Are you planning to take a car seat on airplane for air travel with your kid? Or maybe you’ve decided it’s your best option and wondering how to fly with a car seat?
Then you’ve come to the right place! This guide covers everything you need to know about taking a car seat for air travel on planes – from FAA laws to airline rules to insider tricks you can only learn with lots of experience.
Also, there are many things to consider when traveling with a car seat, including what types of car seats to choose, how to take it to navigate through the airport, and how to install it on planes. So we discuss the rules and tips for using a car seat for air travel as well.
Why use a car seat on airplane?
Let’s start with the most basic question: why should you use a car seat on an airplane? The simple answer is that airplane seat belts aren’t designed for tiny kids. So it’s not surprising that the FAA recommends that children under the age of 2 should be secured in an FAA-approved restraint – either a travel car seat or a CARES harness when flying on an airplane.
The best car seat for air travel depends on your kid’s age, size, and development level. But the general rule is that the car seat is better to be lightweight and portable. Check this post on the best portable car seats.
You may find that some parents still have this question.
You may find that car seats are not required to be used on airplanes. The FAA just suggests that. Some parents may have their babies on their lap. But it’s not the safest option. Find out why on the next part on the car seat versus the parent’s lap.
If you’re planning to use the car seat, then you should follow the FAA rules – the car seats must be certified for use on airplanes.
How do I know if a car seat is approved or not?
It’s easy. There will be a label on the car seat – commonly near the base of the car seat on the side, saying “This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft” or something like this. Some car seats have this sticker on the bottom of the seat.
Below is an example of the FAA-approved car seat sticker from this seat. The label is located inconveniently on the bottom of the seat. It’s better to make sure you locate yours before you get to the airport; Some international flights need you to show it at the check-in counter to avoid sending it along with the baggage. In other cases, you’ll probably be asked to show it before installing it on the plane.
You may have found that the content on the stickers has two separate sentences about airplane use, displaying one more sentence that also says that “This restraint is Not certified for use in the aircraft ”. It’s correct as well.
For example, all-in-one car seats and harnessed booster seats, these two types of car seats can be used on airplanes in the harness mode. While it’s not allowed if turn them into booster mode, which requires a lap-shoulder belt for tight and proper installation.
If you don’t see this label, find the car seat manual or contact the manufacturer to confirm that the car seat is approved for use on airplanes.
There is a direct and fast way for your reference – check if the car seat has a harness. If the car seat has an internal harness, the car seat probably is approved for air travel. The car seat laws on aircraft usage in most states may require using a harnessed car seat on airplanes.
Check our recommendations for the best car seats for air travel in the later section.
Like the safest position to place a car seat in the back row in a motor vehicle. When using a car seat on an airplane, it must be installed in a forward-facing position and secured with the airplane seatbelt. The car seat must also be placed in a window seat so that it doesn’t block the escape path in case of an emergency.
Additionally, during takeoff, landing, and turbulence, the car seat must be secured with an additional strap provided by the flight attendant.
The FAA recommends that parents or caregivers contact the airline ahead of time to ensure that the car seat will fit in the airplane seat and to determine any specific policies or procedures that the airline may have.
After all, airlines have their policies regarding the use of car seats on airplanes. So it’s also recommended to arrive early at the airport to allow time for installation and to inform the flight attendants that you’ll be using a car seat on the plane.
Tips to use a car seat on airplane
First of all, you should always contact the airlines before carrying a car seat on board to confirm if your purchased travel car seat is acceptable or not. To avoid any unpleasant encounters, you may have these tips to keep in mind.
- Some airlines may only allow car seats installed on the window seat. Make sure you know this before purchasing a ticket for the car seat on the airplane.
- It’s YOUR responsibility to know how to correctly install your car seat. So it’s important to read the user manual in advance of your flight and consult a CPST if you have questions.
- Car seats must be installed on forward-facing airplane seats, but that doesn’t mean that car seats must be forward-facing. You can install the car seat rear-facing, just as rear-facing direction placement in a motor vehicle.
- If facing the rear, pay attention to the space the car seat need. You may want to consider seating someone else from your family in front of a rear-facing car seat to avoid causing any inconvenience to another passenger.
