Flying with children (especially small children) is an exhausting, but worthwhile endeavor. Exhausting because the hours are long and the space is small. Worthwhile because plane rides lead to visits with relatives, educational experiences, and transformative moments that will change a child's life forever.
As parents, we appreciate even the smallest gestures that welcome, entertain, or engage children - at the airport, in the air, or waiting in line.
Take a look at the airline recommendations of some of the top family travel bloggers. They've been all around the world with little ones and lived to tell about it!
When it comes to airlines that understand families, it seems that the international ones take the cake.
"Emirates is a wonderful airline. They have leg room, over 600 free tv channels including dedicated kids channels & on-demand movies. The kids pack was chock full of toys, crayons, & stickers. And, above all, the food was actually edible! Our 11 hours on emirates flew by thanks to their high customer service standards." - Erin Bender of Travel With Bender
NOTES: Emirates flies to more than 140 destinations over six continents. You'll be amazed by the amenities offered through their Young Flyers Program - priority boarding, changing tables, stroller service, brightly colored headsets, exclusive children's magazines, even a complimentary cake if your child is celebrating a birthday!
"Etihad is amazing with children. They offer a great kids pack, lots of kids movies and TV shows on the IFE, priority boarding for families, super friendly staff, and [they] even have an inflight nanny who plays games, paints faces, and generally entertains little ones!" - Bethaney Davis of Flashpacker Family
NOTES: The airline's hub is Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. Etihad’s fleet of 88 aircraft operates more than 1400 flights per week. The Family Travel part of the website outlines the on-board amenities including kids meals, organic baby food, baby bassinets, and - most impressively - the Flying Nanny program.
"One thing I love about Lufthansa is that even their commercials on the flights acknowledge that they love families. It's reassuring. On our last flight, they gave our kids age appropriate stuff to play with throughout the flight. My 11-month-old daughter got a little wrist rattle and a pillow. My 3-year-old got a puzzle and some coloring books. They also have children's meals so good that I wanted them for myself." - Annalyn Belle of Travel Turtle
NOTES: Lufthansa is the largest airline in Europe, both in terms of overall passengers carried and fleet size. The main operations base is at Frankfurt Airport. Amenities for families include Pinterest-worthy kid's meals and family service guides at the airport.
"I've always had good experiences on Air Canada - civilized seat pitch, knowledgeable (and mostly friendly) flight attendants, and decent luggage allotments (still) for most destinations, and that includes if you choose to fly with a lap infant." - Corrine McDermott of Have Baby Will Travel
NOTES: Air Canada is Canada's largest full-service airline and the largest provider of scheduled passenger services in the Canadian market, the Canada-U.S. transborder market and in the international market to and from Canada.
As for the United States-based airlines, they could certainly take some notes from these top contenders. Even so, several of the moms we interviewed had good things to say about Southwest and Delta.
"We've always had a good experience with Southwest. At their gates in Phoenix they actually have areas & little tables for kids. And they are one of few airlines still handing out free snacks, which is always nice. Plus, they offer free bags and, when traveling with a large family, that adds up to a nice cost savings." - Sara Wellensiek of Mom Endeavors
NOTES: Southwest was recently named to FORTUNE's 2014 list of the World's Most Admired Companies. It was the only commercial airline to make the top ten! Southwest is the nation's largest carrier in terms of originating domestic passengers boarded and operates the largest fleet of Boeing aircraft in the world to serve 96 destinations in 41 states, the District of Columbia, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
"I know people love to hate on Delta but we have always had a good experience with our kids on their flights. They once messed up our request for a children's meal on the way back from the UK and they went over and above to find food from business class that they thought our then 4 year old son would eat, and they brought some coloring stuff and wings for the kids. I don't expect much from domestic airlines (sadly!) so when they go above it is always appreciated!" - Andrea Thomas Botham of Passports and Pushchairs
NOTES: Delta and the Delta Connection carriers offer service to 300+ destinations in nearly 60 countries on six continents. After a recent snafu, we are very happy to see that Delta has a breastfeeding policy in-place: "Delta fully supports a woman’s right to breast-feed an infant on board Delta and Delta Connection aircraft and in Delta facilities." Other airlines would do well to follow suit.
WHICH AIRLINE IS YOUR FAVORITE FOR TRAVELING WITH CHILDREN?
*Share your experiences - good, better, best, and worst.