Maximize Monday: The Most Family-Friendly International Carriers

by on September 9, 2013 · 24 comments

in Family Travel, Maximize Monday, TPG Contributors

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Recently, TPG contributor Jason Steele looked at the most family friendly airlines for domestic and short haul travel, considering luggage allowances, seating assignments, in-flight entertainment, and access to boarding priority. Today he’s going to roundup the international airlines with the best travel policies for family travel.

Now that Etihad offers nannies on board, we're taking a look at the family-friendliest airlines in the world.

Now that Etihad offers nannies on board, we’re taking a look at the family-friendliest airlines in the world.

When it comes to traveling with a family, things can be stressful in the best of circumstances, so it is important to understand the family-specific policies of any airline you plan to fly. While none might go so far as offering the in-flight Nanny service that Etihad launched last week, I want to examine the family-friendly amenities offered by major long-haul and international carriers.

Having flown to quite a few long-haul international flights with my children as infants and toddlers, I am actually not terribly excited by the Etihad’s announcement. Aside from the fact that we personally have no plans to visit or transit Abu Dhabi, the service seems to be little more than some extra flight attendant training on an already kid-friendly airline. In short, it is a brilliant PR move, but little else.

International and Long-Haul Versus Domestic and Short-Haul

My criteria for a family-friendly international carriers are different than what my family needs from short-haul and domestic flights. On longer flights, we are less concerned about baggage allowances and priority boarding as most carriers offer at least one free checked bag per person on international itineraries, and long-haul flights board at a much more leisurely (or at least, time-consuming) pace than quick-turnaround short-hauls. In addition, I have found that many airline’s official boarding procedures are thrown out the window at overseas destinations.

International travel requires a different set of amenities from short-haul travel.

International travel requires a different set of amenities from short-haul travel.

When I chose an airline for travel on long-haul flights with children and infants, I want to see the choice of a special meal, the use of a bassinet, and perhaps a fun amenity kit for my children to play with. It’s not necessarily that these amenities are so valuable (we can bring our own food and entertainment), but their presence is a strong indication that the crew will be family-friendly and trained to help. After all, you can’t expect the employees to go out of their way for families if their employers don’t.

When using points and miles, I also want to avoid lap child fees, which must be paid as 10% of regular fares, except as noted. In addition, some carriers even offer discounts on revenue fares for children under 12.


I researched the policies for families, infants, and children at 39 of the largest international carriers. In general, they fell into two groups:

Airlines that go out of their way to accommodate children – These are airlines offer special services and amenities for children, such as Air Berlin, Lufthansa, ANA, and of course, Etihad. Expect your child to really enjoy the experience on these airlines.

Airlines that just offer the minimum. These are airlines that offer children’s meals and perhaps some in-flight entertainment, but no special programs. These carriers include the four major legacy carriers; American, United, Delta, and US Airways. Others in this group include Thai, Turkish, and South African Airways. Some of these, like American, Thai, and Copa do not even list special children’s meal options on their web site.

Here is a list of family travel policies listed by airline, and then read on below to find some of my tips for traveling with your family.

Policies By Airline

AeroMexico Their web site has no information on children’s amenities. Lap children are $35 to/from the United States.

Air Berlin offers some great amenities for kids...even mini-uniforms!

Air Berlin offers some great amenities for kids…even mini airline caps!

Air Berlin Bassinets provided in bulkhead, and parents receive an amenity kit with a diaper, bottle, and a bib. Its website indicates they are happy to warm up baby food as well. Children are offered coloring books, flight certificates, comics or Air Berlin caps. On long-haul flights, kids have their own audio program and cartoons. Children’s menus are an option. Children under 12 pay 75% of regular base fare, which excludes many other charges. Discounts don’t apply to the lowest, “JustFly” fare class.

Air Canada - Offers child fares on international flights. Lap child award fees are small on international flights, and zero on flights between U.S. and Canada. Infant and children’s meals are provided on international flights.

