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.

User Feedback

We have a Britax Boulevard convertible carseat. It is heavy and difficult to attach to the airplane seats. There is definitely a discrepancy between airlines and policies. The cross-country domestic flight attendant made us strap our child in during takeoff. On an international flight we were encouraged not to use it and I was given a special parent-child seat belt (not merely an extender, but it was an extender with another belt built onto it for the child). When I mentioned this to a US flight attendant she said it was unsafe. Hmm. Our son is 2.9 and we will be traveling domestically, probably on a small plane, this summer. He is 28lbs and skinny- I worry that they will not allow the carseat on the flight due to the carseat's size, but will this mean sitting in an adult seat with adult seat belt? should we invest in a smaller carseat? we will be renting a car upon arrival.
thanks for any advice.

ms. B

USA made seats all have FAA stickers on them.

EU made car seats have a sticker with an E in a circle and then a number (which indicates which EU country).

These are both internationally recognised approvals.
See American Airlines online policy regarding car seats.

I'm going BA and wish i'd done more homework before flying back to the uk from the states with them.
Got one flight changes to AmericanAirlines (who operated the route for BA).
The other flights (4 of them within in the UK and return to US flight) will just be stressful with my then 5 month old.

joanna

I just wanted to weigh in that we have flown on several airlines that don't let us use the carseat during takeoff and landing (She had her own seat, but the carseat was too new to be on the FAA list, although it is approved by all the various automobile associations). We don't have a car, so buying a new one for one flight seemed silly. Also the people in front on one flight couldn't put their seat back and really had a fit. The stewardess tried to get me to turn her rear facing seat around while she was sleeping!!!! Really so the girl in front of me would rather have a screaming baby, but be able to put her seat back.....
She will outgrow the old seat in a couple of months and I will make sure the next purchase is FAA approved. We are just doing a few short flights before then, but before our 24 hours of flying at Christmas will buy a new one.

AJ

Shawn- there are actually instances when a child has been harmed on a plane from not being in a proper seat. have you ever heard of turbulance?? many planes have had problems with turblance, bad weather, engine problems. if you would do some research you could read of a least one case of where a plane had bad turbulance and small child was left with a serious head injury and no other adult was hurt, b/c the adults where properly restrained where as the child was in a seat way to big and seat belt that was not made to hold a small body. Yea i am sure the chances are slim, but they do happen. and if you love and care for you children, then you don't take those kind of chances simply to avoid extra cost or hassle.

Andra

Just a comment on the safety argument for taking a car seat on the plane.

I live in NZ and have flown both domestically and internationally (to Europe) with my small children. I've never taken a car seat on board. I've always been given a wee seat belt thingy, just like a long piece of belt with those typical closures at the ends, which you slip through your own one once buckled up, and then around your child. It's a no-brainer - you won't squash your kid against your own seatbelt that way.

Secondly, I've always wondered how useful/essential the whole seat belt policy really is. I guess there could be a bit of a jolt sometimes, and it doesn't hurt wearing the lap belt. Maybe. I've kind of always felt that the disruption that you cause by having to wake and buckle up your "just-gone-to-sleep" baby stands in no relation to the usefulness of the wee lap belt. Be that as it may, re car seats, I'm with "Shawn" who already posted in this comments list: What kind of incident would shake the plane/your child as much to require a car seat type harness, other than a complete disaster - in which case the car seat wouldn't save anyone either.

I can imagine it might be useful to strap your squirmy kid in to keep him/her under control. This alone might be worth the money, if you've got it. Might have to win lotto first. Good luck, either way.

Anke

I have spoken to both a survivor of a plane crash and a relative of a plane crash fatality. I would like to say "kudos" to those that pay extra for the baby seat to protect their babies and to those that are spreading the word that this should be made a law.

Melissa Bradley

Melissa D. Bradley

Why do you think it is safe to have a baby or child unrestrained in your lap in an airplane accident? There have been several instances where children have been severely injured or killed because they were not properly restrained during an airline accident.

