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Traveling with a car seat can be very overwhelming! They’re heavy, bulky, and it can be a logistical nightmare.
When it comes to traveling with our son, Parks, ensuring his safety and comfort is our top concern. One aspect that caused concern and anxiety for me as a first-time parent—and often causes concern for others—is how to travel with a car seat–especially on an airplane.
Of course, when you’re planning a vacation with your baby, their safety is paramount. As a new parent, I’m not willing to compromise on that. This led me to a common question: How do I travel with a car seat on a plane? Answering this question is important as you plan your trip with your little one.
In this blog post, I’ll break down the top 20 things you need to think about as you plan to travel with a car seat. These insights will not only help ensure your baby’s safety but also make your travel experience as smooth as possible.
Your Safest Option is to Bring Your Car Seat On Board the Airplane.
When flying with young children, it is highly recommended to bring your car seat on board the airplane. Traveling with a car seat on board the airplane is the best option available to ensure your child’s safety during the flight. A car seat is always the safest option in case of severe turbulence.
Increased Protection For Your Child
By using a car seat on the plane, you can provide your child with the same level of protection they receive in a car. It reduces the risk of injury during turbulence or in the event of an emergency landing. Additionally, having your car seat on board allows you to securely restrain your child, preventing them from roaming around the cabin.
Less Likely to Damage the Car Seat
Car seats are at an increased risk of damage when checked as luggage. Checking a car seat as checked luggage exposes it to potential mishandling and rough treatment during the transportation process. This rough handling can result in broken parts, bent frames, and damage to the protective foam padding. Additionally, car seats that are checked as luggage may also be susceptible to theft or loss, further jeopardizing their safety and usability. One way to easily ruin a vacation is to show up at your destination and discover your car seat is missing at baggage claim.
Can You Take a Car Seat on an Airplane? It Depends on the Airline.
In the U.S., airlines are required to allow you to use your FAA-approved car seat on an airplane as long as you’ve purchased a seat for it.
However, traveling internationally is another story. Whether or not you can bring a car seat on an airplane is contingent upon the specific airline you are flying with. Different airlines have varying policies and regulations regarding the transportation of car seats.
It is important to check with your chosen airline prior to your flight to determine if they allow car seats and if there are any specific guidelines or limitations in place. This will ensure that you are well-prepared and aware of the rules when traveling with a car seat.
Each Airline Has Its Own Car Seat Policy. Be Familiar With Your Airline’s Policies.
As previously mentioned, when traveling by air with a child, it is important to be aware of your airline’s car seat policies. Each airline has its own set of rules and regulations regarding the use of car seats on board their air craft–especially when traveling internationally.
Familiarizing yourself with your airline’s policies well in advance won’t take a lot of time and it will ensure a hassle-free travel day. Doing so will allow you to make the necessary arrangements and ensure the safety and comfort of your child during the flight.
To make it easy for you, here are the links to the most popular airline’s car seat travel policies. Feel free to bookmark this page for future reference.
|Alaska Airlines||Hawaiian Airlines|
|Allegiant Air||JetBlue Airways|
|American Airlines||Southwest Airlines|
|Delta Air Lines||Spirit Airlines|
|Frontier Airlines||United Airlines|
Is Your Car Seat Approved by the Federal Aviation Administration For Use on an Airplane?
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) mandates that car seats must meet specific criteria to be used on airplanes.
To ensure your car seat is approved for air travel, check for the FAA label affixed to the seat of the car seat. The label indicates that the seat has undergone rigorous testing and meets the necessary safety standards. Using FAA-approved car seats provides added protection and peace of mind for your child while traveling by air.
Not all car seats made in the United States are approved by the FAA. Unfortunately, I learned this the hard way. Before Parks was born, I spent hours doing the research before picking out the perfect car seat and stroller “travel system.” However, it wasn’t until after someone had gifted it to us that I found out it was one of the only car seats made in the U.S. that isn’t approved to be used on an airplane. Needless to say, I was PISSED. After all, Nuna marketed its Pipa Lite model as a “Travel System.” I felt like an idiot. Still do.
