These Are the Best Domestic Airlines for Families

Whether you have a ton of gear, are hoping to pre-board, or are looking for some helpful kid-friendly amenities while flying, these are the U.S. airlines that can make traveling with the whole clan a little less crazy.

These Are the Best Domestic Airlines for Families

Flying families are juggling a lot. How can and should airlines help?

Photo by Song_about_summer/Shutterstock

Anyone who has flown with kids of any age knows all too well that it’s a very different ballgame compared to flying alone or with other adults. Between all the gear and kids’ unpredictable moods and needs, there can be ample added challenges.

Sadly, U.S. carriers don’t have the best reputation for offering much, if any, help to fatigued and flustered traveling fams. Airlines in the United States aren’t even required to seat families all together.

“In terms of services, none of the [U.S.] airlines have really gone out of their way to do anything for families,” said Rainer Jenss, president of the Family Travel Association, an industry organization that advocates for traveling families.

Nevertheless, there are carriers that make more of an effort than others. A new study released by The Points Guy (TPG) this week ranks airlines in terms of their family-friendly services and amenities. TPG assigned points to each domestic carrier based on factors including whether advance seat assignments are free and readily available; departure and arrival punctuality; whether there are early boarding procedures for families; in-flight entertainment options; onboard meals and snacks; and whether there are additional fees for things like bags, flight changes, and unaccompanied minors, among other factors.

And the winner is . . .

For 2019, JetBlue took the top spot, ousting Southwest from its previous perch at the top of the list in 2018, the first year TPG conducted the study.

“What knocked [Southwest] from this year’s top slot was ultimately the inability to book trips far in advance,” TPG stated in its report, adding that being unable to book trips more than six months in advance with Southwest makes it hard to plan family vacations further out—something that families need to be able to do in order to coordinate different schedules and to get the best fares and those all-important grouped-together seats.

JetBlue topped the list due to seat comfort, free seatback entertainment (this is clutch), unlimited free snacks (who doesn’t love the snacks?), free Wi-Fi, and the fact that families can pool their miles at no extra cost. The biggest drawback is that JetBlue has a fairly limited route network.

Former champion Southwest has long been a family favorite due to policies such as no bag fees and an earlier family boarding time for passengers traveling with kids age six and under (they get to board just after the first boarding group, when there are still plenty of seats available). We can also add that the airline’s policy of not providing seat assignments, while not loved by all travelers, can benefit families with lap children (children under two years of age who aren’t charged for a seat, and thus don’t get one) who have a chance at scoring an empty seat to sprawl out in with their baby or toddler. If you want to ensure that you get that seat, you can also just pay for it.

“JetBlue and Southwest [have] really found a way to personalize their service so families feel attended to. I once witnessed a JetBlue gate agent totally—but politely—shut down a gentleman who was trying to [cut] in the boarding line ahead of a mom who was flying solo with a baby and toddler with all of their accoutrements,” said Corinne McDermott, founder of the family travel blog Have Baby Will Travel.

McDermott said that it also helps families when airlines offer flexibility in their flight change policies as well as decent baggage allowances. But similar to Jenss, she is disappointed in most other domestic carriers’ family travel policies.

“Aside from the aforementioned JetBlue and Southwest, I’m not certain any other U.S. carrier succeeds when it comes to families,” she said.

Should airplanes have a “family section” onboard?

Jenss said he is at a loss as to why U.S. airlines aren’t responding more to families’ needs, especially given that families are a large and growing portion of the travel population.

“You look at international carriers, they have a whole different philosophy. [They] have magazines for kids and [activity kits] that they give them,” said Jenss.

He said that all passengers stand to benefit if U.S. carriers think more strategically about families.

“If you can create a less stressful experience for a family, then that’s going to create a more positive experience for the rest of the passengers,” said Jenss, suggesting that families be boarded first and offered a dedicated section at the back of the plane—a win-win for other passengers who don’t like the idea of sitting next to crying babies or squirmy kids.

McDermott referred to a similar idea of relegating families with children to their own section on planes. “If there were to be true ‘family sections’ on planes, with special entertainment, child-friendly snacks, and flight attendants trained in early childhood education or other aspects of childcare, I think many families would go out of their way to choose that flying experience.”

So, which other airlines ranked well and which bottomed out in the TPG study? Here is the complete 2019 list:

  1. JetBlue Airways
  2. Southwest Airlines
  3. Hawaiian Airlines
  4. Alaska Airlines
  5. Delta Air Lines
  6. United Airlines
  7. American Airlines
  8. Frontier
  9. Spirit
  10. Allegiant Air

>> Next: The Best Travel Gear for Babies and Kids

Michelle Baran is a deputy editor at AFAR where she oversees breaking news, travel intel, airline, cruise, and consumer travel news. Baran joined AFAR in August 2018 after an 11-year run as a senior editor and reporter at leading travel industry newspaper Travel Weekly.
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