Flying with kids is stressful - even before the pandemic hit. So we’ve taken these VTL and non-VTL airlines for a whirl to find out if they make travelling with little ones any easier.
So, you’ve finally got that family holiday planned now that the world is beginning to open up. It might be a ski trip on the wintry slopes in Canada, or a tropical getaway to somewhere gorgeously sunny in Australia. Holidays are great. Flying with kids? Not so much.
Thankfully, most airlines have priority boarding and in-flight entertainment for families, which helps beat boredom (yours and the kids!) and definitely helps reduce the number of tantrums. But if you’re not planning on bringing the helper, and you’re flying solo with the kids on a long-haul flight, you’re definitely going to need more backup. From on-board nanny services to kid-centric activities and fun packs, these are the best airlines for families, both with VTL and non-VTL designations. Yep, these are the airlines that have your back when you’re stuck 35,000 feet in the air with grumpy grouches…
The best family-friendly airlines for long-haul flights
VTL designated airlines
1. Singapore Airlines (SIA)
There are many reasons why SIA keeps winning the ‘Best Airline in the World’ award year after year: this includes its family-friendly services. From its extensive stock of in-flight baby essentials (diapers, feeding bottles, and baby wipes) to letting you check-in your stroller on board, plus priority booking for bassinet seats, this airline is a pleasure to fly with. Its in-flight entertainment system is also one of the best, featuring all the latest music, TV programmes and movies. Young ones will enjoy the games and toys in the activity pack and also get their own kid-sized headphones. Older kids will love using the in-house messaging service to ‘ping’ their sibling, friend or parent (even if they’re sitting next to them).
Additional service for unaccompanied minors: Unaccompanied minor handling service is mandatory for passengers aged five to 11 years, and optional for young passengers aged 12 years and above.
2. Air France
France’s national airlines offer special family fares for flights in metropolitan France and Europe. If you’re boarding an Air France flight with the kids, staff will be on hand to meet and greet you and then assist you through security checkpoints. If you’re staying within Paris, they will even take care of baggage delivery to and from the airport for you.
All Air France toilets come with baby changing tables, and friendly staff also give out baby kits that contain a bib, a diaper and Nivea baby wipes once you’re on board. Pre-book your baby’s meal and bubba gets to enjoy yummy sweet and savoury pots of organic food, plus biccies. There are also kids meals for little ones aged two to 11 years. On top of the in-flight entertainment (there’s a magician on long haul flights!) and activity and care packs for infants and kids alike, Air France has a dedicated kids’ app filled with games and colouring activities.
Additional service for unaccompanied minors: Kids aged between four and 17 years will have cabin crew escort them throughout their flight. You can also track their entire journey through the Air France app. Oh, did we mention both Paris-Orly and Paris-Charles de Gaulle airports have a play area with plenty of games, cartoons and WiFi?
3. Asiana Airlines
Asiana Airlines takes in-flight entertainment to a whole new level. Kids get to enjoy temporary tattoo art, tarot reading sessions and soap clay-making classes on board. You can also request a cabin tour and play dress-up as a flight attendant before snapping some cool pics. It also offers nutritious, pre-booked, age-appropriate kids meals.
Additional service for unaccompanied minors: An escort service is available for kids five to 17 years. If you’re flying on a domestic flight, the service is free for kids aged five to 12 years.
4. British Airways
One thing we love about British Airways is its “Feed Kids First” policy. The second is its wide selection of kid-approved cartoons, movies and music, plus Skyflyers activity packs. If you’re flying from London Heathrow, you’ll want to check out the family area in Terminal 5, Zone A for games to keep the kids busy. There’s also a porter service available for ferrying your luggage to and from London, plus free seat reservation for all passengers travelling with infants. It also has carrycots and special child seats, plus tinned baby food (available upon request).
Additional service for unaccompanied minors: The Solo Flyer service with staff escort is available for kids five to 14 years.
