Which airline to choose when flying with a toddler?

I want to talk the good, the bad and the ugly about the three major Australian Airlines when it comes to flying with a toddler.  In my professional life I advocate a scientific evidence-based approach to decision making.   No scientific evidence to be found here though folks, just the opinion of a mum that has spent too many hours in the air with her little boys.  For those of you that like me also appreciate firm facts I have summarised the airline policies related to flying with children on Qantas, Virgin and Jetstar (and other airlines) elsewhere.

Some ground rules first.  When we fly with our own toddler we prioritise two things over airline choice.  Firstly, a direct flight is always best.  Second, a flight that interferes least with our toddler’s routine is sought.  That means avoiding late night flights, or early morning flights that require we wake our toddler significantly sooner than his regular wakening time.  We also factor price in however directness and timing are most important for us.  All things being equal, here is what I think about the three major Australian airlines:

Jetstar are notorious for cancelling, delaying and re-routing flights.  We have had personal experience of this as well as hearing many, many stories.  They also have long queues at the airport (queues with a toddler – bad new!)  and are not forthcoming with assistance if a flight has been delayed or cancelled. While Jetstar does not exactly equal bad, I must have a very, very good reason to fly with them and this is usually the low sales prices that are occasionally offered by the airline.

Virgin Australia often have long lines at the airport and ground-staff are not particularly helpful. They also are very rigid when it comes to baggage allowances. In contrast to this in-flight staff are particularly helpful to families traveling with children as I have found time and again when traveling alone with my boys.  I am not sure whether this is a positive or negative but Virgin seats families with children near each other.  What I don’t appreciate is that this is always at the back near the toilets.  I have wondered whether seating those most likely to soil themself where the smell is less likely to be noticed is deliberate airline policy.  Want anything extra on a Virgin flight and you have to pay for it.   In-flight entertainment may theoretically be purchased on some flights however I am yet to encounter it on our frequent trips from Cairns to Sydney and Melbourne.   Food may also be purchased however they do not sell food that is well suited for toddlers except confectionary and chips!  We often fly Virgin because they have flights that fulfil our need for directness and timing, and I bless the many lovely in-flight staff that do their best to cater to the needs of families.

Qantas has shorter queues at the airport. They also offer entertainment packs for toddlers, and toddler meals are served if you pre-book them.  On longer flights they occasionally offer in-seat entertainment with children’s programing.  The down side of Qantas is their in-flight staff pay little attention to travelling families, and focus on business travellers. Our own exception to this was when somehow our names were added to the list of Platinum frequent fliers for a single flight and the staff’s attentiveness rose several notches.  On the up side, the Qantas Club now has a family zone in its lounge that is frankly traveling parent’s gold.

So, while each of the airlines could improve the service they provide, and there are pros and cons to both Virgin and Qantas, a Qantas flight is usually a happier flight with my own toddler.  Ultimately, it is the simple things that cause the journey to be easier on Qantas.   Little ones like being given a present when they board the plane (their activity pack), they like being able to watch tv or a movie, they like age appropriate food, and they like the icy-pole treat that is provided on longer flights.  No matter how many treats and distractions I have in my own carry-on luggage, it seems to make a difference that it is handed to them by in-flight staff.  Flying Qantas just seems to make the plane journey a happier part of the trip. What do you think?  Would your family agree?

© Copyright 2013 Danielle, All rights Reserved. Written For: Bubs on the Move