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We are planning to go on a trans-atlantic flight (> 10 hrs) with an infant. To help defray costs, we're considering just getting a "lap" ticket for our (would-be) 1 year old. Which airlines, in your experience, are best for accommodating infants? I would think these are the criteria:

  1. Shortest layovers.
  2. Most legroom in Economy.
  3. Accommodating, in terms of infant engagement (toys, puzzles, etc.) during the flight, seat assignments with bassinets capabilities, etc.

EDIT 2: Our Route Sector will be to fly east from the US east coast (NY or DC), via Europe, to China/India. The final destination will be contingent based on scheduling, pricing and the answer to this question ;)

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I think you should include an exhaustive list of airlines you' are considering, otherwise this question seems too broad. –  mindcorrosive Mar 30 '12 at 13:23
    
a list would probably restrict our options. the sector we're flying is almost serviced by all national carriers –  rs79 Mar 30 '12 at 13:50
    
Accommodating, in terms of infant engagement during the flight you might want to rephrase or clarify this since almost all if not all flights to Europe from the Americas are overnight flights. –  Karlson Mar 30 '12 at 14:22
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Mention what sectors you're flying - this will help people narrow down choices. A flight from Brazil to South Africa is technically 'transatlantic' too. Furthermore, while MANY airlines have transatlantic flights, not ALL of them fly from ALL airports in the US to elsewhere - this is a factor too. Here at Travel.SE, we're trying to solve YOUR practical problem, not trying to create a general reference article like Wikitravel. –  Ankur Banerjee Mar 30 '12 at 14:23
    
duly noted and edited. hopefully it'll be clearer..we're flexible on our travel destination. i'm really trying to get a good feel for the airline's offerings, and that, in effect, could possibly dictate our travel plans.. –  rs79 Mar 30 '12 at 14:28
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8 Answers

up vote 13 down vote accepted

We did a LOT of transatlantic traveling with 3 kids (starting at 6 months age or so). My daughter had her first free flight on her own miles when she was 4 years old :-)

  1. It's entirely doable if properly prepared
  2. If you need a layover, do it in Europe not the US. Otherwise on the way back you have to go through customs and immigration in the first US airport, so basically you have to collect your luggage twice which is a royal pain, especially with a bunch of cranky and tired kids. Also it's typically shorter overall travel.
  3. Good layover options are London and Dublin, since they are "directly" on the way
  4. Another interesting option is Iceland Air via Reykjavik. It splits the whole thing into two segments which are reasonably short. On the downside, on the outbound flight it breaks in the middle of the night, which is a bummer of the rugrats are happily snoozing.
  5. Make contact with the flight attendants. "Little Joey here is just out of diapers and has a bit of a short fuse. It would be great if you give us a 20 minute advanced warning, before you block the isles". Most attendants will be happy to help. Sometimes you get a grump.
  6. I don't think the airline matters much. We've done them all (BA, US, United, Iceland, Lufthansa, Swiss, KLM, Delta, Sabena, Continental, Air France ...). Mood of passengers and crew on that particular day matter more than the letters on the airplane. That's outside of your control so go by price and convenient route.
  7. Some of the really large airports in Europe (Heathrow, Charles de Gaulle, Frankfurt) can be difficult to maneuver. Zurich, Brussels, Reykjavik are much smaller. On the other hand Heathrow Terminal 1 has a really nice playground, where the kids can run around scream their head off after 8 hours on the plane.
  8. Many kids get earaches from the pressure variation during start and landing. Something to chew on helps. Chewing gum, if they are old enough. Bottle or pacifier for the younger ones.
  9. Most important: Have fun. It's a great family adventure and if you have a positive attitude about this, the kids will have too. If your anxious, they will smell it from 100 miles away. Bring some new games, picture books, something to draw, make up stories, find out who has the funniest hair do on the plane and get some serious snuggling done.
  10. Fly mid-week. Higher chances of a flight that isn't full to the gills and you may get an empty seat next to you.
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Let me start off by saying the following: Don't do this unless you really have to wait until they are 3-4 at least. Yes I know it's cheaper to do it before that but you will have a lot more grief. Kids have very difficult time at that age coping with jet lag and cabin pressure changes during take off and landing, and most importantly having to stay in place for a very long time.

