Best airlines for families... and yes, Emirates is on top

And there’s not one but two Gulf-based carriers that feature in the list of 'Top 5 Airlines for Families'

Travelling long distance with kids can be stress-free – no really! That’s what a new survey of international airlines found out.

The study, conducted by US News Travel, reveals that Dubai-based Emirates is right on top when it comes to travelling long-haul with little kids. And there’s not one but two Gulf-based airlines that make it to the coveted Top 5 Airlines for Families, as short listed by US Travel.

As any parent with kids below 12 (or even in their teens, for that matter) will tell you, flying with children is not an exercise they enjoy. It’s exhausting no doubt, but that’s the least of their troubles.

Murphy’s Law – whatever can go wrong, will go wrong – comes into play fairly often, and if it isn’t the disobedient cabin pressure that makes your little one shriek from ear pain, it is the uninterrupted hours of being glued to one’s seat that makes even the slightly grown-up go wild with frustration, not to mention the disgruntled looks from fellow passengers and airline crew that are bound to make you alter your next vacation into a ‘staycation’.

But there are indeed some airlines in the world that do care about families. According to Emily H. Bratcher of US News, “some airlines go out of their way to accommodate passengers with kids.”

US Travel lists seven carriers that are helmed by compassionate flight staffs that dole out amenities to make the whole family comfortable at cruising altitude. Here’s the list:

Emirates

For those of us in the UAE, this should come as no surprise. “Families come first,” says Emirates, and sticks to its promise.

While on the ground, it provides parents with free baby strollers to ferry their infants at the airport, Terminal 3, or the T3 as it is better known – exclusive hub of the Emirates in Dubai – offers special play areas for even kids flying Economy class, as well as wired games consoles and play areas for kids (and grown-ups) flying Business and First class.

In the air, bassinets and baby formula are standard, while the airline’s ever friendly crew also provide toys, special kids' meals and goodie bags with a smile. On long-haul flights and in Business and First class, a member of the crew will even offer to click a Polaroid picture of your happy kids on the flight, and give you a copy for keeps.

The Emirates in-flight entertainment (ICE) has a special section for kids, complete with cartoons and movies, while for kids who ‘frequent fliers’, they can even start racking up miles with Emirates Skysurfer program. Young jet-setters can put their miles toward everything from future flights to Magrudy’s Book Store gift certificates to Wild Wadi Water Park tickets in Dubai.

The airline also allows unaccompanied minors (between ages 5 and 12) to travel on its flights, providing separate check-in facilities on departure, with dedicated Emirates staff to accompany them to the aircraft. It’s special policy for taking best care of the little ones means that unaccompanied minors and young passengers are always boarded before other passengers so that the cabin crew can seat them and stow their hand baggage. On arrival, an Emirates employee meets all unaccompanied children at the aircraft door and helps them through formalities before handing them over to their designated guardian.

British Airways

BA operates ‘feed kids first’ policy, which allows parents to ensure the little ones are satisfied before they can enjoy their own meal in peace once the little ones are full and settled.

The airline also offers Skyflyer activity packs for 3-to-5-year old kids and a different one for kids aged between 6 and 12 years on all flights over 3 hours duration. Additionally, there’s hours of on-screen entertainment from Disney and Cartoon Network together with family blockbuster movies. There is even a parental lock to enable accompanying adults to block viewing of any unsuitable material on other channels.

British Airways also offers a Skyflyer Solo service, in which it flies unaccompanied kids between the ages of 5 and 12, besides offering special meals for children.

Lufthansa

Lufthansa has a special club for kids, called JetFriends, which gives the kids and teenagers a good look behind the scenes of the “world of flying”. The club’s central meeting point (www.jetfriends.com) fully illustrates all aspects of the airline, from individual jobs to technical explanations and an interactive presentation of the Lufthansa fleet.

The airline offers a number of other amenities for kids, including unaccompanied travel, strollers up to the aircraft, in-flight baby cots (bassinets) for infants, and nutritious child meals, among others.

Gulf Air

Famous for its Sky Nanny programme, Gulf Air says it operates the free service dedicated to young travelers “to help families traveling with children – and those passengers who aren’t.” The Bahrain-based airline offers the childcare service right from the Bahrain lounge, and on board all wide-bodied aircraft flying long-haul routes.

