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Questions Reviews of various airlines

Flying to England

May 2007

My husband and I will be escorting our daughter to Britain in mid-September to start her first term at university. Ideally, we would either get a nonstop flight from San Francisco to London or take a few days' stopover in New York, returning in late September or early October. I've been checking around the Web and, given rising fuel prices, it seems like a good idea to book early. Since this trip is slightly complicated, requiring two round-trips tickets, plus a one-way, and a possible stopover, and we want to keep expenses down, would we be better off booking through a travel agent? If so, does anyone know of a knowledgeable agent in the Berkeley area? (Any other ideas about good airlines, websites, etc., would also be appreciated.)


I would think you would be best to do this all online. I'm not even sure a travel agency would help you anymore - they no longer get commission from the airlines so it's really not worth their while and would likely charge you a fee. I fly home to the UK frequently and always buy tickets on united.com or ba.com. Their websites are super easy to navigate and if your dates are slightly flexible you can see at a glance what days are cheaper. You can even select the seats you want. Just click ''multicity trip'' if you want to book through New York. United, British Airways and Virgin are the only carriers that fly SFO- London direct. I've never been able to beat the prices I get at united.com and ba.com by using expedia, travelocity or similar websites. One other thing - it may be cheaper just to book 3 round trip tickets even if you daughter isn't using the second half of hers. You often have to buy half of a full fare ticket if you want a one way. Even better, if she is due to come home within a year you could book her return for some random date next summer because once you have used the outbound part of your ticket you can switch to a different inbound flight without penalty if they have room. Even if she is not planning on returning it is nice to have the option to. Hope this helps - best of luck to your daughter - she is going to have a great time! British Transplant

Flight to Asia

February 2003

My husband and I are planning to take our almost two-year-old daughter to the Philippines this summer. We are trying to weigh costs v. quality of flight. Any recommendations for child friendly airlines on long flights? Our options for airlines are Eva Air, Philippine Airlines, China Airlines, Northwest, Korean Airlines and Cathay Pacific. Thanks in advance, madeline


We flew home from China in October with a 1-year-old and 5-year-old, on Cathay Pacific, and can't recommend them highly enough. Our kids got lots of special attention Our 5-year-old got a backpack full of entertaining books, crayons, etc. For the baby we got a kit of diapers and wipes and lotions etc., and enough babyfood & juices to last us a month! Our seats had their own built-in screens. The service and the food were the best we have ever had--everyone was unfailingly friendly and genuinely warm toward the kids. Lori
We have flown back and forth to Asia many times with kids. We have also done inter-Asia flights with children. Nothing beats the service on a foreign carrier. Cathay Pacific (Hong Kong based) is wonderful. Absolutely classy staff and good food. Comfortable seats . The best bet is pobably EVA (Taiwan based) airlines . They have an upgraded econ class that is fabulous (lots of room) and a good price. They both give gifts to the kiddies. China Airlines is what my husband flies for business to Asia b/c they have a good schedule, he never has anything much to say about it. Their industry rep is so so. The same can be said for Korean airlines. The word is that the pilots are not the best. That was about five years ago. We most recently flew EVA to Taiwan with three kids and it was fine. No problems at all. anon
I took my infant daughter to Malaysia twice using both China Air and Korean Ailines to save on cost. China Air added an extra leg to the trip without telling us so we had to land and take off six times. One of the worst things on flights for young children is take off and landing because of the ear pressure, so it was not a very positive experience. On the way home, a leg of the flight was delayed and they put us up in a flee-ridden hotel in Taiwan, where my daughter was bitten badly. Korean airlines had terrible service, the attendants seemed disinterested and even grumpy at times. I don't know about the other airlines, but I've heard Singapore Airlines has great service if you can afford it. Of course, the flight was only a small part of the experience and my memories are more of my time there than the flights. Been there

Alaska Airlines

As far as being treated like royalty, my vote for the best airline around is Alaska Airlines. They are kind, courteous, seem to love kids, and have excellent food. Their seats are also more comfortable.

ATA

2/00

Merry
Has anyone travelled on ATA Airlines? Where are they based? Their current ads tout very low prices to the east coast ($146 RT to NYC), but I worry about their safety. Thanks


Jennifer
I took ATA for a last minute trip to Chicago last year. Although I did not feel unsafe, I certainly felt uncomfortable. The seats were very close together and the aisles were very small. I brought my husband and three-month-old daughter along, and spent much of my time in the aisle with at least 10 other parents at any one time trying to calm my upset child. I had never seen so many children on one plane, and that was both coming and going. It did help with the camaraderie though. Also, ATA is notorious for overbooking, so it was touch and go as to whether we were going to get on the plane in Chicago to return home. I truly thought several people were going to resort to violence with the airline workers. I will NEVER fly that airline again.
Jenn
I fly ATA back and forth to Chicago all the time because it is direct and less expensive. I have always had great service. With ATA - you're on vacation! Jenn
Hadley
I have no idea about their saftey record but my dad flys ATA whenever he visits from the East Coast and he said it was a very pleasent experience. They fly to tropical destinations mostly. Can't beat the price.

