They may be bored, scared, overexcited, tired, hungry, or most likely all of the above. All of these in-flight bumps can be ironed out with a bit of smart planning and a backpack full of activities and snacks, but you could be left in the lurch if mealtime approaches and the airline is serving something your palate demanding turns up his nose.
Related: 14 mistakes parents make when traveling with kids
Luckily, airlines are well aware that children can be fussy when it comes to food, and many provide snacks and children’s meals on board. In the 1990s, United Airlines even served McDonald’s “Friendly Skies Meals,” which were similar to Happy Meals and came with items like cheeseburgers, cookies and a toy, according to the Los Angeles Times.
In equally “happy” news, United Airlines announced Wednesday that it will be reinstating in-flight kid meals, a service that was removed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Beginning Wednesday, meals will be available, if ordered in advance, on flights over 2,000 miles where complimentary meal service is offered. At breakfast, kids can lick their lips over dishes like French toast with sausage, fruit, and croissants. Lunch and dinner will feature kid favorites like chicken tenders, grilled cheese sandwiches, fruit, sandwiches and desserts.
United’s children’s meals are currently available on request only. You can add a request for a ‘Kids Meal’ when booking a ticket or add it to an existing booking in the United app at least 24 hours before flight departure.
Every airline is different when it comes to its baby food offerings. Here’s what kids can expect aboard other major carriers.
Air France offers special meals for children and babies on most long-haul intercontinental flights. Children between the ages of 2 and 8 will automatically receive the child’s meal, which includes salad, a main course such as chicken and pasta with cheese, a dessert, apple juice, cheese and crackers, fruit compote, and a dessert for lunch or dinner. For breakfast, children will receive two pastries, a yogurt drink or fruit juice, a compote, milk and cereals.
Children between the ages of 9 and 11 can still have this meal, but you will need to request it at least 24 hours before flight departure.
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Related: Flying with Air France? Everything you need to know about the menu
Parents of infants aged 0-23 months can request baby biscuits or jarred baby food up to 48 hours before flight departure, but the airline recommends bringing baby food and/or baby bottles with you to make sure you have enough available sufficient for the duration of the flight journey.
No complimentary meals are provided in Alaska Airlines main and premium cabins, but various meals and snacks are available for purchase on most flights over 783 miles. One of them, the Kid’s Choice Picnic Pack ($7.50), comes with snacks like white cheddar beignets, dried turkey, applesauce, a granola bar, gummy bears, and a little toy to keep them busy after they’re done the meal. These, along with other inflight meals, can be pre-ordered online between two weeks and 20 hours before your flight.
First class fares include complimentary meals. While there isn’t a meal specifically designated for kids, there are more options to choose from when you book, so you should be able to find something to appease your child. If nothing else, Alaska’s signature fruit and cheese platter should be enough to hold them back.
Like similar budget airlines, Allegiant offers something of a “bare bones” flying experience. If you want to choose your seat, bring hand luggage on board or have a drink and a snack served by the flight attendants, you will have to pay.
The airline has snack and beverage packages available for purchase on select flights, including the cleverly named Deluxe Wingz Kids Snack Pack ($10) that comes with white cheddar beignets, dried turkey, applesauce, fruit and biscuits.
American Airlines offers a variety of specialty meals, including a spa menu, on select flights. Children’s meals are available for all fare classes on most international flights and come with “foods that appeal to children aged 2 to 5,” according to the airline’s website, although anyone can order this type of meal . Children’s meals are also available and come with baby food jars. Both types of meals must be booked online or by telephone at least 24 hours before departure.
British Airways conveniently offers children’s and infant meals on long-haul flights and operates a ‘Feed Kids First’ policy which ensures your children’s food arrives in a timely manner so that you can eat in a certain level of peace of mind. Meals must be ordered at least 24 hours before the flight. Children’s meals can include things like pasta, chicken, sandwiches, veggie sticks, fruit, and snacks like chips, raisins, or a small candy bar.
Jarred baby food is also available on long-haul flights, but the airline recommends bringing your own.
Hawaiian Airlines offers free meals for children on most international flights in both business class and main cabin. Meals must be requested by calling the reservations office at least 48 hours before departure.
Like its Flying Blue partner airline Air France, KLM doesn’t skimp when it comes to tasty meals for the kids. On all intercontinental flights, children 2 years and older can receive a fun travel-themed meal basket with kid-approved foods like pasta or burgers and fries. Meals must be arranged online at least 24 hours before departure.
TPG has already sung the praises of Lufthansa’s children’s menus and for good reason. The airline has partnered with celebrity chef Alexander Herrmann to develop aesthetically pleasing meals that look great, taste delicious and provide the balanced nutrition kids need. Complimentary meals are available on select flights and are intended for children aged 2 and over and must be ordered at least 24 hours before departure.
Food suitable for children such as canned food, mini Vienna sausages and soups are also available and it is not necessary to book in advance.
When you consider the fact that Spirit Airlines counts almost everything but your ticket as an add-on, it should come as no surprise that onboard food and drink isn’t free. But it has a Kids Snack Box on the onboard menu for a reasonable $5.50 that comes with cookies, crackers, fruit snacks, candy, and a hand sanitizer wipe to take care of sticky hands after the snack.
If you’re on a flight that doesn’t serve children’s meals, we recommend that you come prepared with plenty of snacks and drinks for your child. That said, just because an airline doesn’t offer specific meals for kids doesn’t mean you’re totally out of luck. Most airlines offer a varied menu, and your child’s favorite foods (or at least some that they will tolerate) may very well be on offer. At the very least, we think they’d be a fan of these TPG-tested and TPG-approved Best Burgers in Heaven.