Air New Zealand Basinets on long-haul aircraft. Children offered “Air New Zealand Jet Cadets” Kids amenity pack including kid’s size headset, Jet Cadet lunchbox, kids packs and meals, kids channel on in flight entertainment. Interestingly, parents flying Air New Zealand can pay the unaccompanied minor fee to have their child sit in a different class of service.

Air France Air France offers children’s and infant meals, amenity packs, and in-flight entertainment options. Children’s fares are discounted by 15% on domestic flights, and 33% on medium and long-haul routes. Bassinets are also available in all cabins.

Aeroflot – This Russian carrier offer discounts for children occupying a seat as well as special toys and games. They also offer special meals for infants and children.

Alitalia rewards kids with flight certificates signed by the crew.

Alitalia rewards kids with first flight certificates signed by the crew.

Alitalia This Italian carrier seems to enjoy catering to little bambinos. There is an ‘Amica’ lounge at their Rome hub that is equipped with “a nursery with kitchenette, utensils and baby-care items.” International flights offer a children’s meal, and bassinets are available. They even offer a cute First Flight Certificate that the crew will sign.

American Airlines –  American has done little to capitalize on the smaller fans it created with its cameo on the recent Planes movie from Disney. It has limited bassinets only on their 777-200 fleet, and they offer no special meals for children or infants. Nevertheless, our family found a nice kid’s room at one of the lounges in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport.

ANA Children and baby meals are offered, and powdered milk, paper diapers, drinks for children, baby bottles, aprons, forks and spoons are also available on board. ANA will also escort passengers with connecting flights who have a child under three years old. Bassinets are available and expecting mothers are also offered special treatment.

ANA offers a ton of child-specific amenities including connection escorts.

ANA offers a ton of child-specific amenities including connection escorts.

Asiana They have a “Happy Mom Service” that offers “conveniences at boarding, in-flight breastfeeding and long-time traveling.” This is available to passengers with children younger than three, so presumably dads are included as well. Other amenities include a baby bassinet, nursing cover, and baby sling.

Austrian Austrian offers special infant and children’s meals, as well as bassinets and children’s amenity packs.

British Airways BA has the great policy of charging 10% points for lap children on award bookings, as opposed to 10% of the dollars. On board, BA offers infant and children’s meals as well as “SkyFlyers activity packs” for flights over two hours long. There are different packs for different ages which include crayons, a coloring book, puzzles, and sudokus.

BA's flight packs are a big hit.

BA’s activity packs are a big hit.

Brussels Brussels does not appear to have any specific children’s amenities, although their website makes reference to bassinets and infant food.

Cathay Pacific Bassinets are available, and children 3-6 years old receive an amenity pack including stationery, games and activity books. Special infant and children’s meals are available, complete with colorful utensils.

Copa They offer discounted fares for infants occupying a seat, but little else in the way of amenities.

Delta Delta does not offer any special amenities for infants or children that I could find, other than bassinets. According to their website, some discounted fares are offered “between certain countries.”

El Al – The Israeli carrier sees a lot of family travel, and offers bassinets for infants. In addition, crew will heat and rinse bottles and provide hot water. Children receive special meals as well as an activity book.

El Al's amenities include special meals for kids.

El Al’s amenities include special meals for kids.

Emirates Emirates features special meals for infants and children. Their Young Flyers program offers families priority boarding, changing tables and a complimentary stroller service at Dubai International Airport. There are special channels for kids on the in-flight entertainment system, and kids receive their own amenity pack. Emirates also offers discounted fares for children occupying a seat.

Etihad In an apparent bid to become the most family friendly airline Etihad is going all out. In addition to the over-the-top Flying Nanny service, Etihad offers bassinet service, family pre-boarding, and dedicated family rooms for business and first class passengers at Dublin, Frankfurt, London, Paris, Manchester and Washington and its hub in Abu Dhabi. Child and infant meals are available including Hipp Organic premium baby food in several flavors. Children are also offered an amenity pack as well as age appropriate television shows, movies, music and video games.