British Airways

Jan 2004

We are going to Europe in early March with our daughter, who will just be turning 2 1/2. We are thinking about buying tickets with British Airways - does anyone have input re how B.A. is as an airline to travel on with a toddler? Any thoughts/input would be very appreciated. Ioana


I flew British Airways to and from London with my then 16 month old. On both flights the flight attendants were nice and helpful, however, some of the passengers weren't so nice. As one of the attendants said, ''Don't worry about them, take care of your baby, you will never see these people again.'' I have followed that travel advice ever since. Remember, airline travel can be painful but it is time limited. The flight ends and you can start having fun! Good luck. becky
We've had great flights with British Air and not so great flights. On the great ones, we had friendly attendants who handed out bags to the kids with little toys and game books to while away the time. The better flights were some time ago, when our daughter was young, so I don't if we were just lucky travelling with a toddler or if their service has gone down in quality. That said, I can recommend both Continental and Virgin Atlantic for flights to Europe based on more recent travel.
We flew BA last year with a one-and-a-half-year-old. They were not particularly accommodating, but all of the seats have individual TV displays for movies that is entertaining for the kids. Unfortunately, the bulkheads are usually taken by people with infants because BA provides free bassinets. Alison

Northwest

From: Judy (9/98)

Re: The note about United's new policy about children flying alone: Northwest Airlines does the same thing -- I recently paid an additional $60.00 for a one-way trip for my 9-year old to fly from Canada (the 60.00 was in US$, too - ouch!, even tho the trip originated in Canada) The fee had recently been half that. There was one plane change, and she did need to go to the minor's lounge due to a flight delay. The airline also called to let me know about the delay and to report that she was in the lounge. So I suppose I received something for my money.


Sun Trips

(Anonymous)

Our long-awaited, relaxing family vacation was off to a bad start (and conclusion) by using Sun Trips. On both our flights there were not enough headphones to go around, so the films were broadcast over the loudspeakers! Aside from not being able to sleep, the worst part was losing all "parental discretion" about movie subject matter! The first flight began to broadcast "Grumpy Old Men," which started off with the two lead characters calling each other names ("Ass Wipe" comes to mind), exactly the kind of thing we are trying to teach our daughter not to do. Fortunately the head stewardess was sensitive to this and stopped the movie. However, on our trip back we were forced to listen to "Blues Brothers 2000," which has several scenes that take place in a strip joint, and other scenes where people are shooting at one another, among other things. Unfortunately, the head steward was too busy to talk to us until about 45 minutes into the movie and refused to turn off the movie since it would be unfair to the people who had been watching it that long! He offered us headphones to listen to their classical station, but obviously there is no way you can make a 4 year old do that. At least she could not SEE the movie; but we were extremely uncomfortable and it did take a lot of effort to keep her occupied and distracted for much of the film. We wrote a letter to Sun Trips and have not (yet?) heard a response, though we did get one from the FAA - they have a consumer complaint department (basically saying they don't control policies about films). So, another way that parents can register their complaints about airline policies is to contact the FAA's consumer affairs/complaint department.


Thai Airways

March 2005

Does anyone have any experience flying on Thai Airways? They seem to have the best fares for flying to Japan right now, but I've never heard of them. Any feedback, positive or negative, would be greatly appreciated. Elizabeth I've flown on Thai many times and would not hesitate to do so again. Bear in mind, however, that you have to fly down to LAX to catch their trans-Pacific flights, which pass right back over Northern California en route to Japan. That makes the journey significantly longer, and connecting at LAX can be a hassle. Unless you're getting a significantly better deal from Thai, I recommend choosing a carrier that goes nonstop from SFO. BTW, if you do go with Thai, remember that they belong to the Star Alliance, so you can get frequent flyer miles on United, US Airways or any other carrier that belongs to the group. Morris


Hi, I flew Thai airways a few years ago, from Hong Kong to Singapore, and it was great - terrific service, even in coach! Much better than any American airline when it came to service. And other moms I know of in Asia say that Thai Airways flight attendants are very helpful when you're travelling with young kids - as if they really seem to enjoy having children on their flight! Amazing! Tina
I have used Thai Airways for years. The service is great. When I used to organize ecotours to Asia, they were my main airline. Sometimes you can find consolidators who will even sell Thai tickets for less. You might google Govind Shahi, owner of Himalayan Treasures and Tours, from whom I used to get consolidator tickets. Govind's contact information: 3596 Ponderosa Trail, Pinole, CA 94564; phone 800/223-1813 kathryn
i have flown thai airlines several times and they are fantastic. clean, friendly, and efficient. did i mention friendly? the flight attendants were typical of so many thai people - absolutely charming. anon
We flew on Thai Airways and found it to be quite nice... Definitely the most comfortable 'coach' flight we've ever taken. The staff was especially warm and the food was really good. We flew from LA to Bangkok, and then from Bangkok to Kathmandu. I definitely would fly with them again!

