Car Seats on the Airplane

All you need to know about taking a car seat on an airplane.  From the pros and cons to help you decide if you should bring a car seat through to what to do if you decide to bring it on board and what brands to buy, PSP has it covered!

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General Advice:

- Contact the airline for exact seat measurements to determine if your car seat will fit in the allotted space. 

- Car seats must be FAA approved; check the car seat exterior for documentation or contact the manufacturer

- Arrive early to avoid security delays

 

Car Seat on the Airplane Pros:

- An effective way to protect children traveling on airplanes when turbulence or other safety issues occur

- Children may sleep more on the flight, as they are already accustomed to sleeping in their car seats

- Utilizing a car seat allows adults to relax on flight; there is more freedom to read, sleep, use the restroom and sit comfortably

What parents say:

"It's unlikely that a car seat will save a child's life in the event of a major crash, but smaller events on landing do happen. Suffer the inconvenience, I say."

"My sister-in-law was a flight attendant and she would NEVER fly without having her own kids in a car seat. From what I understand, flight attendants typically feel passionately about this. It's worth the schlep. FWIW, I have a sit and stroll which serves a dual destination when I arrive - it converts from a car seat to a stroller and we have used ours for 6 yrs and 2 kids and it's a lifesaver. No need to schlep the 2 items since it's all-in-one."

"I liked having car seats for longer flights because my kids fell asleep easily in them. We usually take red eyes across the country and, on the flights when I didn't take the car seat, the youngest one would only sleep on me (and that's a long six hours pinned to the seat!)."

"First thing to note is that each airline has its own policy on this anyway. At least, flying internationally they do. I've only flown internationally with my kid, but may soon find out what it's like to do a local flight."

"We just flew [Virgin] last week with our 13 month old in his carseat. The flight attendants were very laid back about it and just checked to make sure it was securely fastened."

"Last time we flew, we didn't even bother with it. Even keeping her strapped in the (adult) seat belt as she sat in her seat for take-off and landing is tough enough. I think my husband had her on his lap inside his own seat belt last time. The attendants made it clear they didn't see the special seat as necessary, for whatever that's worth."

 

Car Seat on the Airplane Cons:

- It is easier and less stressful to travel when you are carrying as little as possible

- Most car seats are too large to fit comfortably in the allotted seat space, burdening you, your child, and surrounding travelers

What parents say:

"I would leave the car seat at home. In the same situation, I've had family or friends pick me up with a borrowed car seat OR more often, just rented them from the rental car company. You don't need a car seat on the plane, it's a real drag getting through security, and you're better off with an umbrella stroller that you can gate check and pick up on the other end at the landing gate. Plus you can hang all your bags on the stroller!"

"We put our daughter in the car seat on her first flight and swore never to do so again. If you're sitting in coach, the car seat puts the seat ahead of a toddler within kicking distance, and there's no stopping them from kicking. The man ahead of my daughter on a five-hour flight was NOT amused. If you are going to use the seat and sit in coach, one of you should sit in front of the child to prevent the annoyance."

"For people thinking of renting a car seat from the car rental company, you might want to join AAA even if you don't own a car. With AAA you get 10% off Hertz rentals, 10% off the refueling cost (which put our gas about 40 cents below the local market on our Thanksgiving trip) AND free use of a car seat (otherwise $11.99 a day). One trip can pay for the annual membership, which is under $50 if I recall correctly. And if you fly somewhere and won't be renting a car, you can borrow a car seat from an AAA office."

"You can check a car seat free of charge, and the airline will give you a big plastic bag to put it in."

"My 20-month old son has been on somewhere near 30 flights, including to Europe, and I’ve never actually taken the car seat on the plane.  When he was little, I just held him in my lap.  Now that he’s bigger, he tends to play on the floor and be awake much more often.  (I still hold him on my lap during take-off and landing.)  There was one flight that was super turbulent, like a crazy roller coaster, and it actually woke him up from a sound sleep.  He cried but quickly settled down."

 

Seat Configuration Advice:

- Check the airline website; you may be able to check the plane configuration online

- Select bulk head seats if possible, as they offer more room

- Seats near the rear of the plane may be helpful; the engine noise may help lull your child to sleep

- Determine if your airline requires you to pay full price for your child’s seat, or if you qualify for a discounted rate

- Car seats must be placed in window seats for emergency escape reasons

- Get more information at www.seatguru.com

 

Check-In Advice:

- Check to see if your airline offers curb side check in

- Arrive early to speak with a flight attendant.  If the flight is not full, inquire if extra seats are available and whether it’s possible to use one for your child

 

Kicking:

- Take your child’s shoes off during the flight

- Walk up and down the aisle if your child is restless, as movement may be helpful

- If your child is kicking in a car seat, try turning the seat backwards so your child faces the opposite direction

 

Brand Advice:

Britax Boulevard

- This car seat fits in most domestic and international flights.  However, the head support extends past the seat’s dimensions and kicking is inevitable.  Also, the child is elevated too high to utilize the tray table, and the car seat is too large to fit into a regular carrying case

Britax Marathon

This car seat fits in most domestic and international flights.  However, the child’s feet rest against the seat in front, limiting how much the child is able to recline.

Sit-n-Stroll

A car seat that transforms into a stroller
Costs between $175-$200
The transition from car seat to stroller is smooth, which is beneficial if your child is sleeping or weary from the flight

Go Go Baby Z Travel Mates

One parent's review: "We took my two boys on vacation when they were 2 and 1 and took both car seats with us on the plane. We bought two Go-go Babyz Travel mates and it was totally worth it. They boys were pretty happy to have their own set of wheels to navigate through the airport and we were pretty pleased that they got their own car seats on the plane and in the various taxis that we had to take to and from the airports. My husband practiced installing the seats onto the wheels a couple of times before we left and found it easy enough that he could do it without taking the boys out of the seats. We did have to unseat the kids to go through security, but you'd have the same problem with a stroller."

Cares Harness

Another parent advocates "If you plan to fly at least once or twice a year with your child, buy a CARES harness. They List for about $75 but you can find them on sale on Amazon (and used on PSP classifieds). It's a strap made out of seat belt material that fits in your purse or carry on. It's FAA approved and turns your child's airplane seatbelt into the kind of 5-point harness you have in a car seat. it's safe for take off and landing and turbulence. but unlike with a car seat, which takes up the whole seat, with this you can loose it up or unstrap your child to let them use the airplane tray table, let them stand up and use their seat as a play area, etc. if you have a car seat your child isn't getting out of it for the duration of the flight unless you want them on your lap. It was probably the best thing I ever bought because it alleviates the internal debate between the safety of the car seat and the very real inconvenience of schlepping it around.

I also advocate joining AAA even if you don't have a car. the free car seat rental (in the US) is great. and the discount they provide on overseas rentals essentially cancels out the car seat fee. Plus, free maps and guidebooks, discounts on hotels and some attractions. (And roadside assistance)."

 

Carrying Cases:

- Costs between $30-$40

- Available where baby merchandise is sold, such as RightStart, OneStep Ahead, Planet Kidz or www.babystyle.com

- Helps prevent damage to your car seat or stroller

- Most airlines offer cardboard boxes or plastic bags as an alternative to purchasing your own carrying case

 

Related reading on Park Slope Parents:

General advice about traveling with carseats - at the destination