Safe Travel with Littles and Car Seats

IMG_2413I get asked a lot about travel tips for traveling with little ones. Here are my favorite tips all in one place!

  • Do I need a car seat on the plane?
    • It is safest for all children to travel in a car seat on the plane. Car seats are most needed during runway crashes and turbulence. An adult’s arms cannot hold a child during a severe incidence of either. Personally, I am not comfortable being strapped in safely while my child/children are not. 
  • What if I check my car seat?IMG_0049
    • If you choose to check a car seat, the only recommended way is to pack in a box with packing materials.
    • Checking it at the gate is not safer than checking it regularly.
    • If you do check without a box, some people like to buy a lightweight inexpensive travel seat so that if it is damaged when you arrive you are not out as much money. 
    • If you do check a car seat, when you arrive at your destination make sure to check it over. If there are any visible marks, it is unsafe to use. You will need to find a way to get a car seat to the airport before leaving. 
  • How do I get through the airport?
    • I prefer to wear a baby in a carrier and a toddler in a carrier or in a car seat cart.
    • You can strap lighter weight car seats to rolling luggage with bungee cords, rest on top of a stroller, or use a car seat cart.
  • How do I get through security? IMG_5834
    • Make sure to wear a carrier with no metal (such as not using a ring sling). You can wear through security (unless your TSA agent is crabby that day) and then just have your hands swabbed. I have worn baby through three and a half years old through security! 
    • Most car seats should be checked by hand so they don’t get jammed in the machine. Be prepared to pull everything apart (including removing your shoes and liquids). There is so much to manage at security. This is why I prefer to wear and not need to manage my children as well!
  • Do I do anything special at the gate?IMG_6238
    • Tell them that you have car seats to install and ask when you can board. Many times they will let you board early so you are out of the aisle faster. 
    • Some people with young children like to board last so that kids are not waiting as long. It just depends if you have bags you need to put in overheard bins or not!
  • What do I do with the car seat on the plane?
    • Car seats cannot block an adult’s exit.
    • If you have one seat it will be at the window.IMG_2336
    • If you have more than one, car seats can be next to each other with an adult on the aisle or in two different rows with car seats each at the window.
    • In some cases, you need to request a seatbelt extender. You can find out ahead of time from a CPST if this is something you will need. It is car seat dependent. 
    • Most car seats are FAA approved. There is a line in red on the manufacture sticker on the side that says that it is approved for use in an aircraft. Know where that is in case you are asked.
  • When can a child use the plane seat belt?
    • Plane seatbelts typically fit kids starting around 40 pounds.
    • In addition to fit, the maturity of the child is key. The belt will only help a child during a severe incident if it fits correctly (at 3.5 years old, my child actually fit well in the belt but never would have stayed still more than 10 min).
    • The CARES harness can be a great option if you do not need a car seat at your destination. However, it doesn’t work until after around 40 pounds because it doesn’t adjust the fit of the lap belt. Unfortunately, it is outgrown at 44 pounds. 
  • What do I do about car travel?IMG_3335
    • Never ever rent a car seat. You don’t know the history (if it has been in a crash), the expiration date, or how it has been stored. 
    • If you take an Uber or Lyft, you legally need a proper car seat for the child’s age/size. It is illegal for a parent to put their child in a ride-sharing car without a properly used car seat. (Not to mention it is extremely unsafe.)
    • Though it is legal to travel in a taxi without a proper seat, it is very unsafe. Physics doesn’t care if you are in a taxi or personal car.
  • What car seat should I travel with?
    • I prefer to travel with lighter weight seats to make managing the airport easier. There are many families, however, who travel with theiIMG_6243r regular seats. 
    • The Cosco Scenera next is great for rear facing kids under 40 pounds/40 inches. This seat usually gets kids to around 3 rear facing but it is not useable forward facing after that due to the strap height. 
    • The Graco Contender is another lightweight option. It will fit rear facing on most flights but is easily switched back and forth between rear facing and forward facing. This makes it easy if you choose to forward face on the plane and then rear face in a car. It doIMG_2323es take up a bit up space front to back rear facing. This seat will rear face to 40 pounds and then last longer forward facing. 
    • The Graco Tranzitions is a budget friendly more lightweight forward facing only seat that many like to use. 
    • Boosters (high back and no back) cannot be used on an airplane. They can be packed in luggage or carried on.
    • IMG_0779Infant car seats (rear facing only seats) can be installed using a baseless installation on an airplane and in a car at your destination. A base is not necessary. It is for convenience. If you plan to use a baseless installation, I suggest practicing ahead of time to ensure you know how to install and check the recline level.
  • Do I need any special paperwork? 
    • To travel domestically you don’t need any specific paperwork. I do, however, typically bring a copy of birth certificates for my children, just in case.
    • To travel internationally, everyone needs a passport
    • I always print off FAA and airline specific car seat rules. I’ve never had to use them but I know of people who have. I act confident that I’m installing my car seats on these seats I bought, I know I can use them rear facing after one year old, and I’ve never been questioned.*

*One time a flight attendant pulled aside another one and asked if we were allowed to install our convertible seat rear facing for a 3-year-old. The second flight attendant said “yes” and shuffled the first one away quickly. 

These are the tips that have been most helpful to me during my personal travels and the tips that have been helpful to the families I work with! Do you have any other favorite tips for managing car seats while traveling?

2 thoughts on “Safe Travel with Littles and Car Seats

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