Travel Comment

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Babes on planes: can it work?

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It's always hard to know when to take the baby on a flight. The result of doing so can be hours of misery for you and everyone else on the plane. But not going can seriously curtail your travel opportunities including, often, the chance for baby to meet the rest of the family.

The good news is that airlines and airports have, mostly, made a huge effort in recent years to become more family friendly. But have their efforts really produced practical results? I think they have.

Consider the following two accounts, one of a domestic outing, the other of a long-haul international flight:

"It's a difficult choice: whether to try entertaining a toddler in the car for eight hours on the drive from Auckland to Wellington or take them on a one-hour flight, during which you hope they'll behave and not annoy other passengers.

The bonus of the car journey is that the 3-year-old's tantrums are for your ears only and you don't have to worry about dirty looks from other travellers. The advantage of the flight is that it's more than seven hours shorter than the car ride.

We were glad we chose the plane option. The crew on our Air New Zealand flight turned into entertainment directors, fussing over the toddler from start to finish, making his trip very special and ours very easy.

They pretended to be fascinated when he showed them his favourite toy (a stuffed giraffe, whose name they discovered is "Giraffe") and talked to him at length about his upcoming holiday.

There were extra bottles of water and fruit but the highlight was a Mr Men stencil and colouring set they surprised him with. We'll never take the car again."

- Michele Crawshaw

"The queue for the flight from Auckland to London, via Los Angeles, was long so the plan was for the grandparents to mind the baby until I reached the check-in desk. We asked the security guy if that would be okay and he pointed to a separate family check-in area and even cleared a path through all the lane markers to provide easier access.

The guy at family check-in was tremendously cheerful and helpful, talking to the baby and coming out from behind the counter to make sure baggage tags were placed properly on the buggy bits.

On the Air NZ flight to LA the flight attendants were amazing, taking Maeve off me as soon as I got on so I could put my stuff away, bringing me a drink before takeoff, and little things like taking away my meal trays early so that it was easier to move, bringing lots of drinks, constantly checking I didn't need anything, and one even took the baby off for a wander around the plane.

LA airport was similarly helpful. They have a priority security lane for people with young children. As the machine couldn't read my fingerprints I had to go to another room to be rescanned and the baggage guy got all my baggage off the carousel, put it on a trolley, then went to find my pushchair.

The crew on the LA-London flight were fine but just didn't do any of those helpful extras. Overall, Air NZ was much better than Virgin Atlantic with whom we've flown previously.

The worst bit was Heathrow. I had been dreading LA, but they seem to have undergone customer relations training.

The same can't be said about Heathrow. The immigration guy grilled me about Maeve being mine as we had different names. Fair enough, I suppose, but he was pretty dour about it.

Then in the baggage claim area I was told by two separate baggage handlers that my pushchair would come out on the carousel and the signs said the same thing.

The baggage handlers were totally indifferent, all just standing around chatting, so I was helped with my luggage by a fellow passenger. Then it turned out that pushchairs come out as oversize baggage which was behind a big hoarding with no signs on it to indicate it was there. I only found it by following other bewildered passengers with small children.

It gave a very poor impression of Britain and made me want to turn round and get back on the plane."

- Kate Gardner

If those stories are fairly typical it does suggest that - while the kind of support you'll get varies a bit according to who you're travelling with and what mood the cabin crew is in - overall it is becoming easier to take the kids along.

But what's your experience? Are some airlines and airports better than others? How do hotels and resorts measure up family-wise?

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