Flying as a family is an entirely different experience than flying solo or as a couple. Your priorities change when flying with kids, and perks like advanced seat assignments, early boarding, and inflight entertainment may play a more prominent role than price when deciding which airline to fly.
What Is the Best Airline for Kids?
While every airline allows travelers to gate-check a travel stroller and/or car seat free of charge, not all airlines are the same when it comes to seating families together or keeping kids entertained at 30,000 feet. Here’s a look at the best U.S. airlines for kids and families, and the ways in which they go above and beyond both at the airport and in the air.
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1. Best Overall Airline for Families – JetBlue
The best overall airline for kids and families, JetBlue is known for having the most legroom in coach of any U.S. airline, and that can make a big difference if you’re flying with a lap child. With an average seat pitch of 32 to 34 inches, JetBlue’s spacious seating means your family will have ample room to spread out and get comfortable during the flight.
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Another reason why JetBlue ranks among the best airlines for families is its free inflight Wi-Fi and personal TVs at every seat that help everyone in the family stay entertained throughout the journey. Choose from live DirecTV, movies, or SiriusXM radio, with included kid-friendly programming such as Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, and Animal Planet. (Just remember to bring headphones that fit the little ones.) JetBlue is also generous with its snacks by providing an unlimited snack basket in the galleys after service is completed.
At JFK airport in New York, JetBlue’s Terminal 5 is set up with families in mind. There’s a pirate-themed playground near Gate 12 and an aviation-themed interactive play area near Gate 26.
Another huge perk for flying families is that JetBlue’s frequent flyer program, TrueBlue, allows you to pool points with up to six other people. This means your family can combine points to redeem for a free flight. If parents and grandparents are all pooling points, for example, you can quickly earn free flights for the kids to visit the grandparents (or vice versa) on a skip-gen or multigenerational family vacation.
Families should be wary of JetBlue’s cheapest Blue Basic fare class, which does not include full-size carry-on bags or advanced seat assignments. However, you can choose to pay extra to guarantee seats next to each other. Alternatively, you could purchase a Blue fare, which does include full-size carry-on bags and advanced seat assignments, along with other family-friendly perks like no change fees.
2. Best Airline for Families Who Need Flexibility – Southwest
If your family often travels with multiple checked bags or values flexibility above all else, put Southwest at the top of your list of family-friendly airlines. All of Southwest’s airfares include two free checked bags, and there are no change fees if something comes up and you need to change the time or day of your flights.
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Family seating on Southwest shouldn’t be a problem either, since Southwest allows families with children under six to board together after group A, regardless of boarding position. When flying Southwest, you’ll choose your seats as you board on a first-come, first-served basis. If you haven’t paid for Upgraded Boarding and your children are over six years old, you’ll want to make sure to check-in exactly 24 hours before departure to ensure seats together. This is because the boarding order is determined by when you check-in.
Another reason Southwest is one of the best airlines for kids and families is its unique Companion Pass perk. Sign up for Southwest’s loyalty program, Rapid Rewards, and when you earn 125,000 qualifying points in a calendar year you’ll be able to assign one person to fly with you for free (plus taxes from $5.60) through the following calendar year.
3. Best Cheap Airline for Families – Frontier
Frontier is the best airline for kids and families in the ultra-low-cost category. Flights are incredibly cheap, and the airline has some special perks like Family Pooling of points and Kids Fly Free promotions.
Of course, as with any ultra-cheap airline, extra fees are plentiful with Frontier. But there are ways to mitigate the extra fees, especially when traveling as a group. By joining Frontier’s Discount Den membership ($59.99 annually, plus a one-time $40 enrollment fee), you’ll be able to purchase discounted fares for up to nine people on the same reservation. And you’ll have access to exclusive sales such as Frontier’s frequent kids-fly-free promotions where one child under 15 can fly for free for every paid adult fare.
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Families can often share bags to reduce fees, and it may even be worthwhile to purchase tickets at the airport to eliminate Frontier’s online booking fee, which can add up to $46 per person each way. The larger your family, the more you can save if it’s convenient enough to buy tickets at the airport.
When it comes to earning frequent flyer miles, you can start a family (or friends) pool with up to eight different people and combine your miles. To unlock this perk on Frontier, you’ll need to reach Elite 20K status or sign up for the Frontier Airlines World Mastercard. Budget airlines like Frontier aren’t for everyone, but if the price is right and you can navigate its fare structure, Frontier is a great choice for families.
4. Best Legacy Airline for Families – American
American is the best domestic airline for families in the legacy carrier category. This is mostly due to the fact that the lowest prices for nearly all of its U.S. domestic and U.S./Canada routes are currently booking as Main Cabin fares, which include advanced seat assignments—generally a must-have when you’re traveling with family.
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If you’re comparing prices on domestic flight routes and notice American, Delta, and United all have the same low fare, American is almost certainly including more perks with that price than the others, which are likely showing a Basic Economy fare. In other markets, you’ll still find American selling Basic Economy tickets, but if you choose to purchase these fares with American and don’t want to pay extra for advanced seat assignments, American states that it will assign children under 15 next to at least one adult in the family.
An interesting service for families when flying American is its Five Star Essentials program. A private escort will meet you at priority check-in, assist you with luggage and seat assignments, and escort your family through security to your gate. It’s currently available at Charlotte (CLT), Dallas (DFW), and Miami (MIA) airports and costs $149 for up to two adults and three children ($25 per additional person). While this luxury service may not make sense for seasoned travelers, it may be worthwhile for a parent or parents traveling with rambunctious kids.