It’s fair to say that flying with a car seat for your baby can be as challenging as it is exhausting. No one likes having to haul a heavy or cumbersome car seat everywhere they want to go. But of course, you want the best for your baby, both for comfort and safety.
Airlines typically allow car seats, and it is recommended by the NTSB and FAA. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any rules for using them. This guide can help you understand the ins and outs of getting on and off airplanes with car seats for your baby.
Car Seats Are Recommended
You need to fly with a car seat on airplanes for the same reason you do so in cars — adult seats aren’t designed for baby-sized bodies. It is for this reason that both the NTSB and FAA recommend using car seats for babies on airlines, especially if they are under 40 lbs.
That being said, car seats aren’t required on airlines. One reason for this is car seats and the encumbrance they may represent to some may dissuade some families from flying, and so airlines don’t want to cut into their potential profits by requiring them.
In addition, air travel is a lot safer than car travel, and some people prefer to simply fly with their babies on their lap. There are pros and cons to that (especially if you are booking a long flight), but it remains an option some prefer over car seats.
However, if you choose not to bring a car seat but have a change of mind at the ticket counter or gate, you can still often buy one at the airport.
That said, not all car seats are created equal, which is why both the FAA and Transport Canada have guidelines you’ll want to check to ensure that your car seat meets with their standards and can keep your child safe while onboard.
Keep a lookout for white stickers on car seats. If they are approved by the FAA for use on planes they should have a message in small red letters saying so.
On the one hand, every major US airline allows baby car seats. Even better, at present, these airlines do not charge for a baby car seat, though this is always subject to change, so check your airline’s current policies before booking your flight.
Renting a Car Seat
You may also wish to rent a car seat from a car rental agency, as long as it is in accordance with the airline and FAA or other governing body’s regulations.
That said, the quality of the car seats you rent from these agencies can vary wildly, with some being old or dirty. What’s more, you may not be able to tell if the car seat has been involved in an accident before.
How To Carry a Car Seat for Air Travel
One of the biggest potential obstacles to using a car seat is, as stated, the hassle of transporting it. Much like a stroller for example, it is one of those items that is a hassle to travel both with or without.
While it is absolutely essential that you keep your baby safe for the duration of the flight, there is no denying that larger, heavier car seats can present a real problem when lugging that and all your other luggage around.
For that reason, you should typically opt for smaller car seats for air travel. While it might be tempting to use a larger car seat if you already have one for use in your car, smaller models meeting the required safety standards offer the best of both worlds.
In terms of transportation, you’ll likely want to place the car seat inside a large bag to ensure that it is not dirtied up, torn, or otherwise damaged while transporting it.
One nightmare scenario you definitely want to avoid is arriving at the airport and finding that your car seat is too wide to be used on the plane. Car seats 16 in. wide or smaller can typically fit in most seats.
That said, while it may be tempting to hope that you can squeeze the car seat in without having to pay for an extra adjoining seat, this is likely doomed to fail.
You don’t want your baby to feel cramped or be inadequately protected, and you don’t want to cause yourself or anyone next to you to be cramped.
Car seats cannot block escape paths for obvious reasons, so many airlines require that they be placed in a window seat. Additionally, they cannot be placed in an exit row, so do not book seats for those rows.
The easiest way to ensure that you can get an adjoining seat is to book one for your child.
If you do not, ask the airline if you can use an empty seat. They may allow you to do this on lower-traffic days, but if the flight is crowded you run the risk of being out of luck, so don’t do this on busy days.
If you have a connecting flight, you’ll want to ask the support staff for assistance.