The first time I traveled with my nephew, he had just turned one and I remember thinking, “This will be easy. He’s an easy-going kid, it’s a short flight to North Carolina — no problem.” Ha! It had never been more apparent that I possessed exactly zero small-human-travel skills. Fast-forward one delayed flight and several panicked calls to my brother and we eventually made it to our destination but it was a learning experience I will not soon forget. Lesson number one? Preparation is key. Lesson number two? Choose your airline wisely. While some airlines offer all sorts of luxuries like early boarding for people traveling with strollers and wiggly little kids, some do not and will leave you stranded at the gate trying to figure out how to collapse a colossal stroller while an angry mob forms behind you.
Before you book your next family getaway, take the airline and its amenities into consideration. Do they offer priority boarding? Do they have in-flight entertainment for kids? Do they offer kid-friendly foods? Will they charge you to bring a stroller? There are a lot of options to weigh, so to make things easier (vacations are supposed to be stress-free, right?), we’ve created a list of the most family-friendly airlines to consider for your next trip.
There are a lot of family-friendly airlines out there but when choosing the best for families, Delta was the clear winner. First, they offer early boarding for customers traveling with car seats and strollers, strollers and car seats are checked for free and most flights offer in-flight entertainment with kid-friendly entertainment options. Delta also won’t charge you to bring a booster seat, bassinet, or breast pump (and its associated cooler bag) in addition to your carry-on and personal item.
While these amenities are nice, lots of airlines offer them. What really sets Delta apart from other airlines are some of their new services, specifically the ones being offered to the main cabin on all international Delta flights. Now, when you board you will be welcomed with a cocktail (something everyone traveling with a kid definitely needs) and if you’re traveling with a picky eater, you’re in luck because Delta now offers menus to its main cabins on international flights. You and your tiny travel companion can pick and choose an appetizer and an entree that suits you and chow down while enjoying a wide range of kid-friendly entertainment options. And because you can’t control when your kid will decide they want to eat, there is also a new anytime snack basket that is available for guests after meal service.
If you’re rich enough to afford a first-class ticket, Delta also has some pretty swanky amenities in their new Delta One cabins that come in handy for families. First, the seats turn into beds. Need I say more? There’s tons of storage for toys or whatever else your kid has decided to bring with them on the flight but most importantly, the seats are super private. There’s a divider between every seat (it can be lowered) which is perfect for napping kids, breastfeeding moms or just any human who doesn’t want to wake up inches away from their snoring seatmate’s face.
2. Southwest Airlines
For domestic flights, Southwest has some pretty enticing features for families and a lot of them have to do with money. First, as you probably know, Southwest does not charge baggage fees. As long as your bag does not exceed 50 pounds, each passenger is allowed two checked bags which is obviously a big advantage to families who bring a lot of baggage. More importantly, Southwest has an unconditional free ticket change policy! Most airlines will charge you at least $200 to change your flight but with Southwest, even if you need to reschedule flights for your entire family day-of, it won’t cost you anything except the difference in airfare.
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Like Delta, Southwest also offers free in-flight entertainment with kid-friendly options on most long-haul flights and you’ll be able to check your stroller and car seat for free. They don’t offer a la carte dining like Delta, but they are completely peanut-free which is a nice option for families traveling with passengers with peanut allergies.
3. American Airlines, JetBlue & United
These three pretty much all offer the exact same amenities so I combined them. All three allow you to board early, check a stroller and a car seat, offer kid-friendly entertainment on most long-haul flights and your diaper bag or breast pump won’t count as your carry-on or personal item. American Airlines does not have a specific meal option for kids so you may want to pack your own snacks if you’re traveling with a picky eater. If you prefer to travel light, JetBlue may be the better option for you because they offer unlimited brand-name snacks like Cheez-It crackers and Terra Blue potato chips which can help keep kids occupied and happy until you land and will keep you from having to haul an extra bag full of food through the airport. United does offer one kid-specific meal option and it does come with a small toy. Overall, these three are pretty on par and offer everything you would expect on a decent flight.
4. Alaska Airlines
Alaska Airlines is an underrated airline option for families. They offer all the standards and also have a great track record for being on time and for not losing your luggage. One of the coolest features is actually a free app called Fly for All which is designed to help ease the anxiety of first-time fliers, unaccompanied minors and those with cognitive and developmental disabilities by walking guests through the steps they’ll follow when getting ready to fly. This is a great tool if you are a parent who is getting ready to send your child on their first solo-flight or a parent who wants to make their nervous child feel a little more at ease.
Alaska Airlines also has a surprising number of route options for domestic flights and a couple international destinations so you have a lot of options when choosing your next family trip.