Between consistently low air fares and Baby Boomers with grandchildren and money to burn, families are proving to be a driving force in air travel. The airlines are beginning to recognize that the little passengers need a little extra love when flying the friendly skies. In an effort to shorten boarding times, and meet the needs of traveling families, many airlines are enticing families with reduced child fares, pre-boarding for families, children's menus, in-flight kid's packs, entertainment and even fashion shows and face painting.
Below are a few of the airlines that have gone above and beyond to meet the needs of families, at both at the gate and in-flight.
1. Virgin Atlantic is staking it's claim on being a first class family-friendly airline. Starting with safety first, Virgin Atlantic offers infant seats tailored to fit every on-board seat, regardless of class. Another fantastic safety feature is the parental controlled in-flight entertainment devices. Parents can literally rest easy knowing their child is surfing safely.
Not that surfing is all they will be doing, since Virgin Atlantic provides all little flyers with a kid's pack, including red or black drawstring backpack, a child-sized eye mask, warm socks with a sneaker or sandal design, a rainbow pen, and a travel journal/activity book.
Not leaving a stone unturned, Virgin Atlantic knows a hungry child is a miserable child, so the airline enlisted Top-TV chef, Loraine Pascale to create nutritious and delicious child-friendly meals. Even the infants get a nod with great purees! (Note: Virgin Atlantic is it's own entity. This is not typical of all Virgin carriers.)
2. JetBlue is proving not all 'low cost' airlines are the same. While most low-cost or discount airlines are offering the bare minimum when it comes to freebies-- you know a seat and seatbelt--JetBlue is offering family-friendly flying feature free of charge. In addition to pre-boarding families traveling with children under two years old, all children are offered unlimited juice and snacks for the duration of the flight.
The airline's in-flight entertainment keeps the family focus going with Animal Planet, Nickelodeon and at least one child-appropriate movie offered on flights over two-hours. Not to worry if the flight is only an hour, Jet Blue has partnered with, Soar with Reading and PBS Kids, to offer free reading activity printables for use on flights.
3. Southwest makes domestic travel with children not only inexpensive with child fares, but much less of headache offering the first checked bag free and families traveling with children age six and under pre-board in-between the A and B group.
4. Emirates, insists 'Family Comes First' on their flights, and they back it up. Families board first, then are treated to a Lonely Planet inspired kid's pack designed to encourage world exploration; complete with travel journal, a magazine packed with fun puzzles and activities, colored pencils and an eye mask.
The little ones are also given a furry We Fly With Me Animal to cuddle through the flight. The in-flight entertainment system, ICE, promises no kid will get bored with over 100 in-flight games, 50 Disney favorites and many popular children's TV shows. To keep those little bellies full, a children's menu complete with health favorites are offered, including a snack box packed with favorites to enjoy during the flight.
5. Qantas keeps kids smiling on and off the plane. Prior to boarding, children are treated to the Family Zone. Boasting iMacs, Sony Playstations, children's furniture, toys and books, this lounge helps the littles get the crazies out before boarding. (Some family zones offer refreshments too!) Once on-board, children are provided with a fun activity pack, unlimited snacks and refreshments, and of course, loads of child-friendly in-flight entertainment, including Disney and Nickelodeon.
6. Asiana Airways thinks of the entire family, offering expectant mother care, magic shows and even cookie baking classes. Yes, cookie baking on a plane. And that's just the beginning. Asiana offers face painting, in-flight magic shows, crafts, and a dress-up photo op with crew members. As if that's not enough, the flight crew will dazzles during the in-flight fashion show featuring traditional costumes from around the world, including Korean wedding costumes. Don't forget to get your family caricature drawing before the flight ends. Expectant moms, no need to worry about walking through the airport to connecting flights, Asiana will send a golf cart for you.
7. Etihad Airways Flying Nannies, are dedicated flight crew who've received childcare training from renowned Norland College in the United Kingdom. These specialized flight attendants accompany families from the gate to make boarding easier, help prepare bassinets, and keep children entertained with puppets, face painting, magic tricks, and arts and crafts. Nannies are available free of charge on all long-haul flights. Keeping kids nourished is another focus on Etihad, offering fun meals for kids, in addition to a bottle-warming service and baby food.
8. EVA Air is completely changing the game with their Hello Kitty aircraft. If you love Hello Kitty, I suggest you book the next flight out of Huston on EVA! The aircraft is not only packed on the inside with Hello Kitty everything, the exterior of the plane is a flying Hello Kitty Billboard. From the pillows, to the blankets, to the napkins, soap, butter, snacks and flight attendant uniforms, everywhere you look, Hello Kitty will be looking back at you.