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?

Keep Kids Safe in the Cold in the Car

Car seats can’t do their job if they aren’t used correctly. We count on the harness to keep a child IN the car seat during a crash. Bulky or puffy coats prevent the harness from doing their job and may not hold the child in the car seat in a crash. Additionally, “bundle me” style car seat covers that go behind the child create added bulk and interfere with how the child fits in the car seat.


How can you keep your child warm?

  • Fleece or hoodie with a hat is enough for most situations
  • Car seat poncho (for toddlers and older)
  • Put coat on backwards over arms
  • Tuck blanket around child OVER straps
  • Inside layer of coat or some very thin winter coats that pass the  Safe Coat Test can be used in the car seat
  • For infant carrier: shower cap style covers are ok
  • Wear bulky coat to the car, take off, & then do one of the above

Safe Coat Test

To test if a coat is safe in the car: put child wearing the coat in the car seat; tighten correctly*; take child out without loosening straps; take off coat; put child back in car seat. If the straps need to be tightened more than the usual difference between layers of clothes, it means the coat created too much bulk between the child and the harness and it is NOT safe to be used in the car. There is no gu

aranteed car seat safe coat. All options need to be tested with YOUR child in YOUR car seat. Coats that are sized up often add extra unsafe bulk.

Other Resources

CSFTL Hello Winter, Goodbye Coats   |   The Car Seat Lady: Warm and Safe

26734143_1917604811886628_1779279804494135128_n*A correctly tightened harness passes “The Pinch Test” (you cannot pinch any fabric of the harness above the chest clip)

**The first photo shows the unsafe bulk a coat puts between the child and the harness even when it is tightened over the coat

Types of Forward Facing Car Seats

RBB combo seat7.jpg

***Types of Forward Facing Car Seats***

I get asked a lot of questions about types of forward facing car seats. There is often a lot of confusion between these types of seats and what they are called. Often times caregivers ask about moving to a “booster” when they mean a “combination” car seat (forward facing only car seat with a 5 point harness that turns into a booster). Combination seats are sometimes called “harnessed booster” by manufacturers; however, the term “harness to booster” is a more accurate description. An actual “booster” or a “belt-positioning booster” uses the seat belt of the car only.

Hopefully this graphic will help clear up the difference between these seats!

convertible car seat: rear facing, forward facing with harness

multi-mode/all-in-one car seat: rear facing, forward facing with harness, belt positioning booster

combination car seat: forward facing with harness, belt positioning booster

*There is no safety difference between these seats when forward facing for a child who fits the limits and is the right age for the seat
*Child must be at least 2 years old, ideally 3-4, before forward facing
*Child must be at least 5 and mature enough to sit correctly to use a booster

For more extensive information about forward facing:
Car Seats for The Littles:
Forward Facing: The Hows and The Whys
The Right Seat for the Forward Facing Child
Converting a seat from Rear Facing to Forward Facing

The Car Seat Lady:
Forward Facing Seats

Illinois Law Update: Rear Facing Until 2

Reminder for Illinoisans:

Earlier this year the governor signed the mandatory rear facing until 2 law and it goes into effect on January 1, 2019. This is an exciting move for Illinois to be one of the states making legal changes to keep kids safer.

Car crashes continue to be the leading cause of accidental death in children over 4 and the second most in children 1-4. Driving is the most dangerous thing we do every day and each of us can make a difference in saving lives by correctly securing every child in an appropriate restraint for every ride.

It has long been the recommendation to rear face until a minimum of 2 years old, and up to the limits of your seat beyond that; however, in IL will now also be a legal requirement.

Convertible car seats start rear facing and then can be used forward facing. They come in a variety of styles, fits, and height/weight requirements. If you are purchasing a new seat, check with a CPST to ensure the seat meets your needs. If you use an infant seat for your baby, your child will move to a convertible car seat that is rear facing next.

If you have any questions, please let me knowIMG_0714.PNG