When I ask families why they choose not to travel abroad, the single greatest deterrent (ok, after MONEY!) seems to be getting there: the flight. The idea that you could be trapped 38,000 feet above the ground with your beloved offspring screaming their heads off and absolutely nowhere to hide terrifies parents.
If this sounds like you then don’t panic!
The Globetrotters will be bringing you everything you need to know for flying with 30 of the world’s top international airlines. Our reviews will cover everything from their pregnancy policies to their children’s entertainment and extra luggage allowances for all your kiddy “accessories”.
The list has been compiled initially based on the Top 10 Airlines as voted for in the 2014 World Airline Awards by Skytrax; one of the airline industry’s most reputable surveys of airlines. Additionally, we have added another 20 long-haul airlines that come up most frequently in terms of passenger numbers, revenue and with information available in English. The list is not exhaustive but covers a vast number of international carriers.
Airlines to be covered in the Globetrotters Review
And the rest (in alphabetical order):
Aeroflot Russian Airlines; Air Canada; Air France; Air New Zealand; Alitalia; American Airlines; British Airways; Delta; EVA Air; Finnair; KLM; Malaysia Airlines; Qantas; South African Airways; Swiss Air; TAP Portugal; Thai Airways; United Airlines; Virgin Atlantic
What does the Globetrotters review cover?
We are on the lookout for family-friendly features; what will the average family likely face when dealing with standard economy class travel on the world’s leading airlines. On the basis I have not flown all of the airlines, I will not be “ranking” them; rather I will provide you with the information I think is most important to making decisions on the best airlines to use for you and your family, including:
Basic Facts: Airline name and base, relative size, awards and rankings in various customer surveys, whether they are part of an airline alliance (see notes below).
Pregnancy: What special arrangements does the airline provide for expectant women and how far along in your pregnancy can you travel.
Newborns: How soon after birth can you travel and what special travel arrangements exist, if any.
Infants (under 2 years): What is their seating, ticketing and luggage policy for the under 2’s. Whether bassinets are available and alternates to having the child sit on your lap.
Children (2-11 years): How does the airline cater for younger travellers, seating, ticketing, luggage allowances, meals and entertainment.
Unaccompanied Minors: When can children fly without a parent or guardian and any special arrangements and conditions.
Baggage Allowances: I will focus primarily on economy class allowances, but be mindful with frequent flyer programs, premium economy or business/first class and certain other travelling parties will have additional entitlements. My review focuses on how many extras you can bring on board without extra charges.
Frequent Flyer Programs: Specifically, how are their frequent flyer programs geared towards families. Can you claim for children’s flights, from what age can they join and can your family points be pooled.
The Globetrotters View: Overall, how family-friendly is the airline? Where I have flown with the airline I can give a firsthand account of my experience, otherwise I will be basing my opinion on information that is publicly available, including online airline reviews and experiences from my readers.
What’s in an Award?
Every time you step on a plane or look at a travel website they are sure to be bragging about some award or another – but I always take these with a grain of salt – consider the constraints of any surveying process; Who is giving the award, are they industry or consumer based? Who was in the survey pool? Who could answer the survey questions and how was the survey made available? How long ago was the award given? Is the award category of any relevance to your flying experience? (Can you tell I did stats at school?)
The world of blogging and social media has really given power to the people when it comes to brand specifics. There’s no hiding behind a corporate veil, consumers are the ones who will tell you what they really think – but be mindful also that people are far more likely to fill in a survey or give feedback when they feel they have had a negative experience rather than a positive one, and surveys tend to be filled in by people who have the time available. I have included links below to some of the popular airline surveys if you’d like to check out the results for yourself and any conditions I would place on their results.
I believe they have the most reputable airline award from a consumer survey base. Not only do they have their own research team conducting audit evaluations on airline quality (giving top airlines “star” ratings) they run the world airline awards, based on voting and reviews from the general public they are the largest Passenger Choice awards (you can also rate airports, lounges and seating). Want to particiapte? click here to complete a review. They will be announcing their next awards in June so look out for any changes subsequent to this article.
They don’t award their airlines as such, but each is given an overall % rating based on many factors as determined by passengers, from value for money through to punctuality, baggage handling and customer service. I believe some of these factors, however, can be out of the airline’s control and are a little unfair. Smaller airlines with less reviews seem to generally score better; I’ll let you decide if you agree!
If aviation safety is your number one concern, you might be interested in the slightly more technical ratings provided by this German group. Multiple airline tragedies over the last 12 months have impacted heavily on their latest survey results for 2015, and I think its an area that families (in fact all travellers) are giving increasing attention to.
Originating out of Russia, this is another popular consumer ranking site. Passengers can rate airlines and airports in a similar fashion to the Skytrax survey and there’s a large open forum section on their website (read people having a bit of a moan). They also rank the budget airlines and airline alliances if this is your interest.
At the end of the day, an award is only one of many factors that you will use in choosing your airline but clearly the airline themselves put a lot of kudos on these awards, just be aware of what they mean.
What’s in an Alliance?
You will see as we go through the review, most of the world’s top airlines are in an alliance; operationally they are completely separate companies, but alliances relate to shared resources and importantly for the consumer, loyalty programs. The big ones are Star Alliance, SkyTeam and One World but there are an increasing number of newer alliances and partnerships emerging to compete.
Whilst much attention on loyalty programs goes to the business class traveller, focus cannot be lost on what loyalty programs are worth to the family. If you are purchasing multiple seats at once you really should be looking to cash in wherever you can and consider the impact of points alongside the face value of the tickets you are purchasing. You may pay more for tickets upfront but a couple of long-haul flights within an alliance can easily earn you enough points for say some domestic flights down the track or hotel nights in the future.
After this series I will be delving much further into “point chasing” and how to maximize opportunities for the travelling family.
Accuracy of Information
All information for this article series has been gathered by me from publicly available sources, largely the airlines own websites but also other review platforms. Information is correct at time of publishing (May 2015 and subsequent updates), however, airline policies and international airline rules do frequently change so please contact the airline to confirm the information contained here is correct and current prior to making any bookings.
Further reading on family air travel
All our articles can now be found on the new Flying with Kids homepage:
See also: TSA flying with children guidelines
I hope you enjoy this airlines series. Please let us know if you think there are any airlines missing or if you would like to add your own experience – good or bad – with any of the airlines mentioned, either on the daily post or comment below.
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