Saturday, January 22, 2011

Airlines & airports: don't fly through Heathrow, do consider Reykjavik

When it comes to family travel, I'm not a very loyal airline customer, at least not by choice. I'm pretty much open to a good deal if there is one. International air travel is so expensive, especially for families, that it's better to consider the ticket price than most other factors.

While I wouldn't choose a certain route because of the airline or the airport on the way, I do still like some airlines and some airports better than others. Some of that has to do familiarity: it's easier to get through airports you've visited before, especially when you're traveling with children.

Our usual family travel route
YVR, Vancouver International Airport
 When we travel from Vancouver to Sweden, we usually end up going with either KLM, through Amsterdam, or Lufthansa, through Frankfurt. The deals are usually ok when flying from Vancouver, and the service on board both airlines is great.

Frankfurt airport however is not so great, at least in my opinion. I might be biased against Frankfurt because we once had to kill almost 5 hours there, but still, the buildings are somewhat run down, and there is not a lot to do for kids. Not a lot of kid-friendly eateries there either, at least when you're past security. My kids were not too interested in German sausages, no matter how delicious they are!

Amsterdam's Schipol is nicer, but there's not a really good play area there either, though they do have better food choices for kids. My main reason for liking Schipol is that while it's a huge airport, it's all inside one building, and on one floor, which makes it easier to get around.

Kid friendly
When it comes to kid-friendliness, I'd have to say that Sea-Tac airport in Seattle, and Vancouver International Airport are my favorites, among the places I've been myself. Sea-Tac has an actual play room, something more airports should consider in my opinion. At Vancouver International Airport there is a big area inside security in the international departures area where the kids can play, located just outside many of the restaurants.

If you've got a long wait before your flight or between flights, it's hard to beat a place where the kids can run around and play and burn off some energy before your strap them in to their seats!

My no-go area
The one airport I avoid is Heathrow. This is a firm rule for me and I live by it. Even if there is a cheap, cheap flight going to wherever I'm headed through Heathrow, I won't book it. Especially not if I'm traveling with kids.

It's been many years since I flew through Heathrow, but I do have friends and family who have been through the airport in recent years. In every single case there have been delays, or lost luggage. Strikes, computer problems, weather delays, snow chaos, fog chaos... All of this seems to happen a lot more at Heathrow than other big European and North American airports. To be fair, lost luggage can happen at other airports too, and all the luggage that was lost at Heathrow eventually arrived at its intended destination, but it has happened more frequently on flights going through there than elsewhere.

Depending on where you're headed, Heathrow can make perfect sense of course. If you're going to Britain for example, especially London, it might be hard to avoid this airport. And yes, I do know people who travel to Heathrow and have no problems. I just really, really would rather go somewhere else if I have a choice!

Iceland Air and Keflavik
When traveling to Sweden from Vancouver in 2009, we chose Iceland Air and traveled through Reykjavik. It was the first time for us on that airline, and I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of service. I was even more pleasantly surprised by the airport in Iceland.

Keflavik airport outside Reykjavik is nice and new-ish, and also small, which meant less walking time for us as a family. Security was tight, as at any airport these days, but the lineups were shorter, and the staff friendlier than I've encountered in other places. (Probably the rudest security check I've ever been through happened on a domestic flight in Sweden... go figure!) One of the security guys even took the time to goof around with my daughter and son, who were taking a little extra time getting their shoes off before the metal detector.

If you are considering Iceland Air as a travel option, I'd definitely say try it, if the deal is good. And there are no volcanoes erupting of course... It was a good airport with a pretty relaxing atmosphere when traveling with kids compared to many others.

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