Getting seats together without paying a fee is one challenge that families face when flying. // © 2016 iStock
Feature image (above): Airlines have varying rules and regulations regarding children flying alone. // © 2016 iStock
On a recent flight from Miami to Los Angeles, I witnessed every parent’s nightmare. Our delayed and then rather turbulent flight was made more uncomfortable by a seemingly constant chorus of upset babies seated toward the rear of the plane. An unspoken “Hooray!” swept the cabin as we began our descent, but then our plane surged upward unexpectedly, as the captain aborted his initial landing plans due to warning sensors in the cockpit.
When the babies let out louder yelps, passenger tension escalated. One man raised his voice to insult the mother of two crying infants. Empathetic travelers chimed in to defend her, others asked for everyone to calm down. The mother started crying herself — even I was near tears at this point — and announced to her tormentor and everyone else within earshot that this had been the worst day of her life.
I couldn’t get my own family off that plane fast enough, and my mind reeled thinking about how stressful it can be to fly with children. But like so many other parents, I refuse to live a limited life because my daughter might make a fuss in the airport or kick the seatback in front of her on a flight. Parenthood doesn’t have to equal less travel. But it has certainly pushed me to speak up about what families need and how travel industry brands can help.
Following are a few thoughts on the topic from parents and family travel experts.
The Pain of Packing
Weight limits and baggage fees can put a damper on family travel, especially for those traveling with younger children, who often require more gear. Kim Goldstein manager and travel consultant for Journeys Inc., checks to see if the hotel or resort clients are heading to offers necessary items, so that clients can lighten their loads.
“Many resorts now offer an extensive list of baby supplies that can be delivered to rooms, including Karisma Hotels & Resorts and Hard Rock all-inclusive properties,” Goldstein said. “By not having to worry about strollers, bottle warmers, sterilizers, baby monitors and more, parents can avoid having to take so many suitcases, which also saves them money for checked-bag fees.”
Another option: Work with a rental company such as Baby’s Away. These businesses are stocked with baby gear of all brands and types, and they’ll deliver and pick up ordered items at the destination of your choice.
On the Ground
Spending hours in the air can be rough on families, but so can waiting in an airport. That’s why mother-of-one Erin Wu-Kosinski was thrilled when she recently stumbled upon LAX Beach, the newish children’s play area in Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Located in Tom Bradley International Terminal, LAX Beach is petite but still a great option for letting kids expend energy prior to boarding. Other airports with beloved indoor playgrounds include Chicago O’Hare International, San Francisco International, Boston Logan International, Portland International Airport, Dallas Forth-Worth International Airport and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
Up, Up and Away
Erin Gifford, mother of four and founder of travel blog Kidventurous, says the greatest challenge of flying as a brood is that airlines don’t seem to prioritize keeping all seats together. Even if you’ve selected seats during the purchasing process, it’s common to check in and see that you’re now separated, and that leaves parents in the not-so-comfortable position of asking other passengers to swap seats on their behalf.
“Clearly my 6-year-old son should not be sitting alone three rows away from me,” Gifford said. “I find that irksome: Why am I being penalized for traveling with a small child? By intimating that I will not get seated next to my child unless I pay a bounty, airlines add undue stress to an already stressful situation.”
Travelsavers affiliate Varinnia Colemere, a travel advisor with Nervig Travel Service in Panama City, Fla., has run into the same challenge. To ensure that families are seated together, she encourages clients to buys fares that guarantee selected assignments, such as Delta Comfort Plus.
Even if seating isn’t a problem, there’s still the ever-present chance that a younger flier will find a way to annoy fellow passengers. No parent wants to be that mom or dad — the one bouncing up and down the aisles, trying to soothe an uncomfortable infant — but fellow fliers and flight attendants can be a big help with gestures as small as a reassuring smile.
In 2013, Etihad Airways decided to go above and beyond for families with its Flying Nannies program. Available free of charge on select long-haul flights, Etihad’s well-trained staffers greet the littlest passengers with crafts, cookies and cuddles — here’s hoping more airlines follow suit.
Most children travel under their parents’ supervision, but every so often, a young child will fly solo. Because regulations for children flying alone vary from airline to airline, parents need to research their chosen carrier's rules, communicate accordingly and prep their child for the unexpected, such as a canceled flight or a missed connection.
When Colemere of Nervig Travel Service needs to book flights for a single child, she tends to go with Delta’s Unaccompanied Minor Program, a for-purchase option that now includes bar-coded wristbands to help keep track of young guests. Air New Zealand debuted a similar product called Airband late last year. The chip-embedded device is given to young fliers upon check-in and is then scanned at key points in their journey. Parents are notified each time a child arrives at a new stop in his or her route.
“This type of technology provides caregivers greater peace of mind when their child is traveling alone,” said Carrie Hurihanganui, general manager of customer experience for Air New Zealand. “While our staff has always taken great care of children traveling solo, we identified that there was an opportunity to enhance the experience.”
And as more and more families prioritize travel, parents, travel advisors and other industry experts will look for other brands investing time, effort and funds into improving the world of family travel.