will be more than happy to assist you with the entire process. The Skycouch configuration can be flexible based on the amount of people in your group, but no matter what, your Skycouch is reserved exclusively for the passengers in your group. It is possible to book one Sky Couch only, one Skycouch plus an Economy seat, or multiple sky couches. When I travelled with my son and husband, we booked one Skycouch and an additional Economy seat on the next aisle. That way, I was able to lie down on the bank of 3 seats which turns very smartly into a flat ‘bed’ with my son, and my husband had his own seat on the next aisle. I particularly love that the Skycouch option allows passengers to book more than one seat per person - a luxury not afforded on most other airlines. The Skycouch has a specially designed footrest that comes up to 90 degrees, flush against the row of seats in front, making a totally flat ‘bed’ across the three seats. You will be provided with extension belts, a duvet and proper sized pillow, making the whole experience feel almost as good as Business Class, but for a fraction of the price! For families travelling with infants, Air NZ provides special pods which come with a harness and belt. This service is currently available on all Boeing 777 and 787-9 operated long-haul services.
Although there are no guarantees with Etihad, they do have an upgrade bidding system that begins a week before the flight’s departure date, which allows passengers to upgrade from Economy to Business Class - often at a fraction of the cost of booking a business class ticket. Additionally (and this is the key perk with Etihad), passengers can also bid to reserve either one or two seats next to them in Economy, essentially guaranteeing a row of three per person, if available. I recently flew Etihad to Geneva via Abu Dhabi, and bid to upgrade for the first leg to Abu Dhabi, and also bid to block two seats next to me on the second leg for the outbound as well as the inbound leg. The business class upgrade did not come through sadly as the first flight was chockablock full, but I ‘won’ both of my other bids to get 2 spare seats next to me, the first for USD$104, and the second for USD$140. The fact that I could lie down and sleep undisturbed in a relatively comfortable manner for both of these legs made all the difference to my 18 hour journey. I was happily flying alone for this flight but would definitely consider flying Etihad long haul with my children if I could block out seats, essentially guaranteeing that they could lie down to sleep on the journey. I didn’t get to experience the service, but Etihad also offers a Flying Nanny service on all long-haul flights. Unfortunately it isn’t possible to simply hand over one’s little terror to the Flying Nanny, but she will be on hand during the flight to assist families to help entertain young children with games, face painting and competitions, as well as keep a watchful eye for parent’s flying by themselves who need a loo break!
Qantas and Virgin Atlantic
I am including Qantas and Virgin Atlantic under the same heading as both airlines have very cleverly designed bassinets with harnesses that are so secure that parents are not required to remove their child from the bassinet during turbulence. No other airline currently allows this, and as all parents know well the golden rule of ‘never wake a sleeping baby’, this design aspect should play a certain level of importance when selecting which airline to fly on international routes. Qantas is slightly better than Virgin when it comes to children’s amenities, giving out a fun-filled amity pack to every child aged 2 - 12 on all flights. Both offer special kids meals, but in both cases these need to be booked in advance.
Lufthansa is quickly gaining itself the reputation for being one of the most ‘family friendly’ airlines out there. The German carrier has recently finished working with one of Germany’s celebrity tv chefs to put together a healthy yet fun children’s menu. After a rigorous testing period, a jury made up of children of various ages chose the dishes that are now being served on board all long-haul and some European flights. These special meals can be reserved at no extra cost when booking your flight or at anytime until 24 hours before your flight’s departure. As well as a great onboard entertainment system, the airline’s website also has a fantastic selection of games and activities for parents to download in advance of their flight for their little ones. Finally, at the main Lufthansa hubs of Munich and Frankfurt, families benefit from dedicated check-in desks as well as lovely play areas in the departure lounges.