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SAS stands apart among airlines flying to Europe for its incredible Kids Fly Free deal, usually offered twice a year. Pros: great inflight entertainment choices for the kids, friendly flight attendants and accommodating ground staff. Cons: Dinners for children have to be ordered in advance, cramped changing tables in economy lavs.
I rarely book a flight more than a month or two out from my departure date, but I do have an exception. For two of the past three years, I’ve spent spring break in Scandinavia thanks to the awesome fares with SAS’s Kids Fly Free promotion. They’ve offered it twice a year in the past (here’s hoping that continues). In May 2018, when I saw the promotion pop up on my social media feeds, I pressed “purchase” on flights for me and my two kids (ages 2 years and 14 months) from Miami to Helsinki via Copenhagen almost a year in advance. Spring Break 2019 would be spent in Scandinavia.
With the Kids Fly Free deal, children 11 and under traveling with an adult only pay taxes and fees on flights from select US airports to several Scandinavian cities. That was also enough to persuade my sister and her husband to book with their four daughters, three of whom were 11 and under at the time of our flight and qualified for the deal. So off to Scandinavia we went with six children (ages 13, 11, 10, 9, 2 and 1), five of them flying on the Kids Fly Free deal.
On the first leg — nonstop from Miami to Copenhagen — we flew on SAS’ A330 in what was then called SAS Go Saver class (the airline has since renamed its travel classes, which you can read about here). My 2-year-old son and I were allowed one checked bag each, with no checked bag for my lap baby.
As soon as I saw SAS launch its Kids Fly Free promotion in May 2018 (it usually runs for about two weeks and is offered twice a year), I was on it. The airline gave a roughly six-month window for travel dates that extended through March 2019, and we could choose to fly to such cities as Oslo, Stockholm, Copenhagen and Helsinki from our closest airport with SAS flights, Miami.
I called my sister and we quickly agreed that Spring Break 2019 in Finland would be the plan. Flights from Miami to Helsinki were slightly more expensive than Miami-to-Copenhagen alone, but the idea of visiting Santa Claus and going dogsledding in Finnish Lapland won out over a stay in Denmark at that time of year. Side note: We ended up booking a separate flight with Norwegian from Helsinki to Rovaniemi (the capital of Finnish Lapland), where we spent the bulk of our vacation.
I booked our flights online through the SAS website. When you put in the birthdates of your children as you book, the site automatically calculates their ticket price as just taxes and fees. The grand total for my two kids and me to fly from Miami to Helsinki via Copenhagen was less than $690. I used my United Explorer Card to book and was sure to put in my United Mileage Plus number to accrue Star Alliance miles.
On the Ground in Miami
We arrived two hours before our flight and check-in at the SAS counter at Miami International Airport was smooth and speedy. There are electronic kiosks where you get your boarding pass (using your passport or confirmation number to look up your ticket), then you check your bags. I initially planned to check two car seats, but thought better of it when I realized my then-14-month-old was much more likely to sleep in a car seat inflight than on my lap. Even though she was going to be a lap baby, I decided to bring the car seat onboard “for my son” (who had a seat on the plane) and then use it for the baby. I had to hope there would be a nearby seat for my son. The check-in agent told me there were quite a few seats open on the flight, so I crossed my fingers.
I have two Cosco Scenera car seats for travel. I pulled one out and the check-in agent checked it for a special sticker that says it’s approved for use inside an airplane. Without the sticker, the seat had to be checked with my baggage. The first car seat didn’t have the required sticker, and I felt my spirits sink. But luckily the second one did, so that’s the one we were allowed to bring through security and onto the plane.
Once through security, we had time to kill so I took the kids to the airplane-themed play area near the E gates. For those flying with even younger children, I noticed a few Mamava nursing pods throughout the airport. The kids loved the flight simulator and hot-air ballon game and it was a good way to burn off some pre-flight energy before grabbing a smoothie and pizza from the food court and heading to our gate.
At the gate, I asked the agent if she could change our seats so that my family was near my sister’s family (we forgot to do this at check-in). She moved us all to the back of the plane, where there were lots of open rows. She was kind enough to block off a middle row (four seats) for just me and my two kids, so we had one extra seat to stretch out. That’s when I let out a sigh of relief that I’d have nobody on my lap for the flight.
The airline didn’t make a preboarding announcement for families, but we followed the lead of several other families and boarded with the early groups without a problem.
