APEX Insight: The Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Bill, which was passed on July 13, includes a provision to improve family travel, and airlines are jumping on board. From Frontier’s Kid Zone to Air New Zealand’s Economy Skycouch, airlines are seeking innovative ways to facilitate the passenger experience for families traveling with children — and their seat neighbors.
Airline travel with children brings its own set of challenges, many of which begin at the airport. Just checking in and getting through security can be an ordeal, long before stepping onto an airplane.
If a family who is traveling together hasn’t booked seats next to each other, other passengers may be invited to play the “Would you mind changing your seat?” game. Hoping to take that game off the table, the recent Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Bill, passed on July 13, includes a provision directing the US Transportation Secretary to establish a policy that requires airlines to seat children under 13 beside a family member in the same class of service. “We’re asking … airlines to do a better job of accommodating parents ahead of time so we can make flying a better experience for families and other passengers aboard,” said US Congressman Rodney Davis.
“We’re asking … airlines to do a better job of accommodating parents ahead of time so we can make flying a better experience for families and other passengers aboard.” — US Congressman Rodney Davis.
Denver-based, ultra-low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines responded quickly by adding a Kid Zone to the rear of its aircraft, which it announced the day after the FAA Reauthorization Bill was passed. Families traveling together can book a middle seat for free, while window and aisle seats are available at a minimal charge. This initiative adds to Frontier’s family focus. The airline offers a reduced cost bundle, called The Works, which includes checked luggage fees and best available seats, which is targeted at traveling families. Downloadable activities for kids and trading cards featuring each aircraft’s specific tail animal are distributed on each flight.
In Europe, British Airways relaunched its Kids Fly for Free offer this summer. On select routes, two children under 12 can fly for free with every adult ticket purchased. Ryanair is giving consideration to those passengers who have pre-booked seats, and might not want to accommodate families who haven’t. Starting in September, the airline will require adults traveling with children under 12 to buy one reserved seat. The child’s reserved seat will be free, as will the seat for an additional accompanying adult.
Families on long-haul flights with Air New Zealand can stretch out and get comfortable by booking an Economy Skycouch, a three-seat row that can be configured into a flat space using footrests that move into a horizontal position.
Some parents are even preparing goody bags or small gifts for nearby passengers, hoping to foster positive feelings toward their children. Some are denouncing the trend, but others think it’s a great idea. “Team Goody Bag has it right, though,” says New York Times writer Damon Darlin. “Certainly the goody bag is essentially worthless – a few candies and a set of earplugs make up the typical lagniappe. But you, the harried parent, use it to do what economists call signaling. You are letting the recipients know you care about their happiness, whether you really do or not.”
And of course, there’s Kargo Kids, the tongue-in-cheek option introduced by Canada’s WestJet Airlines on April Fool’s Day, 2012. Along with a family’s luggage, children ride in a “travel toboggan” to the waiting plane, and are then lifted into the baggage hold to join other traveling children supervised by a WestJet Kargo Kids Kounsellor – just kidding!