If you and your little one are globe trotters who are always on a plane heading to this or that destination, you’re at the right place. Here, you’ll learn what you need to know about traveling with a car seat on planes as well as what the rules are for various major airlines. You’ll even get a list of the Best FAA Approved Car Seats for air travel.
Instead of always worrying about what might happen when cruising thousands of feet through the air, you and your LO will simply sit back and enjoy the trip. This won’t be brief, but it’s probably the only resource about traveling with a baby on planes you’ll ever need.
Best Aircraft Certified Car Seat?
If you’re looking for value and utility without overspending, check out the Century Drive One 3-in-1 Car Seat. It has no-rethread straps, easily adjustable headrest, an infant insert for newborns, 2 cupholders (not the sturdiest though), booster seat mode, and a tether to secure it forward-facing.
Not the easiest install, but nothing watching good videos can’t solve. It’s relatively lightweight at 14 pounds, and its weight limits of 40 pounds rear facing/49″ and 65 pounds/49″ are about as good as it gets.
For infants and the tiniest tots, get the Cosco and frequent travel, get the 7-pound Cosco Scenera NEXT. And for a versatile option that switches from a stroller to car seat at the pressing of a button, get the Doona Infant Car Seat/Stroller combo.
How to Choose the Best Flying-friendly Car Seat (A Buying Guide)
As you look around for a new (don’t buy used) travel-worthy car seat for your little one, there’s a number of critical considerations to keep in mind. Below is what to look out for when picking out a car seat.
By the time you’re reading this travel car seat purchasing guide, you’ll feel confident about your decision. I bet you’ll end up with a travel companion every US and Canadian airline will allow on planes without issues. So, let’s dive right in.
Car Seat Should Comply With US Motor Vehicle Safety Standard
The best car seat for use on a plane is ALWAYS compliant with the US motor vehicle safety standard, specifically the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 213.
Aircraft-safe car seats have passed the so-called “inversion” test and ARE NOT booster seats. This point is worth repeating: you’re not allowed to use a booster car seat on a plane. Why? It’s because planes don’t have shoulder belts as do cars.
If a car seat fully complies with all applicable US motor vehicle and aircraft safety standards, the label should say so clearly. Look at the image below to get a better understanding of how I mean.
Make Sure the Car Seat is FAA-approved
Only those options that the FAA has approved can go on planes (in the US and Canada). So make sure that the option you’re considering boasts the FAA approval.
Inspect the seat and you’ll find the products airline approval sticker somewhere. Knowing where the sticker is on the seat is important as some airline crew members might ask you to show it. See the FAA sticker on the image toward the end of this post to learn how the sticker looks like.
*Some seats can “switch” from approved to not approved depending on the mode the seat’s on at a given time.
Car Seat Weight: Go for a Lightweight Option (About 7-11 pounds)
If you travel a whole lot throughout the year, be sure to pick a lightweight car seat. Do you know what the lightest FAA-approved plane travel car seat is? Try the Cosco Scenera Next.
This is an ultra-light car seat that many parents use primarily for travel. It weighs about 7 pounds, and it costs $50ish. It might feel somewhat flimsy during use, but take comfort in the fact that ALL safety-certified car seats in the US have passed the most stringent Federal crash tests.
Car Seat Width: How Much Width is Too Wide?
One thing to note about car seat sizes on US planes is that they can be pretty narrow. The seats being too skimpy is one of the reasons the discount US airline Spirit gets lambasted by frequent flyers all the time.
Just in case you didn’t know, the FAA doesn’t in any way regulate seat width (how wide the seat is across) and seat pitch. BTW, seat pitch refers to the available legroom, or the distance between one seat and that in front of it or behind it.
Standard seat width used to be 18.5″, but it’s more like 17″ these days. Check the width measurement of the seat you’re eyeing and decide whether it’s compact enough for the seats of the airlines you mostly travel with. The Cosco Scenera Next has a seat width of 17″ and it’s one of the narrowest lightweight travel car seats I know of.
As for the ever-diminishing legroom/seat pitch, it used to be 35″ but it seems to have shrunk to 31″ on some airlines. Some planes have seats with a 28″ legroom!
One strange thing about planes is that not all the seats have the same dimensions. Here’s good news! I bumped into an app on a site TripAdvisor owns (seatguru.com), and this app provides very useful information. It provides info on plane seating maps as well as actual seat dimensions of at least 800 car seats.
Generally, you should be fine if your travel car seat measures somewhere between 17″ and 19.” The narrower the better as long as the seat doesn’t become too uncomfortable for the tiny passenger who uses it.
Ease of Use and Cleaning
When choosing a travel car seat, you want to pick an option that installs easily. If a car seat requires you to bring the user manual for the install, stay away and buy something else instead. All of the recommendations on my list are pretty easy to install; otherwise, I’d not have included them.
The easiest to use travel car seats use the LATCH system. Seats with a base and LATCH or ISOFIX as the only attachment system aren’t allowed on US planes.
This doesn’t mean that all travel car seats with a car base can’t be used on US planes. The Nuna Pipa RX comes with a base, but the base itself is FAA-approved. And you can ABSOLUTELY use this car seat on US aircraft.
If your kids spits up (tykes do it all the time) or spill messy drinks on the car seat, you want to be able to clean it easily, fast, and effectively. For this reason, it makes complete sense to choose a flying infant car seat or toddler car seat with removable covers. If these seat covers are also washable in a washer, that’s even better!
