The Dos And Don’ts Of Flying With A Car Seat – Make Flying Safer For Your Child
Being a parent isn’t easy. It is a combination of hard work, good (or bad) decisions and countless sacrifices. Parents have to adjust their routines, lifestyles, finances and nearly all aspects of their lives. For instance, travelling with a child requires careful planning in regards to your budget, your plans, and the child’s comfort and safety. Statistically speaking, air travel is the safest mode of travel. Make it even safer for your child and fly with a car seat.
While you may feel a sense of comfort and security while travelling with a child in your lap – don’t do it. Your arms, even if you’re built like a bull, are not capable of offering adequate protection to your child in cases of extreme turbulence or other emergencies. The Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) strongly recommends using child safety car seats to keep your child safe and comfortable.
Rear-facing, forward-facing and convertible seats can be used in a plane depending on the manufacturer’s instructions and the child’s age, weight and size. It is important to note, that not all seats are FAA approved, therefore, parents should prioritize buying FAA approved seats if they intend to travel on a plane with a child. The CARES Child Safety Device is the only harness-type restraint approved for air travel.
Some Advice For Parents
- Ensure that the seat is approved for air travel by the relevant authorities.
- Consider the size of the seat carefully. It can fit on most plane seats if it is 16 inches wide or less.
- While some airlines may allow the child to travel for free if there’s room on the flight, consider buying a discounted seat for your child to guarantee an empty seat. Where possible, make sure that the seat is adjacent to yours or at least within your line of sight.
- Aim for direct flights whenever possible. Carrying the car seat around between flights can be tiresome and problematic.
- Pack some snack and toys to keep your child occupied.
- Read articles, watch videos and seek other appropriate forms of expert guidance to help you maximize the comfort and safety of your child.
- Be considerate towards the safety and comfort of other passengers when using a car seat on the plane, but prioritize your child over everything else.
Everything You Need To Know
1. Car Seats Are The Safest Way To Fly With A Child
While airplanes offer a variety of safety measures, most airplane seats are designed for adults, not small children. Therefore, car seats offer additional safety and peace of mind. While car seats are not mandatory or air travel, they are highly recommended. Perhaps the primary reason why they haven’t been made a legal requirement is that many airlines have lobbied against laws requiring them for air travel as it can have a negative impact on their revenue. However, the FAA and NTSB not only provide recommendations and guidelines, they test and approve seats as well. Therefore, look for tags or labels that say that the seat has been approved by the FAA.
The seat you buy should meet your child’s needs.. Therefore, carefully read the manufacturers age, weight and height guidelines before buying and using their product. Other than age, weight and height you should also take special needs such as disabilities into account. They should be forward facing, rear facing or convertible seats as harness-only seats and booster seats are not safe for air travel. Also, having made the decision to travel with the child, taking the seat with you can offer protection beyond the plane as well. You can keep you child safe in a vehicle when travelling to or from an airport.
2. How To Use Car Seats In The Airport
Parents should prioritize direct flights when travelling with a child to avoid the challenges of carrying a car seat through the connecting airport. However, this may not always be possible. Also, the car seat still needs to be carried through the airport of departure and arrival.
One important thing to do when travelling with a car seat through an airport is to give yourself some extra time, taking into account the slower speed you will be moving at and the time it will take to pass the seat through the security measures. However, there are plenty of things you can do to make things easier for yourself. You can simply choose to carry the seat, attach it to the luggage with a strap, use a stroller or even the airport trolley.
4. Install The Seat Properly
Merely having a child in a car seat is not enough. You need to be able to install it the right way to maximize the protection the seat can provide. The difficulty level may depend on your knowledge of the seats safety features, familiarity and experience with installation and your understanding of the plane’s seat belt system.
Here’s a simple list of steps to follow:
- Read the instruction manual. Some FAA approved seats will have instructions on installing and using the car seat in a plane.
- Place the seat rear-facing or forward facing depending on the child’s age, height and weight and the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Find the built in belt path that you would normally use for a car’s seat belt system.
- Grab the seat belt and loosen it.
- Take the belt through the designated belt path.
- Reach for the buckle and secure it.
- Try moving the car seat sideward and front and back. If you are able to move it significantly, tighten the belt further or redo the whole process.
- You can even ask the stewards/stewardesses for help. It’s likely that they will have some experience with installing car seats on planes.
4. Seating Arrangements
Using a car can greatly restrict where you and your child can sit. There are a number of safety and comfort issues to consider. Some well-meaning parents also take the comfort and convenience of other passengers into considerations as well. However, your child’s safety should always come first.
The more important thing, perhaps, is to ensure that your child is seated next to you. This will allow you to attend to their urgent needs and reach them fast in case of any emergency. Window seats or middle seats are recommended by most experts. While some experts recommend not using the bulkhead row when travelling with a child, others focus on the merits of doing so. Larger seats can be place easily on bulkhead row seats, and the lack of passengers immediately ahead means that no one will recline their seat backwards. There’s also better access to flight attendants. Additionally, you and your child can be among the first to disembark.
5. The Plane’s Tray Table May Become Inaccessible For Your Child
Rear facing seats face away from the tray table. Most forward facing seats, on the other hand, are too big to be able to bring the table all the way down. This can make it fairly difficult to feed your child on a plane or give them access to toys to keep them busy. One possible solution is to buy a seat with cup holders. You can also bring along foldable trays.