TWA

From: Emily (9/98)

Just in the interest of another story: I have a parent child (teenager) travel story in which the United agents were heroes (and TWA employees the villains). This long involved story is a lesson in never trying to make parallel travel plans that involve connections. In short form, when I missed my connection back to SF (from Paris), I tried to get someone at TWA to help me get word to my daughter who was flying from Paris via Air France to NY, then on United to SF. TWA wanted me to fly to St. Louis, stay overnight, then go on to SF. Meanwhile my daughter, age 17, would have arrived in SF at midnight and I wouldn't be there. You figure you might want to discuss alternative plans. But no luck and no help: either getting me to SF that evening OR getting a message to my daughter.

I finally left the TWA terminal, walked to the next building, asked someone at the United counter to help me reach my daughter (you can't get out to the gates without a ticket), and in five minutes, the manager got me a ticket on my daughter's flight. She even APOLOGIZED because she couldn't seat us closer than two rows! And I had a TWA consolidator's ticket, so I don't even think United got anything for it. The flight was also completely packed, I don't know how they found a seat.

Anyway, as a result, I'm a big United fan. I'm not even going to complain anymore about the unaccompanied minor fees I've paid recently. Maybe the United employees have more leeway to bend rules, so you have to be sure to ask if you need something special. (The Air France person was helpful, too, checking to see if my daughter had left customs.)


United


From: Marco (9/98)

I have also experienced the inability to preboard on United with my infant at least twice in the last year. Since I was already aware of their policy, I specially requested that they allow us to board ahead along with those who need extra help in getting settled. The answer was a firm "No", they do not make exceptions in deference to their business flyers. This probably happened about 3-4 different times (different legs, flights). On the positive side, United, like all the airlines I've flown, was helpful in attempting to get us a convenient seat for the flight. (At the ticket and check-in gates that is - they were *horrible* over the phone when I called shorty before my flight.) This still seems to be standard.


From: Maria (9/98)

There have been negative posts in the last two digests about United Airlines -- just to be balanced, it seems only fair for me to mention that I had a very positive experience with them in the last two months. I was allowed to board early with a 3-year old and a 2-month old (I did ASK to do this -- it's true that they don't seem to be announcing it as policy anymore), and on the return flight(s) they also changed my seats so that there would be an extra (empty) seat for the baby. It may be that I just lucked out and got sympathetic gate agents..... if so, they need to know that policies that try to accomodate parents and children generate good PR.....


From: Bob (9/98)

I, too, want to relay a positive experience flying United Airlines -- even though we fly cattle class. Earlier this week my wife (with 4 mo. old) returned from a RT flight to Boston. On both legs of the trip she was given excellent service by the flight staff. Seats were changed to provide her with an empty seat(s) for the baby, and the flight attendants were there throughout the flight offering to give her a hand. My wife was VERY impressed, and remarked that this was the best flight she can recall. (Of course, we've also had less than pleasant experiences flying UA and other airlines.)


Virgin

Feb 2003

My family and I are going to Britain for two weeks in the early spring. We want a round-trip, preferably direct flight, and a one-week car rental out of Heathrow. What are the good airlines these days? I've always like British Airways and Virgin; I also hear American Airlines has superior leg room, a real advantage for people as tall as we are.


Virgin has great service. They have a video system that allows you a big choice of movies at your schedule. However, the downside of that, if you are tall like us, is that some of the space under the seats is taken up by the box that operates the video system. Hence, less foot room. My kids were also not able to fit their backpacks under the seats. Melody
If you're flying with a child, I recommend Virgin due to their individual video screens with games and cartoons, as well as their ''goodie bag'' for kids. Warning though - if your child needs a carseat, Virgin told us that we could not use our own and we had to use theirs, which were terrible - difficult to install, even for staff, and very hard and uncomfortable (this was last year - maybe they've improved). I also found their fares very competitive - it's worth registering on their website for deals, which can include car rental and accomodation. As for deals in general, I think doing your own homework on the web beats what any agent can provide, unless you want to pay the agent to do the web research. Your cheapest flights will always be those with connections and to Gatwick - so you have to decide what you want to pay for. Ellen
We go to England with our chilren every year to see the in-laws. We only travel on Virgin, and I've never been disappointed. I understand British Airways is also good. I had an awful experience on American once and vowed never to take another US carrier overseas, no matter how cheap. The major pros of Virgin are: Direct flights to Heathrow, and video monitors in each seat back. My kids basically watch cartoons until they fall asleep. The flight attendants are always lovely as well, and then there's the pre-London cup of tea...ah! Julie
I've heard that Virgin Airlines is a great airline to travel with children on. I don't know about pre-boarding, but one mother told me that on an 11 hour flight she was quite comfortable with her two children, and that each seat had its own tv monitor for watching children's videos, which parents can choose. I'd be very interested in hearing about other families' GOOD airline experiences so I can learn which airlines to fly on.
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