Extra Features on a Plane-friendly Car Seat
For the most part, seats that offer just the basic features are reasonably priced. But if you prefer the finer things in life and almost always go for the nicest products with all the bells and whistles, be ready to pay for the quality difference.
I’ve seen cheap options that offer sippy cup holders so your baby can stay hydrated and snack during travel. But extras like these are almost always found on pricier choices.
Some of the better options may also rotate from 180 to 360 degrees. A rotating travel car seat makes life easier for parents because the added technology makes getting kids in and out of car seats a breeze.
But it does seem to me that car seat rotation offers more convenience while riding in a car versus on a plane. You swivel the seat to the door and quickly get the tyke out.
Car Seat Cost
There’s no right or wrong cost when it comes to travel car seats. Unless the purchase feels like a rip-off when you weigh the price point against construction quality, comfort, and features, you should be fine with any approved car seat.
Admittedly, some extremely lightweight travel car seats feel quite flimsy. You could be forgiven for feeling like they mightn’t do the job if the worst happens. But here’s the truth: ALL FAA-approved travel car seats have been thoroughly tested and found safe for the use we buy them for.
Budget plane-friendly car seats cost as little as $50 (think the Cosco Scenera Next) while others may cost well over $500. Everyone has a budget, so make up your mind on what to purchase.
How to Install a Car Seat Correctly on a Plane
The idea of installing a car seat on a plane can feel pretty daunting to many. But it’s not as hard as you probably imagine. If the seat is easy to install by design, you should be able to complete the task in no time. Below is a step-by-step guide on how to install a forward-facing car seat on a plane:
Before doing anything, make sure you’re actually installing an FAA-approved seat. If you’d like to watch a mom executing each of the steps outlined below, here’s a video that explains it all.
Step #1: Adjust the harness straps so that they properly fit the child.
Step #2: Swing the armrest up if possible to create more room for yourself as you work.
Step #3: Take the child restraint device (in this case the car seat) and centrally place it on the plane’s seat, forward facing.
I assume you bought a ticket for your kiddo or somehow managed to convince the flight people to let you use an empty seat on the plane for free. It’s not too hard BTW.
Step #4: Grab the seat belt and thread it through the forward-facing belt path behind the seat pad. Next, fasten the seat belt securely. Fasten the seat belt as tight as possible. But how do you do this?
To fasten the seat correctly, grasp the end of the seat belt with one hand and place the other hand across the top of the seat. Put one need on the middle of car seat and back down on it as you pull the seatbelt. This simple step makes a huge difference.
How to “test” a car seat to make sure it’s as tight as possible and won’t move in-flight: Hold the seat and give it a firm side-to-side shove as well as a front-to-back shove. If the car seat shifts more than 1″ in either of the tests, it’s not securely fastened and you need to take corrective action.
Step #5: Lower the armrest (if you’d raised it, that is) and put the baby on the car secure seat.
Step #6: Slide the shoulder straps over the child’s small shoulders.
Step #7: Take the buckle “tongue”/clip and insert it into the buckle at the bottom of the harness. Once you do this, pull up and adjust the shoulder straps to make sure that the buckle clip is safely and securely engaged.
Step #8: Grab both sides of the chest clip, align them, and snap them securely into place. What’s the correct position of the chest clip? It should be positioned on the armpit level.
Step #9: Make the final adjustments to the shoulder straps to make sure there’s no slack around the shoulders. The shoulder straps should be snug against the little passenger’s tiny body; they shouldn’t be too tight nor too loose…just snug.
FAA-Approved Plane-friendly Car Seat FAQs
Below is a list of super questions you might be asking about flying with a car seat. I believe I included every one of them, but if I left any aspect you’re curious about unanswered, feel free to email me about it via the contact form or by tell me about it on the comments box below.
Are You Required to Use a Car Seat on a Plane?
No, you’re NOT required to use a car seat on a plane. Some parents choose to travel without a car seat and simply hold their babies on their laps, something you can’t do when traveling in a car with your baby, at least in the US. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics as well as the Federal Aviation Association recommend using an FAA-approved child-restraint device such as a car seat or a CARES harness when traveling with a baby a plane.
Why Don’t Airlines Require Parents to Use Car Seats?
It seems to me that airlines should require people traveling with little ones to always keep them restrained with an approved car seat or the CARES harness. But this isn’t what happens, and I doubt a day will come when using a car seat on planes will be standard across all the airlines of the world. The question is: why?
One big reason why the US government and other governments across the globe don’t require using a car seat on planes is that air travel is substantially safer than road travel. Now, that’s a HUGE fact.
The average person rarely thinks about a mishap happening when driving down to the local grocery store for kitchen supplies or when driving on a busy highway to attend a friend’s birthday party.
But when plane travel accident and fatalities statistics are compared with those of driving, it’s evident that flying is extremely safer than riding in a car. Read the statement below and see how you feel about traveling by plane versus driving.
Reliable statistical data shows that there is a 1 in 11,000,000 annual risk of being killed during plane travel versus a 1 in 35000 chance of being killed in a car accident [source:PBS.org].
If families flew more and drove cars less starting this minute, the world would be a much happier place because there would be way fewer deaths.