We ended up buying another car seat to use when we travel. The Doona was the best option for us because it’s a car seat and stroller combo, so the stroller doesn’t have to be checked as luggage separately and it also doesn’t take up any additional room in the trunk. It was a total game-changer for us.
Should I Take Our Car Seat On Board the Airplane?
Of course, there are benefits to bringing your car seat on board the airplane. However, you’re likely going to take the hit in your wallet. Here are some pros and cons to consider when deciding whether to bring your car seat on board your flight.
Ensuring Safety and Familiarity for Your Child
By bringing your car seat on board the airplane, you can ensure that your child is seated in a safe and familiar environment. Car seats are specifically designed to provide optimal protection during travel in the event of unexpected turbulence, and your child may find comfort in the familiarity of their own seat. This can be especially important during long flights or if your child has difficulty staying still or seated for extended periods.
Consider Your Child’s Age and Activity Level
When Parks was a newborn all the way up to about 10 months old, it was a piece of cake you fly with him on our laps. We never paid for an extra seat or used a car seat when he was younger than 1.
However, when he started wanting to stand and try to walk all the time around 11 months old, it changed everything. If he’s not strapped into his car seat, he thinks he’s free to stand, walk, and play as he sees fit. For some reason, when he’s strapped into his car seat, he knows it’s not an option and is calmer and more patient.
Also keep in mind that once your child reaches the age of 2 years old, most airlines require you to purchase a seat for them.
Avoiding Potential Damage or Loss
Unfortunately, mishandling of luggage is not uncommon during air travel. By taking your car seat on board, you can eliminate the risk of damage or loss that may occur if it were checked in as baggage. Car seats can be expensive investments, and having yours damaged or misplaced can be both costly and inconvenient.
Limited Mobility and Convenience
One of the main downsides of bringing your car seat on board is the limited mobility and convenience it may entail. Car seats are bulky and cumbersome, and maneuvering them through busy airports can be challenging, especially if you have other luggage to handle. Additionally, once on the airplane, you will need to secure the car seat in a designated seat, which may be restrictive in terms of space and movement.
Most airlines–if not all–require you to pay for an additional seat if you’d like to guarantee a spot for your car seat on board the plane. It is important to check with your airline beforehand to understand their policies regarding car seats. There is not usually an overhead compartment large enough to store a car seat, so unless you’re planning to use it in a seat, they’ll most likely tell you to gate-side check it.
Do I Have to Book An Extra Seat to Bring a Car Seat On Board an Airplane?
Yes and no. If you want to be guaranteed a place to install your car seat, you will need to book a seat for it. If you’d like to roll the dice, you can ask the gate agent if there is an empty seat available that would allow you to bring your car seat onboard. However, this is not a guarantee and you must be prepared to gate-side check your car seat if they don’t have another seat available.
If your child is over 2 years old, you will need to book them a seat regardless of whether you plan to bring their car seat on board.
Once You Decide to Bring a Car Seat on the Plane–There’s No Going Back.
Once you choose to bring a car seat on the plane, you cannot change your mind. There is usually no place to store your car seat if you decide not to install it for your child to use in their seat. The overhead compartments or bulkheads are not big enough to store a car seat. Your flight attendant might have room in a closet but don’t count on it.
What to Consider When Checking Car Seat as Checked Luggage
Checking car seats as checked luggage is a common practice for many families. However, keep in mind that if you check your car seat as luggage or planeside, your baby or toddler will need to be in your lap. It’s fairly easy to fly with a baby younger than 10 months as an “infant in arms,” but it’s harder when they’re 10 months and older because they’re more mobile and full of energy.
If you do decide to check your car seat as checked luggage, taking the proper precautions and ensuring the car seat is well-protected can make all the difference in keeping your child safe and your car seat in good condition during your journey.
