Guide to Using Car Seats on Planes

Using Car Seats in Airplanes

Everything You Need to Know About Using Car Seats in Airplanes:

We know it’s not mandatory.

We know it’s expensive.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says so…

But we also know that the FAA recommends using car seats in airplanes. So, if we bite the bullet and purchase baby their own seat on the airplane, and lug their car seat (or go through the expense of purchasing an additional car seat specifically for travel), what happens if we run into trouble once we’re on board?

Sadly, many flight crews are not well-versed on the proper usage of car seats on planes. Nor are they familiar with the FAA’s policies and requirements.

It’s my goal with this post to inform parents choosing to purchase an airline ticket for their child about correctly using car seats on planes. I also want to provide parents with resources. Print this post and bring documents with you in case you run into any issues using car seats in airplanes.

using car seats on planes, flying with car seats, car seat on planes

Who needs to use car seats on planes?

car seats in airplanes, using car seats on planes
Riley’s first flight at 10 weeks…

If your child rides in your car in a car seat, they can use their car seat on the plane. It must bear a sticker that clearly says it’s approved for use on an airplane. And while lap infants are legal and certainly the most economical way to travel with an infant, if you purchase an airline ticket for baby they should ride in their own seat in an airplane-approved car seat, or FAA-approved harness.

If a flight is not full, some airlines will allow you to bring your car seat on board and use it if you snag a free seat. However, you will end up having to gate check your car seat if you can’t use it. If that happens, it’s best to travel with a car seat travel bag that will offer some padding and protect your car seat should you have to gate check it.

You should use your car seat on board the plane the same way you do in a car.

If they are rear-facing in your car, they should be rear-facing on the plane… Even if it interferes with the recline of the seat in front of you.

More on that later.

Current guidelines suggest that extended rear facing in the car is the safest choice for your child. If you choose to travel with their car seat, and they are within the seat’s limits for either rear- or forward-facing, for U.S.-based airlines that are governed by the FAA, it is your choice as to how the seat should be installed. It’s easier to install a forward-facing car seat on a plane. And, if you choose to switch your child for the flight, remember the shoulder harness straps need to be raised to forward face, and must be lowered if you decide to rear-face in the car once you’ve arrived at your destination.

How do I install a car seat on a plane?

I will be honest. Installing car seats on planes is a real pain in the butt.

Forward-facing installation is much easier. Installing to rear face is trickier and may require a seat belt extender from the flight attendant. You may need one to forward face anyway. When you board with your car seat, it’s best to ask for one right away, just in case. It’s a lot easier to hand back an unused set belt extender than to struggle to install your seat and then try to get the flight attendant’s attention once everyone is boarding.

The FAA released this handy-dandy instructional video for using car seats on planes. However, I prefer their previous video.

The old FAA information video

The old video released by the FAA made me giggle because it’s not really realistic. However, in a perfect world, yes… You should have ample room in the bulkhead to install your toddler’s lightweight car seat while they happily play with daddy’s phone.

It’s more likely that you’ll need to contort yourself in a tiny seat pitch as you sweat and grunt to install it anywhere close to the perfect recline.

The main points to remember for using car seats on planes are:

  • Ensure that your car seat is approved for airplane use. Be ready to show the flight attendant the sticker on your seat that certifies it.
  • Ask for a seat belt extender as soon as you board, even if you don’t know if you’ll need it.
  • Raise the armrest. It’s not a big deal if you can’t put it down again once the car seat is installed.
  • Install the car seat in the window seat so as not to block exit access for the rest of the row.

What if the flight attendant tells me I can’t use my car seat on the plane?

Sadly, this happens a lot.

The biggest problem I’ve heard about has been the car seat interfering with the seat in front’s ability to recline. A few years ago, a reader got in touch about an issue she had with KLM, and they actually ended up changing their car seat policy. One reader had an issue with Air Canada. However, it was another message from another reader about KLM (in spite of their policy changes) that prompted me to write this post and give parents options on how to manage any negativity from flight crews about car seat usage.

