Family Friendly Flying: Delta vs. United Airlines

It’s no secret that flying with an infant or toddler can be a difficult, painful, embarrassing experience for parents. Trying to confine an energetic toddler who is testing out her independence is not easy but it can be done. We’ve flown with C before when she was much younger and were fortunate enough to have her sleep both times (the first of which was at six weeks old and the second was a year ago when she was eight months old) the entire flight. Now that she’s older, our travels were much different. I think it’s important to mention that the first two times we flew with C were on Southwest Airlines. I believe that they’re very family friendly mainly because you select your own seats giving passengers who have an issue with sitting near small children the opportunity to sit elsewhere but for the purposes of this trip, I didn’t think it was fair to include them in my comparison.

In case you’re not aware, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is really accommodating to passengers traveling with infants and toddlers. We’ve never had an issue bringing medication, sippy cups/bottles, snacks, Pediasure, breast milk (when C was younger), a breast pump, and even a large bottle of water on our last flight this trip. Additionally, many airlines (Southwest, United, and Delta for sure) allow additional checked luggage free of charge for families including a car seat, pack n’ play, and stroller. Both Delta and United Airlines also allow a diaper bag in addition to the personal item and carry on bags you’re allowed to bring on the aircraft. In my experience, the airlines are more family friendly than they have been in the past.  With that said, not all airlines are created equal. Because we booked through a third-party, we had the opportunity to test out both Delta and United Airlines and get a “side by side” comparison between the two.

*You should know that when you book through a third-party, such as Priceline, you’ll want to double-check with each airline you fly to be sure that your unticketed passenger (‘lap child’ for children under the age of two) is listed on the passenger manifest. In our case, that wasn’t relayed to either airline prior to our travel. I had to call in (which wasn’t a problem) to list C prior to our travel date.

DELTA AIRLINES

On our way from MCI (Kansas City) to MCO (Orlando) we flew Delta Airlines, with a connecting flight in ATL (Atlanta) resulting in an hour layover (which was just enough time to find our gate, get in a quick lunch, and start the boarding process). I always appreciate when airlines allow pre-boarding for families traveling with small children. The extra time to get down to the plane, fold up the stroller, find our seat, and settle in is always necessary and it takes away the stress of having to worry about holding up the people waiting behind you.

I called Delta prior to our flight to check on a few things and was advised to request “Family Seating” at the Gate prior to boarding. Apparently, according the agent (who was so helpful), the last two rows (in a flight that isn’t full I assume) are reserved for families and can be requested upon arrival. We waited until we got on the aircraft to ask about it and the flight attendant didn’t seem to know what we were talking about so I can only assume this is something that needs to be taken advantage of before boarding.

Other things I enjoyed about Delta:

-They provide free in-flight entertainment on select aircrafts. On one of our flights, they were showing Fox television shows (like New Girl) on each of the small screens they have in the aisles. We didn’t take advantage of using any headphones but I thought it was a nice touch. Flying is never fun and having the option to see something, anything, is better than just sitting there watching the clouds beneath you.

-Delta launched a charity in 2005 called “Taking Flight For the Fight” to help fund breast cancer research. Since then, they’ve raised more than $5 million dollars to support the cause. There are several ways in which you can give to this program, one of which is to purchase Pink Lemonade on your flight for a $2 donation. I always enjoy when companies go above and beyond to help the community and I thought that was a really nice touch. Go Delta.

-They provide complimentary drinks and snacks on all flights, which is helpful when traveling with children.

UNITED AIRLINES

On our way home from MCO (Orlando) to MCI (Kansas City) we flew United Airlines with a connecting flight in IAD (Dulles, Washington D.C.). I have to say that I was unimpressed by their customer service on the phone. I called to place C on the passenger manifest the day before our flight and the representative I spoke with seemed as if he didn’t understand my question. We got everything sorted out but the difference between the call center that Delta has for domestic flights and that of United’s is pretty substantial.

Another thing that I noticed is that they don’t offer pre-boarding for families traveling with children. They do, however, offer special boarding for active duty service members, which I thought was a nice touch. Once we boarded the aircraft (from Orlando to D.C.) we noticed they offered in-flight entertainment on a screen attached to the headrest in front of you for a nominal fee (ear buds are included at no cost). For a $7.99 charge (it’s based on the amount of time indicated on your boarding pass) we watched Disney’s “Brave” on the flight. What a great opportunity to help combat a noisy plane.

What United doesn’t offer, which I was surprised about, is complimentary snacks during your flight. Instead, they offer snack packages and a la carte items ranging from $2.99 to $8.49. Since our layover wasn’t long enough to get from gate to gate and have time to get food in between (from IAD to MCI) we did purchase the “Tapas” snack box on our second flight for $8.49. It came with olives, parmesan cheese spread, bruschetta spread,  garden humus, pita chips, crackers, almonds, and chocolate covered blueberries. To split between the three of us, it was a great snack…and it was delicious. It’s worth the purchase if you’re hungry and have a long flight.

Another thing I noticed, but they didn’t talk about on the flight, is that United Airlines is committed to taking flight in a more environmentally friendly way. Sustainability is important to me, so I enjoyed that they are making an effort to change the way we fly. I got information on this directly from their website so, if you’re interested, you can find it there.

So who wins the battle for best airline this trip? I never thought I’d say this but I’ve got to give it to Delta. From our initial phone call into their customer service to their commitment to breast cancer research, they’re doing pretty great. The things that matter to me the most: family boarding, friendly customer service, and in-flight snacks for my child.

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