Once upon a time, when service was a huge focus in airline travel and the skies were a touch friendlier, kids were treated like prized passengers. In addition to special meals, they received honorary pilot badges, model planes and other goodies to help them pass the time during air travel.
The skies, however, became less sunny in the following decades. When safety and profits became the focus of some carriers, special treats associated with the golden age of air travel all but vanished, like clouds themselves. Many carriers, however, heard the call in recent years and put in special efforts to once again make air travel magical for kids while making things easier on parents.
- Most airlines’ in-set entertainment systems, even in economy, have “family” and “just for kids” programming with a selection of games, movies and television shows. Others offer passengers access to apps that allow special programming to be downloaded onto iPods in advance. Cathay Pacific takes this further, having partnered with Brazilian app PlayKids to offer passenger families 30 days of free access to PlayKids Premium with a coupon code provided on purchase.
- Families looking to transform a 14-hour flight into family time can look to Air New Zealand and China Airlines, which sell “Family Couch” seating rows in their economy sections that convert to a flat sofa bed outfitted with specially designed safety belts, cushion protector, pillow, blanket and activity packs and toys for children.
- Hong Kong Airlines, currently in the process of landing U.S. hubs in Los Angeles (LAX), New York (JFK) and San Francisco (SFO), offers exclusive and customized “Above and Beyond” services that include in-flight birthday parties with the cabin crew, a kid’s concierge and a “Happy Angel” program which provides a family a dedicated cabin crew member who proactively assists kids as they settle into their seats, and a traveling guide for parents to help guide their flight. There are also a few old school fun-in-flight items, including a travel journal activity book with colored pencils, games and activities, as well as journal space to chronicle their flight journey and a space for an autograph from the captain.
- Given Japan’s knack for conjuring up toys and games that become global pop culture phenomena, it should be no surprise Japan Airlines offers young passengers an interesting array of cool activity books and toys. However, on certain flights, JAL is known for its “AIR Series” in both the economy/premium-economy and business/first sectors that bring out the kid in every connoisseur and vice versa. While some economy/premium-economy menus are developed in collaboration with different prefecture tourism boards (such as “AIR Kumamon,” promotion spotlighting favorite foods of Kumamoto Prefecture), others bring treats from favorite restaurant chains such as MOS Burger and Yoshinoya. Kids traveling in business and First can enjoy a special “BEDD for Kids” menu devised by noted chef Chef Yosuke Suga.
- Of course, no discussion of kid-friendly flying over the Pacific would be complete without mentioning EVA Air’s partnership with Sanrio. Disneyland may be the happiest place on Earth, and Air New Zealand may have brought Middle Earth to the sky a few years back (as a vehicle for New Zealander Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies). However, EVA Air’s coveted Hello Kitty-themed flights remain the happiest place above earth. Though the Sanrio Family flights in the United States shifted to Chicago (ORD) after a run in Houston (IAH), Hello Kitty’s enchanted world continues to expand its fleet of fun with flights within Asia as well as collectable amenities.