*This post is in NO way sponsored by any airlines! The data in this article was gathered myself through an online survey of experienced travel moms who fly with their babies and toddlers.*
I’ve flown many different airlines with my son in his first year of life and now that he’s becoming a toddler — we plan on taking a lot more flights, with many more airlines both domestically and internationally.
I wondered: What are the experiences of other parents when flying with their babies and toddlers? Which airlines did they have the best (and worst) experiences with? So I surveyed over 100 other experienced travel moms of infants and toddlers and here’s what they said:
Southwest Airlines and Delta are the best domestic airlines to travel with babies and toddlers, followed by Alaska Airlines and JetBlue, while American and United were consistently cited as the worst airlines to travel with babies/toddlers, according to 100+ experienced travel moms in this survey.
This was an open-ended survey where moms who travel could write in their answers and explain why they thought one particular airline was the best or worst, and the results were illuminating! As a mom with a young toddler looking for an enjoyable (well, as enjoyable as possible anyway) flying experience, it certainly made me rethink which airlines I’ll book with going forward.
Of course it’s true that there are a LOT of “it depends” scenarios (it depends on the flight crew, how busy the airport is, etc, etc) — BUT STILL, when an overwhelming number of moms all have a great experience with one airline and a terrible experience with another, there must be something to that.
Some airlines just seem to have a better culture of treating people well who are traveling with babies/toddlers.
Best DOMESTIC Airlines to Fly with a Baby/Toddler (North America)
It was surprising to me that such an overwhelming number of moms chose Southwest or Delta as their preferred airline to travel with a baby or toddler. I’m talking amazing comment after amazing comment. I’m going to include a bunch of them here because I think they’re super enlightening.
I’ll also include some general information about the family and baby policies of these airlines which probably contribute to why they’re so popular.
1. Southwest Airlines
Many moms seemed to prefer Southwest because of the free baggage allowance. Unlike just about every other airline, Southwest checks your first two bags for free. For parents traveling with kids and lots of stuff, this can be a pretty big deal.
“We like Southwest! The family boarding is the absolute best! We also like the free 2 bags because kids/babies have a lot… especially when you overpack like me.”– One mom in this survey
Southwest doesn’t assign seats like most other airlines. Instead you line up in a boarding group (A, B, or C) to board the plane and select your own seat (your boarding group is assigned upon check-in). You might assume that this would be a big negative for families with babies — and a couple of moms actually did say that this is why they don’t like Southwest.
“If you’re domestic in US, Southwest is the way to go. Everyone gets two free checked bags and you get priority boarding with children.”– One mom in this survey
“I kinda like Southwest. They don’t have assigned seats which sounds bad. But they let people with little kids go first so what happens is you don’t have to pay extra to get seats together as a family.”– One mom in this survey
It’s true — As long as you arrive on time at the gate, you’ll be fine — Southwest offers priority boarding between groups A and B for families traveling with children 6 and under. However, if you’re late to your gate and miss family boarding, you’ll be completely reliant on the kindness of strangers to keep your family sitting together on the plane.
“Southwest! The 2 bag allowance per person is excellent when packing for kids plus the pick your own seat and family boarding are also great.”– A mom in this survey who actually likes how Southwest doesn’t do seating assignments!
I thought this mom gave an interesting perspective on why you might actually want to be able to choose your own seats while boarding:
“We like Southwest for domestic travel in the US with our little ones. We like it due to the picking of your seat situation, people don’t “have” to sit by us and likewise we can position ourselves as we want around people who seem like they may be more tolerant and able to tune out any toddler antics. We do like that United truly lets families board absolutely first though (versus southwest between the A and B cluster mess at the gate) but still I’d give the edge to SWA.”– One mom in this survey
And finally, the big reason people love Southwest for flying domestic with kids: the friendly staff! This came up again and again, which makes sense because it seems to be baked into the Southwest culture.
“For short flights, we really love Southwest. They’ve always been very supportive. The flight attendants on multiple flights would give our son different things to help him cope like cups of water, extra snacks and wings to put on his shirt.”– One mom in this survey
From my experience, having friendly flight attendants makes all the difference on a flight with babies and kids. You board the flight stressed and not wanting to bother anyone so it’s so refreshing when people are actually kind and patient with your family.
“I also personally find that consistently all the flight attendants are friendly, whereas the other major US carriers it can be hit and miss. We’ve had some exceptionally great ones on other airlines but the Southwest ones have (for us) never been anything less than very friendly.”– One mom in this survey
It’s unfortunate that so many US airlines seem to have a bad reputation in terms of friendliness. I’m sure there are many factors to this, including the pandemic and burn out. But it can truly make or break your experience when flying with a baby and you don’t have much control over it (except possibly to book with Southwest or Delta):
“Southwest is always a solid choice. Delta has really impressed me recently too. It really just depends on the flight crew, fellow passengers, and your own luck.”
Southwest is also popular because it doesn’t charge any change fees. This is convenient for families who may have something pop up — babies are unpredictable!
