Using points and upgrades effectively for a great long-haul experience with BA
We welcome to the blog today Emily who shares her experience flying British Airways from the US, connecting through London to Europe. With many connections along the way and a child & infant in tow, she explains how they came to book with British Airways and their experience using the UK’s flagship carrier transatlantic.
This post is part of our Flying with Kids series of Airline Reviews – pop over and see all our handy advice articles on flying with kids
Our Trip – Northern Arizona to Interlaken, Switzerland
Our family adventures during the 2018-2019 Christmas break had us ringing in the New Year in Interlaken, Switzerland! Our hometown is in Northern Arizona – 5,600 miles away as the crow flies – so this was not an insignificant trip to be taking with the munchkins in tow (particularly since there are zero direct flights from our state to Switzerland)!
Booking Flights with British Airways
We took Southwest Airlines for the 4-hour jump from Phoenix to Atlanta (ATL). ATL gave us more trans-Atlantic flight options than Phoenix and a lower chance of weather-related delays than some of the major Northeast airports.
We had the Companion Pass and a whole mess of Southwest points, so those roundtrip tickets cost us almost nothing out of pocket. While this review is primarily about British Airways, I would be remiss to not give a shout-out to Southwest for being extremely kid-friendly and baby-friendly (including allowing priority boarding for families traveling with children up to age 6, two free checked bags per passenger for no extra charge in addition to a free checked stroller and car seat, and no change fees for cancellation fees).
From Atlanta, we took British Airways to Zurich via London. We’ve had a good experience flying BA before, both as a couple and with one older child, but this was our first time flying BA with an infant.
Cost Flying with British Airways
The flight times were convenient enough, and at the time of booking the costs didn’t seem outrageous for holiday travel. We were able to put the base fare for “premium economy” aka “World Traveler Plus” seats on our Capitol One card and then wipe out most of that cost with Capitol One points.
That initial booking was easily done on BA’s website. We then called BA directly and used our stashed Avios to upgrade our outbound overnight flight to business class. Note that even “lap babies” like J (18 months) do cost money and/or points/miles on many international flights. They are not a free add-on the way they are on many domestic flights.
Travelers love to hate on BA’s fuel surcharges and taxes, and parents love to lament how expensive it is to travel with kids… but our out of pocket cost for all those international tickets during a peak travel time was only $805.27. We did spend 60k Avios on our upgrades, but made over 47k Avios on the trip due to the “cash” booking with that Capitol One card, so that was icing on the cake.
Bottom line: fancy-pants family travel does not have to be crazy pricey.
We did get to pre-select our seats online for free due to flying with a child under 2. Two checked bags and two carry-ons were included with each ticket. Infant car seats and strollers are also typically free of charge, but we didn’t bring either.
Seating on the Trans-Atlantic Flights with British Airways
If you’re not already using Seat Guru when selecting your long-haul flights, you need to start immediately. It’s worth the small amount of effort before you book to know exactly what aircraft you will be flying and which seats are going to best suit your needs. Flying with kids makes this ten times more important.
Secondly, please please please do not be that parent who doesn’t select seats in advance and then gets mad at strangers for not wanting to trade with you so you can sit by your family members.
Either fly with an airline that allows free seat selection or pay the few measly dollars to be sure you know where you’re sitting.
As mentioned above, we were able to select our seats online for no additional charge as soon as we had booked due to the fact that we were traveling with a child under 2. There was a “baby bassinet” available to us on both long-haul flights, but we didn’t use it either time. You can select seats with access to a baby bassinet online.
Boarding and Buckling Up on British Airways
British Airways gives priority boarding to families regardless of which cabin you are in. You will have plenty of time to find bin space and get settled. Our gate attendants were all very vigilant about rounding up all the families near the gate area and getting them boarded early.
Lap infants are required to wear seatbelts (which connect to the adult seat belt of whoever they’re sitting with) for take-off and landing. Infants are not allowed to be in the bassinet when the seatbelt light is on.
Our experience with British Airways (with and without kids) has been that they keep the seat belt light off pretty much all the time unless turbulence gets intense.
Contrast this with other airlines who immediately suspend beverage service whenever there’s “light chop”. BA’s relaxed approach to seat belts is really helpful when you have a daytime flight with a very awake toddler who just wants to wander the aisles and wave at people.
Atlanta to London with BA
This was an 8-hour overnight flight so, as mentioned above, we threw a bunch of BA Avios at an upgrade to the lay-flat beds in business class.
We were on a Boeing 727-200 which was not brand new but quite clean and comfortable. Our flight crew made us feel very welcome and were especially great with the baby.