Choose a Suitable Car Seat Bag
To protect your car seat from any potential damage during transit, it is important to invest in a suitable car seat bag. Look for a bag that is specifically designed for car seats, with adequate padding and reinforced stitching. A well-padded bag will provide the necessary cushioning to protect your car seat from bumps and jolts during handling. They even sell car seat bags that you can wear as a backpack to make it easier to carry around the airport.
Attach Clear Identification Tags
Attaching clear identification tags to your car seat bag is essential. Ensure that your contact information is up to date and clearly visible in case the bag gets separated from the rest of your luggage. This will make it easier for airport personnel to identify and reunite you with your car seat bag if it gets misplaced.
I also recommend clearly labeling your car seat as fragile by attaching “Fragile” stickers or tags to the car seat or car seat bag. While it may not guarantee safe handling, it won’t hurt to try to offer a visual reminder to airport staff that they need to be careful with your precious cargo.
Have a backup plan In Case Your Car Seat is Misplaced
My biggest nightmare when it comes to checking a car seat is having the airline misplace it. Think about how often bags are misplaced. What will you do if you arrive at your destination, but your car seat doesn’t make it out of baggage claim? How will you get to your hotel? How will it impact the rest of your vacation?
You could rent a car seat from a baby equipment company, or your travel partner could hail a cab and head straight to the nearest Target to buy a new one while you wait at the airport with your baby. Each of those options is hugely inconvenient, but you’ll need to have a plan in case it happens to you.
A safer way to check your car seat as luggage if you don’t want to purchase a separate seat is to gate-side check it. This all but guarantees that the car seat is loaded onto your plane before taking off. The only downside is that you will need to haul it around the airport.
Choosing the Right Baggage Option
Do you want to check your car seat at the ticket counter when checking in for your flight? This will make it easier to navigate the airport without carrying it around.
Another option is to wait until you’re boarding to check the car seat gateside. This option will help to make sure they don’t misplace it or load it onto the wrong plane. The downside is that you’ll need to carry the car seat around the airport with you. Luckily, they do make car seat bags that are designed to be carried like a backpack to make it a little bit easier.
Document the Condition of Your Car Seat
Before you hand over your car seat to the airline, it’s a good idea to take some time to document its condition. Snap clear photos of all sides of the car seat, making sure to capture any existing scratches, dents, or wear and tear. These pictures will be your proof in case the car seat gets damaged during its journey and will help with any claims you might need to make.
Taking pictures might seem like an extra step, but it’s worth it. Airlines handle a lot of luggage daily, and accidents can happen. By having visual proof of your car seat’s condition before you check it in, you’re giving yourself some extra protection.
If, unfortunately, your car seat does get damaged while it’s being handled by the airline, these photos will be really useful. They show that the damage wasn’t there before, which can make it easier for you to get compensation for repairs or a replacement. Remember, the main goal is to ensure your child’s safety, even if the car seat goes through a bumpy ride of its own.
Check for Damage Before Leaving the Airport
If you’ve checked your car seat as checked luggage, make sure to check for any potential damage before leaving the baggage claim area–and especially before you step foot outside of the airport. Once you leave the airport, your opportunity to make a claim is over.
Check for any visible signs of wear, broken parts, or significant damage. If you notice any issues, document them, and report them to the airline immediately. Taking prompt action will ensure that your concerns are addressed and the necessary steps are taken to rectify the situation. Protecting your investment and keeping your little one secure during travel should always be a top priority.
Car Seats Do Not Count as Checked Luggage.
The good news is that most U.S. airlines don’t charge you anything extra if you decide to check in your car seat or stroller instead of carrying them onto the plane.
However, it’s important to remember that the details can vary depending on the airline you’re flying with. Each airline tends to have its own rules and guidelines, and these can sometimes be different based on factors like your ticket type or where you’re going. So, while it’s generally a good deal, it’s still a good idea to get to know the specific policies your chosen airline has for car seats and strollers.