Additionally, they have a Rapid Rewards credit card program with benefits that may be especially appealing to young families. You can earn points to qualify for a Companion Pass, a benefit that allows you to choose one person to fly with you, free of airline charges (does not include taxes and fees from $5.60 one-way) every time you purchase or redeem points for a flight.
In that same vein of friendly staff, many moms said that their favorite was Delta because of the great service. It seems that they also have somewhat of a customer-centric culture (at least in comparison to some the domestic competitors):
“We have only done Delta. We haven’t had a bad experience. We have made friends with several of the flight attendants. One time a flight attendant held my baby for half of our flight and did her rounds with her. So helpful.”– One mom in this survey
There’s nothing better than getting an empty seat next to you on a flight, but getting an empty seat next to you when you have a lap baby with you?? Priceless:
“Delta agents moved our seats and gave my lap infant his own chair on all of our flights last week. It was amazing!!”– One mom in this survey
Parents know that every moment counts. Any few spare moments that someone will take to entertain your fussy baby or toddler is appreciated. And this has been the case for several surveyed moms and Delta flight attendants:
“Delta was awesome with my toddler. Paid extra attention to her for snacks and bag check gave her a little fidget toy to play with on the plane. A flight attendant was coming on after my husband (to say hi to other flight attendants) and heard my kid talking about going on the airplane. He loudly said “we have an airplane lover coming aboard! Get this kid into the cockpit!” And then the pilots took her up there to let her push a bunch of buttons.”– One mom in this survey
“We had the very best flight with Delta! They gave us wings, stored my breast milk, and gave my partner some free shooters. 10/10 would recommend!”– One mom in this survey
3. Alaska Airlines
Alaska Airlines made the top three in this survey. I was a bit surprised to be honest because I’ve written previously about how Alaska is one of the few airlines that doesn’t allow a lap infant to bring on their own carry-on (a diaper bag will count as part of your carry-on allowance).
But they do have pre-boarding for families traveling with babies under 2 years old and seemingly a good reputation in terms of flight crews!
“I recently flew Alaska for the first time and it was one of the best/funnest flights I’ve been on. The flight crew was amazing.”– One mom in this survey
I have researched a LOT of websites of the major airlines for my own travel information and to share in articles on this website, and I do appreciate that Alaska Airlines makes their lap baby policies super clear and straightforward. For whatever reason, some airlines keep their policies very murky.
For example, Alaska states explicitly that if there are empty seats on board, the baby can have it for no extra charge.
“We have flown Jetblue over 20 times in 2 years and they’re the best. So helpful and accommodating, the best free snacks and drinks. Nicest attendants. We’ve flown others with our baby and nothing compares.”– One mom in this survey
JetBlue is popular with families for many reasons. They’re known for friendly flight crews, free brand-name snacks and drinks, free WiFi and free in-flight entertainment (including movies and TV) on every plane.
If you’re open to screen time, it’s nice to know that your toddler will have something guaranteed to keep them busy for at least part of your flight!
Best INTERNATIONAL Airlines to Fly with a Baby/Toddler
Many international airlines were listed by the surveyed travel moms as being the best — with many airlines cited as having stellar service for families traveling with babies. In fact, not one international airline was called out for being unaccommodating.
We’ve personally flown international airlines in Canada, Portugal, Spain, and Turkey and will be flying Lufthansa next week so I was particularly interested in what other moms had to say about them.
Some of the airlines named as being the very best for families with babies (in no particular order) were:
- Air New Zealand
- Singapore Airlines
- Philippines Airlines
- Turkish Airlines
- British Airways
- Korean Air
- Air France
- Swiss Airlines
Below are some of the quotes about international airline experiences that stood out in the survey. If you’re planning to fly with any of these carriers soon (like me and my family with Lufthansa), it seems that you’re in luck!
“ANA! They were so caring, as soon as they see you with an infant they immediately block the entire bulkhead row for you (when they could sell those seats!), they come to you when they hear baby cry, they really ensure your safety. they gave my daughter a little purse that she wears everyday!”
“For Trans Atlantic flights, Emirates hands down! We’ve flown a lot with our infant, and by far, Emirates has been the most accommodating to our family. They offer diapers, wipes, formula, baby food, and even toys to your baby. They also try to make your family as comfortable as possible.”
“I also loved Air France, they have diapers, formula and baby food (and French baby food is like a 3 course meal, it’s good!) top notch regarding safety and will go above and beyond to let you have your car seat and or stroller with you on the airplane.”
“Icelandair! They were AMAZING when I flew with my daughter, they rearranged so we ended up with a row to ourselves, they helped me get settled and checked that I was ok snack and drink wise multiple times, helped me with my carry-ons and my Osprey backpack. Just overall really lovely and didn’t make me feel a bother travelling with a 15 month old at all.”
“Lufthansa- consistently supportive and understanding. Other airlines are hit and miss.”
“Philippine Airlines! In our culture we absolutely love babies and everyone (flight staff and passengers) is usually more forgiving if your baby gets fussy. One attendant offered to carry my 11m old son and show him around the food area and it cheered him right up!”
