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Should You Use a Car Seat On the Plane?

Yes.

Many times airlines will allow you to hold an infant (usually up to age two but check with your particular carrier) on your lap and not charge you (they may charge a small administrative fee).

However, before you spend the money you'll save by holding your child, think carefully about twelve hours crossing the Pacific with a kid on top of you—no sleeping or meal time relaxing for you!

More importantly, there is a safety issue. One reader, whose spouse is a flight attendant, wrote to say:

“I fly a lot with my two daughters and we will only fly if our daughter (first the oldest, now the youngest) has her own seat so she can be in her car seat. I realize it's expensive, but the safety factor cannot be stressed enough. As for seatbelt extenders, planes carry them for large passengers but they are not legal for use around parent/child combinations in the U.S. anyway). If you were thrown forward against the belt, you could crush your child.” (Thanks Lisa!)

While current U.S. law does not require a carseat for an infant in flight, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration does recommend the use of one (there is legislation banging around Washington to require car seats or some type of safe restraint for small children on planes).

The Associated Press carried a story recently stating that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) wants the federal government to order airlines to end the long-standing policy of allowing children under age 2 to sit on their parents' laps, especially during takeoffs, landings and turbulence.

The Academy noted that a 1996 White House commission report said the FAA should require restraints for all infants and children less than 40 inches and weighing less than 40 pounds. The proposed policy says infants and children weighing less than 20 pounds should be placed in rear-facing, aircraft-approved safety seats and those over 1 and weighing 20 to 40 pounds should fly in forward-facing seats.

Specifically, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recommends that children be securely fastened in child safety seats until 4 years of age, then be secured with the airplane seat belts. This will help keep them safe during takeoff and landing, or in case of turbulence. Most infant, convertible, and forward-facing seats are certified to be used on airplanes. Booster seats and travel vests are not. Check the label on your seat and call the airline before you travel to be sure your seat meets current FAA regulations.

Recent changes to FAA regulations prohibit the use of any type of booster seat on board an airplane even if the booster is labeled as being certified for use on airplanes. Airlines are not required to allow the use of certified seats, however. You may have to purchase a ticket to assure a seat for a child under age two or travel on low-occupancy flights. Make arrangements in advance with the airline, and get written confirmation of their approval for use of your seat on the flight.

The nice folks at Carseat.org had these additional tips to share:

“Our position is clear: use safety seats aboard on every trip until the child can't fit into safety seat with a full harness. Safety seats in baggage are lost or damaged (often in a hidden manner, unsuspected) too often to take a chance. Rental seats at the other end are often in bad shape, don't fit the vehicle, and are missing instructions or parts.

“We also recommend keeping the child rear-facing longer on aircraft than even in the car since the distance between seat rows is so limited and the FAA data show that the best performance occurs with rear-facing seats (true in cars, too, of course).

In addition to the safety issues (as if you needed more convincing by now), when our kids were younger the car seat made them feel more at home on the plane, with its familiar stains and odors (on the car seat). With a towel rolled up and stuck around their heads in a “U” shape in the seat, their heads stayed upright and they slept at least a little. We had a car seat once with a little tray thing in front and could use that as a staging area for feeding.

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