Best family airlines

No two airlines are the same. And this is especially true if you are flying with an infant or toddler. But some airlines do offer more for families than others – check out our list of the major airlines that do offer on-board amenities for infants, toddlers – and their frazzled parents. Then you can decide which is the best family airline for you.

Before you book, find out if under twos fly free or face a charge. Children from two to 12 usually qualify for a child’s seat fare, usually 10 to 60 per cent of an adult fare. Short-haul flights do not have a fold down changing table in the loo. Long-haul flights using larger planes do have baby changing facilities, which are found in the rear airplane loo. Some airlines allow you to take on board a baby stroller, but airlines change their policy on this often, so do check in advance.

Our best advice is to request, confirm and then re-confirm the on-board amenities offered to infants and toddlers before you book, and take down the name of the reservations representative who takes your booking. If they fail to give you what you requested on check-in, knowing the name of your airline reservations agent gives you more clout for complaint.

Scheduled airlines

Airtours

Tel: 0870 2387788
www.airtours.co.uk

Thumbs up: Baby bassinettes available at time of booking. Infant seat belts (clipped onto the adult seat belt) are available for older babies sitting on parents’ lap. Children’s meals available on request. Pre-boarding for families with young children must be requested at the gate before departure and is not guaranteed.

Flying tips: Check-in all your bags except the essentials to minimize the burden of carrying a child (or children) and baggage on and off the plane.

American Airlines

Tel: 08457 789789
www.aa.com

Thumbs up: Baby bassinettes available on request. Children’s meals have been discontinued so bring plenty snack foods for your toddler. Baby food from Gerber is supplied for children aged two and younger. Infant seat belts not available. Pre-boarding for families with young children is a priority.

Flying tips: Don’t expect to be given bulkhead seating (with more legroom and is where baby bassinettes are placed) unless you specifically ask. Frequent fliers in economy can be upgraded to bulkhead seats on some long-hauls flights.

Air Canada

Tel: 08705 247226
www.aircanada.ca

Thumbs up: Baby bassinettes are available for children up to six months. Older babies must either sit in their own seat or sit on their parents’ lap, with infant charges about £53 for a return flight from London to Vancouver, Canada. Child seats roughly cost £385 for a return. Children’s meals are available on request and changing facilities (a fold down changing table) are available in the rear loos of most Air Canada long-haul flights.

Flying tips: Bulkhead seats are specifically allocated to parents with young children and people with disabilities, so if reservations tell you that the bulkhead is all booked up, be firm, tell them to check again, and again. Or if a flight is not full ask a flight attendant to find two empty seats together so that your toddler can sleep during the flight.

British Airways

Tel: 0845 7733377
www.britishairways.com

Thumbs up: Supplies a baby bassinette for infants up to 25 pounds and/or a Britax seat (similar to a car seat) for toddlers up to the age of three. Children’s meals available on request. Formula and breast milk can be stored and heated in the kitchen galley. Infant lap seat belts also available on request. Young families given a priority when boarding. For older babies and children, a choice of Hamleys toys is on offer.

Flying tips: As soon as you sit down in your seat and settle your child in its bassinette, turn off the overhead vents. Re-circulated air is not purified and can spread germs.

Britannia Airways

Tel: 0800 000747
www.britanniaairways.com

Thumbs up: Sky cots for infants are available on request. Children’s meals available, but must be ordered at time of booking. Special boarding for families with young children.

Flying tips: Try to plan a flight during nap time or night hours. If you cannot then keep your infant up as long as possible before the flight so that he/she will fall asleep (and stay asleep) for much of the flight. Don’t give your infant medicine to make them drowsy as it could have the opposite affect.

Continental Airlines

Tel: 0800 776464
www.flycontinental.com

Thumbs up: Baby bassinettes available for children under 22 pounds. Over that weight, parents must either buy a seat or have them sit in their laps. Baby meals from Gerber are on offer, and include jarred food, cereals, juices and fruit. Parents with infants are prioritised for bulkhead seats.

Flying tips: Feed your baby on take-off and landings to equalize their ears. Breast, bottle, dummy, jar food – whatever it takes!

KLM Airlines

Tel: 0870 5074074
www.klm.com

Thumbs up: Baby bassinettes available on request. Bulkhead seats are allocated specifically to parents with young babies. Infant meals supplied by Heinz and include jarred food. Nipples, bottle and baby spoons also supplied.