Another reason airlines would be happy with the rules as they are could be that it makes family travel less complicated. I mean, lugging a car seat through airports isn’t fun at all. No car seat on planes, easier, more convenient travel.
As a result, more families travel each year. And this means that more revenue flows into the airlines’ statement of comprehensive income.
Do You Really Need a Car Seat on a Plane?
You don’t absolutely need a car seat when traveling with a baby on a plane, but you NEED a safe way to hold them at take off and landing. You also need to restrain the little traveler whenever the air bus hits a turbulent stretch. In other words, it’s super important to bring a car seat or CARES harness when traveling by air with your LO.
While a car seat isn’t an absolutely necessity, it’s without a doubt the safest way to keep a busy kid restrained when cruising on a plane. Planes have seatbelts, and that’s nice. However, the seatbelts on planes aren’t designed with the safety needs of small passengers in mind.
Children under 40 pounds in weight generally can’t use the seatbelts on airplanes. Since they need to stay safe and secure just like adults, be sure to bring an FAA-approved car seat or CARES child safety device.
FAA, NTSB and AAP Recommend Using a Car Seat On Airplanes
The FAA, the American Academy of Pediatrics, as well as the National Transportation Safety Board ALL recommend that parents/caregivers buckle up tykes in approved safety devices. Why? Because most children can’t use those seat belts without threading them through a restraint such as an FAA-approved car seat or a CARES restraint system such as the Toddler Airplane Harness.
The Toddler Airplane Harness behind the Amazon link above is for babies weighing at least 22 pounds. Many reviewers have found that this safety device fits best at 30 pounds.
BTW, the CARES child restrain system is for kids in the 22-44 pound range according to the FAA. It’s for young children between the ages 1 and 4. And if you’re curious about whether you can use this type of restraint in a car or elsewhere, the answer is NO, you can’t. The CARES restraint is designed for use on planes ONLY.
How Do I Know That My CARES Child Safety Device Has FAA Approval?
The CARES harness has a label, and this label clearly states that it is FAA-approved (if it actually is approved, of course). The label looks like what you see in the image below.
The label should read:
FAA APPROVED in accordance with 14 CFR 21 . 305 (d) as well as APPROVED FOR AIRCRAFT USE ONLY.
You can only use the CARES device if your child is sitting in a plane’s window seat or a center seat. This is the placement the FAA recommends when it comes to installing car seats on a plane.
I’ll let you in on a little secret: frequently-flying moms and dads report being told by airline crew that they can’t use the CARES device on the plane. Why? Because the person they were dealing with actually wasn’t sure they could!
Airline Attendants Aren’t Always Sure Whether Passengers Can Use the CARES Device
Here’s a little trick to arm yourself with if you’re ever told you can’t use your device: in a really calm manner, point a finger at the FAA approval label on the safety device on your kid. Parents who did this reported that the airline attendant simply walked away, obviously feeling a little silly for bothering a passenger who lives and travels right.
What Are FAA-approved Car Seats?
How do you prove to a flight crew member that your FAA-approved Chicco MyFit is actually approved for use on aircraft? Simply show the seat’s airline approval sticker.
The airline approval sticker can be a white label with tons of black print, and it’s pretty easy for airline crew to read the content in a hurry and miss or ignore the most important information. But it’s not always a sticker with print on it; sometimes it’s just a simple label with a plane pictured on it.
Both kinds of labels/stickers are acceptable and you shouldn’t face problems when dealing with aircraft crew. But problems sometimes arise, and I’m about to give you a skinny on what to do.
Take a look at the airline approval sticker below and see what it looks like. BTW, the little sticker below relates to the Chicco MyFit car seat.
The second red statement on the label can confuse a busy and probably exhausted flight crew member. “When used without the harness system as a belt positioning seat: This restraint is Not Certified for Use in Aircraft.”
The meaning of this statement read in its entirely shouldn’t confuse anyone. But if the reader gives the sticker nothing but a quick glance, they ONLY see the final part of the second statement in red:
…: This restraint is Not Certified for Use in Aircraft.”
Read right, the entire statement means that Chicco Myfit Car Seat is actually FAA-approved WHEN the child is restrained by the seat’s safety harness.
BUT as soon as you stop using the harness and use the aircraft’s seatbelt to secure the child, it’s now a booster seat. And booster seats ARE NOT allowed on US planes.
I once traveled to a country where the airport crew asked me to display my airline approval sticker at check in. I did, and there wasn’t a problem. If they ask you to do the same before you even reach security as they did in my case, confidently fish the sticker out and show them.
Can You Bring a Car Seat On a Plane?
Yes, you can bring a car seat on a plane IF the airline allows you to do that. What surprises many US travelers when flying to overseas destinations is how other societies don’t obsess over car seats on planes the way the American, British, or Canadian society does.
The FAA and NTSB believe kids on airplanes should always be in a car seat especially when they need restraining the most: at landing, take off, and when the plane encounters turbulent patches.When there’s turbulence outside, a seatbelt sign comes on, and at this point, you’re supposed to buckle up your LO if they’re not already strapped in.
If you’re in the US, not only are you encouraged to bring a car seat on a plane, but your right to do so remain protected by the law of the land.
I suggest that you familiarize yourself with the applicable car seat rules on planes so you can become more adept at tackling any ignorant crew who might give you trouble. In case you’re wondering, Canadian air travelers enjoy rules and rights that aren’t dissimilar to those for US residents.