- Infant car seats are more compact and can generally fit better than rear-facing convertible car seats, including those lightweight travel convertible car seats.
Some airline seats are so narrow that you’ll have to choose your travel car seat wisely. Move on reading to check what’s the best slim-fit car seat for air travel.
Note that some of the premium classes in a few airlines aren’t able to safely accommodate a child safety seat. If so, the only option is to hold a child under the age of 2 in your lap and to buckle older children in the lap belt. As a personal advice, you’d better not book those with a young toddler. This is another reason to check with airlines for advice to avoid this situation.
Here we’d like to talk about some general airline rules in the format of questions and answers. Hope this helps!
Does your under-2 child need his/her seat?
The answer is almost always no. Even the United States and Canada which have relatively complete laws on using a car seat on airplanes, it’s NOT required to use a car seat. The FAA just makes a recommendation. But it never hurts to double-check. And it’s safer to keep your child in a car seat than put them on your lap.
How many lap children can an adult have?
Usually, one adult can have only one kid on her lap. So if you’re flying solo with two babies, one may need to be in a car seat.
Are car seats not allowed in certain spots?
Airlines generally prefer you to put car seats in window seats, though it’s not necessarily a must. The common off-limits include aisle seats, emergency exit rows and seats in first class. It’s better to check with airlines on the child passenger policies. You can easily find the information on the airline’s website. If not, you may call the airline for confirmation.
Flying with a car seat vs. holding your infant on your lap
Flying with a car seat versus holding your infant on your lap is a personal choice that parents need to make based on their circumstances and preferences. However, it’s important to note that using a car seat on a plane is generally considered to be the safer option for young children, especially toddlers under 2 years of age.
When using a car seat on a plane, your child is securely restrained and protected during takeoff, landing, and any turbulence. In the event of unexpected turbulence or an emergency, a properly installed car seat can help protect your child from injury.
On the other hand, holding your infant on your lap during the flight does not provide any physical restraint or protection in the event of turbulence or an emergency. While the FAA allows children under the age of two to fly on a parent’s lap, this is not the safest option for young children.
In addition, using a car seat on a plane can provide a more comfortable and secure experience for both you and your child. Your child will have their own designated seat, which can help them feel more secure and allow them to sleep or play more comfortably. And as a parent, you’ll have your hands free to relax, read a book, or take care of any other needs during the flight.
Ultimately, the decision to use a car seat on a plane or hold your infant on your lap is up to you. But if safety is a top priority, using a car seat on a plane is generally the recommended option for small toddlers.
The tips to take a car seat through an airport
For lots of parents, traveling with a car seat through an airport can be a bit of a challenge, but with the right preparation and equipment, it can be done easily. Here are a few things you can do to make the process smoother:
Check with your airline
When strategizing your trip and before buying the tickets, check with your airline to confirm their policies regarding car seats. Some airlines allow you to check in a car seat for free, while others may charge a fee or require it to be checked in as oversized baggage.
Consider a travel bag
A travel bag can protect your car seat from damage during transport and make it easier to carry through the airport. Look for a bag that is specifically designed for your car seat model – some car seat manufacturers provide this option as well, or one that is versatile and adjustable to fit different sizes and styles of car seats.
Use a car seat cart or strap
Car seat carts or straps can make it easier to transport your car seat through the airport. A car seat cart is a wheeled device that attaches to the bottom of the car seat, allowing you to push it like a stroller. Or you can use a car seat stroller if your baby is under 35 pounds or does not reach 32 inches tall. A car seat strap is a webbing strap that attaches to the car seat and allows you to carry it over your shoulder or as a backpack.
Label your car seat
Attach a luggage tag with your contact information to your car seat in case it gets separated from you during the flight.
Gate-check the car seat
If you plan to use the car seat on the airplane, you can often gate-check it for free. This means you can bring it to the gate and it will be stowed in the cargo hold of the plane. This way, you can keep it with you until you board the plane and it will be available for you to use right after you land.
Arrive earlier. Just give yourself plenty of extra time to get through security. Some car seats fit through the x-ray machine, but others will require hand inspection. If you’re in the latter situation, it will take a bit more time to complete the checking.