EVA – They offer three kinds of infant and children’s meals, but their real highlight is the Hello Kitty flights, which will be starting between Taipei and Los Angeles. These flights feature aircraft with special paint jobs, as well as branded items on-board. Read the full story here.

Eva will begin offering Hello Kitty flights to various destinations.

Eva will begin offering Hello Kitty flights to various destinations.

Finnair They offer bassinets, meals for children, and toys as well as dedicated in-flight entertainment options.

Iberia – Offers special meals for children and infants, but does not have any other special amenities for families.

Japan Airlines (JAL) They offer bassinets, diapers, and a choice of baby meals (including a bib) and children’s meals. Toys and games are given away, and picture books can be borrowed. Families also receive special assistance at check in, and transfer or arrival.

Korean This Ultimate Rewards transfer partner offers infant and child meals, but unlike so many other Asian carriers, it doesn’t appear to offer any other special amenities.

KLM KLM offers its Junior Jet service which includes children’s amenities and special meals for infants and children. Bassinets are also available.

LAN We received fantastic service on short haul flights on LAN earlier this year with our infant, but I can’t describe their long-haul service. That is because infants are not allowed to travel as lap children in business class on LAN, despite British Airways issuing us a lap child award ticket. Although LAN would not honor our tickets, we were re-accommodated at no charge on American. Lap children are allowed in coach, and LAN does offer children’s meals.

Lufthansa Lufthansa has become our family’s favorite long-haul carrier for several reasons. On our first long-haul flight with our oldest child, three flight attendants erected the bassinet and made it up with fresh linens. Lufthansa offers great amenity kits for infants and kids that currently feature characters from Disney’s Planes movie, and special children’s meals from a celebrity chef. In fact, our daughter still plays with all of the toys she has received from them over the years. Other services include a special family check in area at Frankfurt and Munch airports.

Malaysia I wanted to include this airline because they made a lot of news in recent years by offering a kid free section on the upper deck of their A380. This section includes their eight first class seats, and much of coach. Nevertheless, this policy doesn’t affect the coach and business class seats on the lower deck, or any seats in other aircraft. In addition, they appear to offer several special services for infants children including priority boarding, entertainment, food, and well stocked childcare facilities at the airport. All in all, I would say they reached a decent compromise.

Screen shot 2013-09-08 at 5.02.07 PM

Despite its well-known ban on children in certain cabins on certain flights, Malaysia has some very child-friendly amenities.

Qantas This Australian carrier offers a range of children’s amenities, special family zones in lounges, and dedicated in-flight entertainment. Child, toddler or baby meals are also available.

Royal Jordanian They offer special meals for both infant and children, special amenities, and kid’s programming on their in-flight entertainment system. Basinets are also available.

Singapore They feature several different options for children’s meals, and some even fancier choices for some lucky kids sitting in business and first class called their Yummy! Selection. Bassinets are also available.

South African Airways They offer infant meals and bassinets, but don’t appear to offer any other special amenities for families and children, other than some movies for kids.

SWISS Swiss offers special children’s meals and entertainment options. In addition, there are dedicated children’s lounges with play areas that we have visited when transiting Zurich. Bassinets are also available.

Thai Thai offers bassinets for infants, but doesn’t show any special meals or amenities for children on their web site.

Turkish Turkish Airlines offers baby and child meals, but doesn’t seem to offer any other special amenities.

United They may have a bassinet available on some flights, but otherwise you are on your own. Their website curtly informs parents, “If you are traveling with an infant please be sure to bring enough food and supplies with you. Our flights are not equipped to heat baby bottles.” Thankfully, there are children’s meals available. We have had some particularly poor service from crew members United, and judging by reports from other families, we are not alone.

US Airways Like United, US Airways may offer infants a bassinet, but not much else. Thankfully, baby and children’s meals are available.

Virgin Atlantic This airline offers basinets, baby meals, and in flight entertainment options for kids. There is also a special kids menu featuring fish sticks, pizza, and chocolate. They also offer lap child awards in points; 1,500 Miles for Upper Class, 750 miles for Premium Economy, 200 miles for Economy.