For clarity’s sake, these are FAA regulations and recommendations, that govern American air carriers. CATSA (Canadian Air Transport Security Authority) and EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) all recommend car seats on planes, but do not have this level of governance over their  airlines–they defer to the individual airlines’ policies.

Interpreting the FAA’s policy:

Before flying, I recommend printing your your airlines’ policy regarding car seats on planes. I also recommend printing out this document from the FAASome of the more relevant passages are highlighted here (emphasis mine) and I suggest you do the same:


10b. Proper Use of CRS:

b. Proper Use of CRS. If a child occupies a CRS, a parent/guardian must accompany the
child and the aircraft operator must comply with the requirements that the child is properly
secured in the CRS, the CRS is properly secured in a forward-facing seat, the child does not
exceed the weight limits of the CRS, and the CRS is approved and has the proper labels or

This is often mis-interpreted by flight attendants to mean that the car seat must be forward-facing. Re-read it a little more carefully. It means that the CRS (Child Restraint System, aka car seat) is to be installed in a forward-facing seat. It does not mean that the CRS must be forward-facing.

10d. Regulations:

d. Regulations. Under the provisions in parts 121, 125, and 135, no certificate holder may
prohibit a child from using an approved CRS when the parent/guardian purchases a ticket for the child.
(Certificate holders are encouraged to allow the use of empty seats to accommodate CRS; however, they are not required to allow unticketed children to occupy empty passenger seats, even if the child uses a CRS.)

This means, if your car seat is FAA-approved, they MUST allow you to use it.

10f. Operators Prohibiting CRS Use:

No aircraft operator may prohibit a child from using an approved CRS when the parent/guardian purchases a seat for the child. If an approved CRS, for which a ticket has been purchased, does not fit in a particular seat on the aircraft, the aircraft operator has the responsibility to accommodate the CRS in another seat in the same class of service. The regulations also permit an aircraft operator to use its discretion in identifying the most appropriate forward-facing passenger seat location, considering safe operating practices. For example:

(1) A CRS with a base that is too wide to fit properly in a seat with rigid armrests can be moved to a seat with moveable armrests that can be raised to accommodate the CRS.

(2) An aft-facing CRS that can not be installed properly, because of minimal pitch (distance between seats) between rows, can be moved to a bulkhead seat or a seat in a row with additional pitch.

This means the airline is required to accommodate you and your car seat. That if your car seat doesn’t fit, they must move you to a seat where it does. If your rear-facing car seat interferes with the row in front, they must move you to to one where it doesn’t. 


CRSs must be installed in forward-facing aircraft seats, in accordance with instructions on the label. This includes placing the CRS in the appropriate forward or aft-facing direction as indicated on the label for the size of the child. A window seat is the preferred location; however, other locations may be acceptable, provided the Par 16 Page 11 AC 120-87B 9/17/10 CRS does not block the egress of any passenger, including the child’s parent or guardian, to the aisle used to evacuate the aircraft.

Again, this means the airplane seat must be forward-facing, not the car seat. And you may choose to install your car seat rear facing if your child is still within the rear-facing limits of the seat.

What do I do if they still won’t allow me to use my car seat on the plane?

If you run into any trouble, try to remain calm and collected. Any losing of tempers and you run the real risk of getting thrown off the plane, even if you’re right.

Take notes and names. You’ll already be stressed with everything that goes along with flying with a baby. This is an instance where you really need your wits about you.

If you have all this information, they may still refuse to allow you to use your seat. You are well within your rights to demand a refund for your baby’s ticket once you arrive. However, that means to stay on board, you’ll have to comply with what they say. Even if you know that they are wrong.

What are the best travel car seats?

You need an FAA-Approved car seat. If baby is still little, and their infant car seat carrier can be installed without a base, you’re good. However, things get a bit more complicated once you move up to a convertible car seat. Many complain that their convertible car seat is just too heavy/bulky/difficult to install to travel with. If that’s the case it might be worth it to purchase an additional seat for use just to travel. We did this and found it handy to have a second car seat in Grandma’s car.