6. You Can’t Change Your Mind In-flight
Bringing a car seat onto a plane is a commitment that is likely to last for the duration of the light. Therefore, you should come prepared. Do you research well, before you board. Most overhead luggage compartments in planes are not big enough to hold a car seat, so it is important to bring along a seat that is comfortable and safe for your child and compatible with the plane as well.
7. Car Seats Travel For Free
While you may need to pay for an extra seat for your child, you won’t often have to pay for taking the car seat along. Most airlines allow you to take strollers and car seats on board without any extra charges. Therefore, you should consider reaching out to the airline you will be travelling with to find out their policies regarding car seats and strollers.
8. Bigger Isn’t Always Better
While some of the larger seats may offer more features, it may not always be a good idea to travel with a larger seat. For air travel, consider prioritizing smaller and lightweight seats. They will be easier to carry around, can fit in the plane seat with ease and leave more space for you and other adjacent passengers.
9. Keep The Seat Clean
A car seat has to go through a lot before it reaches the plane seat. You may need to take it out of the car, stand in queues with it, and make it go through multiple security checks, place it on the airport floor, move it on the escalator or conveyor belt and board a plane with it before you are able to place it on the plane’s seat. This can get the seat dirty and full of germs. It may not be suitable, in this state, to place your child on the car seat. However, you can get around this by move the seat through the airport in a protective bag while carrying the child yourself. This will minimize its exposure to dust and germs, and keep it relatively cleaner for your child.
10. For Frequent Flyers
Car seats can be very expensive. They’re not always FAA approved and comfortable for your child to travel in in a plane. Frequently movement through airports and in-flight use may even reduce the seat’s life span. However, there are multiple ways around this. Firstly, you can consider buying a cheaper just for air travel. Also, if you plan on using rental cars, a lot of rental companies provide the option to rent a car seat as well. This can remove the potential for some wear and tear for your seat. Additionally, if you’re frequently travelling to the same destination, you can consider buying a spare seat and leave it somewhere safe.
11. Don’t Forget The Stroller
If you plan on using your seat with a stroller, you should always check if your seat is compatible with the stroller or vice versa. Strollers can make a world of difference when you travel with a child. They can help you move your child through airports – an especially useful accessory to have during connecting flights. Also, if you plan on going to malls or travelling on foot when you reach your destination, strollers can be your best friend.
12. Invest In Travel Gear
If you’re going on a longer trip or one involving multiple airports, or if you’re a frequently traveler, it may be worth it to invest in some travel gear for your child. This may not add to your child’s safety and security but may make the trip easier for you. One particularly useful option is to buy a wheeled car seat carrier. You can use it to move towards, within and out of the airport with ease in comparison to having to carry the seat around. You can buy seat bags with straps so that you can carry the seat on your back like a back pack or attach it to wheeled luggage. You can also consider buying trays, toys, child-friendly utensils, and bibs to keep your child entertained, comfortable and clean during your travels.
Everything You Need To Avoid
In addition to all the things you can do to maximize your child’s safety as well as your own comfort and convenience, experts recommend a list of things you can avoid that may compromise the safety of your child as well as that of other passengers (including yourself):
- Avoid using booster seats and harness vests if you can. The FAA prohibits using these during landing and take-off as they do not provide adequate protection. It is worth noting that these are not prohibited from use during the flight, but some airlines may have policies that may not allow their use.
- While car seats may give you peace of mind, they may only provide maximum protection when installed and placed correctly. Avoid placing car seats out of your line of sight. This may prevent you from attending to your child’s immediate needs or reaching them on time in case of emergencies. It is better to check with your airline and ensure you travel on a flight where you are able to sit next to your child.
- The FAA and most airlines warn against placing the child in the exit row. The child may get disturbed by movement on the aisle and other passengers and staff may even bump into the seat. Also, using the exit row can compromise the overall safety of your child as well as other passengers as larger car seats, especially, can block the way in emergencies. Ideal placement is either the window or middle seat.
- A lot of experts warn against placing the seat on the bulkhead row (Some recommend it, so make your decision wisely). One reason is the inconvenient access to inflight entertainment. Also, most bulkhead seats don’t have movable armrests which can be uncomfortable for you and limit the size of the seat you can travel with. Also, bulkhead seats tend to be farther away from the toilet or changing table if your child needs to use them.
- Airports are public places and can be crowded and germ ridden. It would be unwise to have a car seat accumulate dust and germs before boarding a plane – which can be full of germs as well. As children often put their hands in their mouth after being in contact with dirty surfaces, a dirty car seat can have adverse health effects and should be avoided. One solution for this is to travel through the airport with the seat in a bag (as mentioned above).
- Some car seats can be very heavy and too big. Some may not be compatible with strollers. It is extremely important to consider that you may have to travel through large and crowded airports (which may take hours). Also, sometimes, the seats may be too big for the seats and cramp the space for other passengers (including yourself). Avoid using such seats if you can and use compact, lightweight ones. You may even buy cheaper seats purpose-built for air travel and keep the larger and heavier seats along with the luggage.
- Avoid being late or just on time when travelling with a car seat. It is important to remember that car seats will have to go through a range of security measures that may require extra time.