I checked my one stroller at the gate and was told I wouldn’t be able to pick it up planeside in Copenhagen (it would stay checked on to Helsinki), but that there were loaner strollers to use for free in the airport in Copenhagen (and there were).
Cabin and Seat
Most of the economy seats on SAS’s wide-body A330’s are a 2-4-2 configuration. The seats are 17.3 inches wide with 31-32 inches of pitch (that goes up to to 38 inches of pitch and an extra inch on the width in SAS Plus).
Right before takeoff, when it was announced that boarding was completed, my sister and a few of her girls moved to the empty rows of two seats (on the windows) near us, so we were spread out across three rows.
Two of my sister’s kids were alone in window seats, my sister had a window seat in front of them with nobody next to her, my daughter and I were in the middle with my brother-in-law and my son was in front of us in a middle row with his two cousins. We basked in our luck of having so much room for a transatlantic flight.
The plane looked new and the seats and floors were spotless. Before takeoff, the flight attendant came by to be sure I had my daughter’s car seat properly attached to the airplane seat. (The seat belt went through the bottom of the car seat easily, but she had an extender ready for me, just in case). I put my daughter facing backwards, the same way she rides at home in the car, and she was already fluttering her tired eyes by the time we took off.
The economy cabin had access to four lavatories at the front of the cabin and one at the rear of the plane. I stuck to the front lavs for less wait time and made use of the changing tables inside twice during the flight. It wasn’t easy fitting myself and my 14-month old in there at the same time (she’s too long for the table) but we made it work. I always bring tons of wipes to clean the changing table and use a pillow of paper towels to cushion her head during the process, but she still wiggles about like an inchworm and makes it difficult to change her. Mom tip: Sometimes changing their diapers while they’re standing up is easier than when they’re lying down.
Amenities and IFE
We had a ton of extra pillows and blankets thanks to all the empty seats around us — always appreciated, since airplanes tend to be chilly and warm babies seem to sleep more soundly inflight. The only amenity was a pair of plastic-tipped ear buds to use with the inflight entertainment system. My son had his own single-prong headphones, which also fit in the system. There was a USB port in each seat, too, which I used to charge my iPad and phone.
My daughter is too young to enjoy the inflight programming, but my son and four nieces took full advantage of the 10 kids movies and four kids shows. There was Disney programming, plus Paw Patrol, The Lego Movie, Be-Cool Scooby Doo and lots more. The inflight offerings also included several kids games a la Tic Tac Toe and drawing and matching games.
I’d brought along a blow-up foot rest to turn my son’s seat into a lie-down for him. I wedged it in front of him with no objections from the flight attendants. This meant his feet weren’t dangling, and he looked like he’d been upgraded to business class. I was kind of envious.
My son and nieces, in the row in front of me, were glued to their screens for a few hours after takeoff and all through dinner. Eventually, we had to make them turn off the screens to get some sleep. It made for a peaceful flight for the adults. I enjoyed watching “Bohemian Rhapsody” in peace and fantasizing how my life might have been if I were Freddy Mercury.
Food and Beverage
This whole flying-long-haul-with-two-kids thing is still new to me and I forgot to order their kids meals in advance. My children tend to eat adult foods anyway, but I watched other kids around us receive their meals a good 15 minutes before the general food service started. A flight attendant told me she would check to see if there were any extra kids meals but that was the last I heard of it.
It didn’t matter, however, as we’d fed the kids in the airport and my son ate some of the potatoes and chicken served with my meal as well as the cheese and crackers. As far as inflight meals in economy class go, I’d say this one was above-average but nothing you’d crave on the ground.
About an hour before landing, breakfast was served. Although technically an adult meal, it was very kid-friendly with granola, yogurt, a whole grain roll, juice, cut fruit and several slices of ham and cheese. I shared mine with my daughter while my son continued snoozing until we landed.
The flight attendants were friendly and interacted with my kids on several occasions. I went to the galley at the back of the plane twice to request more milk and they quickly obliged. They also came through the cabin throughout the flight, offering water.
I appreciated that the the flight attendants offered help installing the car seat if I needed it, which I didn’t.
I’ll jump on that SAS Kids Fly Free deal every time it’s offered until my kids age out. The airline is as good as any flying to Europe from the US, and when you’re only paying taxes and fees for kids 11 and under during the promotion, you really can’t beat the price for the quality of service.
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