Answering the Tough Questions About Car Seats on Airplanes

Informative FAQ and Debate on Car Seats and Individual Seats on Airplanes for Infants, Babies, and Toddlers
Informative FAQ and Debate on Car Seats and Individual Seats on Airplanes for Infants, Babies, and Toddlers

When booking airline tickets for your family, one question comes up time and time again – should you purchase a seat for your children under 2 years old?  If you do, should you bring their car seat?

This topic can be confusing and elicit a variety of answers.  Luckily we’ve come together and answered some of the most frequently asked questions on the subject:


After we answer your top questions, Jo and Rachel discuss their own opinions on the necessity of bringing car seats on airplanes. 

(Pssst…. This post has lots of important info – it’s definitely a good one to pin now so you can reference it in the future.)

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Frequently Asked Questions about Flying with Children and Car Seats

To make your travel planning easier, we’ve come together to answer some of the top “flying with children & car seats” questions.

toddler travel airplane road trip planning

What’s the easiest way to transport a car seat through an airport?

Jo discussesThere is no debate on this one, the easiest way to transport a car seat through the airport is with a hand cart.

There are a couple of hand cart options. Personally, we have the Seville Folding Hand Truck. We fold up the car seats (we use the Diono Radian RXTs) and then use bungee cords to secure them to the carts, like this:

This way, my 3 year-old can pull it through the airport himself. My 2 year-old daughter rides on the car seat while we pull her. When they were babies and too young for that, we carried them in our baby BJORN carrier.

Another plus to the Seville Folding Hand Truck, we use it all the time around the house for transporting large objects, it’s not specific for car seat travel. It folds up nice and small so it’s easy to store around the house (and on the plane!).

The second option would be to purchase a trolley specifically designed to tote car seats, like Britax car seat travel cart.

One major advantage here is that the car seat is more secure and easier to attach in a dedicated car seat travel cart. It’s also specifically designed for children to be riding in the car seat while being on the trolley (so therefore also safer).

For other travel tips (like how to prepare the perfect carry-on bag), check out Essential Packing Tips For Family Vacations.

Related Post: Train, Planes, and Automobiles – How Do you Travel with Kids?

 

Is there another safe option for my child without having to drag the car seat onto the plane?

Rachel discussesYes! If you have purchased an airline seat for your child, but don’t want to deal with the car seat on the plane, you do have another safe option.

The CARES Child Airplane Travel Harness is approved for kids over 1 year-old (between 22-44 lbs) and designed specifically for planes.

The harness straps fold up and can easily fit in a carry-on, so you can avoid dragging that heavy car seat all over.


 

What if you don’t want to purchase an airline seat for your child, but need your car seat at the destination?

Rachel discussesThe best way to transport your car seat to your intended destination is installed in an airline seat.

That said, you can check your car seat at no additional charge, but you should be cautious. If you’ve ever watched how baggage is handled (*ahem* thrown) or had your suitcases damaged, you may be aware that they aren’t often treated with the most care. Your car seat is no exception.

You can check your seat at the gate or check-in counter. If a seat must be checked, it is safest to put it in a box with padding, ideally the original packaging.

Car seat covers are also available for purchase. However be aware that these are only designed to protect the fabric and not the structure of the car seat.

If you haven’t purchased a ticket for your baby, you can take your seat to the gate and hope the flight isn’t full. Talk to the gate agent. If there are any empty seats, you may be able to use one for the car seat. Don’t count on empty seats though since they are no guarantee.

Popular opinion suggests the “safest” place to check your car seat is at the gate since it will spend the least amount of time with baggage handlers and has a lower probability of getting lost. However, note that even gate checked seats still risk damage by rough handling.

If you check your car seat, be sure to carefully inspect it for damage before using it. Be aware that unfortunately some damage may be internal and not visible. It should go without saying that if there are any concerns of damage, the car seat should not be used.

If the seat appears damage-free, car seat manufacturers report the seat does not need replacing and can be safely used. However, all car seat manufacturers agree that best practice is to have the seat installed on the airplane for both the safety of the child and car seat.

Related Post Ways to Make Vacationing with Kids Easy

Toddler Travel airplane road trip train

 

If I can’t afford to buy a plane ticket for my child, would it be safer to drive instead?

