No One Seems to Know About This Airline’s Best Perk for New Parents

By Kristy Alpert

Iwas fully aware that I would soon lose my waistline, my sleep, and much of my preferred diet after becoming pregnant with my firstborn; what I didn’t expect was that I would also be giving up my hard-earned airline status once my son arrived.

I had spent the last 11 years of my career transporting my body across time zones in the name of travel journalism, and I had the airline status to show for it as I began to show with my son.

Seven continents and 86 countries worth of stories and miles had earned me my much-appreciated prize of complimentary upgrades, free checked baggage, and, yes, even lounge access. And yet, in just seven months of not flying, all that vanished.

I fully realize that none of these perks are necessary, but they are really nice incentives for continuing loyalty with an airline. Few airlines get this better than Alaska Airlines, and I found out way too late that they offer parents extended status after the birth of a child. It’s essentially a maternity/paternity leave for frequent flyers, and it’s one of the least-talked-about perks for flying families out there.

The program started in 2017, growing from the airline’s notoriously family-forward policies and programs. Alaska was one of the first airlines to allow families to pre-board and has always had generous programs to make traveling with children easier and more enjoyable. When other airlines started charging extra for selecting seats, Alaska Airlines pushed back. They guaranteed—at no extra cost—that children 13 and under could sit next to at least one accompanying adult. When airline lounges began charging additional fees for adding children to a lounge pass, Alaska Airlines added a kid-friendly pancake machine that automatically dispenses freshly made pancakes at the press of a button.

Family travel has always been important to this Seattle-based airline, so the company took notice when Alaska Airlines began seeing its elite members dropping out of the program during their childbearing years. In response, they created a program that would allow Mileage Plan™ members the chance to keep their elite status benefits for an entire year after returning to work.

Today, families need only apply after returning to work from their regular maternity/paternity leave to take advantage of this awesome perk. The application involves simply emailing with your name, birthdate, mileage plan number, and either a note from your doctor or employer to prove your pregnancy and/or parental leave time, and travelers will be granted a “grace year” to enjoy the same status pre-baby for the entire post-partum year.

With my son, I stopped traveling in my third trimester, finally meeting him five days earlier than his expected due date. I spent the next few months getting to know my newborn and regaling my sleeping boy with stories of destinations where we would travel together soon. He was only three months old when I strapped him into a baby carrier and arrived at the airport for our first flight together, only to reach the check-in desk and be told I was in the wrong line. My status had expired.

I chalked it up to life choices and chose to remember the good ol’ days of upgrades and lounge access while I traveled carry-on only with my infant-in-arms. Unable (and often unwilling) to travel at the same frequency I once had before my son, I gave up hope of ever regaining my status and, year after year, found myself just a few hundred miles short of getting a complimentary bag check.

It wasn’t until my son was three years old and I became pregnant with my daughter that I heard about Alaska Airlines’ generous maternity/paternity program and enrolled immediately. I may have been too late to enjoy the maternity leave they offer, but I figured that any airline that would put families first definitely deserved my business.

I’ve now flown Alaska Airlines with my two children and will smile each time my daughter is given a colorful sticker as we check our bag for free or my son starts a show-and-tell with the items found in his in-flight Kid’s Choice Picnic Pack. I wish I had heard about Alaska Airlines’ family policy before I surrendered my status all those years before, but I’m making up for lost time now and loving watching my family grow as we work our way up Alaska Airlines’ elite membership tier–one automatic pancake at a time.