Flying with KLM? Children up to 11 years of age can receive reduced travel fares, if applicable. You can bring one foldable stroller and one child seat or baby carrier onboard, so long as they comply with the airlines’ rules. The littlies will also be accompanied throughout by Bluey, KLM’s cute mascot. He’ll be with you at the airport and on the flight. Kids aged two and under will also receive a Bluey playset and eye mask. If you’re travelling with an infant, be sure to bring your own baby food. Bubs will get their own Bluey bib, however!
Additional service for unaccompanied minors: Kids between five and 14 years of age will be taken care of, from check-in to arrival. This service can also be requested for those aged 15 to 17 years old too.
6. Korean Air
Korean Air has some great perks both on the ground and in mid-air. If you’re flying from Incheon Airport, head to Terminal 2, level three to rent a stroller at check-in – for free! If you choose to stick with your own, you can carry it on board (and also a car seat), or settle your kid into the airline-provided booster seat, bassinet or travel harness. Bathrooms are equipped with diaper changing stations on medium and long-haul flights, and bub gets to enjoy specially-prepared baby food and orange juice.
Additional service for unaccompanied minors: An escort service is available for kids five to under 13 years.
Parent review: Jana, mum of two
I love Korean Airlines. I flew to Incheon on my own last year with my then one-year-old son, which was a seven-hour flight. At one point, I had to use the toilet and the flight attendants were more than happy to volunteer to carry my son and entertain him. By the time I was done, he was all about hugging them and showing them his toys.
Germany’s national carrier Lufthansa ensures that flying with children is easy and enjoyable. Check in at dedicated family counters in Frankfurt and Munich airports and be greeted by Lu and Cosmo, the airlines’ mascots. If you’re flying from Frankfurt Airport, Terminals 1 and 2 allow you to borrow buggies for free! Onboard, the littles can look forward to toys and colouring books that’ll keep them preoccupied for as long as possible. You can also download Super JetFriends and Take Off!, two free Lufthansa apps that provide great onboard entertainment for kids aged 11 and under. The children’s menus are developed by top chef Alexander Hermann, which are tasty, colourful, and overall a balanced diet. There are baby changing units in the washrooms and spare diapers in case of emergencies.
Additional service for unaccompanied minors: Lufthansa’s care service is available for children between five and 11 years. Kids aged 12 up to 17 years old can also be looked after at the request of their parents.
Though you’ll need to bring a fully-charged iPad loaded with Netflix and game apps for this budget-friendly airline (you don’t get the bells-and-whistles here!) Scoot, which is part of SIA, is known for its pretty efficient service. You can bring approved forward-facing car seats and foldable lightweight strollers on board, as well as breast milk and baby food. Scoot also allows you to bid for an upgrade to business class a few days before your flight, so keep an eye out!
Not-yet-designated VTL airlines that are equally great
9. Air New Zealand
Voted as the best airline in 2018 by airlineratings.com, Air New Zealand has flights from New Zealand to Australia, the Southwest Pacific, Asia, North America, South America and the United Kingdom. Take your own car seat, or book bub a bassinet seat and an infant meal. If you prefer to stretch out on long flights, the Skycouch is available for you to kick back and relax in your economy seats (after takeoff). It comes complete with bedding and a complimentary infant pod, plus harness for tiny tots. Yes folks, you can actually have a lie-down while the kids are busy with their activity pack!
Additional service for unaccompanied minors: Kids five to 11 years will be given a special wristband that’ll be scanned at security checkpoints, and which automatically sends you a text updating you on their flight status.
Emirates has it all. From the free strollers at Dubai International Airport and baby room in the lounge to a play area with video games to keep the teens happy, plus priority boarding, it promises you a smooth flight for sure. Forgot your diaper bag? No worries! Emirates has complimentary nappies, bibs, wet wipes, as well as a range of baby meals and milk formula available. It also has a food and bottle warming service for the grub you brought along for your picky little eater. Older kids will be kept happy with their own stash of snacks, games and an activity pack filled with goodies. They’ll also get their own special set of headphones to watch their favourite programmes on the in-flight entertainment system. You can even pre-load all their favourite movies and songs on a playlist ahead of the flight. Psst: ask the crew to take some snaps of you and the fam with the Polaroid camera they have stashed onboard.