"Flight attendant Jan Lohr recounts a flight "when sudden and severe turbulence caused two lap children to be hospitalized. They had sustained injuries when they flew over a dozen rows and landed near a bulkhead. Garment bags in an overhead closet subsequently fell on the infants." While working as a flight attendant, Ms. Lohr survived a plane crash caused by an engine explosion that severed all the hydraulic lines on a flight from Denver to Chicago. She recounts what happened to 22-month old Evan, a lap-child who did not survive the impact, in a statement for the NTSB Advocacy Briefing on Child Restraints on Aircraft."

http://ashsd.afacwa.org/docs/Jan%20Lohr%20NTSB%20Brief.pdf
From carseatlady.org

I strongly urge you to do some research before making such claims.

Larissa

As a pilots wife I will say it is dangerous!! Not only in an accident but during travel. Kids like to squirm when forced to be held. They try to get up and down! And yes there are parents who will watch every move their child makes but you also have the ones who thinks "hey we are in an airplane how far can they go?" Now the kids are under the flight attendants feet and any one else trying to walk around the plane! And take for an example an accident that causes brakes to slam real fast...send everyone flying forward....if your child is moving at the time because they are scared they can slip out of your hand and get really hurt!! No it doesn't happen every day but accidents do happen. But if you are going on vacation with you kids the infants in a child seat is easier to keep happy and frees you up to get toys and food to keep everyone happy!! Including the person on the 5am flight doesnt want to listen to your child cry because they are tired and can't comfy to sleep! In the end it is all up to you how you spend your money and if you want a squirmy child on your lap so be it!

Chrystina

"With a towel rolled up and stuck around their heads in a ā€œUā€ shape in the seat, their heads stayed upright and they slept at least a little."

This is actually something to discourage people from doing. Fact of the matter is that when a car (or airplane in this case) has to make a sudden movement (such as hard breaking during an aborted take off), the child will be pushed into the harness and this could result in the towel to end up between the back of the child and the car seat, which then could result in a broken back... not exactly something you wish your kid imho.

JJ

I hate to say it Shawn, you can take a calculated risk with your baby, for mine I'll pass. Things happen all the time, you just don't hear about them. Did you know the US Airways crash that went down in the Hudson river narrowly escaped one fatality. It was the life of a lap baby. The mother couldn't hold him, and thankfully there was a man next to her that could. That was luck. There is a United flight attendant that has retired and committed her entire life to lobbying for this cause. She was on an aircraft that went down in '89. United was running special fares for families that month, and as a result a majority of the 282 passengers on board were kids. 112 died, and sadly, the lap babies never stood a chance. Those are sensationalized cases. Turbulence happens every day. You ask any flight attendant you meet how many of their coworkers they know who have sustained crippling injuries because they were unrestrained in the cabin when turbulence hit. If it isn't deeply personal to them, they know more than a few that it is, I promise. Do you want that to be your baby? The FAA requires that you take better care of your bag than your kid, what's wrong with that? Aborted take offs and hard landings happen every day, and sometimes they are horribly violent. They aren't advertised. Calculated risk and child safety really ought not be used in the same sentence. If that's what we've stooped to in this country it makes me very sad. If you can't afford your child's seat, then you can't afford to go. If it's important, if they are important, then make it a priority. How would you feel if you walked on an aircraft and you were shown to your seat, but their was no seat belt? Would you sit down and not say anything, or would you get up and demand a belt? Just because they have no voice, don't deny that for your child.

Ann

"I would be surprised if anyone can come up with an instance of an lap-seated infant being harmed in an airline accident, when the child would have been OK in a car seat."