Here are a couple of convertible car seats that are lightweight, inexpensive, and easy to travel with:

Cosco Scenera NEXT

travel car seat, car seats on planes, cosco scenera, scenera travel

This was our travel car seat of choice, due to its light weight (just over 10lbs), low price, and ease of installation. You can rear face to 35lbs and it’s good for forward-facing kids up to 40lbs. Depending on how big your kids are, they may grow out of it height-wise a little sooner. The Cosco Scenera‘s  limit for height rear-facing is 36″, and 43″ for forward-facing children.

Safety 1st Guide 65

travel car seat, guide 65, safety 1st travel car seat

This car seat is a little heavier at 14 pounds, and a little more expensive at around $100. The height and weight limits are much higher than the Scenera’s, so you might get a bit more use out of it. The Safety 1st Guide 65‘s rear-facing limits are 36″ for height and 40lbs for weight, and forward facing your child can remain harnessed until 52″ and 65lbs.

Can’t I just check my car seat as luggage?

Well you can.

However many car seat manufacturers consider a checked seat to be a crashed seat. That would result in voiding the warranty.

You have no way of knowing how gently (or not) your car seat has been handled. Car seat safety advocates declare that the only way a car seat can be safely checked as luggage is in the original packaging.

Let’s be real. Even if we still had that box kicking around, there’s no way we’re lugging THAT through the airport.

If you’ve purchased a seat for your baby, the point is moot. Your car seat is coming on board. If you take your chances in hopes of a seat, or must bring your seat and check it, I highly recommend purchasing a padded car seat travel bag, and gate checking it.

As always, I welcome your feedback! Please share any questions, tips, advice, or stories you may have about using car seats on planes. They’re not quite as scary as snakes!

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44 Responses to Guide to Using Car Seats on Planes

  1. V at #

    Thank god for you Corinne! I mean, where else can a gal find reliable info on using carseats on an airplane?

    My son is 2 years old and very large. Way past the days of ‘lap child’. We are flying soon and super nervous about figuring out the car seat situation once onboard.

    After a ton of research, including your blog, I sprang for the Diono RXT because I think I can get a lot of milage out of it even off the airplane.

    I’m printing your recommended documents now. Fingers crossed! Wish us luck!!


    • Corinne at #

      Thank you for your kind words and good luck on your flight!

      • Jessica Segebarth at #


        Great post, thank you so much for sharing!
        Question, I’ll be flying with a 2 month old in a couple weeks. If we decide to bring the car seat on board we’ll need to bring the base on board as well (it is an infant seat). Is using a base on the flight permitted? Thanks again!!!

        • Corinne at #

          Hi Jessica! You won’t be able to use the base on board, so please ensure your seat can be installed without the base. Most can be installed with a seat belt only, even in a car. The base makes it a lot easier 🙂

  2. Such important tips! Sharing all around!

  3. Jenna at #

    I never used a carseat on an airplane with either of my two boys, but I can see the purposes of doing so. This is a great informational post!

  4. Nicole at #

    This is awesome! We are about to take a flight from the US to Canada and I am getting pretty nervous about the whole trip, especially the car seat bit. I was planning to take our Britax Marathon on the plane with us but after reading that the Cosco Scenera is also travel approved, which my mom has in her car and is half the weight I’m going to call her and take that instead. Thanks!

  5. Last week I fly from NY to FL with my 2 years old daughter, and the flight attendants won’t let me use the infant car seat, no matter how hard I try to explain. My husband have to leave his work to pick up the seat. I think air line company should be more aware about this situation.

    • Corinne at #

      Hi Michelle. Which airline? They should definitely have allowed you to use her seat, if it is airplane-approved.

  6. Vinci at #

    Really a great interesting to know!!

  7. Silvia at #

    Hi Corrine,

    this is interesting conversation here. You say that airlines should always allow passengers to use their car seat, no matter which one. I work for airline and our company allows only car seats foward facing with 5 point buckle closing. This is also written in our company`s rules and regulation book. So when I don`t allow passengers to use other car seat then this I only follow our company`s policy. How about passengers? Are they still entitled to reqest using their car seat, doesn`t matter which one or they simply have to follow individual regulation of particular airlines?

