What You Need to Know About Flying with Car Seats & Booster Seats
We always travel with car seats. Always. And for our road trip across Alberta, I was pretty happy to road test the Clek Oobr booster seat, as Bub had just outgrown his trusty Scenera.
So I felt pretty good about our trip and the Oobr was great to travel with in spite of its size and weight, so then I wrote about it and the nice folks at Clek posted my review on their Facebook page.
And then I learned that I was doing it wrong. Quite wrong.
Although Bub was at the required weight for the Oobr, new regulations just passed meant, at three, he was too young to be in that seat. He needed to be four. So I wiped the egg off my face, and stopped to pick up Bub a new seat on the way home – an Evenflo Chase that reminded me of our Scenera in profile and weight.
I also learned that when flying with car seats that a checked seat is considered a crashed seat. That makes sense, I guess, considering the rough treatment our bags get. Have you ever seen this video?
So this means you shouldn’t check your car seat as luggage. According to to a document prepared by the CPSTs and CRSTs in the Car Seats For The Littles Facebook Page:
If you must check a car seat, put it in its original packaging with padding in the box. Or maybe another box with padding. And then gate check it (it’s far more convenient to use the seat on board than to drag a big box to the gate). All too often I see parents check their car seats at the ticket counter, wrapped in nothing but a plastic bag to keep the cover clean. The cover being clean at the other end is the least of the concerns. The worst thing that can happen is that a car seat arrives at the other end with damage that cannot be seen. The only way to find out that there’s damage is during or after a crash when the seat has failed.
I don’t think I know anyone who still has their car seat box. Or who is willing to drag a giant box through the airport in addition to their children, stroller, carry-on bags, etc.
What About Gate-Checking Car Seats?
So if you’ve purchased your baby or toddler a seat or they are over two, a lightweight seat like the Scenera or our new Chase can be bungee corded to one of your wheely carry-on bags and they are not too bulky or heavy to manoeuvre. Belt-positioning booster seats may not be used on planes. But, if you don’t want to gate check, low-back ones easily fit in the overhead bins of most aircraft.
Most CPSTs and CRSTs do not condone lap babies AT ALL. So they won’t give you any advice on gate checking car seats since they believe there is no reason to. However, both my children frequently flew as lap infants when there was no spare seat on the plane. The reason the FAA won’t ban lap infants is because they fear the cost will inspire many families to drive to instead. In spite of a properly installed car seat, driving is statistically less safe.
However, I’m now sufficiently paranoid enough to recommend these car seat travel bags for gate checking when flying with car seats. They are sturdier than just the covers you can get, so will offer the seat some protection. Plus they either are on wheels or with backpack straps, to help ease your load as a traveling pack mule.
What About Renting Car Seats?
I’m not going to sugar coat it and say it’s super easy to install a car seat on a plane. It’s not. Probably the easiest, peasiest option is to rent a car seat at your destination. But NOT from a car rental place. Try renting from a baby equipment rental business that will meet you with it at the airport. Or borrow one from a friend or connection you make via social media. Or else plan exclusively to take public transit (babies and toddlers LOVE that!). But then you should still make sure your baby is safe on the plane.
One option is the CARES Harness – the only FAA-approved flight harness for infants weighing 22-44 pounds in their own seat on a plane. It weighs a pound at most, and easily fits in your purse or carry-on.
- Baby Travel Gear
- The Best FAA-Approved Car Seats
- Using Car Seats on Planes
- Tips & Information for Traveling with Babies & Toddlers
- Tips for Flying with an Infant or Toddler at Every Age & Stage
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I am SO relived that you now realize the immense dangers of putting such a young child in a booster seat. It is absolutely not only about the weight of the child. My average weight and height daughter is 7.5 and will remain in her harnessed car seat for at least another year. With the huge variety of seats available with harnessed limits at 80lbs in the US and harnessed height limits at 62 inches there is little need to rush a booster. Harness as long as you can! Don’t scrimp on safety!
I still don’t know what I should do when I fly with my daughter’s car seat. Do I wrap it in bubble wrap and stuff it in a giant back pack? I need the car seat for the rental car we are using during our trip. I have heard that rental car companies car seats are hit or miss for quality and cleanliness.