Does My Child Need to Use the Car Seat Throughout the Trip?
No. When the plane is airborne and there’s no turbulence outside, you don’t have to keep your little one strapped in. However, every time the plane starts battling turbulence, you definitely should buckle the child in. Or hold the baby on your lap if you didn’t bring an infant car seat on the plane.
But why would you want to carry your LO on your lap with a safe secure FAA-approved car seat sitting right beside you? According to the FAA, the safest plane on a plane for a young child is in an approved child safety restrain system such as an FAA-approved car seat or an FAA-approved CARES harness.
Which Are the Best FAA-approved Car Seats for Air Travel?
No one should point at any FAA-approved car seat for traveling on planes and say it’s the best. A particular car seat model that works great for a 4-year-old may not be the best choice for a 5-year-old or a 6-year-old. It’s vital to choose a flying car seat that’s age-appropriate for your child.
You also want to choose an option that’s light as well as easy to install and get off a plane’s seat. And if you want to check the car seat in as baggage, choose something that’d fit in the aircraft’s overhead bin without a fight. But there’s almost always not enough room overhead for a car seat.
5 Best FAA-approved Car Seats
Below is the list:
1.CARES Harness (aircraft-approved car seat alternative)
2. Cosco Scenera NEXT Convertible: Best for Tiny Infants
3.Cosco Mighty Fit 65 DX Convertible Car Seat: Also Good
4. Doona Infant Car Seat: Best Car Seat/Stroller Combo for Flying
5. Century Drive On 3-in-1 Car Seat: Best Value
1.CARES Harness: Best FAA-Approved Flying Safety Device
What if you don’t to travel with a car seat of any kind for some weird reason but still don’t want to lap-carry your little one because…safety? You can always spend $80ish on the best world’s best aircraft-approved device, the CARES Harness.
Did you that this is the ONLY FAA-recommended car seat alternative? I thought you should know. This simple but protective air travel safety device for tots works best (and is designed) for children in the 22-44 pound range. It’s for kids in the 2-4 range up to 40″ in height.
This device weighs all of 1 pound, which completely solves the I-don’t-want-to-lug-a-heavy-car-seat-through-airports problem. But being extremely lightweight doesn’t take anything away from this parent-loved kid safety device.
It features a 5-point harness that attaches to a red “loop” at the top.
One thing: after use, you can easily pack this safety device in your purse. Yes, that’s how compact it stores and how lightweight it is. I know a parent or two who stopped traveling with heavy car seats once they discovered this wonderful car seat alternative on planes.
Here’s the correct way to set up the CARES Kids Fly Safe Plane Travel Harness on a plane’s seat (the instructions that come with the product aren’t very useful)
1.Open the tray table on the seat behind your kiddo’s seat. If you’re rather tall, you can hunch over the seat to open the tray table; otherwise, you’ll have to walk to the row behind you or stand on your kiddo’s seat.
Note: you can’t use this device UNLESS you’re sitting behind another seat on the plane. This means you shouldn’t choose a rear bulkhead seat for your LO on any plane.
Here’s another thought: If the airline lets you pre-board, get on the plane and do the setup before the passenger behind your kiddo’s seat gets in. And if you can’t pre-board, at least try to get in first for the little task.
2.Grab the harness and loop its red strap over your kid’s seat. You want to make sure that the black straps of the harness are facing you.
3. Slide the red strap down until you almost get to the top of the tray table slot.
4.Here comes the hardest part of the install: tightening the red strap. Use/pull the black tail to loosen the red strap, and to loosen it, pull its loose end. To tighten, move the slider around to take up slack and make sure the red strap doesn’t get loose.
The black straps should stay centered in the seat and if you pull them, the strap shouldn’t slide down. You’ll have to keep shifting the slider until you get the red strap tight enough.
5.Close the tray table (this is why I said get in early enough).
6.Locate the seatbelt on the plane and loop it through the bottom of the black straps (these straps are facing the front, remember?). The kid isn’t in the seat at this point, and you’re doing this part to check that the height is OK and to figure out how the device works.
7.Loosen and unclip the seatbelt.
8.Before you get the kid in, put a seat-sized anti-slip mat on the seat because airplane seats tend to be super slippery. And no, you’ll have to buy this mat separately since this deal doesn’t include it.
Have the kid sit as far back as possible and tell them to stay there as you work the harness. But kids are naturally squirmy, so why not ask for help from a flight attendant?
To adjust harness height for a good fit, pull the loose end of the black straps to tighten and use the gray buttons on these straps for tension release, which loosens them.
9. Drape the black straps down your kiddo’s body and proceed to clip the sternum strap. The nice thing about this thing is that the top straps stay rigidly attached and won’t easily move.
10. Loop the seatbelt through the black straps’ lower bits and clip it right in. Finally, tighten the seatbelt and do this correctly. The trick is to get the seatbelt pretty low and tighten it seatbelt in a way that pulls the little passenger to the back of the seat rather than down onto the seat. Use the gray buttons to adjust the height as needed.
How tight should you tighten the seatbelt? Tighter than you would a car’s seatbelt. Don’t worry that your kiddo may be suffer discomfort — because the seatbelt is quite wide and won’t dig into the small body.