Before you take off for your vacation, it’s a good idea to spend a bit of time on the airline’s official website or even give their customer service a quick call. You’ll want to find out if there are any rules about how heavy or big your checked-in car seat or stroller can be. Some airlines might ask you to pack them in a special travel bag or cover, so it’s helpful to be aware of these kinds of details.
In a world where things can change, having this info can give you peace of mind and help you avoid any unexpected surprises when you’re checking in.
How Do You Travel With a Car Seat? Logistically Speaking.
You have three options for traveling with a car seat on an airplane. Each option has its pros and cons, so consider your child’s comfort, the logistics of carrying the car seat, and the level of protection you want for the seat itself. Whatever you choose, knowing these alternatives can help you make an informed decision and ensure a smoother travel experience for both you and your child.
1. Checked Luggage: One way to handle your car seat is to check it in as luggage. This means you’ll give it to the airline staff when you check-in, and it will be placed in the plane’s cargo hold with the rest of the checked bags. It’s important to ensure that your car seat is well-protected – you might want to use a travel bag or wrap it up securely to prevent any damage during the journey.
2. Gate Check: Another choice is gate checking. If you don’t want to bring it on board, this is the option I highly recommend. There is still a potential for damage to your car seat, but the chances of it getting lost is a lot less likely. This option involves bringing your car seat with you through security and to the gate. Right before you board the plane, the airline staff will give you a pink tag and stow the car seat in the cargo hold.
3. Bring It Onboard the Airplane: All U.S. airlines allow you to bring the car seat onboard if you’ve purchased a separate seat for your child. This can provide the most familiar and comfortable seat for your little one during the flight. However, it’s essential to make sure that your car seat is FAA-approved for use on airplanes and can be safely secured in an appropriate aircraft seat.
Decide How You’ll Navigate the Airport With a Car Seat
When you’re moving through an airport with a car seat, there are a few strategies you can use to make things easier:
1. Car Seat Bag: If you’d like to check your car seat, using a dedicated bag is a good choice. These bags shield the car seat from dirt and potential damage as well. A lot of these bags come with straps that allow you to wear it like a backpack. This way, you have your hands free and your car seat stays protected.
2. Travel Belt: Consider a travel belt if you want an option that won’t kill your back. These belts securely fasten the child’s car seat to your roller board, making it easy to roll through the airport without requiring the use of another hand.
3. Travel Cart: Some airports offer carts designed for carrying car seats. These carts help you move the car seat around effortlessly like its a stroller. Your baby can ride in the car seat as you navigate the airport.
4. Car Seat Rollerboard Bag: A bag specially designed to be rolled through the airport similar to your carry-on roller board could be a good option if you’d like to gate-side check the car seat, but don’t need your child to ride in it on the way to the gate.
Whether you choose a car seat bag, a travel belt, or a cart, the goal is to make your journey through the airport as smooth as possible. Consider your comfort, the convenience of carrying the car seat, and the overall ease of getting around with your child and belongings.
How to Navigate the Airplane With a Car Seat
Car seats have become wider, while airplane aisles have become narrower. Some aisles are so narrow that I have to walk at an angle and I’m just an average-sized woman with hips. Personally, boarding the airplane is always the worst part of traveling–especially if you’re bringing a car seat on board. The best thing you can do in this situation is arrive early and be ready to board when they call for people who need extra time.
If the airline doesn’t invite people who need extra time to board first, kindly approach the desk and politely explain that you need extra time to get on the plane and settled. Be kind and the gate attendants will usually let you board early even if there’s no official policy for families.
If you’re able, it’s probably easier to lift your car seat above your head while walking down the airplane aisle. If this is your plan, look for a lightweight car seat. Another good option is a foldable cart made for carrying car seats, which can help you wheel the narrow car seat down the aisle. Choosing the right cart will ensure it fits in the overhead bin or under the seat in front of the car seat you’re installing.
Once you’re at your row, lift the armrests to make it easier to maneuver the car seat into the right seat and secure it. Choosing the right seat will make your life easier when it comes to installing the seat and entertaining your baby during the flight.