Hey Andrew – the bubble wrap and giant backpack sounds about right to me, and would cost less than the special bag above. Although at less than $40, that bag doesn’t seem too outrageously priced. And I would definitely try to gate check it.
Agreed on the car rental car seats, unless you can locate one of those agencies that will rent you a car seat and meet you at the airport…
The rented seats are not recommended by CPSTs either bc of their Unknown history.
Wow. I didn’t realize I should plan to have my car seat packed in something to gate check it. Thanks for the heads up. I was just going to give them the car seat.
I always just checked it in a plastic bag. Now I believe I should have gate-checked it in protective packaging and will do so from now on. Good luck!
Traveling with our daughter next week and just bought the carseat cover wheelie bag after reading this…after previously buying the GoGo Babyz Travelmate, which I’m sure we’ll use once she turns two and we have to buy her a seat. Also bought the Scenera (our third carseat) just for travel. So much for trying to keep our baby gear to a minimum. But better safe and prepared than sorry, I say. Thanks, Corinne!
We use the brica cover and then load her clothes and some soft toys inside for extra padding, but still no guarantees. I will plan on using a CARES harness when she is old enough.
I’m glad you wrote about this – it’s something that is easily forgotten.
Great advise about traveling with a carseat. It really he;ps to know all of this before flying.
I can’t believe that video! Seemed like that guy was putting on a show he was so careless!
I’ll be flying next March with my just turned 2 year old. Should I be installing her car seat on the plane or is she old enough to just sit in the seat? I’ve only done one short flight on a very small 15 seater plane where she sat in my lap at 8 months old. I’m trying to get info to prepare for a big family trip with a 2 year old! We are doing all inclusive so I’m not sure if we need the car seat at the other end or not…
If you are doing All Inclusive you will likely transfer to your hotel or resort via a coach-style bus, so a car seat is not necessary. They may not even have seat belts on board for you to install anyway. If you think you will be doing any day trips by taxi or rental car, I do recommend bringing along her seat and installing it on the plane if it is airline approved. If you don’t plan on doing any excursions when you’re there, she is legally allowed to be in her plane seat with the seat belt fastened. If you’re concerned she won’t stay put, or want her a little more securely fastened, you can buy or rent a CARES harness, which is approved for use on most airlines. Have a fantastic trip!!
Thanks for the reply! That is really helpful.
Are the car seats you refer in the blog, scerena and chase, airlines approved? I couldn’t find it stated anywhere in the Amazon listing
Hi Joanie! Yes, these seats are FAA/Airline approved. More here: https://havebabywilltravel.com/tips-info/baby-travel-gear/faa-approved-car-seats/
Thank you so much for this post (I know I am a few years late!) We are travelling in 4 weeks with our toddler (she will be 20 months old then)…The only car seat we have is her Recaro Proride…large car seat. I was wondering what you recommended for flying. I was planning on holding her on my lap until I thought about it a lot and she is very squirmy…does not like sitting still…and wants to constantly get down. So, we may be better off strapping her in?! We need advice!! Thanks so much!
For travel I recommend the Cosco Scenera car seat – it is less than 10lbs and super easy to install. It is also very inexpensive. I have flown with my kids as lap infants at that age, and at the time would’ve paid anything to get their own seats!
Just wanted to say thanks! Because of your blog, I was able to quickly figure out how to fly with our little one for the first time. (We bought the JL Childress bag via your link so hopefully you’ll get a little of that.)
Great to hear, Chris – happy travels to you and your family!
Wow! What do you do when you’re planning to fly with 3 kids and 3 car seats?
Flying with a car seat is quite risk because car seat and plane seat is different so if you travel in plane so i suggest that buy airplane seats.
Many airlines charge extra per piece of luggage, and extra for “over size or over weight” baggage. However, a car seat is a “no charge” piece of luggage.
Use this to your advantage!!
Buy a “car seat bag” put your seat in and fill it with clothes. This pads and protects your car seat and allows you extra weight and baggage free of charge.
I have traveled internationally (several times a year) this way with 2 kids for the past 5 years. My car seats come out the other end safe and in one piece and I escaped added baggage fees by airlines!
Great tip, Laura–thanks!