    • Corinne at #

      Hi Silvia!
      Airlines operating out of the US must comply with FAA policy, which states that they are allowed to use the FAA-approved car seat of their choosing so long as they have purchased a ticket for their child. This includes rear-facing seats (and installing convertible seats rear facing) regardless of whether or not it interferes with the seat in front. Policy in Europe and elsewhere usually defers to the airline.

  8. jen at #

    Can you use a carseat WITH THE BASE on an airplane? My 2 yr old still rear faces in her infant seat with our base setting to 8 so she has longest leg room. I don’t know how to install a base w seat on an airplane? thanks..

    • Corinne at #

      Hi Jen! No, you can’t use the base on an airline. If your carseat is FAA approved, it should be able to be installed without using it. Otherwise, since your daughter is two, I might recommend investing in a convertible seat that you will need to purchase eventually anyway. Have a great flight!

  9. Dan at #

    I can’t find any information on laws regarding car seats on planes for Mexican airlines. We are flying We have purchased tickets for our two children 2 years/4 years old, and they have reserved seating in window seats with one parent accompanying each child.

    • Corinne at #

      Hmmm. It seems as though it’s the Dirección General de Aeronáutica Civil that regulates Mexican airlines, but I couldn’t find anything on their site regarding flying with babies or children. I used the Google Translate button, as I don’t read Spanish. Good Luck!

  10. Thomas at #

    Many here have asked about foreign carriers and their rules on CRS (Child Restraint Systems). It is correct that foreign carriers have other regulatory agencies which might have different rules.

    However, if the airline travel you are commencing is from or to the United States, then the flight will fall under FAA and DOT rules. The carrier must have a FAA certificate of operations to conduct the flight (Part 135 Federal Aviation Regulations). This means that they have to comply with all FAA rules and regulations. This rules should be valid for the entire flight – even outside US airspace. And, it would be quite an airline to change rules mid-flight (i.e. forbid a CRS once the plane leaves US airspace). There is certainly is no question when you buy a code-shared ticket, i.e. buy United ticket but it’s a Lufthansa operated flight – all FAA rules apply at all times.
    Remember how the air crew tells you not to congregate in the aisles due to FAA regulations? This is enforced upon takeoff in London (to the US). Or cellphone/electronics usage etc… the purser would have a hard time explaining why the CRS rules are not being followed.
    If the flight is a foreign domestic flight, i.e. London-Birmingham or even inner-European, i.e. Stockholm-Rome, then FAA rules do not apply and you would have to check with the airlines or the European regulatory agencies.

  11. Valerie at #

    Updated FAA document to print regarding CRS policies 🙂

  12. Lore at #

    Travelling with an 8 month old in a few weeks, and she still fits in her infant bucket seat. BUT it is wider than 16 inches! It measures 18 inches wide WITH the handles. Do the handles matter? It should still fit in the seat, right? I don’t want to buy another car seat…

    • Corinne at #

      Hi Lore!
      That is a tough call but there are only two infant car seats (that I could see) that are 16″ wide or less. You might be ok by liftiing an armrest, but I would check with the airline directly first. Good luck!

  13. angelina at #

    Hi, I wanted to know if my daughter can fly allegiant airlines w/out a carseat w/ her paid seat.can she sit in her own seat? It’s from San Diego to Stockton CA. She’s 2 yrs. & 9 mos.the carseat I’m taking is strictly for when my mom picks us up.& doesn’t have the approval sticker.I’m just taking it for the car rides.does she have to have a carseat??

    • Corinne at #

      Hi Angelina!
      No, if your daughter is older than two she is not required to ride in a car seat on board the plane. Please make sure your seat is properly padded if you are going to gate check it. Have a great flight!

  14. Kim at #

    Great article! Just took a flight on Spirit with a 5- month old and 5 year old. I brought the baby in her Chico keyfit 30 (FAA approved – notes on the side of seat, along with installation illustrations for use without the base). I also purchased the baby her own seat. After a SEVEN hour delay, we finally got on the plane and I was struggling to install the car seat, as I’d never done it base-free or on a plane. I asked the flight attendant if she was able to help, and she snapped at me, said I couldn’t use it, etc. I tried showing her the diagrams on the side of the seat as well as the note saying it was FAA approved but she was having none of it. Anyway, it was awful – super stressful, but with this article I feel armed and ready for the flight home😉

  15. Miranda at #

    I had the worse experience flying Southwest with a rearfacing infant. We bought a seat specifically for him. They only had two bulkhead rows where our carseat would fit.

