family travel

Airline amenity kits you might fight the kids for

A wide range of airline amenity kits, for both adults and children, were on display last week in Hamburg, Germany as part of the World Travel Catering and Onboard Services Expo.

Amenity kits for adults were lovely, of course, but those for kids just look like lots more fun. Especially the Super Hero kit I spotted (below) that includes a backpack with a built-in cape!


Nursing pods for Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Int’l Airport

Slowly, but surely, airports around the country are catching on to the fact that nursing mothers in transit need a clean, safe place to breastfeed their babies or pump milk, and that bathroom stalls or mop closets aren’t the answer.

A better alternative: the increasing number of nursing rooms that are popping up at airports, and the standalone lactation pods made by Vermont-based Mamava, which are now at about three dozen airports.

Now, just in time for “DontCryoverSpilledMilk” Day – February 11 – Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is getting six Mamva nursing pods.

Like other airport-installed nursing pods, the Zappos-sponsored Mamava suites at ATL will have locking doors, AC and USB power, a fold down table and two benches.  ATL’s pods, though, are introducing a few new amenities, including lactation pad dispensers, cleaning wipes and trash cans, happiness quotes, and special soundtracks designed to get the milk flowing. “Think ocean waves, baby giggles, etc,” says Mamava.

See more information about the pods and the Zappos partnership on Mamava’s “Pumpcast.”

ATL’s Mamava nursing pods will be hard to miss: just look for the giant babies.



Munich Airport Christmas Market

Munich Airport’s Christmas and Winter Market is open – so here’s hoping you have a long layover here.

For the 19th consecutive year, the large covered space between the Munich Airport terminals has been transformed into a winter wonderland with more than 40 kiosks in among 450 real Christmas trees and plenty of seasonal treats and local handicrafts.

Better yet, at the center of the market is a free ice-skating rink (with low-cost skate rentals) where visitors can try out Eisstockschiessen, Bavaria’s broom-free version of curling.

Entertainment is offered daily, except Mondays, starting at 6 pm, with a wide range of live musical acts, including jazz, swing, gospel, rock and pop bands and, every Thursday at 6pm, a DJ spins tunes for the skaters on the ice. Each Wednesday starting at 4 p.m. an evening of family-oriented fairytale performances and magic shows is scheduled.

Sound like fun at the airport? Munich Airport’s Christmas and Winter Market is open daily from 11am – pm through December 30.

Pop-up lounge at O’Hare Airport – for kids

At Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, a pop-up lounge just for kids (and their parents) is moving through the terminals.

Called the “Fly with Butch O’Hare” lounge, it’s described as a place to relax, take selfies, re-charge cell phones and devices and to learn about the Fly with Butch O’Hare mobile game the airport developed in collaboration with DeVry University.

First, who was Butch O’Hare? He’s the airport’s namesake, Edward “Butch” O’Hare – and this year marks the 75th anniversary of Butch O’Hare’s heroic actions in World War II, saving the aircraft carrier Lexington.

He was honored with the Navy’s first Medal of Honor, and in 1949 Chicago’s airport, Orchard Field was renamed Chicago O’Hare in his honor.

The lounge is outfitted with chairs and foot stools, cell phone charging stations, the airport code  in 8 – f00t-tall letters,  orange flooring and a miniature plane flying overhead with – you guessed it – Butch O’Hare.

There’s also an almost life-size cut-out of O’Hare and a plane – for selfies.

ORD is also giving out flat photos of Butch O’Hare (on a stick) in the lounge and at bins in the domestic terminals and encouraging passengers to pose with the flat Butch O’Hare while in the airport or and around the world and post their photos  online with the hashtag #FlyWithButchOHare.

 Looking for the lounge?  It’s in Terminal 1, near Gate B12 through August 9 and then moving to Terminal 2, near Gate E1, from August 10 through 31.

And what about that Butch O’Hare game?
Updates on the progress of that project is on this Fly with Butch O’Hare    page along with some airport trivia  and a list of airport shops and restaurants offering discounts.

Tips for flying with – or without – kids this summer

Suitcase kids

Vacationing-hungry families, (still) low oil prices and an overall strong demand for air travel are just a few of the reasons industry trade group Airlines for America expects a record number of passengers (234.1 million) to travel worldwide on U.S. airlines this season.