Having said all of that you can look through these charts regarding legroom on various airlines:

But the leg room really doesn't help you in terms of seats if you even attempt to request a bassinet. Reason being is the bassinets can only be attached to the wall in front of coach and based on the type of the plane there may be 2 or 3 (in 747 possibly 4) seat assignments that could accommodate it, so first come first served or request this upfront if you can.

As far as toys are concerned I don't know of any airlines that carry them to keep kids occupied as it is thought to be their guardian's job, so I would suggest visiting a dollar store and just getting a bag of stuff that you can give your infant to keep him or her busy for the duration.

One last thing: depending on when your infant goes to sleep I would suggest getting the flight out as close to that time as possible.

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+1 We regret bringing our children on our lap for a 2 hour flight, when they were only 1. It is expensive, but do buy an additional seat for your child –  andra Mar 30 '12 at 15:22
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The last point is a pretty solid advice, but my sister found another way: physically exhaust them before the flight, so that they would be tired and sleepy on the plane. Note that due to the apparent presence of a perpetuum-mobile in some toddlers, this might actually be harder than one would anticipate, and at least one of the parents would probably be exhausted themselves. A solid hour of running around and playing in an isolated part of the airport should suffice. –  mindcorrosive Mar 31 '12 at 11:25
    
@mindcorrosive I wish this worked with my son. –  Karlson Mar 31 '12 at 13:33
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Have you guys tried chloroform? :D –  iHaveacomputer Apr 2 '12 at 11:37
    
@iHaveacomputer That's just evil! :) Kiddush wine worked as a general anesthetic once but you can't really take it with you any more. –  Karlson Apr 2 '12 at 14:00
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You could check Seatguru for pitch, width, and seating details on a large number of airlines.

Depending on size and weight of your child some airlines (KL/AF) offer basinets if our demand in advance.

The most comfortable option is to buy a seat for you child and bring your car seat. KLM, Airfrance, TAP, but I assume many others allow to bring a car seat on board. This way your child sits in a comfortable known seat.

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+1 On the car seat suggestion. –  Karlson Mar 30 '12 at 15:37
    
Last week we travelled with our car seat on an air france flight. Everything went well, until we boarded the plane. The flight attendents did not agree with our seats, although it had the proper (EU) certificates. At checkin they were confirmed to be okay. According to the (very nice FA btw) seat need to have independent seat belts. –  andra Apr 10 '12 at 10:04
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Just got back from a 10+2 hr flight (and back) with our one-year-old and, despite a great airline (JAL) and lots of preparation, one of the flights was still pretty terrible -- considerably more so than flying Australia-Europe and back with the same kid when he was 5 months. So here's some wisdom earned the hard way:

  • Fly night flights. If the baby sleeps, your problems are solved. If he doesn't, it'll be tough. Our return flight, at night, was way easier than the day flight to get there.
  • Get him his own seat, and bring a car seat to install in it. (A very few airlines, including JAL, will rent you one for free!) A one-year-old cannot be restrained by a standard airline seat and will have to sit (squirm) in your lap for takeoff, landing, and turbulence. With a car seat, they can be contained, and once asleep, they can sleep straight through.
  • Bring more snacks, diapers and wipes than you can imagine ever needing. Pressure changes do strange things to digestive systems. (Don't worry about his ears, though, they don't get plugged up in babies at all for the first few years.)

Most babies will be too big for bassinets by 1 year, and certainly too mobile to be trusted to stay in them even if you could cram them in.

Also, don't feed them too much. One-year-olds are just old enough to get motion sickness, and a plane is not a good place to start projectile vomiting. (Didn't happen on the plane, thankfully, but he did get all pukey on the Shinkansen later...)

And yes, DVDs are a godsend. Even though they may "only" work for 15 min at a stretch, that's still an eternity in baby-on-a-plane time and a good way to calm them down when they start getting hyper. I've yet to meet a baby who is not entirely hypnotized by In the Night Garden.

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I travel all the time and am ex cabin crew, and my little one is a seasoned traveller at only 9 months . It's not as hard as you think....

The best seats for you would probably be ABC or HJK seats as you have booked 3 seats. This means no one climbing over you and just your family in the space. Check on SeatGuru for exact seating plans although they do not mark out the bassinet seats so check on airline site.

Bassinet wise British Airways have facilities for a special bassinet for up to 2 years old, which is perfect for a 1 year old and you can choose you seat online at point of booking if travelling with an infant.They let you carry in the hold your pram and carseat.You will transfer from LHR/LGW. There are no strollers available for use whilst in transit.