I can come up with two, Shawn. On January 20, 1990, an American Airlines DC-10 encountered turbulence near San Juan, Puerto Rico. The seat belt sign was on. A 7-week-old lap baby
sustained serious head injuries and was hospitalized with a fractured skull and bleeding in the brain. The baby was the only passenger who sustained serious injuries. Also, on January 25, 1990, an Avianca Airlines B-707 crashed in Cove Neck, New York. Among the passengers were 7 babies under 2 years old, all lap babies. A 4-month-old died. The six other babies all sustained serious injuries. It was determined by the NTSB that all these children would have escaped serious harm if they had been secured in child safety seats.

Surprised?

Elizabeth

I had to be a wet noodle, but airplane travel is incredibly safe. I would be surprised if anyone can come up with an instance of an lap-seated infant being harmed in an airline accident, when the child would have been OK in a car seat.Tens of thousands of planes take off and land each day without incident (in the US, at least) Life is about taking calculated risks. For example, it imagine it is much more dangerous to drive an hour in a car with a child in an infant seat, than to fly an hour with a child in the lap. Yet, people take their infants in car seats.If you want to spend money protecting your child, there have got to be better ways to do it: buy organic food (perhaps?), pay for a higher-quality baby-sitter or child-care provider.

Shawn

Make sure your car seat will fit on the plane’s seats before traveling!!! You can go to seatguru.com and find the type of plane and airline and it will tell you seat width. Unless you’re traveling business or first class, most seats today are 17 inches wide. Only a few car seats are that narrow (I think Graco Comfort Sport and Britax Roundabout), most are 19 inches. So check your car seat and the airplane you will fly before showing up at the airport….

marvalin

How can I find a car seat that is FAA Approved? We are expecting our first child in February and plan to travel a lot to visit extended family. I can only find car seats that say Airline Certified but not FAA Approved. Any suggestions appreciated.

Mari

i recommend making a fuss if any airline denies you the use of an approved carseat. especially if you have already purchased a ticket for your child.

i recall all the way back in 1983 my mother went ballistic when japan air lines wouldn’t let her bring our carseat on the plane for my younger brother, he must have been around 1 at the time. they wound up putting us in first class.

i have flown all over the u.s. and just flew united to japan using a carseat for my son who is now 3. it is just a normal thing to do for americans and i believe that every airline out there has had their share of americans to deal with, so just demand that they accomodate your choice.

eileen

I left from the US to the UK in Jan. My daughter was 7 mo. at the time and had her car seat, getting on the plane in the US was normal, they didn’t even look twice that we had a car seat for her. I am going back to the US in August and now I am nervous. I was planning to buy a carseat for her since she will only be 14mo, but if they are going to take it away from me, I am not sure what to do. I do not want her riding on my lap for the 12hr straight flight back to the US :) I know once you get to the US, they don’t look twice when you have a carseat for your child, and that is the way it should be for every country :)

Aleesha

Mrs. Hill,

I can relate to your story! I flew from Manchester to Newark with my 18 month-old-son (a few years ago). I had an FAA approved car seat and I paid a huge sum of money for my son’s own seat on the flight. The flight attendants were extremely rude to me and kept demanding to know if I had reserved a seat for my son (yes) and kept insisting that I should have checked the car seat. As if I wanted to fly across the Atlantic with a squirming toddler in my lap, much less put his safety at risk! Perhaps this is they way British flights are? Do you think maybe American flights are different?

Ms. Hornbeek

We travelled from Gatwick U.K to Rhodes, Greece last year with our 9 month old baby. We made several phonecalls to the airline before we travelled to make sure that the car seat we bought specifically to use on the plane was suitable. We were told it was. On the way into the plane they took the car seat from us and insisted that my baby was to be on my lap for takeoff even though we had bought her own seat on the plane to use the car seat on. I was in tears as we took off, worried in case we had to emergency stop and I crushed my baby. The stewardess called me stupid and said that could never happen!I was prepared to leave the plane but my family insisted we carried on.I still have yet to find any car seat in the U.K that has an FFA sticker on it.

Mrs. Hill

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