11. Finally, secure the seatbelt correctly. Even the most docile of kids can release the typical seatbelt on a plane. So what to do? I learned that looping the seatbelt’s loose end over it and then through the black straps and finally back round creates a knot that secures the seatbelt.
While knotting like this may make getting out in a crash dangerous, planes rarely crash, and this is comforting. And the good thing is that undoing the install is easier than setting it up.
Flight Attendants Generally Recognize This Device
Flight attendants often recognize this safety device and they rarely have issues with them. But in case an attendance asks, simply show them the sticker on the strap of this device that says FAA approved. For complete peace of mind during travel, bring a copy of air travel regulations and show them to anyone who may not be aware the device is aircraft-approved.
A note on setup instructions: This thing ideally should have all the setup instructions and safety information silk-screened to the straps, but that’s not the case here.
Instead, you get paper tags/stickers that can fall off if you ever wash this device. Speaking of washing it, this harness can be quite difficult to clean if your little one ever vomited on it, which happens.
- Substantially cheaper than a car seat
- An aircraft-approved car seat alternative
- Extremely portable
- A great idea if you won’t need a car seat at your destination
- Not hard to use if you know how to set it up
- Not easy to use if you don’t know how to, and instructions are not crystal clear
- You need to pre-board or get on the plane early enough or you’ll disturb the passenger behind
2. Cosco Scenera NEXT Convertible: Best for Tiny Infants
*I noticed that this product isn’t available on Amazon US. The link above takes you to Amazon Canada.
So is the Cosco Scenera NEXT Convertible Car Seat FAA approved? This lightweight, narrow convertible car seat came on the scene in 2015, and it’s FAA approved.
And the FAA approval is found near the rear-facing belt path. The manufacture date is located on the seat’s right side close to the rear-facing belt path as well, and it’s 8 years.
It’s one of the cheapest and most popular aircraft-approved convertible car seats out there.
Here are quick facts about the Cosco Scenera NEXT
Seat width at the widest point: 17″
Lifespan/Expiration: 8 years
Product Weight: 6.8 pounds
Rear Facing Weight Limit: 5-40 pounds
Rear Facing Height Limit: 19″-40″
Forward Facing Weight Limit: 22″-40″
Forward Facing Height Limit: 29″-43″
It weighs slightly less than 7 pounds, which makes it one of the lightest FAA approved travel seats out there. Getting through airports with this option certainly won’t be a problem no matter your size and strength.
While it isn’t expensive, it offers parents a bunch of nice features usually found on pricier options. For example, it comes with an easily detachable cup holder. You can switch this cup holder from one side to the other. Or you can remove it altogether.
At just 17″ at its widest portion, the NEXT is quite narrow and compact. And because it easily installs at many different recline angles, it fits even the smallest seats very well.
But even though the NEXT is narrow and fits pretty much all plane seats, it may not always fit as well when fully reclined, especially if the seat pitch isn’t spacious, which seems to be the case on many planes these days.
For kids who can sit upright unassisted though, I doubt you could find a travel car seat that fits the smallest aircraft seats better.
You can store it under most large full-size strollers. Or inside the typical umbrella stroller. Or you can hang it on the handle of a smaller stroller with the top tether strap. That’s how compact the NEXT is.
One really attractive aspect about the NEXT is that it gives tiny infants a great fit, especially those in the 2.5-3 range. Its weight limit starts from 5 pounds and stops at 40 pounds. This means it allows for a decent duration of time rear-facing.
One thing I didn’t particularly like about it is that the weight limit forward-facing is 22-40 pounds. By the time most kids outgrow this travel car seat rear-facing, they’ve already outgrown it forward-facing! Not a big deal because it’s not too expensive.
How easy is it to install the Cosco Scenera NEXT? I don’t know of many travel car seats that are easier to install rear-facing with the lower anchors or with the seatbelt.
It reclines readily, but earlier versions of the Cosco Scenera didn’t give parents clear rules regarding upright installation.
Cosco updated this product so that when you install it rear-facing for a kiddo who is mature enough to sit upright, the grommets found on the bottom of its shell MUST stay in contact with the backseat.
As for the newest versions of the NEXT (post mid 2019 versions), you shouldn’t install the seat at a more upright position rear-facing than the level line. Be
Here’s another great thing about this plane travel companion: the Cosco Scenera allows for newborn harness routing. This added harness routing makes it possible to safely transport the tiniest of passengers.
The design of this seat incorporates alternate routing on its underside, which makes it possible to tighten the harness down enough.
*The manual states that you can’t use the newborn routing on the NEXT’s second slot up. But I learned that Cosco recently said it’s OK to use the newborn routing on the second slot up if the tot is too thin that it’d be impossible to fasten the straps tight enough without using this slot.
When changing the straps to newborn rerouting, be sure to check the manual to avoid mistakes. BTW, you MUST reroute the crotch buckle too (there are 3 crotch buckle positions, which is nice).
However, installing this car seat forward-facing isn’t a breeze. But it’s not too hard or anything. Be sure to read the manual or watch helpful YT videos to learn how to do it right.
I like that you can use this seat to sit 3 kids across in most space-starved situations. And here’s a list of the best car seats for small cars.
If you’ll travel overseas, be sure to get a locking clip. In most cars outside the US, you typically need a locking clip to install a car seat. Fortunately, Cosco sells this clip. You can also get the clip from another car seat, which means this isn’t really a bummer.