They were nonplussed by our explosion of bottle and PJs, and presumably took great care of our insomniac preteen while the rest of us slept (C can stay awake forever if there are movies on a plane. His current record is 29 hours.)
The amenity kit, noise-cancelling headphones, eye masks, and bed linens were very nice. Baby J and I were out like lights after takeoff. The crew had given us a card to fill out advising them of when we wanted to be woken up, and I asked that I not be bothered until the pre-landing tea time (50 minutes before landing).
I loved the tea/coffee service, and my husband reported that the dinner and entertainment selection had also been very good. C had not slept, but had watched 4 movies. Food and drinks were available in the galley during the entire flight.
London to Zurich and Zurich to London
These are easy flights that only take about an hour. We didn’t do any upgrades – all the seats are pretty much the same anyway. The only freebie on board is water. Get a window seat if you can. On the off-chance that Europe is not covered in clouds, you will have amazing views of London, the English Channel, and the Alps.
London to Atlanta
This was a 9-hour daytime flight, so we skipped the lay-flat beds and selected bulkhead seats in premium economy for myself and my husband, and we put C in the aisle seat right behind us. We were on one of the 787-9 Dreamliners.
The plane was gorgeous. The premium economy cabin has a 2-3-2 seat configuration with only 6 rows, so it felt very private and quiet compared to the mail cabin. We had more than enough room with the extra recline, leg rests, and footrests.
We were glad we didn’t pay the extra to upgrade to lay-flat beds for a daytime flight. We got blankets and pillows and an amenity kit that was less fancy than the business class one, but still included all the essentials. There were pre-flight drinks, then hot towels. Our meals was served in glassware.
The crew was, once again, great with the kids and unfazed by our mess. They put up with C paging them repeatedly for Sprite refills until we caught him doing that and told him to walk back to the galley himself if he needed drinks. There were surprise ice cream bars a few hours before landing.
The only major bummer about that flight was that my husband’s in-seat entertainment wasn’t working, and after they tried to reset it mine broke too. The crew apologized profusely and told us they would tell management. It wasn’t that big of a deal, because this is 2019 and we’re Millennials so we had 4 of our own devices with us for our entertainment… but still not what we’d expect on a 9-hour flight on a relatively new plane.
We later got an email with a very long apology for the inconvenience and 5,000 Avios credited to our account. (OG: Great work BA, that’s the customer service we like to see!)
We had access to the Club at PHX, the Club at ATL, the Galleries arrivals lounge at Heathrow, and the Aspire lounges at Heathrow and Zurich International Airport. The Club at PHX has always served us well, but it’s the main lounge for Terminal 4 so it does get a little crowded.
We missed the signs for the Galleries arrivals lounge somehow, but both Aspire lounges were great and very kid-friendly. The Club at ATL, however, won by a long shot for having a staff member that was extra-awesome with our kids and the best candy bar we’ve ever seen in a lounge – including a vat of Jelly Belly beans.
Other things to note flying British Airways Long-Haul with Kids
I’ve heard that BA does supply “kids activity packs” if you ask, but we didn’t need any. No kids meals were offered that I saw, but there were plenty of meal and snack options available. Most kids would have no problem finding plenty of things to eat.
We also do not order meals in advance since we don’t have any particular dietary needs. You can order in advance for many BA flights (this may depend on the length of your flight and ticket class). Bar service is complimentary on long-haul flights.
Flying with infants on British Airways – Formula, Milk, and Diapers
You are allowed to take through security whatever amount of liquid formula or milk you need for the estimated duration of your flight. No one can tell me exactly what this amount is, so bring whatever seems reasonable to you.
All milk and formula powder is subject to additional testing at security, so plan for a little extra time there. Note that many flights – not just BA – do not have milk onboard. If you have a baby at the age and stage where milk is vital, bring it yourself.
For your long-haul diaper needs: I whole-heartedly recommend Huggies OverNights with Sposie “booster pad” liners. You can get 12 hours out of that set-up, easy. You can see more of Emily’s tips for flying with infants here.
Our overall experience flying Transatlantic with British Airways
We had a great experience flying British Air with the kids. I’m sure we’ll be back soon!
Have other questions for me about flying BA with kids? Please leave them in the comments! I’ll do my best to answer. 🙂
About the Authour – Emily Peppers
Emily is a wife, mom, business owner, and world-traveler who believes in the value of part-time work and epic outdoor adventure! She catalogues her family’s exploits at www.doctorindenim.com
Thanks to Emily for sharing her airline experience and giving some great assurances about the quality of British Airways long haul with families, as well as some top tips on how to maximise your family’s comfort travelling long-haul.
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