“Swiss airlines. I know this is rarely an option. But if you ever get a chance to fly with them and your kid you should totally take it. They were all excited to meet my son, so patient with us as we loaded and unloaded are many things, and even gave him a little stuffed plane.”
“Qatar. Knew how to install car seat. Had baby food on board and toddler meals. Plus gave diapers and wipes etc. in a pack with a toy.”
“[I] have flown:
TAP, IBÉRIA, AMERICAN, UNITED, GOL, ICELANDAIR, DELTA, AEGAN, SWISS, national and international since my son was 4 months old and never had a bad experience. For me it all depends of the flight crew, and as long I greet them with a smile they have always being at least helpful with me, if not wonderful. I truly believe it is a hit or miss with the crew.”
WORST Airlines to Fly with a Baby or Toddler
There were two airlines that seemed to get so much hate in this survey, over and over again, that it was impossible to ignore. And it made me not want to book with these airlines in the future, even though I don’t personally have experience flying with one of them with my baby.
United and American Airlines were voted the two worst airlines to fly with a baby or toddler by over a hundred moms in this survey.
I have to say that in the case of United, I’m not too surprised. My little family of 3 actually did nearly miss two of our flights in the early days of flying with United because they didn’t “fully” attach our lap baby’s reservation to my ticket (even though we called before to make sure it had been completed — especially the second time).
It seems dramatic to say that they made me cry, but that’s exactly what happened. I was a hormonal, breastfeeding new mother about to miss my flight with a baby and I was freaking out. So I relate to many of the mom quotes below very personally. Unfortunately, United just doesn’t seem especially customer-service oriented, in my experience.
Here’s what other moms had to say about their experiences with United:
“It probably depends on crew more than airline but I had a flight attendant who threatened to kick us off the plane, ban us from United, and called me a bad mother for walking with my daughter to the bathroom (instead of carrying her). The seatbelt signs were off. United didn’t offer any compensation for this harassment.”
“United had me and another mom crying in the airport. Never again !”
“We just flew 4 flights with United and had no issues. One flight the attendants weren’t as friendly but still no actual issues.”
“United and American were both atrocious !!!!
Hawaiian is eh.
100 ish flights
Southwest is the only one I love.”
“The worst experiences for me have been with United and American as far as delays and family friendly.”
“Not United or American, unhelpful staff, sometimes quite moody.”
And here’s what moms had to say about flying with babies on American Airlines:
“American – flight attendants were not helpful with kids at all. The most prominent example that comes to mind was when I was boarding the plane… my 1-year-old on my hip, diaper bag on my back, sippy cup in hand, and carry on in the other hand. I asked the flight attendant to help me lift my carry on into the overhead. He looked at me and said “I’m sorry ma’am it’s too heavy” and walked away. Also, they lost my checked bag. My checked bag for my one. year. old! Same happened with my SIL when she flew American Airlines with her 2-year-old.”
“I have only flown with American. It’s not the greatest experience but we managed. They have picked on my stroller once. Broken it twice so far. They have allowed me to board first when I go stick myself at the front of the line and asked them if we can board early. Usually after first class and business board is when they allow us on.”
“When somebody is asking what airlines are kid-friendly, American just comes to mine for me as one that is not.”
“Not American! They make any airline look family friendly.”
“NEVER again with American and littles.”
“My only experience with my little one has been domestic USA. Delta. Delta, Delta and then Delta. United was good. I will never EVER fly with kids again on American.”
Outliers: Moms That Disagreed
There were a few outliers in this survey though. This mom had a good experience with American, for example:
“We just had a good experience with American Airlines with our 17 month old twins. I think it all depends on who’s working, flight attendants, etc.! Our first flight the flight attendants were so friendly and helpful, on the way home they weren’t rude just not as friendly/helpful. Our gate attendant even moved our seats to ensure we had an entire row to ourselves!”
And finally, there were some random outliers who did not like KLM, Delta, or Southwest for various reasons.
“Not KLM. They are super nice, but their seats are not wide enough to install a car seat.”
“We were so disappointed with the most recent Delta round trip flight we took. The seats were so close together that my husband (who is pretty short) had no room for his knees. If you fly with Delta, I would definitely get your child their own seat, or else you will feel claustrophobic the whole time.”
“I’ve always been a Delta person but my last several flights have been terrible, they split me and my toddler up multiple times now.”
“I’m an outlier here to say i hate flying Southwest. I like to pick my seat in advance especially with having a kid so i know where I’m sitting on the plane and all. Yes Southwest does family boarding but in the event you’re late (and I’ve seen this happen) to families, you’ll now relying on people to volunteer giving up their seat and naw… don’t want to chance it.”
What does all this mean for you and your baby?
You can go with the recommendations of moms in this survey for your next domestic or international trip, and you probably should to increase your likelihood of having a pleasant flight.
However, it’s important to remember that many circumstances can affect your experience and it’s not possible to plan for everything.
Book with an airline that you feel comfortable with and then be prepared for the unexpected — traveling with babies is always an adventure!