Finally, you can buy the Scenera NEXT in at least 20 different colors and patterns. There’s a color/pattern combo for everyone.
- A super lightweight travel car seat (FAA approved)
- Easily sits 3 across in most compact cars
- Very easy to install rear facing
- 3 crotch buckle positions
- Sold at a great price point
- Available in a variety of cute patterns and colors
- Narrow and fits pretty much all airplane seats
- Has a removable and switchable cup holder at this price point
- Allows for newborn harness routing
- No locking clip for installing car seat outside US
- Forward-facing limit almost meaningless
- Installing forward-facing not very easy
3. Doona Infant Car Seat: Best Car Seat/Stroller Combo for Flying
If you’re on some plane with baby a few times each year, you may want to invest in the rather steeply priced Doona Infant Car Seat.
At over $500, it’s many times pricier than the popular Scenera NEXT and Cosco Mighty Fit 65 DX. But is this astronomical price point justified? Let’s see.
It weighs 16.5 pounds, which isn’t super lightweight or anything. But there are way heavier travel options out there. As for the seat’s LATCH base, it weighs 10.3 pounds.
Combined, you’re looking a 26.8-pound piece of baby gear, and that’s heavy! But you can travel without the base if this excessive weight bothers you.
But wait: is the Doona Infant Car Seat FAA approved? Yes it is. Don’t worry — you don’t have to bring the heavy LATCH base on the plane if you don’t want to. Because the Doona Infant Car Seat allows you to install it via the aircraft’s seatbelt.
You may opt to use the CARES restraint instead of this heavy car seat. If you choose this strategy, you could wheel baby right up to the gate, get baby out right at the plane’s door, and let the airline’s crew handle the heavy thing from there.
Once on the plane, install the CARES restraint. And when the big bird lands, the crew will hand back your stroller/car seat so you can load baby back in and wheel them through custom and cargo pickup.
There’s no heavy car seat to lug, nor do you need to hold baby in your arms when processing through custom and luggage pickup. Clearly, it’s a pain-free way of doing air travel with an infant or 2-year-old. For newborns and infants, use the provided infant insert made from bamboo for breathability.
When gate-checking this car seat, make sure it stays in Doona’s nicely padded car seat travel bag to minimize dings and dents in transit.
Alternatively, you can take the Doona with you to the plane and install it because it’s air travel certified.
This is an infant-only flying car seat. Its weight limit of 4-35 pounds and no forward-facing mode makes this clear.
If you’re wondering what the height limit is, it’s 32″, about 8″ lower than what either the way-cheaper Mighty Fit DX or Cosco Scenera NEXT offers. Given the low-ish weight limit of 35 pounds, I doubt you’ll be able to use it past month 24.
But being a rear-facing only travel car seat/stroller shouldn’t be a problem if you’re into buying purpose-driven products rather than the longest-lasting ones.
Some parents love infant car seats that instantly convert into a stroller, and this choice comes highly recommended.
When getting into Uber, the driver needs not open the trunk to store the stroller because you press a button and it converts into an infant car seat. Uber and other cab drivers will love you for how stress-free your car seat really is!
The wheels of the stroller aren’t rubber, but they roll nicely on airport concrete and smooth sidewalks. It maneuvers through crowded spaces great because of how small and compact it is.
And when you want to go watch the ocean with your little one, set up the car seat mode and carry baby with the handle. There’s even an integrated shade to keep things nice and comfortable during the quiet walk.
You can go shopping, get into restaurants, go up stairs, and even do doctor visits with this thing. It takes up little space. And if the waiting lobby at the doctor’s office isn’t roomy and the stroller/car seat is getting in the way, simply retract the wheels and leave it on the floor and everyone will be happy.
- Air travel certified
- Detachable base to make it easier to travel with
- Instantly changes from a car seat to a stroller: versatility
- Bamboo infant support insert provided
- Integrated shade for baby
- Has a carry handle for when used as a carrier
- Wheels retract
- Expensive for a rear-facing only seat
- You likely won’t use it past month 24 You likely won’t use it past month 24
4. Cosco Mighty Fit 65 DX Convertible Car Seat: Also Good
If you’re shopping for a lightweight car seat that sits 3 across in most vehicles while also being air travel-friendly, look no further than the Cosco Mighty Fit 65 DX. At 13 pounds, one can’t say it’s the lightest choice, but it’s still a lightweight choice.
How wide is the Cosco Mighty Fit 65 DX? It measures about 21.5″ in width. It isn’t the narrowest option available though, but you should be able to use it on most planes.
Yes, this is a sub-$100 car seat, but it’s FAA approved and safe for use in cars as well. When I saw the price point of this product, I thought it was most likely made using sub-par materials. But I was proven wrong when I saw the actual car seat and touched it.
Some parents use the Cosco Mighty Fit 65 DX as an everyday car seat, but many tend to get it as a backup/secondary seat or mainly for travel. You can bring it on a plane because it’s plane-approved. It provides side impact protection at this price point, something laudable.
Not only does it have this nicely modern look, but the fabric also feels nice and velvety. Nothing about it made us question its safety.
Like its affordable counterpart the Cosco Scenera, the Mighty Fit 65 offers features you normally wouldn’t find in a cheap car seat. It comes with a removable cup holder, and I know a bunch of expensive options that lack this all-important feature. But this cup holder could clip better than that.
