Picking a ‘child-friendly’ airline can make all the difference to the challenges of family flying. It’s worth investing a bit more to travel with a large carrier – pay £40 for a no frills ticket and that’s just what you’ll get, although some budget airlines are better than others (BMI and Monarch are two of the best, with bassinets and bottle warming).
We list five top airlines for travelling tots, with everything from pre-bookable bassinets to sky nannies. Book well in advance and you could get prices that rival those of the budget airlines.
1. British Airways
BA has a great family flying programme, including priority boarding (you can also check in online 24 hours before and choose your own seats), strollers to the gate and a ‘feed children first’ policy to avoid hungry meltdowns.
Skycots and Britax infant seats are available, as well as baby food supplies and onboard bottle warming.
There are Skyflyer Paddington bear activity packs on flights over three hours (children can print off luggage labels before they travel) and in-flight entertainment systems on long haul even have a handy parental lock.
2. Virgin Atlantic
One of the best family carriers, Virgin Atlantic has special children’s seats (on request) for newborn babies upward (travelling on a child fare) and support seating for disabled children.
Cabin crew will warm milk (they’ve also got baby bottles, baby food and nappies), and long-haul flights have free in-flight cots and changing facilities.
Kids’ meals include fish fingers, and boredom beaters include a backpack, with goodies such as a book and a digital watch. The entertainment system includes pre-schooler, 5-12 years and teenager channels – as well as Nintendo games consoles.
KLM Junior Jetset service is available on all of the Dutch flagship carrier’s intercontinental flights, and includes activity packs and basic essential baby items (including food) on board.
Kids’ meals can be ordered in advance, and carrycots can be reserved for babies six months or under, who weigh less than 10 kg.
It’s one of the few airlines where small strollers are allowed on board – as well as car seats (although an extra seat has to be purchased to put it on).
4. Gulf Air
Gulf Air’s big draw is its sky nanny service on some long-haul routes. These trained attendants will help with boarding and disembarkation and allow parents to take a break during long flights.
Priority boarding, pre-ordered bassinets for babies up to a year old, emergency nappies and children’s meals are also available.
If children get wriggly, there are onboard toys and games to entertain them, as well as a children’s inflight entertainment system with dedicated channels for all age groups.
5. Air France
Air France has a family-friendly Planete Bleue service, which includes priority boarding, additional baggage allowance and strollers allowed on board.
Sky cradles are available on medium- and long-haul flights, as well as baby food (and warming). Meals for the under-nines come ‘ready sliced’.
Children get gift packs containing crayons and games to keep them occupied, along with an in-flight entertainment system.
Best of all, on some medium- and long haul routes Planete Bleue ‘family helpers’ are on hand to help when you need an extra pair of hands.