Specially trained Sky Nannies offer help with boarding and disembarkation, give parents that much needed break during a long flight and generally provide a watchful eye on the little ones, the airline says. Additionally, Gulf Air carries nappies and other baby supplies on board. “Please ask our Sky Nanny if there’s anything you may have forgotten to pack for your baby. Gulf Air offers baby food, nappies, baby powder, baby lotion, baby wipes, baby bib and cotton bud packs in all flights.”

Qantas

Rounding up the Top 5 Airlines for Families is Australia’s Qantas, which offers ‘Family Zones’ at Australian airports, complete with iMacs, toys, and books to keep kids entertained before take-off, and children’s kits (playing cards, action figures and coloured pencils) to keep them busy in-flight.

Additionally, it offers baby meals, special seating for families and even allows the use of special child safety seats in the aircraft.

The other two carriers on US Travel’s list are Virgin (Atlantic & America) and Singapore Airlines.

Summer hotspots to entice UAE travellers
 
Major local carriers such as Emirates and Eithad Airways have already announced top new destinations for their summer flightplan, targeting the disconcerting traveller who is eager to explore new grounds that may even take them off the beaten track.
 
Emirates 24|7 maps out the perfect new summer getaway for those still poring over brochures, with a destination that is ideal for every taste.
 
Road trip renegades
 
Tired of waking up at the crack of dawn to be herded on to a tour bus to be packed like sardines with fellow travellers?
 
Maybe its time to forgo those escorted tours and get into the driving seat to set a course down the road less travelled with a Spanish road trip.
 
Emirates will launch flights to Barcelona from July 3, its second Spanish destination, while increasing its frequency into Madrid with a second daily flight from July 1.

In an earlier statement, Emirates president Tim Clark said: “Madrid has been a strong performer and the demand is there for a second frequency, while we need a second point serving the dynamic Catalonia region.”
 
As Spain’s second largest city, the cultural capital goes beyond just being the home ground for football club FC Barcelona. The city is known for its yuppie young crowd that simply loves to party.
 
If you do make it there in July, then don’t forget to head to the Monegros Desert Festival, which is one of the most famous and biggest one day electronic music festivals in Spain is in desert of Fraga, approximately 200 km from Barcelona.
We are taking nearly 24 hours of non-stop fun with house, electro, minimal, techno, to drum & bass.
 
Our suggestion: rent a Vespa and explore the country the way it was meant to.
 
The family affair 
 
A country that has only recently caught the eye of the world, Vietnam is a must-see for adventure seekers who crave to hop off the beaten track and conquer new ground.
 
Emirates is launching into this Far Eastern country from June 4, with direct daily flights to Ho Chi Minh City.
 
Tim Clark, President of Emirates said earlier: “Ho Chi Minh City is one of the most vibrant places in South East Asia and we are convinced that this will prove to be a highly popular route.”
 
Ho Chi Minh City offers tourists the ideal gateway to explore the wonders of Vietnam, be it the shopping options in the city or the various UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Hoi An.
 
When in the city, do not miss out on a visit to Ho Chi Minh Museum, his humble “house on stilts” and the 11th century One-Pillar Pagoda.
 
A trip to the islands of Halong Bay is a must, with most of them abundant with limestone that were formed over 500 million years ago, and are massed in the southeast and southwest.
 
Other noteworthy places include the beaches of Nha Trang and the floating markets and restaurants of the Mekong River Delta.
 
A trip to Vietnam also calls for the perfect extension to neighbouring Cambodia, namely Saigon.
 
Visit the Cuchi tunnel, which is 22 miles northwest of the city, approximately two hours by coach where you can witness how rice paper is made and to explore the amazing labyrinth of tunnels used by the guerrillas during the Vietnam War.
 
And if you have the time, cut a ticket for Angkor Wat, the architectural marvel in Angkor, Cambodia, built by King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century.
 
This vast temple complex was first Hindu, dedicated to the god Vishnu, then became Buddhist haven. It is truly a sight to behold.
 
The 40-something break
 
Celebrating an anniversary or simply rewarding yourself and your partner for a much needed vacation after the kids have packed off to college, cut a ticket for an American holiday this summer.
 
The Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways launched direct flights to US capital, Washington, DC from March 31, making it the perfect entry point for those who want to avoid the madness that awaits in New York.
 
