Many airlines’ a la carte approach to pricing can leave even the most experienced flyers wondering what the final cost for a ticket will be and turn what initially looked like a bargain into a fee that seems more expensive than it should be.
How to cope? Well, it’s not all nickels and dimes in the sky. Here’s a look at amenities still offered for free by certain airlines. (Keep in mind while reading this post that rules and policies can change and so can the fine print. In these cases involving air travel, it’s a good idea to double check what’s free and what’s for-a-fee with the specific airline you plan to fly with next.)
As of 2017, Southwest Airlines is the only U.S. airline with a free checked bags policy for domestic flights. Air Canada does not charge for the first checked bag for flights between the U.S. and Canada. Most airlines do not charge for one checked bag for international flights; Lufthansa takes it one step further with no charge for up to three checked items. Exceptions to having to pay for checking baggage include flying first class, business or premium, purchasing your ticket with an airline-affiliated credit card or reaching a high level in a frequent flyer program. Generally, if traveling with small children you can avoid paying to check gear such as strollers and car seats. Unaccompanied minors and active military are usually exempt from paying fees as well.
Fortunately for families on the go, lots of airlines go the extra mile to accommodate the needs and interests of their youngest passengers. Some of the best examples of kid-friendly amenities are as follows:
- Children flying with Air New Zealand become members of its Jet Cadets, receiving a Kids Pack with activities to keep them focused on fun as well as special kid-friendly meals. The airline also has introduced its Economy Skycouch that converts three seats into a small bed at the push of a button.
- Emirates has a Fly with Me Monsters program with magazines and collectible plush toys, blankets and more.
- Etihad’s “Flying Nannies” are dedicated crew members trained at Norland College in England that specializes in in-flight childcare. Services include accompanying families from gate to seat, puppetry, arts and crafts and bottle-warming.
- EVA Airways up the ante with full-on Hello Kitty themed flights featuring everything from Hello Kitty pillows and toilet paper and more.
- Kids flying with Asiana may find themselves treated with entertainment such as magic shows, face painting or a cooking baking class. The airline also offers a “Pre-Mom” service with priority boarding, golf cart rides to the gate and in-flight amenities.
Want more for your tots when you travel? An especially handy resource for flying with the little ones is the Flying with a Baby blog, particularly its post specifically about “Child Amenities & Entertainment Available Onboard Your Flight.”
Once an amenity is taken for granted on almost any commercial flight of any duration, free in-flight entertainment is becoming less likely. You’re still in luck for movies and such on most long-haul routes through and some of the best entertainment offerings are provided by the following airlines:
Virgin America’s award-winning, in-flight entertainment is renowned for its breadth and quality of selection with something for everyone, even those with the most esoteric of tastes. JetBlue has a mixed free/pay offering but its freebies are really good: 36 channels of DIRECTV and 100 channels of SiriusXM radio. Most Emirates flights come standard with more than 1,500 channels of movies, TV shows, music, games, direct news and more such as views from aircraft-mounted cameras.
The list of airlines offering free meals for main cabin flyers fluctuates on what can seem like a month-by-month basis. At the time of publishing this article, the ones in the U.S. doing so include American, Delta, and Hawaiian. Expect one or two meals from all but the budget airlines for long-haul international flights.
Drinks on the House
We’re sorry to report that most U.S. based airlines do not serve free alcoholic beverages inflight. Exceptions are Delta and limited routes on American Airlines. However, the good news is that most other airlines do! For a quick and thorough guide to drinking inflight, we recommend checking out Map Happy’s complete list of which airlines offer drinks.
Sky High WiFi
At the time of publishing this article, only eight airlines offer free in-flight WiFi, with a growing list of other airlines intending to do so in the near future. The eight are Air China, China Eastern, Emirates, JetBlue, Nok Air, Norwegian, Qatar Airways, and Turkish Airlines. Time, route, and data restrictions apply in most cases.
Just as it’s wise to inquire about expected amenities, it’s equally smart to ask if there’s anything else you might not expect. Some airlines like to give their customers cultural and quirky freebies. For example Japan Airlines provides colorful slippers and bamboo back massagers to its passengers.
How important are free in-flight amenities for you when booking a flight? We would love it if you shared your thoughts in the comments section below.