Whether your little ones are 2 or 12, navigating air travel with children can be a feat. What can help: Make the airline work for you.
When I travel with my children, who are 1 and 3, I rely on early boarding, in-flight entertainment and any other perk I can take advantage of to make flying bearable (and maybe even fun).
Pack a bag full of yummy snacks, toys and a cozy blanket, and you’ll be singing Sinatra's “Come Fly With Me” every time you hear “Families with young children can begin boarding.”
To help parents find their in-flight zen, here’s the inside scoop on airlines that go the extra mile to accommodate kids.
Plush leather seats. Funky yet soothing purple lights. Touchscreens to order food, games and movies. These are just some of the reasons why I love Virgin. While you can expect changes following Alaska Airline's purchase of Virgin (the mood lighting, for one, will go from purple to blue), that’s all the more reason to pop on a flight with the fam.
A Seattle staple, Alaska’s well-known for being on time, promises to deliver checked bags to baggage claim in less than 20 minutes, provides free kid-friendly movies and has a menu of healthy, actually flavorful plane food.
Bonus: The kids’ choice picnic pack is just $6 and full of favorites, from Pirate Booty to Tree Top applesauce and YumEarth organic fruit snacks.
United has a lot of under-noticed family-friendly perks, including priority boarding for families with children 2 and younger. (Bonus: In my experience, the pilots are more than happy to give kids a tour of the cockpit, if you ask. United flight attendants even keep pilot wings handy — I thought those disappeared in the ‘90s.)
If you don’t want to deal with making food, go for the kid's snackbox, which features healthy options, a children’s activity book and Ben Flyin the Adventure Bear.
If you’re looking to spend a little more, United offers access to the Polaris Lounge to business class travelers in San Francisco, Houston, New York/Newark and Los Angeles. Each lounge features a gourmet buffet, charging stations, relaxation rooms and even showers.
This airline tends to maintain their reputation as being reliable and fun. It has stayed faithful as other big-name airlines stray into charging for, well, everything… so no bag fees and no change fees. For domestic family fliers, Southwest has a huge route network and well-priced flights.
Plus, Southwest did away with their iconic peanut snacks last summer to be sensitive to anyone with peanut allergies. They received a lot of praise from families of children with nut allergies — another appreciation from their family fan base.
Allegiant Air and Spirit Airlines
Let’s face it, flying with a family of four (heck, flying with a family of two) is expensive. So, if you and your loved ones are okay with foregoing things such as reclining seats, just pack a pillow or two in the carry-on and cozy up for tickets that make it cheaper to vacation.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in October 2018, and updated in August 2019.