Airplane Seating Options if You’re Traveling With a Car Seat
Many airlines have rules about where you can install a car seat on the plane, so make sure to read their policies and do your research before choosing your airplane seats.
You will not be allowed to sit in emergency exit rows or the rows directly in front or behind the exit row if you’re planning to install a car seat on board the plane. Many airlines also will not allow you to install your car seat in the first row or in an aisle seat. A window seat is usually a safe bet as long as you aren’t in front of or behind an exit row.
The best way to ensure a car seat appropriate seat is to go into the airline’s app and choose your seats in advance. This will prevent you and your partner or older kids from being separated in the event that you’re assigned seats that don’t allow your car seat. If you wait until you get to the airport to address the problem, there will be limited seats available to move you to and there’s a good chance your entire family won’t be able to sit together.
If you’re flying First or Business class, be sure to check the airline’s policies. There may be additional limitations on where you can install your car seat.
Rear-Facing Car Seat Versus Forward-Facing Car Seat
Use the car seat in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions, similar to how you would in a car. This means that you can place the car seat in a rear-facing position even when it’s in a forward-facing seat if that’s what the manufacturer recommends. However, if your car seat is a rear-facing seat, you will need to install it that way on the airplane too.
How to Install a Car Seat on an Airplane
Always follow the manufacturer’s instruction manual for your specific car seat and understand the installation process before you get to the airport. In addition to reading the manual, the FAA produced a video that offers up tips for installing car seats in a forward-facing position on a plane.
Tray Table Access If You’re Using a Car Seat on an Airplane
When it comes to installing a car seat on an airplane, one thing to keep in mind is that you might not have access to the tray table. The car seat’s positioning could make it difficult to use the tray table in front of the car seat, so it’s worth considering whether you’ll need it during the flight before you decide whether to bring the car seat on board or to gate-side check it. When considering your child’s own safety, this is a minor consideration, but still worth noting.
Things to Consider if Renting a Car with a Car Seat
Renting a car with a car seat at your vacation destination can be a convenient choice for families on the go, but there are a few important considerations to keep in mind.
First and foremost, it’s important to find out if a car seat is guaranteed as part of the rental package. If not, this could be a deal breaker, as the safety of your child should always come first. What will you do if you arrive at the rental car counter and they don’t have a car seat available? Always have a backup plan for how you’ll handle that unfortunate situation.
Additionally, keep in mind that the specific type and the condition of the car seat may not be guaranteed. While rental companies try to provide safe options, it’s a good idea to inspect the seat before use to ensure it meets your standards.
Another thing to factor in is that you’ll likely need to install the car seat yourself, which might take a bit of time and effort. Making sure you’re well-prepared and informed about the installation process can help ensure a smoother experience during your travels.
Things to Consider if Renting a Car Seat From a Baby Equipment Company
Renting a car seat from a baby equipment company like Babyquip offers convenience, but it’s important to consider a few key points.
First, confirm whether the car seat will be delivered to you directly at the airport, saving you time and hassle. On the flip side, if they don’t offer delivery, you’ll need to plan how you’ll transport your child to and from the car seat.
To ensure a smooth installation process, make sure to find out in advance the brand and type of car seat you’ll be renting. This gives you the opportunity to familiarize yourself with its installation procedures before you need to use it.
By considering these questions in advance, you can make the most of your car seat rental experience while keeping your child’s safety a top priority.
My favorite baby equipment rental company to use when we travel is Babyquip. Their user-friendly platform allows you to easily browse and choose the right car seat for your needs, and it’s delivered directly to your destination. This means you can start your vacation with peace of mind, knowing that a quality car seat will be waiting for you upon arrival. It’s a smart way to streamline your journey while prioritizing your child’s well-being.
Traveling Internationally Requires Special Considerations
Traveling internationally with a car seat presents a set of unique considerations to ensure a smooth and safe journey.
