Family-friendly airlines


There's more than one way to keep an in-transit family happy, as this year's finalists for the family-friendly airline award demonstrate

Whether it's your first time or you've had plenty of experience, choosing an airline for a family trip is not an easy task.

Things that didn't matter when you were young and single become vital when travelling with children, especially young ones who have the potential to scream or nag half the way to London.

There are so many things to consider: flight times, seating arrangements, meals, entertainment and even the logistics of getting small children from one end of an airport to the other.

The family-friendly airline award 2012 has named three airlines as being the most "family-friendly" in the world, including our very own Virgin Australia.

Parents shouldn't be afraid to ask for help.

The award, which is run by the Kids First Fund (, brought together a panel of high-profile travel industry executives to choose the finalists, which were Virgin Australia, American Airlines and Gulf Air.

So what are the factors that helped secure the airlines a place in the top three?

Virgin Australia was recognised for its efforts through its Velocity frequent flyer program, which the Kids First Fund panel found provided "real and tangible benefits" such as families being able to pool their points and combine status credits to earn elite benefits more easily.

Under the program, new parents are also given the option to pause their membership for six months to avoid the loss of status when they find themselves flying less.


"Within weeks of launching the family benefits, elite members increased their flying behaviour with Virgin Australia by 20 per cent," the Kids First Fund says.

Gulf Air was recognised for a "comprehensive approach to serving families" through a range of services on the ground and in the air.

The airline has Sky Nannies, who are there to help parents with children on-board the aircraft; it provides video games on portable media players and has special check-in counters that bring children up to the eye level of the check-in staff.

American Airlines was recognised not for its on-board children's facilities but for its Kids in Need program, which provides worldwide support for children and families in need, as well as organisations that improve the quality of life for children.

Last year, members of the airline's frequent flyer program donated about 117 million frequent flyer miles, helping more than 270 children and their families.

With such a mixed bag of attributes among these carriers, are we any the wiser about what makes an airline "family-friendly"?

Do we care about our frequent flyer status and charitable standing, or do we really just want a peaceful flight?

A Lonely Planet author and mother, Jayne D'Arcy, says there are only two things that are really important when travelling with children: guaranteed bassinets for infants and in-seat televisions for older children.

"My son gets really upset if there's no television in the seat ... that's the one thing that I would check before booking," she says. "And with an infant, getting a confirmed bassinet is really important."

D'Arcy says another thing that can make a big difference to families is airlines allowing strollers to be taken to the boarding gate and then making sure they're delivered quickly at the other end.

"It's horrible standing there waiting for your pusher, when everyone else has gone," she says.

On-board the plane, D'Arcy believes crews on many airlines could do a lot more to assist parents.

"There are always one or two kids who just won't stop crying and I rarely see flight attendants going and helping and offering advice," she says.

"I think they should be a bit more proactive in helping parents, especially if the child is screaming because their ears hurt and the parents need some advice.

"Parents shouldn't be afraid to ask for help, especially if they're travelling solo."

D'Arcy says she has tried on-board nannies but found them to be little help.

Her best experiences, in terms of the most helpful cabin crew, have been on Jetstar.

D'Arcy says she puts little value in the children's activity packs handed out by airlines, saying they "always seem to be in the same state when we arrive as when they were given out".

Nor is she a fan of children's meals, which she says are usually overly packaged and less interesting than the adult meals.

An expert's travel tip

Lonely Planet author Jayne D'Arcy recommends parents always put children in the window seat — and not just for the view.

D'Arcy, who has done countless flights with her son, says she recently had something heavy fall out of an overhead locker onto her son, who was sitting in the aisle seat.

Having flight attendants going up and down the aisle with hot food and drinks is another reason to make sure kids are safe and sound in the window seat, she says.

Which airline do you think is best for flying with children? Share on the Essential Kids Forums.