Tips to maneuver through the plane with a car seat
Ok, so getting through the airport is no big deal with the right tricks and tools. Getting through the plane can be a little tricky depending on your car seat. The narrow aisles and cramped spaces can make it difficult to move around with a bulky car seat, especially if the plane is crowded.
However, with some preparation and patience, you probably have a smooth on board.
One tip is to try to board the plane early if possible, so you have plenty of time to get settled and install the car seat before other passengers start boarding. Usually, gate agents will let you on fairly early in the process. That would be very helpful if the extra space in every direction is left to you!
If you’re not the first to board the plane, you may need to carry a car seat down the aisle of an airplane over your head. That’s why we have some lightweight convertible car seats for recommendations!
The other great option is to use a foldable car seat or a car seat cart that makes it easier to wheel your narrow car seat through the plane’s tight spaces. If you have a Doona, you don’t even have to fold the wheels in until you get to your seat. It’s the only car seat with wheels. The only pity is that it’s for small kids around 1 year of age.
If you’ve used a cart up to this point you need to detach the car seat from the cart, lift the car seat into the row and shimmy it to the window seat if need be. Then fold your cart and stow it under the seat in front of your car seat. If your car seat is light enough that you carry it over the tops of the seats, hopefully, you can gently place it in position to begin installing the car seat on the plane.
Another tip is to consider seating arrangements carefully. Some airlines have certain seats that are better suited for using a car seat, such as bulkhead seats or those with extra legroom. If you’re traveling with a partner or another adult, you may want to sit in separate rows so that one of you can sit with the car seat and the other can sit with your child.
Finally, it’s important to be patient and flexible. Remember that traveling with young children can be unpredictable, and things may not always go according to plan. Try to stay calm and flexible, and be prepared to adjust your plans if necessary to ensure the safety and comfort of your child.
How to install a car seat on a plane? It's pretty easy!
Do you remember your first time installing a car seat in the vehicle?
You probably feel huffed, puffed, sweated, swore and possibly cried…
Installing a car seat on a plane can be a bit different than installing it in a car. It’s usually easier. You don’t need to go through that frustrating installation process again. There are just a few simple steps for how to install a car seat on a plane:
- Find the correct belt path on your car seat for rear-facing or forward-facing
- Loosen the adjustable side of the airplane seatbelt
- Feed that side through the belt path of the car seat
- Put your hand to reach through the airplane seatbelt
- Buckle the seatbelt
- Put your weight into the car seat (possibly with the airplane seat reclined) while pulling the seatbelt tail to tighten
Done. It’s foolproof because there is only a lap belt available for car seat installation on airplanes.
Installing a car seat on airplane is super easy – you just use the lap belt, but there is something that needs your attention.
An infant car seat might be the easiest style to install since there are just two little arms exposed for the “belt path”. This would be a good option for small infants under 12 months or 18 months to fly in a plane.
It’s a bit challenging with using a forward-facing car seat on an airplane. The seat belt buckle may end up right in the middle of your child’s back. It’s recommended to shove a sweatshirt in there after installing the car seat. This would offer more padding and that’s worked well.
Things become more complicated if your car seat has a lock-off for seat belt installation. You’d better read the manual to understand your seat’s particulars, as more and more car seats are designed with this feature to make seat belt installation in cars easier while the installation on an airplane is a bit different from that in a car.
There are a few different lock-off mechanisms, like the traditional lock-off (Clek Foonf/Fllo, Britax Allegiance, Chicco MyFit, etc), a locking panel (Graco SnugLock and Britax ClickTight), or a ‘tensioning’ panel (Nuna TrueTension and Evenflo LockStrong).
You’d better follow the instructions in the manual to make sure you install the car seat on the plane without breaking the lock-off mechanism. After all, these car seats with this feature are usually more expensive. Breaking it means that you can’t install it with the seatbelt in cars. That’s a huge loss!
You can only be seated in specific places on the plane
When traveling with a car seat on a plane, some airlines have certain restrictions on where you can sit. These restrictions vary by airline, so it’s important to check with your airline before your trip to understand their policies.