Additional service for unaccompanied minors: Kids aged between five and 15 years will have a specialist member meet them at the check-in desk and accompany them to their seats. There’s also an Unaccompanied Minors Lounge in Dubai International Airport with plenty of games and refreshments, plus dedicated crew members to keep an eye on the kiddos.
Grab a complimentary orange stroller when you arrive at Abu Dhabi and (if you have access) head to the Premium Class lounge where family rooms are staffed with qualified nannies and plenty of kid’s entertainment. You’ll be pleased to know there are Flying Nannies onboard Etihad flights as well, to keep an eye on bubba while you enjoy some shut-eye. Kids over three years will receive an activity pack and the Flying Nanny will provide tons of fun – from face painting to arts and crafts! Your kiddo will even get a certification of participation at the end of the flight! Saves you the trouble of putting up the parental lock on the in-flight entertainment system. Extra baggage allowance is also available for families travelling with kids up to 11 years old.
Additional service for unaccompanied minors: Escort services are available for kids aged five to 12 years.
Parent review: Kate, mum of two
I travelled to the USA from Singapore on my own with two littles under three years old. To retain my sanity, I booked through Etihad to experience its in-flight nanny program. Things started off well with pre-boarding for families. Once onboard, a flight nanny promptly introduced herself, handed us some kid activity packs, and asked if we needed help stowing bags. She clearly liked kids, was very friendly and let me know I could ring for her to watch the kids if I needed to use the toilet or eat. The kids, being as little as they were, weren’t really going to let me out of their sight, so I couldn’t take much advantage of the service. But, she did check in a few times throughout the flight and I think for peace of mind it was worth it. Etihad only offers the in-flight nanny service on some of their routes, but it’s worth looking into!
Heading from Asia to Europe? How about having a Moomin accompany you? Finnair lounges at Helsinki Airport have a dedicated kids’ play area fully stocked with Moomin toys, building blocks and puzzles to keep the little ones occupied until boarding time. Once onboard, kids are treated to special gifts and surprises to keep them happy. Another great thing about Finnair? Kids dine whenever they need to, which means no more hangry tantrums… woo hoo!
Additional service for unaccompanied minors: On Finnair, guidance services are mandatory for kids aged five to 11 years, and are available upon request if you have adolescents aged 12 to 17 years travelling alone.
Parent review: Tracy, mum of three
Finnair is one of my stand-out winners for travelling with kids. I used to travel to the UK with my three kids every year (minus the hubby) and have used tons of different airlines. Some of the ones you would expect more from were very indifferent to my solo status with kiddos in tow, whereas Finnair went above and beyond to make my journey easier. Helsinki is also a great airport to transfer through with children.
13. Gulf Air
Gulf Air’s Sky Nanny is an indispensable service for parents travelling with young children on long-haul flights. Available from 6.30pm to 2am daily, they’ll assist with boarding, disembarkation and keep an eye on the little ones while you use the loo or have a snooze. If you run out of nappies, Gulf Air keeps a stock of supplies. It also has baby powder and cotton bud packs. You can arrange for them to bring your kiddo’s food at a specific time and keep them entertained with Disney movies (only on A330), colouring and other activities.
Additional service for unaccompanied minors: Staff escorts are available for kids five to 11 years.
Other family-friendly airlines for the budget-conscious
Families get priority boarding, so you’ll have plenty of time to settle your little ones in before take-off. The toilets are also equipped with changing tables and when it comes to kiddos, AirAsia is very flexible with you bringing food onboard.
2. Jetstar Asia
We also love flying with this low-cost carrier, which was voted 2021 Best Low-Cost Airline in Asia Pacific by airlinesrating.com!Besides being flexible in terms of changes and cancellations, Jetstar Asia also ensures that passengers are kept safe and healthy during this pandemic.
We hope you have a pleasant flight, folks!