Rachel discussesThere seems to be some differing opinions on this. According to the FAA, the reason they don’t mandate the use of car seats on planes is because they determined that the added cost of the child ticket would make more people drive and statistically that is more dangerous.

Since any accident involving an airplane makes national news, it may seem that air travel more is dangerous, but thousands of car accidents happen every day. There are far more injuries and deaths each year from cars than planes.

One of the biggest concerns for lap babies is the possibility of injury during turbulence, though this is super rare. According to the FAA, 33 passengers were reported as injured during turbulence in 2016. To give some idea of how rare these injuries are, consider that in 2016 an average of 2.5 million people flew each day.

Jo discussesI just have to add that while it is true that turbulence injuries are rare, that is due to the fact most of the individuals flying (ie. adults) are properly secured during turbulent events. If you do not have a seat for your child with their own restraints, they are at higher risk of injury than the statistics may suggest.

Related Post Essential Strategies for Road Tripping with Kids

Travel Road Trip Kids Toddler Babies Preschoolers

 

Is there any additional info I should know before I fly with a car seat?

Jo discussesDefinitely make sure that your specific car seat is approved for air travel. You can easily do this by locating the FAA approval sticker on the back or bottom of your seat.

If your car seat is not approved for travel (or are looking for another option), I highly recommend the Cosco Scenera NEXT.

The Cosco Scenera NEXT is the most recommended car seat for travel because it is  inexpensive and very light weight making it ideal for carrying through airports.  It is a convertible seat (so it can be used both rear and forward facing) with a wide range of heights/weights. 

Familiarize yourself with the location of the FAA sticker on your seat as I have been asked to show it to a flight attendant pretty much every time I fly.

However, not all flight attendants are familiar with the policies for flying with car seats. It’s a good idea to have a copy of the FAA regulations with you (specifically the circular titled “Use of Child Restraint Systems on Aircraft”).

Lastly, have a plan for boarding and installing the car seats. My husband and I have it down to a science. He boards early when they call “families traveling with small children and individuals who need more time”. I hang back with the kids and board at the very last second (to minimize the time they have to spend on the airplane).

If you’re flying by yourself and your children, it’s much better to board as early as possible since that gives you the most amount of time to get the seats installed correctly. It’s also going to be less crowded so you’ll have more room.

Related Post How to Plan for a Successful Trip with Kids

toddler travel airplane packing road trip


But let’s get back to the original question…

If you’re booking family airline tickets, should you purchase a seat for your children under 2 years old? And if you do book the ticket, should you carry-on their car seat?

The easy answer: The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recommends that all children use a child restraint on board an aircraft.

However, the “real” answer isn’t that straightforward.

There are a lot of deciding factors to consider when booking your child a ticket – things like cost, convenience, and safety are just a few.

The Moms At Odds are here to lay out all the facts for you, the pros and cons to both sides of the argument. 

Car Seats On Airplanes

 

Jo says, “I’m Team Car Seat!”

Jo discussesFor me, this is simply a matter of safety.

Buying my child their own airline seat and properly installing the car seat is the safest option for both the child and the car seat.

Safest For Your Child and the Car Seat

“But a car seat won’t save your child if the plane crashes, blah blah” – I’ve heard this excuse a thousand times.

You know what else? A car seat won’t save my child if our car falls off a cliff. But that doesn’t stop me from buckling them in properly every time we get into the car.

Thankfully, plane crashes are rare events. Injuries from runway accidents or turbulence are much more likely.

On the runway, the plane can be traveling in excess of 150 mph – that’s much faster than most people are driving in their cars. Of course I want to make sure my child is properly restrained at those speeds.

Would you feel comfortable holding your child in your lap if your car was even driving at 85 mph? I think not.

Here’s a great explanation from Car Seats For The Littles:

“At 150 mph your child would be your airbag, or they would go flying inside the cabin. A 20 pound child in a 150 mph crash would have 3,000 pounds of force to them. That’s enough to be fatal to themselves, and whomever they impact.”

Additionally, as we’ll discuss in more detail later, checking car seats is risky. The potential for loss is high, the potential for damage is even higher.