    We called ahead and corporated said we should have any issues. We told the gate agent that we had a rearfacing carseat and she acted like we would have no issues. Gate agent later stated she didn’t understand and she would’ve allowed us to preboard if she had known (insert head bang on wall)

    Well it came boarding time and the seat would not fit in any of the standard rows, only bulkhead. This caused an issue because these seats were already occupied by people who came on after me, but before I could make it back to the front of the plane. (Southwest airplanes on have two bulkhead rows)

    Gate agent came back to talk to me and called a customer service rep. Customer service representative refused to listen to me or acknowledge the FAA regulation. She immediately stated the two rows are reserved for people with disabilities and that some people have invisible ones. She had no knowledge of who was preboard for disability accommodations or not (there were only 3 people preboard for that reason, two others that came later were the wife and grandchild of a preboard)

    She called corporate who only told her to ask if my son required it for a disability. I explained he required it for the proper angle to breathe properly due to his age but that apparently wasn’t enough for them. She went back to speak to corporate again and in the mean time I had to appeal to passengers sitting in the bulkhead seats because Southwest was clearly not going to ask. Another lady a couple rows back overheard and offered to swap if they wanted so they could stay together. The preboard gentleman didn’t want to and kept saying he wouldn’t give up his seat (which I never asked him to because I knew he needed the seat). They eventually agreed and swapped.

    Customer service agent came back and said that my son could fly as a lap baby or they could remove me from flight. I told her it wasn’t happening as we had already solved the issue and I had my other son on the flight along with other family members.

    I reached out to Southwest via Facebook Messenger explaining the situation and said I didn’t want same issue coming back. They too basically declined that they would follow the FAA regulations and stated those rows are for disability only and that they will never ask a passenger to move seats (which goes against the FAA regulations that they are required to accommodate if the seat doesn’t fit). They believe in following the ADA, but not FAA Guidelines on car seats. However, they did tell me to let the Ticketing Agent know that I require special seating on my return flight and to also let the gate agent know. Return flight went without a hitch because both Ticketing Agent and Gate Agent gave me preboard for me and my son.

    SO, lesson learned – tell the ticketing agent and gate agent upfront you require accommodations and life is easier.

    • Corinne at #

      How awful, Miranda. Thank you for sharing your story and for the heads up!

  16. Nadya at #

    We’ll be going on a long haul flight with a 9 month old (14 hours). We purchased a seat for my daughter but we’re debating whether or not we should bring our car seat. Is it okay/safe for baby to sit in the car seat for long periods?

    • Corinne at #

      Hi Nadya!
      If you’re daughter is 9mos. and you’ve purchased her a seat, she MUST ride in a car seat. It’s perfectly ok for her to be in it for a long time, and it’s the safest place for her on the plane. Of course you can take her out to take a break from time to time, but fingers crossed she sleeps and rests much of the way!

  17. Thanks Corinne for your self experience of car seat with infant. Actually i am gonna travel with my family to Europe for almost a month. I heard about car seat before but i don’t need at that time but now as i am blessed with a beautiful baby girl i need that. Will favor me regarding the car seat, i mean which car seat would be best for my little angle.

  18. Caitlin at #

    Hi Corinne,

    I am looking at booking a trip from Toronto to San Diego around October. I may be travelling alone with my two sons who will be turning 3 and almost 5. I would also like to rent a car when we get there. Would you recommend bringing my own car seats for them or renting when we get there?
    Should I also put either of them in one on the plane? I know they both technically don’t need one but I want them to be safe.
    This will be their first time flying so I am a bit nervous!
    Thanks so much for all of your tips!

