I think I know why you’re looking to learn how to fly with a car seat on a plane. It’s because you’re planning on traveling to some new destination within or outside of the U.S and Canada. And you’re not sure how car seat policies on airlines work and how those rules might affect your flight.
There are a few things you need to understand if you intend to travel outside the country with your child. This post hopes to help you organize your next trip like a pro so you can have an uneventful trip.
7 Things to Know When Bringing a Car Seat on a Plane
Below is a list of what you need to pay attention to when organizing your air trip if you’ll be bringing your tot’s car seat. And you really should.
1. Your Kiddo Needs a Car Seat for Takeoff, Landing, and Turbulence
If you’re wondering whether you should bring your kiddo’s car seat for the next plane trip, you should. Your little one needs to be safe and secure at take-off and landing.
Air travel is one of the safest ways to travel, but turbulence happens, too. And you want your baby to be safe through the worst weather-related situations.
In fact, airlines are seeing more turbulence these days than they have in the past. Normally, turbulence during a flight happens mostly due to changes in how air flows around the plane. But a growing heap of studies is blaming climate change for this worrying development.
The flying-low-then-high problem isn’t going away any time soon because global warming doesn’t seem to be getting any better.
Turbulence Rarely Causes Death, But Strap Your Kiddo in…
Because holding your child on your lap is less safe than them in a car seat. Watch this computer simulation from the FAA below to see what happens to unsecured people on planes when turbulence happens. By the way, FAA stands for Federal Aviation Administration.
Did you see what happened in that demo? It’s terrifying what can happen to unrestrained plane passengers. According to these FAA turbulence statistics, almost 60 people without seat belts sustain injuries.
But here’s a comforting thought. Only 3 passengers have lost their lives to turbulence for the entire 28-year period spanning between 1980 and 2008. Only 3 unlucky people. But is that really surprising when 2 of the 3 deaths happened to passengers who didn’t have a seatbelt on? So, keep that little one safe and secure in their car seat. Because you never know when your plane flies through a trouble-packed air pocket.
2. You Can Bring a Car Seat on Planes
Traveling within Canada or the United States with a car seat shouldn’t be too challenging. The US and Canadian governments are all for more safety during flights. Not surprisingly, you can bring a baby car seat on a plane in these two countries without issues.
But car seat policies differ from airline to airline (more on this later). You need to keep that in mind as you prep for your trip.
3. Gate-check vs. Baggage-Check Car Seat: What’s Better?
You can baggage-check your car seat as baggage if you want. But that’s a bad idea for the most part. Why is baggage-checking a car seat a bad idea? First off, your kiddo should be sitting in it for safety reasons.
Also, your car seat could get damaged during the flight. And in most cases, you won’t get a replacement seat from the airline.
That’s because pretty much all airlines treat baby car seats as a comfort/baby item and don’t charge for it. In other words, checking a car seat won’t affect your checked bag allowance.
But while it doesn’t happen all the time, it’s not rare for a passenger to get a completely useless car seat after landing. They’ll hand you the damaged item in respectful silence (if that’s a thing) and expect you to just grin and bear it.
Gate-checking a Car Seat is Safer Than Checking With Luggage, Though
You can also gate-check your car seat if you choose to or if you’re forced to on some foreign airlines. You shouldn’t be gate-checking your child’s safety seat for the same reasons you shouldn’t be baggage-checking it.
That said, gate-checking tends to be safer than checking with luggage. How so? When you gate-check the seat, you’re without it for a shorter time than would be the case with checking it with luggage.
But you don’t want to see how the airline’s crew handles passenger stuff!
4. How to Pack a Baby Car Seat for a Flight
The safest way (no iron-clad guarantees here, parent) to pack a car seat for air travel is to put it in a corrugated cardboard box. If you still have the cardboard box that the seat came in from Amazon or wherever, use that. But the folks who handle passenger baggage aren’t always careful.
Alternatively, you can also use a car seat bag, but that’s not recommended because unless you’re not concerned about the seat losing its structural integrity.
5. You Should Have an Airline-Approved Car Seat
If you’ve made up your mind to carry your kiddo’s car seat for your flight local or international flight, be sure the seat is approved for use in aircraft.
So, how do you know whether the car seat you have is FAA-approved? Read the white sticker around the base of the seat. For some reason, car seat manufacturers put the sticker in the most unreachable locations. Near the top of the sticker, you should be able to see two hard-to-miss statements (they’re printed in red).
Take a look at the FAA approval sticker below. That’s what my child’s car convertible seat had.