Virgin Australia Virgin Australia offers reduced price children’s tickets for international flights, just not in business class to North America. Airports include a mother’s/parent’s room. Special children’s meals are available and their web site claims that “cabin crew will heat bottles and assist you with preparing and washing bottles or pacifiers.” They also offer some surprising family benefits in their Velocity frequent flyer program such as parental leave that pauses elite status and four guaranteed award seats for an annual family trip.

Tips for traveling with infants and children

Reserve seats, meals, and basinets in advance. Every airline that I looked at that offered special accommodations for infants and children required parents to notify the carrier in advance to reserve these amenities. The reservations required from 24-72 hours in advance. Just including your child’s date of birth in the reservation is not sufficient.

No more than 1 infant per row and per adult. The FAA and other international regulators prohibit multiple children from occupying a row, so as to ensure that everyone has enough oxygen masks in the event they are needed. The problem, once again, is that even though the airlines know the age of their passengers, their systems will usually permit seat assignments that violate this rule. As a result, parents may only be informed of this regulation by flight attendants and will be forced to switch seats and be separated. If you are traveling with more than one infant, be sure to get advanced seat assignments in separate, but nearby rows.

Bring your own infant meals. Most airlines offer some form of an infant meal, but it should only be seen as a backup, at best. Most carriers strongly encourage parents to pack their own infant meals that they know their child will eat.

Always ask about children’s fares . If you are purchasing a revenue ticket for any member of your family, ask about children’s fares. Many airlines offer discounts for children 12 and under, but these policies are poorly disclosed. I did my best to mention airlines that list an offer on their web sites, but other carriers may still offer discounts when asked.

Try to stay positive. The service families receive may occasionally surprise you. For example, American has the fewest children’s amenities of any airline I researched, yet we received great service from a particular flight attendant during a weather hold in Buenos Aires this year. She paid special attention to our daughter during the two hour delay, and even invited us up to the cockpit while the aircraft was at the gate. My daughter enjoyed it almost as much as I did!

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Caroline

    Delta sometimes offers discounted children’s tickets (depending on the fare), but you need to reserve on the phone, which of course implies a fee.

  • Raffles

    Something that would be more useful than this to readers – a list of which airlines routinely release 3 or 4 J award seats per flight, vs those which have a hard cap of 2.

  • asleep24

    Our first transatlantic flight with our then 5 month old was on American. The kind of mistake you only make once. They managed to close the doors both times (out and back) without ensuring the promised bassinets were on the plane. The attendants attitude was an iota more concern than ‘tough sh*t’, but what took the cake was that when my wife took our boy to the back of the cabin to try and rock him to sleep, they were asked to move because cabin crew were ‘resting’ back there.

    Full disclosure, we wrote to AA customer service, CCing the COO, CEO and head of Customer service. We had flown a combined 250k miles on AA. The head of customer service, called and apologized profusely. We were both given 30k miles for the inconvenience. It didn’t make up for a truly horrible flying experience, but its important to note that they did make some gesture. We don’t even price check AA when we fly transatlantic now.

  • Erik

    I traveled with my two young children on Turkish this summer and they gave them each a small backpack with an amenity kit for kids inside on our long haul flight, so it’s not true they don’t provide anything. The backpacks were used all summer long and they’re still good; they didn’t give us cheap stuff. On a shorter trip with Turkish, they gave us some king of magazine/coloring book… I didn’t pay too much attention to that; after all, it wasn’t for me! ;)

  • Tyler

    You didn’t do the research very well on this… did you check out Icelandair? They offer free hot kids meals (everyone else has to pay), special programming and childrens books.

  • Jules

    On Qantas, flights for kids under 12 (maybe 12 and under can’t remember) are 75% of the adult fare. They also give kids an activity pack on international flights.

  • Jason Steele

    Man, I would love that info too. I think it will vary based on flight number, aircraft type, and even date. An 380 with 100 seats in J will be more likely to have >2 than a narrowbody, but it might have 0 on a peak travel day.

