Air Travel With Children: How To Use Car Seats on Airplanes
Most people know their infant, toddler or young school-aged child needs a car seat or booster in the family vehicle. Car seats also keep children safe on airplanes. Here’s some information for anyone planning air travel with children.
Should I use a car seat on the plane for my child?
Yes! The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) does not require the use of car seats on airplanes (although they recommend it). While catastrophic air disasters make headlines, violent turbulence or a runway incident is a more common safety event. A car seat is the best way to keep a child from being injured, or worse.
Will the airline allow me to use my child’s car seat?
US-based carriers must allow an approved car seat when a parent or guardian purchases a seat for the child, a parent or guardian accompanies the child, and the child is within the weight limits for the car seat. Although using a car seat on board Canadian aircraft is not mandatory, their use has been permitted in Canada since 1990.
Not all car seats are approved for use in airplanes. Check for a label that says, “This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft.” For a seat that can be used with or without a harness (“all-in-one” seats, for example), the label will specifically mention if the seat, in harness mode, is approved.
Before planning to use a car seat on an international flight on a non-US carrier, check that airline’s policies. Unfortunately, some carriers do not allow the use of car seats.
How should I use my child’s car seat on the plane?
Generally, your child should ride in the same direction they ride in the car. A car seat must be installed in a forward-facing aircraft seat. This is sometimes misinterpreted as the car seat must be forward-facing. It means, however, that the airplane seat must face the front of the plane. Follow the directions in your car seat manual for installation.
While the aircraft seat belt starts fitting children around 40 lbs., if your child needs a car seat at your destination, use it on the plane instead of checking it. That way, the seat won’t get damaged or lost on the way.
Renting a car seat is not a good idea. You might get to the counter and find they don’t have the correct seat for your child. And, you don’t know the seat’s history. It may have been in a crash or not properly cleaned or stored.
What about booster seats?
Definitely bring booster seats for your children to use in any vehicle they ride in on your journey. Just remember, boosters require both a lap and shoulder belt to restrain your child, so you cannot use the aircraft lap-only belt. Stow the seat in the overhead bin rather than putting it with checked luggage (again, to avoid loss or damage).
Where can I get more information about my child’s safety on an airplane?
The FAA has a web page about Flying with Children.
The American Academy of Pediatrics offers information on Family Friendly Flying.
Maureen Johnson is the Child Passenger Safety Specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center.