Unfortunately, this is not the case for Airbaltic airline (european).. I would love to be able to free gate check my car seat!
Oh that’s a shame, Kristina! How is AirBaltic otherwise?
Recently flew with China Southern on CZ351 Guangzhou to Singapore July 15th 2015. We bought a ticket for our two year old and schlepped the car seat to the gate. The infant seat (an Evenflow with an FAA sticker) was confiscated, put in a giant garbage bag and tossed somewhere in the belly of the plane. We tried talking to the Captain but were not allowed to.
Never fly China Southern Airlines with children!
Wow, Malki–thanks for sharing your story. Did you get in touch with the airline after your flight?
“And probably the easiest, peasiest option is to rent a car seat at your destination from one of those places that will meet you with it at the airport.”
Maybe easiest and peasiest but contrary logic to your entire article in regards to safety…
For one it’s stupid costly to rent car seats, in my experience rental places want upwards of $15/day or more to rent a single car seat (I have been quoted $25 a day) after a few days you can exceed the cost of simply purchasing new… Meaning you could have purchased a brand new in the box car seat and checked that at the luggage counter complete with all it’s factory packing that should allow it to arrive undamaged and you now have a backup or travel car seat complete with packaging… Second you have no idea about the condition of that rented car seat, as you imply, unseen damage is well unseen regardless of claims of ‘inspection’ by the rental company, there is no way they can’t tell if it’s damaged if the damage is unseen, they are only doing visual checks nothing more… In the end there is nothing to assure you that your ‘rented’ car seat will be in any better condition then one you brought with you or that it wasn’t in an unreported ‘accident’ from the previous renters or mishandled by the previous renters… If safety is you end goal, renting a car seat at your destination is not inline with that goal…
HI there do you happen to have any tips on how to protect our stroller?? We have a bigger double jogging stroller that we paid alot of money for…and I would hate to have it broke when we get to Disney.
Hi Alyssa! There are carrying bags that you can get, although I don’t know if they come large enough for a double jogger. But I think that if it’s properly folded you shouldn’t have any issues. Those things are pretty tough.
How do you get the car seat through security to do a gate check? We have a Graco My Ride 65 and it is kinda bulky. What is the best way to package/get it to the gate?
I recommend investing in a travel bag if you’re going to gate check it. This Ultimate Car Seat Travel Bag is the best one and well worth it to protect your seat. Good luck!
FYI, if you plan to take a car seat in a bag through security, you may have to remove it from the bag. If you pad the bag with extra stuff, it makes it more difficult. Now I add my coat to the bag after I go through security.
Great tip, Jennifer–thanks!
Safety and cute! thanks for sharing.
In fact the Manufacturer’s Alliance for Child Passenger Safety issued a statement for CPS Technicians/Instructors on the subject:
Car Seats Gate-Checked or Checked as Luggage
Car seats are designed to withstand most motor vehicle crash forces. In general, the MACPS does not consider a gate-checked car seat or a car seat that is checked as luggage to be one that has experienced forces equivalent to a motor vehicle crash. Once the destination is reached, it is recommended to inspect the car seat to make sure no visual damage has occurred and all aspects of the car seat function properly.
See this blog for more: https://carseatblog.com/18895/flying-with-kids-carseats-the-checked-carseat-controversy/
I appreciate the comment, Lena. Ironically it was the community of the very blog you link to that came down on me like a ton of bricks 🙂
Thank you so much for this post. I didn’t realize I should plan to have my car seat packed. That is really helpful.
I normally carry my son’s car seat whenever we travel overseas, to resolve the hassle of lugging this huge car seat everywhere we go, i bought a premium car seat travel bag https://amt-pro.com/collections/bags/products/premium-car-seat-travel-bag . Does the job way better than expected.
Straightforward and well written, thank you for the info
Traveling with kids brings parents two sides, the good and the bad. The good side is that it is really fun and exciting, on the other hand, it’s difficult to do some baby stuff. This is such a very nice and helpful post. You have got some really nice tips. Thanks for sharing 🙂
This is amazing blog and i must say this can be very fruitful for parents who are travelling with their kids. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful blog.
The FAA urges parents to use FAA approved car seats on the plane during the flight. It is hard. Wish there was more support for this at airports like rollicarts or something that could be used.