Flying With Kids? These Are the World’s Best Airlines for Families
From providing lie-flat seating in economy to special infant seats, perfect play areas, and organic kid-friendly food, these airlines go out of their way to make flying easier and less stressful for families.
Flying with kids can be a stressful experience. But some airlines make the process easier by welcoming families with special comforts and conveniences. While it’s not always a given in the United States, most international airlines still offer early boarding for families with small children. Globally, on long-haul flights, most full-service airlines (versus a low-cost or charter airline) offer bassinets for infants, kids’ meals, and a kid-friendly category on the in-flight entertainment screen—at a minimum. For families looking for the smoothest in-flight experience, we’ve rounded up the airlines that offer the best services and amenities for people traveling with kids.
1. British Airways and Virgin Atlantic
Best for: Infant seats
While offering a lie-flat bassinet for infants is standard on most long flights, most airlines have them available only to babies up to six months of age. So parents of infants who are 7 to 24 months old find themselves having to fly for six or more hours with a baby on their lap. But British Airways and Virgin Atlantic offer special infant seats with five-point harnesses for babies up to 12.5 kg (27.5 lbs) and 11 kg (24.25 lbs), respectively. This accommodates most babies up to the 24-month mark, so parents can travel relatively comfortably without having to purchase an extra seat.
2. Air New Zealand
Best for: Lie-flat seating in economy
Intrepid traveling parents may be familiar with fly beds, the cottage industry of products that help to extend the area of an economy seat with a raised-footrest-style extension so that young kids can lie flat. There are two basic variations: the kids’ suitcase extension, like the JetKids by Stokke Bedbox, and the inflatable one, like the FlyAway Kids Bed. But Air New Zealand eliminates the need to carry a fly bed with you by providing the option to book a Skycouch, a row of economy class seats that are fitted with footrests that can lift up to extend the seat area, allowing smaller children to easily lie down in their seat. But the brilliant part is that with bigger children and even adults, you can lie down across several seats and have a bit more space.
Not flying to or from New Zealand? Other airlines have adopted the Skycouch design on some of their flights, including Azul (Brazil), Air Astana (Kazakhstan), Air Austral (France), and All Nippon Airways (Japan).
3. Turkish Airlines
Best for: Friendly staff and a fan favorite
Among members of the Bébé Voyage community of traveling parents, Turkish Airlines ranks very high. Aside from kids’ meals and entertainment, Alena Gladilina de Covaria, a Russian Ukrainian mother currently based in Poland, notes that the distinguishing feature is “the attitude: [The crew] all seem to just love kids.” Funda Erol Unver shares her experience: “If you’re traveling alone with a child or multiple children, they care for them while you make a run to the bathroom. Or even [while you] eat your food. The pilot and the crew always acknowledge the kids first.” Lauren Keller, an American lawyer based in Italy and mother to a three-year-old, corroborates that on a recent flight: “The announcement started with ‘Ladies, gentlemen, and beautiful children . . .’”
Best for: Both flight and airport experience combined
An important part of flying is, of course, the airport. While having a good experience on board is crucial, the airport experience has the potential to enhance it. While Lufthansa doesn’t offer sky couches or five-point harness infant seats, the airline wins big when it comes to its airport hubs, specifically Munich and Frankfurt Airports. Priority lanes for families at every security checkpoint can be a lifesaver if your kids aren’t into standing in long lines. With the time saved at security, kids can go play on the various themed playgrounds or use the coloring and puzzle books distributed at the information desks. For Keller, whose usual flight path involves a four- to five-hour layover, spending it in one of these kid-friendly airports “makes all the difference.” On board, the airline offers kids entertainment channels, amenity kits, and special meals.
5. Korean Air
Best for: Cutest kids amenity kits and welcoming service
Korean Air‘s child amenity kits come with not only cute games and toys, but also kid-size headphones, allowing them to enjoy the in-flight entertainment. New York City–based mom and school physical therapist Faith Azul-Evia says, “I’ve flown them from JFK solo twice with a three-year-old and I felt supported. The flight attendants watched my kid sleep while I went to the bathroom.” A little goodwill can go a long way to ease a parent’s journey.
6. Air France
Best for: Greatest improvement
A French American mother of two based in New York, Juliet Perrachon notes that “Air France has improved tremendously over the past few years. I remember flying with them when my kids were small and not feeling particularly welcome on board. But around five years ago, they started catering to kids a lot more, and the crew is friendly and helpful with my kids.” Nik Loukas, founder of Inflight Feed, an online guide to airplane food, adds that “on flights leaving Paris they automatically provide kids aged two to six an organic kids’ meal, unheard of at most airlines.”
Best for: Low-cost option for families
Lest readers assume that kid-friendliness can be offered only on a full-service airline, we have to tell you that the British low-cost carrier, Jet2, gets rave reviews from families. Britain-based academic Ruth Nic Cuinnleis has “flown with them solo with two kids in all stages, and they have supported me with everything. . . . I am also a disabled person and they are wonderfully helpful.”
Best for: U.S.-based flights
While many U.S. carriers have room for improvement, “Southwest is good with kids,” according to Diana Shipman, mother of two and director of an international development NGO in the Washington, D.C., area. Southwest’s quirk is that it doesn’t assign seats, but that can work in the favor of families, because the airline allows those with “small children (age six and under) to board together after the first group of passengers so they can sit together and have enough time to get settled,” according to the airline’s policy. Additionally, the carrier allows for two free checked bags up to 50 lbs each. For travelers who can score a Southwest Companion Pass by accruing enough points, the cost of travel can significantly decrease because the second passenger is free of charge.