That’s good news for airlines, but full planes and the extra fees many airlines charge for pres-electing a seat means families may have trouble getting seated together on airplanes.

And it means it may be as likely for a business flyer to have a cranky kid as a seatmate this summer as a networking-worthy company CEO.

A families-flying-together rule that was part of the FAA Reauthorization Bill of 2016 was supposed to make it mandatory for airlines to seat families together without charging extra fees, but “The rulemaking for this law has never taken place,” said Charles Leocha, co-founder of the consumer advocacy group Travelers United.

“The Obama administration dragged its feet, despite pleadings by some consumer groups, and the current administration still doesn’t have the rulemaking personnel in place at the Department of Transportation,” said Leocha.

So families flying this summer “are still on their own,” said Suzanne Kelleher, a family travel expert at, although some airlines say their go out of their way to try to seat families together.

Southwest Airlines, which doesn’t have assigned seats, gives families traveling with children six years or younger  a head start in the boarding process, allowing them to board before the “B” boarding group, which usually insures families can get seats together.

“American Airlines’ reservations system checks for families traveling with children 13 and under a few days before the flight and seats each child with an adult,” said airline spokesperson Ross Feinstein, “If the automated system doesn’t find adjacent seats for families, our agents will assist families at the gate.”

At United Airlines, “flight attendants and agents work to keep families seated together and will ask customers onboard to move seats to accommodate families,” said United spokesperson Charles Hobart.

If preassigned seats haven’t been secured, “Check in online 24 hours before your flight, when you should be able to see your seat assignments,” says family travel expert Kelleher, “If you see that your seats are not together, call your airline’s customer service center.”

And if sitting together as a family is a priority, “It can be worth it to shell out the extra cost for ‘premium seats’ to make sure to get seats together,” she said.

Kids flying solo

Not all families fly together during the summer; thousands of must kids fly alone to camp, to grandma’s house or between divorced parents.

Each airline has its own set of rules, rates and programs for unaccompanied minors – UMs – so it is important to do some research before purchasing a ticket.

For example, some airlines require that UMs fly only direct or nonstop flights and never on a connecting flight at the end of the day. Others limit the number of unaccompanied minors that can be booked on each flight or decline to carry UMs during inclement weather, when delays and re-routings are common. Some airlines will provide a special meal for kids, while others make a point of reminding parents to pack sandwiches and snacks for their kids.

Fee-wise, Alaska Airlines offers mandatory unaccompnaied minor service for kids age 5 to 12 and optional UM service for kids 13 to 17 on both domestic and international flights. The cost is $25 each way for direct flights and $50 each way for a one-way trip with connecting flights.

The fee for UMs age 5 through 11 on Southwest Airlines is $50 each way.

Both American Airlines and Delta Airlines charge $150 a one-way fee for unaccompanied minors 5-14 years of age. American will allow two more UMs from the same family to fly together for that fee; Delta will charge only one fee for up to four children traveling together.

JetBlue charges $100 each way for UMs age 5-14, while children age 5 to 15 are charged $150 each way to fly as an unaccompanied minor on United Airlines

“For kids flying on their own as unaccompanied minors, the most important thing is to make sure they are prepared for the trip,” says Kelleher, “Take stock of a child’s maturity, go over the rules about what to do in various situations such as delays or other changes and make sure they have a smartphone so they can communicate with trusted adults at the departure and arrival airports.”

Avoiding kids on planes

Business travelers know there’s no sure-fire way to avoid getting seated next to a kid on an airplane, but there are some ways to improve the chances of getting some kid-free peace and quiet.

A few international airlines have designated kid-free zones on their planes. Singapore’s Scoot Airlines has a ScootinSilence economy cabin zone that bars passengers under 12 years of age, while only passengers 10 years of age and older are permitted to be seated in Quiet Zone on  AirAsiaX flights.

“For business travelers who are serious about being productive on flights, it’s well worth the cost to upgrade to business or first class,” said Karl Rosander, founder and CEO of podcast platform Acast. The limited number of seats lowers, but doesn’t eliminate, the chances of being seated near a family with small children, said Rosander, “But I also never board a plane without noise canceling headphones.”

(A slightly different version of my story about flying with – or without – kids this summer first appeared on CNBC.)