Flaws aren’t rare even in the priciest of car seats, and I wasn’t surprised that there was a flaw or two about the Mighty 65.
First off, the straps get all twisty and annoying when securing them. There’s no trick to secure the straps without them tangling, and this has happened many times. As if working twisty straps isn’t bad enough, these straps did cause marks on our kiddo’s skin. Fortunately for us, using strap pads from an old infant car seat solved the issue.
You can install the Cosco Mighty Fit 65 using either LATCH or seatbelt. Both are doable, but installing via LATCH is easier.
When installing via the seatbelt (rear-facing), it helped to lift the cover as this made it easy to access the belt path. Hubby pulled hard on the belt, and everything looked nice and tight, except it wasn’t because there was still a bit of slack at the seatbelt’s lower fold.
Overall, rear-facing installation isn’t super easy, but forward-facing installs are relatively easy. Note: remove car seat protector before installing this seat rear-facing. BECAUSE you’ll never get a tight install that way. In the reclined position, Cosco recommends using a rolled blanket to get the recline angle right.
Its rear-facing weight limit is 40 pounds, which is good. A forward-facing limit of 65 pounds makes it a more attractive bet than the Scenera NEXT (at least in this respect).
I suggest that you choose an airline that allows pre-boarding so you can install this car seat without hurry. Or practice installing it until it becomes second nature. But the seat has deep padding and feels comfortable.
- Looks really nice and modern, and neither construction nor parts feel cheap
- A good secondary car seat and travel option
- Has a cup holder yet it’s a cheap travel car seat
- Built-in side-impact protection
- Available at a sub-$100 (check current price)
- Lightweight and easy to carry through airports
- A high forward-facing limit of 65 pounds
- A decently high limit rear-facing (40lbs)
- Installing rear-facing can be frustrating especially when you have a car seat protector
- Straps are twisty and might leave marks on tender skin
- Installing rear-facing can be tricky
- Cup holder could be designed better (doesn’t always clip securely)
If you’re looking for a travel-friendly car seat that has it all yet doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, you better consider the Century Drive On 3-in-1 Car Seat. It offers side-impact protection and has earned the requisite FAA aircraft-use approval.
Unlike all the other car seats in these FAA car seat reviews, this one comes with not one but two cup holders. And they’re deep enough so that you and the small passenger to your side won’t spill drinks and whatnot. I wonder why they don’t have cup holders on plane seats.
But while this seat comes with 2 cupholders, I found that they’re not as sturdy as they should be. Some people have had their little ones pop the cupholders right off without trying too hard. Definitely a design flaw that needs a bit of improvement.
Another thing that made the Century Drive On 3-in-1 stand out to me was its superior weight limit. While most of its contenders offer an upper limit of just 65 pounds, this one offers a substantially higher weight limit of 100 pounds.
Did you hear that? 100 pounds (100lbs for forward-facing in the booster mode BTW). For aircraft use, you access up to 65 pounds of weight capacity forward-facing, which isn’t different than what the other options offer.
The booster mode lets you ride around with your kiddo up to 100 pounds or 57″. The rear and forward facing modes both have a height limit of 49″, but the rear-facing limit is 40 pounds versus 65 pounds forward-facing.
It’s slim design albeit not the narrowest choice in the car seat universe. And it easily fits most decently generous aircraft seats.
Here’s yet another aspect that parents everywhere love about the Century Drive One 3-in-1: it comes with a no-thread 5-point harness.
Being a no-rethread 5-point harness means you’re able to dial in the perfect fit without doing too much work.
It means the straps aren’t twisty, and twisty straps suck. What’s more, the headrest adjusts up and down as needed, not a problem. In my experience, most cheap car seats rarely have a no-rethread harness.
But we’re not done yet. Unlike most cheap travel car seats, this one lets you tilt it to multiple recline positions rear-facing, but it’s not a super easy install.
In fact, you might struggle to set this seat at the most comfortable rear-facing position, but using a rolled towel does help, and the manufacturer actually recommends this.
Installing with the seatbelt tends to work easier and better than using LATCH. Be sure to watch good install videos to learn how to do each.
Then there’s the included infant insert, an extra that makes life a whole lot comfier for younger kids who fly a lot.
Width? At 19″, it’s slightly wider than the Cosco Mighty Fit 65 DX (21.5″), but still narrow enough for plane use.
In terms of weight, it weighs 14 pounds, which is somewhere between lightweight and not-too-heavy. Perhaps that’s why it feels sturdier and better made compared to its somewhat flimsier contenders.
And if you love products made using recycled materials, consider this air travel seat. The padding is machine washable, and the material looks synthetic and durable.
You can get this seat in at least 3 colors namely Metro (gray), Splash (dark blueish), and Berry. Not many color options, but there’s enough to make most frequently flying parents happy.
This is what to pick when you want a travel-worthy car seat with premium features that doesn’t cost the entire world.
But be sure you don’t have space issues in the backseat, and that you don’t use airlines with the skimpiest seats ever. Because this isn’t the narrowest choice available.
Overall, it’s a decent travel seat, and lots of parents pick it as a second seat, but they soon realize it’s not a bad primary seat.