Research the car seat regulations and standards of your destination country, as they may differ from what you’re accustomed to. Verify that your specific car seat is compatible with the local vehicle models and regulations. For example, the Doona car seat and stroller combo that we use is actually banned in Canada. Luckily for us on a recent trip to Waterton Lakes National Park, we had bought the Graco Extend2Fit convertible car seat to make our long drives around Montana more comfortable for our growing boy.
Additionally, keep in mind that non-U.S. airlines might have varying policies on bringing car seats aboard, so familiarize yourself with their guidelines. Given potential language barriers, having clear instructions ready for installing and securing the car seat is important.
Lastly, remember that transportation methods, such as taxis or public transit, might not always be equipped to accommodate car seats, so plan accordingly.
By addressing these factors in advance, you can navigate international travel with a car seat with confidence and ease.
Do I Need to Bring a Car Seat When Traveling?
Not necessarily. The question of whether you need to bring a car seat when traveling doesn’t always have a straightforward answer. It depends on various factors.
First, consider your transportation to and from the airport. If you’re relying on taxis or rideshares, you will need a car seat for your child’s safety. If you’re riding a bus or train, you might not.
Next, think about how you’ll explore your destination. If you plan on using public transportation or walking to see the sights, a car seat might not be necessary. Public transportation systems, like buses or trains, often don’t require car seats.
Additionally, if your trip involves moving between cities, you’ll need to consider how to manage the car seat logistics.
In essence, the decision to bring a car seat hinges on the modes of transportation you’ll use during your trip and the safety measures needed for your child in those contexts.
Flying With a Car Seat Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Are car seats required on airplanes?
No. Car seats are not required if you bring your baby with you on an airplane. Children younger than 2 years old are allowed to be held on your lap as an “infant in arms.” However, you must claim an “infant in arms” when you book your flight because your child will still need to have their own individual ticket that states they are an “infant in arms.”
Is my car seat approved by the FAA for airline use?
Look for an FAA label on your car seat to confirm its approval for airline use. The label can typically be found on the bottom, side, or back of the car seat and is usually in red lettering.
Where should I install my car seat on an airplane?
Airlines will not allow you to install your car seat in an exit row or the rows directly in front of or behind the exit row. Many airlines will also not allow you to install a car seat in the first row or in an aisle seat. With that information in mind, choose your seats in advance to avoid the airlines reassigning your seat at the last minute. Always familiarize yourself with your airline’s policies to avoid the hassle of choosing the wrong seat.
Can I change my mind about which direction my car seat faces mid-flight?
No. Once you decide which direction your car seat faces, you won’t be able to change it midflight.
How do I pack a car seat as checked luggage?
For packing as checked luggage, use a sturdy, padded travel bag specifically designed for car seats. The more padding, the better. Don’t forget to label the car seat as fragile and make sure a tag is attached that has your updated contact information in case it gets lost. Always document its current condition before checking it. Having photos of its condition before you checked it will help you file a claim should it be damaged when you pick it up at baggage claim at your destination.
How do I travel with a baby without a car seat?
If you don’t want to book a seat to bring your car seat on board the plane, you can travel with your child as an “infant in arms” as long as they are under the age of 2 years old. However, keep in mind that the older your child, the harder it is to travel with them on your lap. If your child is younger than 10 months old, it’s pretty easy to keep them entertained on your lap. But once they start standing and learning to walk, it becomes more of a challenge.
If you plan to travel with an “infant in arms,” you will need to claim them as such when you book your flight. They are still required to have a ticket even if you’re not paying extra for it.
Can you recommend the best car seat travel bag for checking my car seat?
The car seat travel bag you choose will depend on the size and model of your car seat. It will also depend on whether you plan to carry it through the airport and check it planeside. In that case, you’ll want one with backpack straps. Of course, I always recommend finding one that is padded. Bonus points if it’s bright in color to help it stand out for the baggage handlers to help make sure it doesn’t get misplaced.