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Airline amenities: Eight bright spots

By Margaret Loftus, Special to CNN
June 21, 2012 -- Updated 1913 GMT (0313 HKT)
Virgin Atlantic offers touchscreen ordering for snacks to expedite the arrival of in-flight sustenance.
Virgin Atlantic offers touchscreen ordering for snacks to expedite the arrival of in-flight sustenance.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • These amenities make air travel a little nicer
  • Some airlines have services to keep kids entertained (and their neighbors happy)
  • AirAsia serves a Malaysian rice dish that passengers rave about

(CNN) -- June ushers in the busiest season of air travel, which typically means snaking security lines, thunderstorm delays and cabins packed to the gills with vacationing families. But take heart fliers, we dug up some bright spots that can make sitting in coach more bearable on long-haul flights.

Snacks on demand

When your blood sugar is plummeting or you're craving that cup of joe that eluded you in the rush to get to the airport, the food and beverage cart can take an eternity to make its way down the aisle to your seat. Enter Red, Virgin America's entertainment system. Passengers enter their choice from a menu of cold snacks and drinks on their personal screen, swipe their credit card, and hello artisan cheese box!

"Ordering food from your seat is incredible," says Bob Albert, founder and CEO of new flight rating and review site Routehappy.com. "You feel totally empowered."

14 outstanding airport amenities

Family friendliness

Traveling with children on long flights can be an ordeal at best. Luckily, more and more international carriers are offering kid-friendly perks designed to keep tots -- and those seated around them -- content. British Airways has a "Feed Families First" policy, which can do wonders to keep peace in the cabin.

Lufthansa provides baby food and special menus for children developed by German Chef Stefan Marquard, with appetizing and nutritious meals like fish fingers with potato and cabbage puree, as well as games, puzzles and coloring books that feature the antics of airline crane mascot Lu. But nothing can top the specially trained sky nannies aboard Bahrain carrier Gulf Air, who make sure kids are fed and occupied so mom and dad are free to enjoy the flight.

Amazing first-class air cabins

Canadian airline Porter invites all passengers to enjoy its lounges in Toronto and Ottawa.
Canadian airline Porter invites all passengers to enjoy its lounges in Toronto and Ottawa.

A civilized way to fly

Forget the VIP pass, Canadian airline Porter invites all passengers to enjoy its lounges in Toronto and Ottawa, where free cookies, Starbucks coffee, Tazo tea, Wi-Fi and newspapers await. Onboard, Canadian craft brews and wine are served gratis, in real glasses. Bonus: no middle seats. JetBlue also deserves kudos for its roomier leather seats, snooze kits on red-eye flights and Dunkin' Donuts coffee.

Saving knees everyday

Few things can make a flight more uncomfortable than the passenger in front of you reclining into your precious space, crushing your knees and likely your mood. Hong-Kong-flagged carrier Cathay Pacific, however, has come to the rescue with its "fixed-back" economy class seat that reclines six inches within its own space and cradles your head and neck with adjustable side wings.

Tasty airline fare

"Can you imagine there is airplane food that people love?" asks Albert. Indeed, Routehappy reviewers rave about nasi lemak, a Malaysian rice dish, sold aboard Kuala Lumpur-based AirAsia flights for $5. "The airline's become famous for this dish." Kudos also go to Turkish Airlines for the national dishes -- shish kebab, karniyarik (stuffed eggplant) and manti (dumplings) -- served in coach class, earning it a "Best Airline Food" nod from Skyscanner recently.

Hire a guide, business travelers

Top-notch entertainment

With 1,200 channels of on-demand entertainment, including 200 movies, 500 audio channels and 100 video games, Emirates Airlines has you covered for in-flight entertainment. The much-lauded system has recently been upgraded with a new "graphical user interface," making it easier to navigate the vast collection by swiping and scrolling, as well as send SMS and e-mail messages.

Starry, starry night

Your flight is cruising at 35,000 feet above the Atlantic, the lights in the cabin dim, and as you settle in for the night, constellations of stars appear on the ceiling. This evening phenomenon occurs on United Arab Emirates-based Etihad Airways, Emirates Airline and Egypt Air.

Gentle wake-up

Is a burst of harsh florescent lighting any way to wake up? Virgin Atlantic doesn't think so. The airline employs soft lighting to wake passengers gently before landing. Complimentary eye masks, blankets and pillows don't hurt either. "It was definitely the best I felt waking up on a red-eye," says Lauren Sullivan, travel expert for Cheapflights.com. "I went straight to the office because I felt perfectly refreshed."

Do you remember the best flight you ever had? Why was it so good? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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