  • Jason Steele

    I realized that I did not and could not cover every airline in the world. So I focused on the largest carriers, and those that are part of international alliances. I am sure that there are some other carriers with great programs for kids.

  • Jason Steele

    That’s good to know. Unfortunately, they don’t advertise that on their web site. I just flew Turkish this summer myself, but I was not traveling with one of my children.

  • Jason Steele

    It doesn’t take a whole lot to make parents happy, and it is too bad that AA failed you. Perhaps the gvt should start making airlines treat infants like other special needs travelers, i.e. enforcing critical amenities like bassinets.

  • Jason Steele

    Yes, and they are terribly vague about it on their web site.

  • Mean chat

    In addition to the backpacks, the vanity kits they offer are sometimes packed in a souvenir aluminum case which makes a great pencil holder for children. Turkish Airlines also allows priority boarding for families with children and the pilots always addresses passengers as “Dear Ladies, Gentlemen and children”, which I thought was cute.

  • Jason Steele

    That’s neat, but too bad they don’t highlight that on their web site. Although, on my last departure from IST, boarding was essentially a free for all with people jamming the gate, but I don’t recall if they made any special announcements.

  • Wildcat1

    TPG, another great article. A question on the discounts that you mention, are these available on the airlines websites (i.e show up in the results) or do you have to call to confirm discounts ? I know that all airlines on their websites ask you for ages but wasnt sure if it then calculates the correct discount as you mention above.


  • RRD

    After at least four long haul journeys from the US to India by AA, BA and Etihaad, BA is the best for travel with young kids.

    If you add on an infant they let you choose bassinet seats all the way up to 18 months of age, have multiple bassinets on board and are super helpful to travellers with kids.

  • Nick Knight

    Another reason to avoid American owned airlines.

  • SK

    Maybe I’m revealing my age, but back in the day when I traveled with my family in the 70′s, the international airlines (Qantas, Air New Zealand, Singapore airlines) gave kids a Travel Log book. With this log book, after we were at cruising altitude, we would ask the flight attendant if the Captain could sign our log book. 99 percent of the time the Captain would invite us to the cockpit and we’d meet the flight crew and learn about all they do to fly the planes. As kids it was awesome. And they always gave us our “Flight Wings”. My siblings and I filled 3 log books with about 10 pages each on our travels. Around the world 6 times before I was 16. I remember the good times of flying back then. Great memories flipping through the log books. Even in economy they gave us printed menus and excellent choices and food. Had my first love of smoked salmon as it was always served as an appetizer.
    About 23 yrs ago, my husband had a one month assignment to consult on tourism in Cambodia. Our then 8 and a half month old daughter and I were to join him in Bangkok at the end of his assignment and after I attended a wedding of a dear friend in Penang, Malaysia. Unfortunately, My daughter and I flew United from LAX to Bangkok. I had ordered a bassinet when I made the reservation. We were lucky to have a row of 3 seats to ourselves, but not bulkhead seats. When I asked for her bassinet, they gave me a coffin looking box thing and told me I could only put it on the floor, which I couldn’t because the seats were not far apart. My daughter never once cried on the flight, but she was so happy we were laughing and giggling together. An older flight attendant approached us and said “Shut that baby up!” I was flabbergasted! I told her she’s a baby and doesn’t understand, plus she was laughing and not crying. She came back one more time and repeated the same thing. When it was meal service time, I asked if I could have mine a little later as my daughter was still very active and I would not be able to take care of her and eat. Her response, “Take it now or never”. I wrote to United and complained about the flight attendant’s rude comments (including her name) and all I got was “Thanks and we will bring it up in training.” I boycotted traveling on United for about 10 years until I was forced to.
    After a 12 hour overnight layover in Bangkok, my daughter and I were waiting to board Malaysian Airlines for Penang. They made an announcement that we would soon be boarding. Immediately a flight attendant came to me and introduced herself and said she was the “Baby Specialist” for this flight and that she would help me board right away. Sure enough her name tag had “Baby Specialist”. We boarded in economy before everyone else and got a bulkhead seat with a bassinet to come later should I need it. She told me she would hold my daughter in the galley a few feet away until we were ready for take off. I got a few minutes to myself! Awesome! When we were at cruising altitude she brought me warmed jars of baby food without me requesting. After my daughter was fed, she said she would hold my daughter throughout the meal service so I could eat properly! Score # 2! Wow! I could see my daughter near the galley at all times. After the meal service she brought my daughter back and a bassinet that attached to the wall. It was big enough for 2 babies unlike the coffin-like box on United. Upon landing in Penang she helped me through Immigration and Customs and then we parted. I tried to tip her but she wouldn’t accepted it as it was part of her job. She was so sweet and helpful and genuinely loved kids. On our return flights from Penang to Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok, we were met with a “Baby Specialist” each time and each one was just as sweet and helpful as the last. Then we boarded for our flight home to LAX on United with my husband and we were thrown back to hell with rude United flight attendants! Travel today is not like it used to be. A cattle run!