Gulf Air offer a free sky nanny service so you can rest a bit even in economy, whilst you watch a movie or sleep. They also let you take your pram and carseat.

Emirates airline provide a baby ammenity pack with a rattle, wipes, talc etc and have spare nappies and food on board. Great inflight entertainment (ICE) on demand system. you'll transfer in Dubai but they have free strollers for you to use at airport.They also let you take your pram and carseat into the hold.

Virgin Atlantic only let you take your pram OR carseat in the hold.So you will need to hire one at your destination.

New Delhi has free strollers available for use in Terminal 1D of Indira Gandhi International Airport.

Please see my other tips on www.flyingwithababy.com which will help make your flight easier.

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  1. Shortest layovers really depends on where you're going and what your comfort level is. You can fly with no layovers to almost anywhere in Europe and many, many places in Asia. They are actually sometimes cheaper than flights with layovers if you book far enough in advance. But I can't say whether multiple, shorter flights will make for a more pleasant experience with and for you child than a single longer flight. The best tip I have for finding short layovers is to look for flights operated on a single airline with a layover that occurs in your airline's hub city; you'll have the best chance of frequent flights. Do note that most airports have a "minimum connecting time" to allow you to clear customs/immigration, transfer between terminals, etc. More information available in several questions here.

    Emirates airline provides both a baby pack (which has a rattle) and a children's pack (for older ones).

  2. A note regarding legroom...if you fly on an Airbus a340-600 (regardless of carrier operating the flight), the seat 73D had the most legroom. There's actually an empty space right in front of it - the seats in row 72 have one fewer seat. This has pros and cons: more leg room, but you can't stow anything under a nonexistent seat - it all has to be in the overhead bin. It also means that the individual entertainment screen is farther away, so whatever movies, tv programs, or games you might want to have during the flight are farther away.

    The seat is also the next-to-last row in the back of the plane; you'll wait a long time to disembark when you reach your destination. There's also no guarantee that you'll be able to get this seat; some airlines don't let you choose your seats upon purchasing tickets (you have to wait until you check in). Additionally, not many airlines operate this model.

  3. I have never heard of an airline providing toys for infants in economy class; this seems to be the responsibility of the parent. I also don't have any experience with requesting bassinets on flights, but I found a pretty detailed blog post about a mom traveling with an infant. From GypsyMomma blog:

The benefits of a bulkhead seat with bassinet include:

  • Having the extra leg room

  • Extra space for playroom on the floor in front of you if you have an older busy infant or toddler

  • Extra sleeping/ safe space for baby in the bassinet (although at 13 months and 31″ long, our baby no longer fits in the bassinet).

Even if baby is sleeping on me or my husband in a wrap, chances are there will be times when baby is awake. It is really convenient to have the bassinet (especially for younger infants) as a safe place to put baby when, for example, I have needed to grab the diaper bag above for a diaper change, or enjoy my incredibly delicious airline meal. The only drawback we’ve found of bulkhead is that you can’t lift the armrests to make one big family space or to lay down across several seats with baby.

The benefits of requesting to be in a seat in a row with empty seats around you include:

  • Ability to lift up all the arm rests and lay down with baby, which makes for a much more comfortable and restful flight.

  • Having one extra seat provides extra space for stuff, baby toys, setting baby (carefully with supervision), etc.

  • If traveling with a car seat, many airlines will allow use of the car seat in an empty seat next to you without purchasing a full-fare ticket on a flight that is not full.

She also notes: "For some reason, I seem to be better accommodated, in general, as a traveling mother with a baby on international carriers such as Etihad and Emirates, rather than U.S. carriers such as Delta, United, and American Airlines." Take this as you would any anecdotal evidence, but it's the most detailed thing I've found addressing the problems of air travel with infants.

It's essential to request a bassinet at the time you book your flights though; it looks like every airline only has a limited number of bassinets available on every flight. (For example, Jet Airways only has 2 seats with bassinet capabilities on each of their longhaul aircraft - both Airbuses and Boeing 777s.)

