Air Nannies To Make Flights Bearable For Kids, Parents And The Travelers Around Them

Flickr user JPMatth

Parents — and easily annoyed travelers — know just how difficult flying with kids can be. One airline offers a free nanny service to help keep the little ones entertained and quiet, while a second is planning to roll out their program by the end of the year.

There’s only one caveat: you’ve got to be flying to or from the Middle East to take advantage of the program.

United Arab Emirates’ Etihad Airways plans to roll out the nanny program by the end of December, according to NBC’s Today show. More than 300 crew members have gone through training at Norland College, a prestigious U.K. nanny training school, with 200 more slated to undergo training by the end of December.

Bahrain’s Gulf Air offers a similar program, according to its website.Ethiad’s nannies will “offer an extra pair of hands to help settle kids, age-appropriate games and activities, or advice and support for frazzled parents,” according to Today. Each plane will have an assortment of toys and craft projects that will hopefully keep the children distracted from the fact they’re trapped in a pressurized metal tube while flying 40,000 feet in the air in defiance of God’s will.

If you’re looking to snag some in-flight childcare, but don’t want to drop several thousand dollars for a ticket to the Middle East, Nanny in the Clouds allows you to find your own personal Marry Poppins who happens to be traveling to your destination. The usual fee is $20 an hour for a cross-country flight, but if your kids are particularly rambunctious, you can be sure that your fellow travelers will take up a collection to help you pay the costs.

Babies and first class: why is this an issue?

babies first classEarlier this week, I saw a story about babies and first class air travel posted on Facebook. The Facebook poster asked our own Heather Poole (flight attendant, mother, and new book author!) for her thoughts on the story, and she replied, “I’m fine with babies in first class. Usually they just sleep.” Columnist Brett Snyder is a frequent flier and new dad wondering if he should use miles to upgrade his first flight with the baby. Reading the article and the many comments, I wonder: why is this (or really any story about babies and airplanes) a contentious issue?

Long before I even thought about having children, I thought the same about babies in first class that I thought about anyone in the front of the plane: must be nice for them. Sure, it might be a waste of money to give a premium seat to someone whose legs don’t touch the ground and who can’t enjoy the free Champagne, but it’s the parents’ choice to splurge on the ticket. If the parents are more comfortable, the kid might be happier and thus quiet — a win-win for everyone on the plane. Does the child “deserve” to sit up front? Perhaps not, but airplane seating has never been based on merit. To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, a passenger is a passenger, no matter how small.As the veteran of nearly 20 flights with an infant in Europe, the US and trans-Atlantic, I’ve been fortunate to fly a few times with my daughter in business class. While the roomy seats and meals make a 10 hour flight easier with a baby, more valuable is the ability to skip check-in and security lines, board the plane early, and spend layovers in a spacious lounge with a place to heat baby food or change a diaper. Some of those perks used to be standard for all passengers with small children, but have now gone the way of the hot meal in coach. Some airlines still make travel easier for parents: JetBlue is one of the only US-based airlines to allow you to gate-check a stroller of any size and check your first bag free (checking a bag becomes inevitable with a baby). Gulf Air offers free “Sky Nannies” on long-haul flights for young children, and Lufthansa offers a guide service (for a fee) to escort families traveling through their German hubs. Turkish Airlines (my most frequently-used airline while I live in Istanbul) always offers a “baby meal” and blocks off empty seats when possible to give us more room.

I’m also fortunate to have an easy baby who so far (knock on wood) has been very well behaved on every flight. This is in part very good luck, but also due to the fact that I watch her constantly and head off any signs of crying before they start. I’ll hold and feed her as often as it takes, even if it means I rarely rest anymore on a plane. Many of the same people who’ve given me “the look” when boarding with an infant have complimented me after on her behavior. Brett also notes in his article: “Don’t just sit there while your baby screams. Do everything you can to calm him and people will be more understanding.” This is good advice, but does it really need to be said?! I’d never dream of sitting by idly while my child disturbed other people and I’m embarrassed by any other parents who would consider such behavior acceptable. Still, I recognize that even with the most watchful parents, sometimes a cranky baby is unavoidable but I hope that when/if that day comes, my fellow passengers will see how hard I’m trying to make the flight easier for all of us. Better still, if I anticipate a difficult age for my baby to fly, I’ll look into alternative methods of travel (or postpone until an easier time).

If we are going to ban babies from first class, or even segregate them from adults on all flights, why stop there? Why not a separate flight for the armrest-hogs, the obese, the incessant talkers, or the drunk and belligerent? I’d like a plane full of only frequent flyers, who know not to use their cell phone after the door closes, who don’t rush the aisles the minute the wheels touch down, who don’t recline their seats during drink service or bring smelly food (or nail polish) onto the plane. Start flights for only considerate, experienced travelers and you will find me in the front of the plane, with my baby on my lap.

For more about (considerate) travel with a baby, read my past “Knocked Up Abroad” stories here.

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Flight attendants find dead Filipino passenger in Gulf Air lavatory

The cause of death – including suicide – still isn’t clear, but the facts are. Gulf Air flight attendants found a 36-year-old Filipino passenger dead in the plane lav today; he was flying home to Manila from Bahrain. Attempts to revive him using CPR were unsuccessful.

The event occurred on Gulf Air flight 154, and is the second strange lav event in as many months. In September, according to the Associated Press, an abandoned baby was found in the trash bin after a Filipino maid gave birth in the lav. This time, however, the outcome was life, as airport doctors were able to save the child.

The passenger‘s wife and relatives had traveled to the airport to meet him.

[photo by advencap via Flickr]

Yummiest First Class meals

I just knew it would make me upset, but nonetheless, I couldn’t resist checking out a USA Today article entitled, Best First Class Meals.

And, as I suspected, I’m going to glare at the soggy $7 coach sandwich with even more disdain the next time I fly. That’s because those jerks up in First Class are basking in culinary Nirvana–at least on Gulf Air and Cathay Pacific. These two airlines snagged the top spots in an annual survey of the world’s best First Class meals.

And how did they earn such accolades? Try private chefs, caviar, Dom Perignon, made-to-order eggs, multi-course meals, specialties such as “honey glazed quail on a sweet potato cake,” and “Arabic spiced veal ragout,” and meals served on bone china.

If you really want to torture yourself, check out the accompanying Forbes slide show. It’s guaranteed to make your mouth water and possibly cause you to storm First Class in a daring food raid armed only with a stale baguette and a gnawing hunger.