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Best airlines for families

As any parent of young children knows, flying with wee ones can be exhausting and, at worst, disastrous. The "what ifs" are almost endless: The cabin pressure could shift suddenly, causing infants to shriek with ear pain. Your two-year-old cries due to pent-up frustration. Older kids even revert to toddlerhood after hours and hours onboard. Add the disgruntled looks you're getting from other passengers and crewmembers, and you can see why some families forgo vacations altogether. After all, hyper-stressful travel spoils a relaxing getaway.

But it doesn't have to be that way. Some airlines go out of their way to accommodate passengers with kids. The seven carriers listed here are helmed by compassionate flight staffs that dole out amenities to make the whole family comfortable at cruising altitude. Here are some of the most kid-friendly international carriers we've found.

Emirates
Emirates is an airline that helps families every step of the way. On the ground, parents can wheel their tots around in Emirates strollers, and if you're flying business or first class, your kids will enjoy special play areas in the airport lounges. Once you're in the air, there are bassinets and baby formula for infants, as well as toys and an in-flight entertainment system for older children. And if your kids are frequent fliers, they can even start racking up miles with Emirates Skysurfer program. Young jet-setters can put their miles toward everything from future flights to Magrudy's Book Store gift certificates to Wild Wadi Water Park tickets in Dubai.

British Airways
British Airways operates under a "Feed Kids First" policy, so little ones will get their nutritious meals—plated with healthy portions of fruits and veggies—before you do. That way, children who struggle with impatience (and what kid doesn't?) can devour their dishes, then you can enjoy yours in peace. Another great thing about BA is that toddlers can ride for free. But here's the catch—you need to call ahead to secure the bulkhead and bring your own Britax booster seat. BA also provides kids with Skyflyer activity packs (filled with games and other activities) and in-flight entertainment that features the Disney and Cartoon Networks.

Photo: Singapore Airlines

Singapore Airlines

Singapore Airlines wins points with families for its many kid-friendly

amenities and affable flight staff. For the youngest travelers, the

airliner supplies bassinets, while tots and older children are given

Hasbro toys. Singapore Airlines also accommodates picky eaters with a

special kids menu, which includes everything from spaghetti and

meatballs to seafood fried rice. And the entertainment options (from

movies to 3D games) are nearly endless: In fact, the airline boasts more

than 1,000 on-demand choices.

Lufthansa
Lufthansa recommends red-eye flights for families traveling with little ones, so both babies and parents can maintain a normal sleep schedule. For babies that weigh up to about 30 pounds (and measure up to about 32 inches in length), the airline has baby cots ready and waiting. When it comes to mealtime, Lufthansa also has the kids covered. Stefan Marquard, a celebrity chef in Germany, designed a whimsical and nutritious menu that even picky eaters will appreciate. For example, one of the menu items is an open-faced sandwich with the ingredients arranged in such a way that the dish resembles a bear. Parents can order their kids' cuisine 24 hours in advance of their flight.

Gulf Air
If you're a mom or dad and look longingly back on the days of international flights where you actually got to watch an entire film (or maybe even two), you'll love Gulf Air's claim to fame. They have a Sky Nanny program. Yes, that's right. Once families board the airplane, these nannies will help parents do everything from set up the bassinet to play games with their children. They even serve children their food, allowing parents to enjoy a tranquil meal of their own. And if you've found that you've forgotten anything, the Sky Nannies can supply you with items like diapers, baby food, coloring books, and more.

Qantas
Qantas pampers its family passengers on the ground and in the air. "Family Zones" in airports across Australia (the airline's home country) are decked out with iMac computers, toys, and books to keep kids entertained before take-off. Although it might be hard to tear tots away from the toys, Qantas lessens the blow by gifting children with kids' kits on domestic and international flights. These fun-filled packs include colored pencils, action figures, and playing cards.

Photo: Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic & Virgin America
Virgin Atlantic offers families "sky cots" or bassinets for babies up to one year old, like many other international carriers. But this trendy airline goes a step further by providing "care chairs," which are custom seats for kids, who range in age from six months to three years. Older children also benefit from Virgin Atlantic's entertainment options that include newly released films and popular age-appropriate TV programs. Plus, they offer their version of kid packs; inside, children will find a book, a watch, and more.

For families looking to travel within the United States, Virgin America offers the family-friendly atmosphere that other domestic carriers lack. Since launching in 2007, this affordable carrier has been catering to kids with the Jet Set Kid Pack, a fun meal option designed with little appetites in mind. The pack comes with healthy snacks (like Goldfish crackers and Strawberry Dip'ems) as well as a puzzle to help children pass the time. Virgin America also offers kid-friendly entertainment (including games). And although the airline doesn't offer children's rates, its already low prices allow families to travel more comfortably for less.

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