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wow! great information –  rs79 Mar 30 '12 at 15:50
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The Layover depends not only on the factors you mentioned but also on "acts of god" factors. If your connecting flight is delayed (due to weather for example) your layover turns from 2 hours to 2 hours + delay. –  Karlson Mar 30 '12 at 16:49
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BTW, Where is 73D in A340-600? seatguru.com/airlines/China_Eastern/… –  Karlson Mar 30 '12 at 20:13
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@Karlson That plane you linked to is not an a340-600. (I know it says it is, but I just flew on one two days ago. That China Eastern one might be an earlier a340 model.) SeatGuru has the correct diagram for the South African Airways one (which is what I flew). seatguru.com/airlines/South_African_Airways/… –  Laura Mar 31 '12 at 13:50
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I personally find Etihad Airways to be the most accommodating for flying with an infant in economy class. I saw someone posted a link to my blog about flying with infants (we've been flying internationally every month or so since my daughter was 6 weeks old). I also have an extensive review of Etihad Airways detailing why I find them to be such a great family-friendly airline compared to dozens of others that I've flown, from the friendly and accommodating flight attendants, to baby supplies and activity kits onboard for infants and kids (in economy class), to great prices I often can't beat, and a great kids playroom to tire a toddler out in their Abu Dhabi lounge (their hub).

Check out my post entitled Seven Reasons Why I Love Family-Friendly Etihad Airways on GypsyMomma.com.

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As somebody who has lived in the Middle East and has flown back and forth from Houston using various routes and having kids at various ages, here's what I've learned.

  1. Not all non-US airlines are better than US carriers, but a lot of the flagship ones are miles ahead (@Gagravarr). They tend to have better service. In my personal experience it seems like the farther east you go the better it is. Qatar / Emerites over BA / KLM, BA / KLM over Delta, Delta over Continental. It had to do both with the plane and the attitude of the crew.

  2. Bring your game face. There are things you can prepare for and there are things you can't. Bring all the toys you think your kid will need. Portable DVD players are great. We had a rule that for 24 hours the kids were allowed to be spoiled.

  3. Make friends around you and stand your ground. I've been surprised at how rude other passengers can be towards kids. I've even had one bang his seat into my daughter trying to lean back. Most of the time if they aren't a parent they won't understand. I told that one guy if he wanted a better seat he should have purchased business class. I realize the absurdity of saying that but you did pay for your seat and people know what they are getting when they fly the back of the plane.

  4. If the kid has a meltdown, take them to the lavatory. Sometimes everything just goes south and you have a screaming kid in a cooped up place with other passengers trying to sleep. To date, I've never been successful curing a temper tantrum of a 2 year old with brute force but letting them cry it out in that situation is hard. I've taken my kids to the lavatory and just let them have a good cry and brought them back to their seat.

  5. Don't feel like your kids have to eat when everyone else does. If your kid is asleep, for your sanity, let them sleep. On continental the flight attendant was rude about it but I got them to bring the kids meals out when the kids woke up.

  6. If you were ever going to do a direct flight, this would be the time. We used to have to layover in London or Amsterdam, which meant we were in the air just long enough for our kids to fall into a deep enough sleep to maximize the aggravation of waking them up.

Best of luck, its hard but doable. Prepare, prepare, prepare.

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Any foreign airline tends to have better service. -- Huh???? 2. Portable DVD for a 1 year old? 3. Parents do understand but even in play it's your job to make your kids respect other adults and yes I am a parent. –  Karlson Mar 30 '12 at 20:53
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1) Simply yes. It's not patriotic and I was both surprised and disappointed when I concluded that but based on 5 years of experience and multiple airlines on the transatlantic route, that's been my definitive personal experience. 2) DVD for a 1 year old is not an everyday solution but I feel is OK for a long airplane flight. It won't be the only thing but it has been part of our toolkit. 3) Agreed, but many people (in my experience non parents) don't understand that kids are simply illogical or who's logical paradigm doesn't match that of a fully developed brain and air travel amplifies that. –  RWL01 Apr 1 '12 at 13:27
    
1. It wasn't about patriotism but generalization. You want horror stories about foreign airlines I have quite a few. 2. DVD for someone with attention span of maximum of 10 minutes. Best of luck if it works. 3) They may be illogical but it's your job to make it bearable for logical people around you. –  Karlson Apr 1 '12 at 15:40
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Not all foreign airlines are better than US carriers, but a lot of the flagship ones are miles ahead. If you don't know yourself which ones are good, there are plenty of sites online that offer reviews and star ratings to help you check –  Gagravarr Apr 3 '12 at 10:11
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Foreign ? For who ? This is not a US-only site - Its on the Internet! –  NWS May 11 '12 at 12:27
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