I have underlined the two most important parts of the communication in the sticker. As long as your car seat has a harness, you can generally consider it FAA-approved. But if it’s a booster seat (this seat type lacks a harness), you can’t use it on a plane. It’s that simple.
All-in-one car seats typically have the two statements you see in the image above. But pretty much all aircraft-certified car seats come with only the first statement.
So, don’t get confused. Just leave the harness in and voila! You have an airline-approved car seat.
By the way, if your car seat doesn’t have the approved-by-the-government sticker, you’ll likely be required to check it as baggage. That said, airlines aren’t obligated to require passengers with young ones to use a car seat.
6. Flying With a Car Seat to Foreign Countries Can be Hard
It’s a good thing that most US and Canada-based airlines allow and encourage car seat usage on planes. It’s also a fact that many foreign airlines will allow you to use a child car seat.
But a friend recently traveled to some destination somewhere in a faraway continent. And they couldn’t believe how car seat-unfriendly the airline crews were.
Can you believe that the airline’s policies prevent passengers from using car seats in the cabin? That seemed very strange. The airline required my buddy to gate-check the car seat which of course he did.
Some Carriers Require Using Belly Belts at Takeoff and Landing
Here’s another rule that’d seem weird to any Canadian or American traveler: belly belts. Some airlines in foreign countries may allow car seats on planes but require everyone including young children to wear a belly belt. What is clearly illegal in the US and Canada might actually be a safety standard in other countries.
It doesn’t matter whether the belly belt fits the child or not. It’s the traveling child policy of the airline and you’ve gotta obey it.
What’s the smartest response in a situation like that? Complain and rant? It’s best to go with the flow and use the belly belt during takeoff and landing. It’s best that you and your child use the same safety belt.
Lesson learned: Be sure to inquire about the airline’s car seat policy ahead of time and take your business to companies that promote children’s in-flight safety.
7. Is the Plane’s Passenger Seats Wide Enough?
While most airlines have wide enough seats, some have really narrow ones. You want to make sure the car seat you carry into the airplane will fit in the available seat space.
I’ve not flown with the budget carrier, Spirit Airlines, but a bird told me their seats are pretty narrow. Narrower than 17″ in some cases. You’ll want to bring the narrowest lightweight travel car seat you can find.
And the Chicco KeyFit 30 Orion for infants comes to mind. And if your baby rides in a convertible seat, consider getting the Cosco Apt 50 should be a good bet. Below is a picture of a narrow convertible car seat for air travel, the Cosco APT 50.
Car Seat On Plane FAQs
1. Can You Bring a Baby Car Seat on a Plane?
Yes, you can. Most airlines have car seat-friendly policies. Still, you need to be sure that the company you’re considering allows car seats and won’t have you gate-check them.
2. Can a Car Seat Be Used in an Airplane?
You can and should use a car seat while traveling on a plane. Be sure to buckle your child in before takeoff and landing. Your baby also needs to be safely secured when the flying gets turbulent thousands of feet high in the skies.
3. Does a Car Seat Count as a Checked Bag?
No. Airlines pretty much everywhere on the planet regard car seats as baby items and typically won’t charge you to check them.
4. Do Airlines Replace Lost or Damaged Car Seats?
Typically no. If they do, it’s mostly because their customer care is at a really good place. If a carrier damages or loses your car seat, don’t leave the airport before reporting the incident. Fortunately, some credit cards and insurance packages cover such eventualities.
5. What Car Seats Are Approved by FAA?
While most are approved for safe use in aircraft, some aren’t FAA-approved. Be sure your child restrain system has been approved by the government. A government-approved car seat bears the statement “This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft” on a sticker found around the bottom of the seat. Where that statement hasn’t been printed on the car seat, assume that the seat isn’t government-approved.
What to Do About Your Car Seat When Flying: Final Thoughts
If you’re planning on hopping on a plane and travel to any destination within Canada or the US, using a car seat shouldn’t be challenging. But if you’re traveling across borders to a foreign city, be sure to understand the car seat policy of the airline you intend to use.
Most airlines allow the use of a car seat to secure a child at takeoff, in-flight, and when landing. However, few foreign carriers might have rules against using a baby car seat at all. Others may allow car safety seats but require that the child and their caregiver use a belly belt at only during takeoff and landing.
No matter where you’re traveling to, make sure you have an airline-approved car seat. And if the carrier boasts super narrow passenger seats, bring a seat that’ll work well with the limited space the carrier offers.