Makes For A Happier Mommy

But even putting safety aside, installing a car seat makes traveling so much more comfortable (and less stressful) for me.

For one, I don’t have to worry about the possibility of the car seat getting lost or damaged (and therefore requiring me to send someone out to purchase a new seat before leaving the airport).

But even more importantly, it makes my flight more enjoyable.

They feel safe in their car seats because it is familiar. They’re more likely to play independently, look out the window, and entertain themselves (especially if you’re prepared with the right busy toys).

Plus, when they fall asleep they won’t feel like heavy sandbags cutting off circulation to your legs (been there, will never do it again).

Toddler Travel airplane road trip train

 

Rachel says, “I’ll risk it”

Rachel discussesI will make no claim that flying without a car seat is the safest option – it is not.

Although it is not required to use car seats on airplanes, it is strongly recommended by both the AAP and FAA. While I won’t advocate against using car seat, I get that sometimes this is the not the most practical option for families.

I know I am not alone in this because I see far more children flying without car seats.

I’ve traveled both ways and while I do appreciate the peace of mind knowing that my child is as safe as possible in their car seat, I usually opt to take the risk and have them fly without.

Inconvenient Logistics

If we’re being honest, it’s a huge pain to fly with a car seat.

From lugging them through the airport and trying to quickly and correctly install them in a cramped plane seat to the additional cost of a ticket for a baby and the possibility of getting hassled by misinformed flight staff… there are lots of obvious reasons you may want to skip the car seat.

Inconvenience aside, I also take into account more pragmatic considerations.

 

My Kid Would Barely Sit in the Car Seat

If you buy a ticket for your baby’s car seat, will they actually ride in it or are you wasting that money?

Take-off and landing can be the hardest time with babies since they can’t intentionally pop their ears. Common advice is to feed them during these times. I can’t exactly nurse my baby while I’m belted to my seat and they’re strapped into theirs.

By the way, take-off and landing statistically happen to be the most dangerous times in a flight. So why buy a ticket for my baby if I will be holding them during the most dangerous parts anyway?

For a long flight, I’d have to take them out to feed at some point anyway and trying to get them back in the seat once they’re out is no small feat.

Also, I don’t know about you, but both of my children have gone through a car seat hating phase. I don’t want to spend hours listening to them scream (and neither do the other passengers) when I could easily soothe them in my arms.

Some will say that if you can’t afford a seat for everyone, then don’t go. I feel like this assumes all travel is for leisure and that’s just not true.

I am not a huge risk taker, but I recognize that everything we do has risks. This is one that I am willing to take.

–Planning a trip?–

Check out our Travel section that gives you Essential Tips for Surviving Trips with Young Children

And while you’re at it you should sign up for our newsletter to receive your Ultimate Travel Planning Checklist straight to your inbox. 

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About Author

Jo & Rachel

Jo and Rachel first had the idea for 'The Moms At Odds' in 2016 when our babies were turning 2 and we realized that we were very different parents.

As a mom, Rachel immediately felt this strong connection to her son and instantly decided she wanted to become a stay-at-home mom. Though Jo obviously loved her son as well, she counted the days until she could go back to work and interact with other adults.

They both struggled over getting their babies to sleep and while Jo believed in sleep training, Rachel looked for alternatives like dream feeding and no cry methods. As time passed and their children grew older the differences started to really add up – pacifier use, drinking during breastfeeding, organic foods, screen time, diaper brands, and on and on.

During this day and age, it’s so easy to look at our parenting differences as a bad thing. After all, we’ve all seen jokes and articles about “Mommy Wars” over one subject or another. Instead, we choose to embrace our differences and show you that in many areas there is no wrong answer. What works for one family may not work for another, and that’s perfectly fine. We can still all get along and raise perfectly healthy, beautiful children.

Comments

  1. Amanda says:

    We always take car seats. We have the brica car seat trolly. I like it but I don’t let my kids ride in it when pulling the seat. It says you can but it tipped and rolled once when pulling it with my daughter it it. She was fine but I was traveling alone with a 5week old and her (2.5yrs). We had just landed at National and it was packed, someone almost ran her over. So new logistics is wear kids (if husband is flying too he wears one, while I wear the other) and put carry on/kids bags in the car seat to pull.

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