James Hogan, Etihad Airways President and Chief Executive Officer, said earlier: “No other UAE carrier is offering nonstop services between DC and the UAE, so this capital-to-capital link is a huge opportunity for Etihad Airways.”
 
The Washington region is home to America’s second largest market flying to the Middle East, after New York.
 
Hogan added: “The point-to-point traffic between DC and Abu Dhabi is expected to contribute significantly to overall loads on the route. The schedule also allows maximum connectivity to key markets in the GCC, Indian Subcontinent and South East Asia.”
 
When visiting DC, you simply can’t escape the fact that the capital is the seat of power in America, so rather than avoiding its heritage, you can choose to unravel the enigma by stepping through halls of history at its many memorials.
 
Wander through the National Mall stretch (not to be confused with your average shopping arcade), which starts at the Capitol grounds and ends somewhere between Independence and Constitution Avenues.
 
The wide-open green lawns are home to the entire expanse of monuments and museums that any DC explorer guide will tell you, but on a good sunny weekend you can also catch a celebrity or two, along with several open-air concerts thrown in for good measure.  
 
Must-visit places on the city map include fthe Washington Monument – or the Cleopatra’s Needle as many call it. Paying a silent, yet powerful tribute to George Washington, the 555 feet high monument makes for a picture perfect moment from the Tidal Basin, where you catch the sunlight reflecting in the shimmering waters of the Potomac River.
 
Head further down Constitution Avenue to explore the Lincoln Memorial, a tribute to the 16th US President, Abraham Lincoln.
 
Resembling a stately Greek temple, complete with Ionic columns, each pillar represents the 36 states that were part of the Union at the time of Lincoln’s assassination in 1865.
After spending the rest of the day exploring some of National Mall’s many little surprises, don’t forget to let down you hair and take in a different kind of culture at DC’s many nightspots.
 
A visit to the US capital is definitely incomplete without a visit to Improv, the stand up comedy club that has played host to comic greats like Bill Cosby, Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock and even Billy Crystal.
 
Honeymooners ahoy
 
Looking for a beachside romantic getaway with some cultural delights thrown in for the perfect summer honeymoon?
 
Go no further than Lisbon, the Portugese capital, which will be connected to Dubai via Emirates from July 9.
 
Set your sights on the land of Vasco da Gama and take a page out his exploration spirit to set forth on your own adventure.
 
“Lisbon has been on our European wish-list for some time. Our daily flight will link this far western corner of Europe with our strong route network, via Dubai, into Africa, across Asia and beyond, said Tim Clark, President, Emirates Airline.
 
He added: “We will be the only carrier based in the Middle East operating into Portugal, bringing our refreshing approach to customer service, our dynamic and inspiring approach to business, along with superb value for money.”
 
As one of Europe’s warmest countries, Portugal is a popular tourist destination, with better known attractions, such as the resorts of the Algarve, are supplemented by medieval castles and scenic villages dotted around winding coastlines and hillsides.
 
Portugal has more than 800 kilometres of Atlantic coast and is the primary point of access to the Atlantic archipelagos of the Azores and Madeira.
 
In Lisbon, visitors can sip an espresso on the leafy streets, go window shopping in Chiado square, visit Jeronimos Monastery, the World Heritage Site and resting place for Vasco da Gama, or view treasured art at places such as Calouste Gulbenkian and Berardo museums.
 
Adventure seekers
 
If you are looking for a summer high this break, then set a vertical limit by conquering Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, which would certainly make for a conversation starter post holidays.
 
Qatar Airways, in its African expansion drive, is launching flights on July 25 into Kilimanjaro, close on the heels of its travels into Zanzibar and Mombasa, Kenya.
 
As the name suggests, Kilimanjaro or the Mountain of Light is the jewel in the crown of East Africa, standing tall at 5,895 metres.
 
Adventure seekers come from around the globe to hike up to the summit, and while most certainly manage to clamber up to the crater rim, it takes a little more practice to conquer Uhuru Point, the actual summit, or Gillman's Point on the lip of the crater.
 
Make it a weeklong affair, giving your climb at least five days to allow your body to acclimatise to the dizzying heights.
 
Yet while you explore the region, also spare time for the Kilimanjaro National Park, the lush forest that is home to elephant, leopard, buffalo, the endangered Abbot’s duiker.
 
If you are really lucky, maybe local Wachagga tribe will throw open their doors to invite you in for some grub along your travels.

 

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