Hotels chains across the industry have spent years vigorously trying to one-up each other when it comes to who can provide the best amenities, freebies, and services for families, and one of the best side-effects of this competition is that some airlines are beginning to follow suit.
Warren Chang, vice president and general manager of Fly.com, recently compiled a list of some of the more creative kid-friendly perks being offered by the airlines. Here now, a few of his findings.
With services like Nanny in the Clouds permitting you to search any given flight for passengers who also happen to be nannies available for hire during the flight, Gulf Air is shrewdly borrowing the concept, introducing their complimentary Sky Nanny service that provides a nanny to escort your family on board. While in flight, Chang says, the nanny can suggest dining times and “keep an eye on children while parents sleep or watch a movie.” And should you find yourself in Abu Dhabi, Etihad Airways' first and business class lounges also have nannies available to help you watch your kids.
Cots for Tots
On many airberlin flights lasting 90 minutes or longer, Chang discovered that the airline is providing free cot usage for front-row passengers aged 12 months and younger. Airberlin will also give parents a bag with diapers, bottles, and a bib, and will be happy to warm up your baby's food.
Airberlin is also among the airlines allowing passengers to order child-friendly meals without incurring an extra fee. On EL AL Israel Airlines routes from JFK and Newark airports to Israel, such choices as mini-potato pancakes and apple-stuffed pancakes might be part of the kid-friendly kosher meals, available to all passengers. Chang also reports that during holidays and over the summer, EL AL will sometimes have a clown on board performing skits and tricks.
EL AL also makes coloring pages and activity books available to kids, as does JetBlue, who developed their activity kit in cooperation with PBS Kids. And both Virgin Atlantic and Cathay issue kids backpacks with books and other goodies, Chang says.
Why are airlines only now waking up to the needs of parents by providing these perks? I asked Chang if he’s noticed a shift or collective realization in the industry. He says that while “some airlines have kept and upgraded their services for families traveling with young children, I do not see the airline industry as a whole aggressively working to introduce new perks for family travel.”
However, he goes on to say, “as we have seen with the airline industry in the past, it only takes a few airlines to implement a popular perk before many airlines adopt it."
If that’s the case, I’d like to see all airlines (all the time) formally reinstate the perk of permitting families with young children to pre-board regardless of what class they’re sitting in. And, needless to say, all the airlines should begin phasing in those clowns that perform skits and tricks in flight.