Any parent knows that travelling with children can be quite daunting and at times quite stressful. Gone are the days of heading off to the airport, having a celebratory pre-holiday glass of champagne in the airport bar, a brief mooch around Duty Free before treating yourself to a new fragrance and then a flight of watching the latest film release or getting lost in a glossy magazine. Instead you have to plan your trip to the airport and your flight with military procession and then from my experience spend the entire flight walking your one year old up and down the aisles in what can only be described as the ‘worlds most annoying game for parents, passengers and cabin crew.’
But we endure this ordeal as a means to an end- to get to our destination and to make memories and have adventures. And travelling with kids can actually be quite a fun experience. Honest. Here at Space In Your Case when we travel we put different airlines to the test to see how they rate in terms of family friendliness…
Next up is American Airlines…
We went on four flights with American Airlines in January 2015. I used their long haul international service twice over the Atlantic from London Heathrow to Miami, on board their newest Aircraft the Boeing 777, and then their short haul service from Miami to the Turks and Caicos islands. For this review I am going to be talking about the long haul service as both varied quite considerably.
On the Ground.
Heathrow was surprisingly quiet on the morning of our flight so we only had to wait in a little queue to check in for our flight. Unfortunately if you are travelling with an infant (under two) then you can’t check in online, so we had to wait and do it the old fashioned way. When we got to the desk the staff member was polite and efficient, and he explained that he had put us on a row of four, but blocked out a seat in the middle of us in the hope it meant my youngest would end up getting a seat. He explained that people don’t usually choose to sit in the middle of a family. We thought this was incredibly efficient and going above the extra mile.
We must admit that we had heard mixed reviews on American Airlines before we travelled. We had travelled with them domestically within the US a few years previously and thought they were ok, but nothing really to write home about. However we were pleasantly surprised when we got on board the 777 for the international service to Miami. The plane looked new and we were thrilled to find out that the guy at check in at Heathrow had given us extra leg room seats- for a family of four with two children aged 4 and 1, this was an absolute luxury as it meant that we could create a ‘den’ on the ground in front of us where they could play as there was no one in front of us except a plastic makeshift wall. We were so impressed with American Airlines policy on this and it was a great surprise- I know it was only mainly due to availability but it still made the flight so much easier for us.
The plane had a great entertainment service, with lots of new release films, games and TV shows and of course like on most international flights, there was a personal screen in the back of the seat in front of you, or in our case, that pulled up from a special compartment. Our little girls loved having a screen to watch (tip- bring special child headphones- we found some on Amazon for about £10, but they were of a much better quality than the ones AA provided)
We were also geekily surprised to see that there was wifi on board, I hadn’t been on a plane that offered it before. I didn’t take advantage of it, but I believe my fellow SIYC colleague Alison tried it out. It cost $16 dollars for the whole flight (about £10) which I thought was pretty reasonable considering you are thousands of feet in the air.
We were a little surprised considering we were travelling with an infant, that no one offered us an extra belt for her before take off. When I asked a member of the cabin crew, I was informed it wasn’t their policy. This surprised me as usually with UK carriers you get an extra belt to put around your belt when the infant is on your lap. It didn’t hugely bother me as I was happy holding her tight, but it was interesting to hear the difference in policies.
Once in the air, the onboard service kicked in. I was again really pleasantly surprised with the service. We were offered regular drinks and snacks, obviously these are complimentary if you are travelling internationally, and they had premium branded drinks etc. The food was nice enough, as it was a day flight it was lunch we were offered, I had a thai chicken dish which was actually quite nice, and my girls had cheesy pasta. They also gave my youngest a meal even though she technically wasn’t booked to have one- again a nice touch. They brought around a snack towards the end of the flight which was chocolate ice cream- again our little ones loved this treat.
One thing I noticed on the way there was that there wasn’t much communication from the flight deck, obviously normally in a flight they update you a couple of times, but this wasn’t the case at all. They didn’t update us once on the flight, bar at the beginning before take off and right at the end when we were already half way into our descent. They also didn’t turn the seatbelt sign off for the whole flight which I thought was a bit odd because there wasn’t any turbulence, and people were just walking around freely as normal. On the way back they communicated more, and turned the seatbelt sign on and off according to when we were in patches of bumpiness or not.
The cabin crew were polite and efficient, and we were comfortable and treated well throughout the whole flight. I wouldn’t say they went the extra mile or were massively friendly- but it was a great flight all the same.
Overall we were really impressed with the American Airlines international service. Like I mentioned before, we had heard some mixed reviews about AA as an airline, but in our opinion the long haul service was exactly the same, if not better, than what I would expect from Virgin, Emirates or British Airways. I think perhaps it’s similar to our ‘budget’ short haul airlines in terms of domestic short haul flights, but then you get what you pay for and we thought that the long haul service was fantastic. We were so impressed with the fact that we got given a seat for our youngest and also extra leg room on the way there- as it was a day flight that completely changed our flight experience as it meant we had room to stretch out and play. We didn’t get the same on the way back, but then it was a wonderful bonus and we didn’t expect to. Funnily enough we got lucky again in that the person next to me moved to an empty seat once we were in the air, so my youngest got a seat on the way home too. As a family this really made a huge difference.
It was our first time flying long haul with both our children, and American Airlines made it feel like a breeze and something we would definitely do again. We would highly recommend the international service to anyone wanting to travel over to the US.