Typically, you can ONLY use a car seat on a plane in a forward-facing position, so you’ll need to book a seat that faces forward. Additionally, you’ll usually need to sit in a window seat, as car seats are not allowed in the aisle or middle seats due to safety regulations.
Some airlines also have specific seating requirements for using a car seat. For example, some airlines require you to sit in a bulkhead seat or a seat with extra legroom. Others may require you to sit in a certain section of the plane, such as the back row.
It’s important to check with your airline ahead of time to understand their policies and make sure you book a seat that meets their requirements. This will help ensure that you can use your car seat on the plane and that your child is safe and comfortable during the flight
The width of a window seat on the planes
The width of a window seat on a plane can vary depending on the type of aircraft and the airline. Generally, the width of a window seat can range from around 16 to 21 inches.
Some airlines and aircraft may have narrower seats, while others may have wider seats. It is important to check with the airline or look up the specific aircraft you will be flying on to determine the exact width of the window seat. This information is typically available on the airline’s website or a seat map for the aircraft.
Your kid may not be able to use the tray table on the plane
When using a car seat on an airplane, your child may not be able to use the tray table. This is because car seats can be bulky and may extend beyond the width of the airplane seat, making it difficult to use the tray table.
In addition, some airlines require that the tray tables be stowed during takeoff and landing, which means your child may not have access to the tray table during those times.
To address this issue, you can bring a travel tray or other portable surface that your child can use for eating, playing, or other activities during the flight. These travel trays can be attached to the car seat or worn around your child’s neck, and provide a stable surface for your child to use.
It’s also a good idea to pack some snacks and activities to keep your child entertained during the flight, as they may not have access to the tray table or other amenities on the plane. Bringing along some of their favorite toys, books, or electronic devices can help make the flight more enjoyable for everyone.
There isn’t usually anywhere to store a car seat on board
You are correct that there isn’t always a designated storage area for a car seat on board a plane. However, most airlines allow passengers to bring their car seats on board and use them during the flight.
When not in use, the car seat must be stored in the overhead bin or under the seat in front of you, just like any other carry-on item. It’s a good idea to check with the airline ahead of time to make sure that your car seat meets their size and weight requirements for carry-on items.
If you’re traveling with a convertible or all-in-one car seat that is bulky, you may want to consider using a car seat travel bag to make it easier to transport through the airport and onto the plane. These travel bags can help protect your car seat from damage during transport and make it easier to carry around the airport.
Remember, when traveling with a car seat, it’s important to prioritize your child’s safety and follow all guidelines and instructions from the manufacturer, airline, and FAA. This will help ensure that your child is safe and secure during the flight.
Whether you’re traveling by car at your destination
Another important consideration when flying with a car seat is whether you will be traveling by car to your destination. If you plan to rent a car or use a car-sharing service, you will likely need a car seat for your child.
You have a few options in this case. You can bring your car seat with you on the airplane and use it in the rental car. However, this can be cumbersome and may not be practical if you are traveling with a lot of luggage.
Alternatively, you can rent a car seat from the car rental company or a local baby gear rental service. This can be a convenient option, as you can pick up the car seat at the same time as your rental car and return it when you are finished with it. However, make sure to read reviews and check the safety and cleanliness of the rental car seat before using it.
If you plan to use a car-sharing service like Uber or Lyft, you may need to bring your car seat with you or find a service that provides car seats. Some car-sharing services do offer car seats, but availability may be limited and you may need to pay an additional fee.
In any case, make sure to plan and confirm that you will have a car seat available for your child when you arrive at your destination.
Best Car Seats for Air Travel
Doona Infant Car Seat Stroller
Doona combines a car seat and a stroller into one. It’s the only car seat with wheels so that you can use it as a carrier on the plane and unfold the wheels to turn it into a stroller while on board. It’s a bit heavy but you don’t even need to carry it. Instead, you stroller it.
Cosco Mighty Fit 65 DX -11 lbs
Evenflo Tribute 5 - 9.29 lbs
Thanks to the ClickTight technique, the Britax Marathon features the easiest way for car seat installation. Its narrow profile makes it friendly to fit well on an airplane.