    I’ll never forget how thrilled my daughter was to get some plastic wings on her first flight on United.

  • VeritasIII

    Air France has a program called “Fying Blue” for kids. I have found them to be outstanding with kids…go figure! They don’t announce pre-boarding for families…instead they come find you in the waiting lounge and a staff member walks you onto the plane with your kids to help get you settled. I could go on and on. We go out of our way to use them long-haul internationally. Toys for the kids, activity kits, extra snacks, staff taking the kids so we can have a “break.”

  • mrsnarbonne

    EVA airways also gives a little tote bag with diapers, baby food, disposable bibs, wipes, etc. to the infants, which helps ease the pain of the 10% of full fare charge for lap infants.

  • Jamie

    We had a very similar experience on AA from MAN to ORD a few years ago. That was the last time I flew a US airline between the US and Europe. The customer service was horrible. I don’t see how anyone could think that I quiet baby near the crew resting place/galley, is worse than a crying baby 7 rows away. Seems like the crying baby a few rows away would disturb the crew’s rest much more. It was the overall attitude that was the worst, though. As if we were an inconvenience to them, rather than customers to be treated well.

  • Jamie

    We flew BA Business this Christmas, and the kids were given nothing in the way of toys, amenity kits, kids food etc. Not even an adult amenity kit, which would’ve been at least a little interesting. They are little girls and would’ve gotten a kick out of some lip balm and lotion. Of course, it was an overnight flight, so everything was pretty much trumped by the lie flat seats and the decent kids’ content on the IFE.
    Theoretically, I would say that it is not family friendly that you aren’t allowed to choose your own seats without being a high level elite or paying quite a bit extra. But they choose your seats for you a week ahead of time and guarantee that each child will be paired with a parent. So, we were two and two in two rows ahead/behind each other. Perfect.

  • matthewsf

    We’re flying a variety of airlines for a trip to Singapore and Thailand and was wondering if anyone has experience receiving any kid friendly amenities. We will be travelling in First/Business (for two class cabins) the entire way on the following: EVA on a 777 from SFO-Taipei-Singapore; THAI from SIN to/within Thailand; Asiana from Bangkok to Seoul and then First (747) to Tokyo; United Global First to SFO.
    Not planning on ordering a kids meal since our toddler will eat the regular food. Was more interested if there are any special amenity kits that would need to be ‘pre-ordered’ by notifying them in advance of our little traveler, or if we can expect anything once on board. Not sure if you or your readers have any additional insights or experience flying with kids with these airlines, whether in a premium cabin or not. thanks.

  • Bob2222222

    Recently flew for the first time with an infant (4 months). Horrible experience on United. Our daughter had a ticket (paid for by work) which entitled her to two bags but the check in argued with us that she only had one bag like everybody else. We had to show her our receipt. They couldnt give us seats together although friendly woman at gate did that. What really annoyed me was there was no priority boarding for us. They said it was only for people in wheelchairs or active duty service members. Our flight was delayed and so the line was very long. People in the line told us to move to the front of the line which was very nice of them, but United staff scowled at us as we boarded. At least the cabin crew were friendly

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