Toddlers get their own special meals and on each long-haul flight an emergency pack of nappies and baby wipes is available. Changing facilities are available on board all long-haul flights. Infants under two are charged about £30. A child’s fare is usually about 60 per cent of the adults price.

Flying tips: Avoid layovers or connecting flights if possible. If you have to change planes, ask an attendant to have a cart ordered for you at the gate to take you and your baby to the next gate. It’s much easier than carting luggage and baby through an airport!

Monarch Airlines

Tel: 08700 405040
www.monarch-airlines.com

Thumbs up: Sky cots up to age six months on request. Older babies must then sit in parent’s lap. Baby food from Heinz is offered. No pre-boarding allowed. Infants under two fly free, after that you pay a child’s fare – roughly 10 per cent of an adult fare.

Flying tips: By 20 months toddlers on flights might spell trouble, so bring plenty of games and books for distraction, and once the lights are turned off for sleep-time – if your toddler is still awake – guide him quietly up and down the aisle to expel that excess energy.

Qantas Airlines

Tel: 0845 7747767
www.qantas.com.au

Thumbs up: The airline supplies a goodie pack for infants containing a book, a finger puppet, but more importantly, nappies, baby wipes and a baby changing mat. Baby bassinettes are available on booking for babies under 25 pounds. Over that weight, parents can bring along a car seat.

Flying tips: Arrange with a flight attendant to watch your child for a few minutes after dinner so that you can pop to the loo without leaving your baby unattended. In the event of turbulence, you should strap your baby into his bassinette or seat at all times.

Singapore Airlines

Tel: 0870 6088886
www.singaporeair.com

Thumbs up: Baby bassinettes available on request for under twos, or bring a car seat for older babies and toddlers. Bulkhead seats are earmarked for parents with young children. Baby meals supplied by Heinz are on offer and toddlers get their own meal with chicken nuggets and fries. Changing facilities are at the rear of the plane. Older kids receive their own goody bag of games and colouring books.

Gameboys are installed on all fronts and seatback TV videos feature children’s programmes and cartoons. Infant fair is about £75 return, but this fluctuates with the destination so do check before booking. Over twos pay full fare.

Flying tips: Ask for two plastic cups (the same used for beverages) and place over a toddler’s ears to help him cope with take off and landing.

United Airlines

Tel: 0845 8444777
www.unitedairlines.co.uk

Thumbs up: Baby bassinettes available for babies under six months. After that baby must travel in parent’s lap or purchase a seat for a child fare. Child fares differ depending on where you are travelling, but in general expect to pay between 10 to 60 per cent of an adult fare. Car seats are accepted only if you purchase a seat for your child. According to its website, staff will warm a bottle only if they have the time. Nappies are available on long-haul flights but don’t count on a plentiful supply, so remember to bring your own.

Flying tips: Bring an extra shirt or top in case you need to change. A soiled shirt can spoil your flight and make you feel uncomfortable.

Virgin Atlantic Airlines

Tel: 01293 450150
www.virgin-atlantic.com

Thumbs up: Baby bassinettes available on request for children under 12 months of age. After that a child must either sit with a parent or in his own seat. An emergency supply of nappies, formula, milk, bottles and baby food is available on request. Children’s meals can be supplied on request, as can a goodie grab bag with games and puzzles for older children and the in-flight entertainment features kids and cartoon channels.

Flying tips: Pack a small pillow or blanket from home so that infants can smell and touch something familiar.

Low Cost Airlines

Easyjet

Tel: 0870 6000000
www.easyjet.co.uk

Thumbs down: Baby bassinettes are not available. Car seats and baby buggies must be placed in the hold. Under twos fly free, but after that babies and toddlers are charged the full adult fare.

Flying tips: Check to see which airlines offer baggage allowance for children. Airlines differ on this and unless you ask you might not get the allowance that is owed your baby, usually about half that of the adult allowance. Airlines also change these rules frequently so do ask before booking.

Ryanair

Tel: 0874 2460000
www.ryanair.com

Thumbs down: Baby bassinettes are not available. Car seats and baby buggies must be placed in the hold. Under twos fly free, but after that babies and toddlers are charged the full adult fare.

Flying tips: Bring bottled water with you so that baby gets as much water as he needs without having to wait for a flight attendant to come round with the drinks cart.

by Julie Collins

Useful Organisations

  • MASTA (Medical Advisory Services for Travellers Abroad), tel: 02392 553933, offers information on travelling abroad, particularly concerning vaccinations.
  • British Airways Travel Clinic tel: 01276 685040, for details on health information and your nearest clinic.
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