    • Corinne at #

      Hi Caitlin!
      If they ride in a car seat while traveling in a car, they can ride in an airplane in a car seat. For your three-year-old I would recommend a lightweight convertible seat that is easy to travel with. Your five-year-old likely rides in a high back booster at home. You can’t use those on a plane (nor a regular booster, for that matter) but they are smaller and easier to lug along. When my kids were five we brought it on board and stored in in the overhead bin.

      Although if your three-year-old is likely to balk at the only one being in a car seat, you can gate check his seat and if you get a carry bag for his seat you could likely stuff the booster in there too.

      Since they aren’t babies they will be actually able to help and (hopefully) listen 🙂 but they may actually be a bit scared since they are old enough to understand that flying is weird. Lots of prep before in terms of what will happen and what is expected of them and then once on board, lots of snacks and books and games. Don’t sweat screen time if they enjoy it. My kids started looking forward to long flights as it gave them unfettered access to their devices! Have a great trip and good luck!

  19. It is great that we can use a car seat in planes for kid’s safety and comforts. This is really great news for kid’s parents.

  20. Jill at #

    I purchased tickets behind the exit row and now I read that you can’t use a forward/read facing carset in front or behind the ex it row 🙁

  21. Annie at #

    I am a very new mom with of a foster child (a very small 18 months) with significant medical needs including tube feedings. We purchased a seat for him and had NO problems on the first flight. In the second the stewardess would not let me use the seat because it could not be ‘buckled through the bottom”. She seemed to think the seat (a standard infant ‘bucket’ seat) should have slots in the bottom to buckle it through. She offered no option other than to hold him in my lap. It was a scary flight. he wormed the whole time to get down, banged his head several times on the window and the seat in front of us. I asked for a harness and was told it wasn’t necessary he was fine. Connecting the tube feeding with him in my lap was a disaster. i’m nervous about flying home. Have you heard of such a thing? What can i do?

    • Corinne at #

      Wow, Annie–I’m so sorry you had to deal with that. My recommendation would be to contact the airline and ask them to confirm their car seat policy. Then I would print it out and the FAA guidelines AND the manual for your car seat where it states that it can be installed without a base. I know it sounds like a lot but it really is the only way to ensure you are prepared for the worst (while hoping for the best!). I am constantly surprised by how flight attendants are not always aware of the policies and it’s so hard to challenge their knowledge without putting them on the defensive. I wish I had better advice for you but know that you are doing all that you can and we are rooting for you!

  22. Michelle at #

    Great article!! Quick question for you – can a car seat only go in the window seat? We have a red eye with Air Canada going to Europe and they put us in the three middle seats of the plane with a 3-3-3 configuration, but I am freaking out that they will not let us use our car seat since we do not have the option of placing our daughter in a widow seat, and they will not allow us to select our own seats. Our daughter is 18 months old. I am also scared they will force us to do forward facing given she is 24 pounds, which will make it really difficult for her to sleep. Can I demand it be rear facing or do I have to put it forward facing if they insist? It’s especially complicated since the second leg of our flight departs from Canada and lands in Europe so no US in that portion so scared they did not even need to listen to/follow the FAA requirements.

    • Corinne at #

      If the configuration is 3-3-3 you will be fine. If you are all in the middle it will be best for her to be in the middle of you. If it is a convertible seat they may insist it be forward facing but an infant bucket cannot legally be installed forward facing in a car so it’s the same for if it’s in a plane. The onus is on the airline to prioritize your child’s safety over the recline of another passenger, but not all flight attendants are aware of that. Good luck!

  23. Danielle Kabaghe at #

    We just flew on southwest flight with my 16 month old. I bought a ticket for him but my husband could not get thr carseat (britax emblem) installed. He said he couldnt get the buckle in a place where it could latch or something like that. He blamed it on the way the seatbelt was and also tried the extender. We tried putting the seatbelt over the carseat (how I’ve seen down with infant seats) but they said we couldnt do it that way and made us gate check it and have him sit on my lap. Have you heard of people having difficulty with southwest seatbelts or with the britax emblem? Thank you!

    • Corinne at #

      It REALLY varies from airline to airplane to car seat manufacturer. I’m so sorry you had such trouble. What a bummer 🙁

  24. Great Guide about Using Car seats.


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