- Decent padding and made using recycled materials
- A nice-looking FAA-certified 3-in-1 seat
- Highly adjustable and compact
- Easy-to-adjust headrest
- Completely no-rethread 5 point harness
- Great padding and machine washable
- Booster seat mode with a max limit of 100lbs
- Infant insert for newborns
- 2 cup holders, one for parent and one for kiddo
- Not the most lightweight, but this is likely because it’s better built
- Cup holders easy to yank off
- Installing rear-facing can be challenging, but wedging the seat with a rolled towel helps
Are There Car Seats You Can’t Use on Airplanes?
Very few Canadian and American baby car seats are disallowed on planes. But yes, there’s a bunch of car seats that you can’t bring on airplanes.
The Nuna Pipa Lite R Infant Car Seat and its older version, the Nuna Pipa Lite, can’t be used on planes. Why? Because these seat models don’t have a seatbelt guide.
You can’t install these seats on any plane without the base, and car seat base-dependent installs aren’t allowed on airplanes. However, the Nuna Pipa Lite RX with Relx Base can be used on planes since it allows for baseless installation.
A List of 7 Car Seats You CANNOT Use on a Plane
If you’re in the US or Canada, there’s only a handful of car seats you can’t use on a plane. Below is a complete list (as of this writing’s publish date) of car seats you can’t bring on a plane in the US and Canada.
1. Nuna Pipa Lite R Infant Car Seat (Nuna recently made an FAA-approved version, the Nuna Pipa RX with the Relx Base).
2. Nuna Pipa Lite
3. Cybex Sirona S (too heavy/cumbersome to install:31 pounds and too wide for most planes:20″)
4.Evenflo Revolve 360
5.Baby Jogger City Turn
6. Nuna REVV (super compact but not FAA-approved, sadly)
7. Ride Safer Travel Vest
That’s a rather short list considering that there’s tons and tons of American and Canadian car seats out there.
Why Can’t Car Seats in Many Countries Be Secured On US Planes?
It so happens that car seats made outside of the United States and Canada can’t be secured on most planes. Below is a set of 3 reasons why many non-US car seats aren’t US plane travel-friendly:
Reason #1: Most seats made outside of the US and Canada have only one way to secure the seat on a plane. The seats have one of three seat-attachment systems: LATCH, ISOFIX, or UAS BUT don’t allow you to secure them via the seatbelt on the plane.
If a non-US car seats relies on the lower ISOFIX attachments to secure on a plane, you won’t be able to secure it at all if the plane has ONLY seatbelts.
In comparison, pretty much all US and Canadian car seats install easily via either an attachment system or through the airplanes’ seatbelt. And this makes all the difference.
Reason #2: The overwhelming majority of car seats manufactured for non-US markets are extremely bulky and oversized. Very few non-US car seats would be accepted on a size-conscious budget airline such as Spirit. Because very few would ever fit on the teeny tiny seats on the plane.
The seat would be super cumbersome to install if they even would fit the space-spacing seats on American planes. US car seat makers pump out tons of nice-looking and super-compact car seats that work extremely well with US airplane passenger seats.
Reason #3: Some countries have certain car seats that require using a top tether in the rear-facing position. Australia is the only country I’m aware of that requires the use of a top tether to secure a car seat on a plane.
But no, not all Australian car seats require a top tether. In fact, AS/NZS 1754 compliant car seats in New Zealand and Australia DO NOT need a top tether at all to attach to a plane.
Note: If you own an Australian or New Zealand car seat manufactured before 2013, there’s a very high chance it’s not AS/NZS 1754-compliant and may require a top tether to secure.
There’s one little problem with Australian car seats: planes in many countries including the United States’ planes don’t have tether points for securing the car seat in the rear-facing position.
As for European car seats, pretty much all of them use the lower ISOFIX attachments and DO NOT require a top tether of any kind to secure on an airplane.
Do Non-US Airlines Allow Car Seats?
Can you bring a car seat on non-Canadian and non-US planes? In the US and Canada, the law allows parents to use a car seat to restrain kids while aboard a plane. As long as the seat has earned FAA’s approval, you’re good to go. But things aren’t always black and white when it comes to using a car seat on non-US/non-Canadian airlines.
Car seat rules on US and Canadian rules are pretty similar across the airlines. But outside of the US, be prepared for little surprises if you’re not well versed with the applicable regulations for each airline.
Each airline outside of North America and Canada (think Europe, Australia, Asian countries, African airlines, etc) sets its own car seat rules. If you travel to any of these foreign destinations with the notion that plane car seat rules are universal, don’t say nobody told you.
Here’s a piece of advice for when traveling overseas: Always make effort to know the specific airline operating there. Don’t stop there; learn the car seat policy of that airline.
You may find that the best airline for you and your family costs more than others. But you’ll still want to fly with that company if they are a car seat-friendly business especially when others in the country aren’t.
Are Car Seats Counted as Baggage By Airlines?
Airlines typically don’t count baby strollers and car seats as standard baggage. This means you won’t have to pay to check them for absolutely FREE.
If you choose to check the car seat at the gate or at the ticket desk because convenience is super important to you, go ahead. But why do all this if you buy a ticket for your kiddo and install the car seat next to your seat so you can stay close to your LO throughout the trip?
As a medical professional practicing in the United States, Joe Waweru medically reviews every piece of relevant content at kiddofreddom.com, but nothing he says here should be construed as medical advice of any kind.