Edited by: Jessica Merritt
& Keri Stooksbury
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Earlier in 2023, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA called on the FAA to ban lap infants for safety reasons.¹ The union’s call-to-action shocked many, especially parents of infants and children young enough to fly as a lap child. But with more and more reports of sudden turbulence on planes, flight attendants have first-hand experience with the dangers lap children could face.
Though not a requirement, the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA)² and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)³ strongly recommend that children fly in an FAA-approved car seat or harness. There are many car seats options for air travel, but finding an FAA-approved car seat isn’t as simple as it seems. Beyond FAA approval, there are other factors to consider, such as price, width, and convenience for your family. There are a few rules when it comes to infant car seat bases and booster seats.
Here’s a complete guide to help you find an FAA-approved car seat for air travel.
Child restraint systems (CRS) are strongly recommended for children traveling by plane. You can elect to fly with an FAA-approved car seat or what’s called a Child Aviation Restraint System (CARES) device. Both devices are approved for use during taxi, takeoff, landing, and turbulence.
You must purchase your child a seat, no matter their age, if you plan to have them sit in a car seat or CARES device during your flight. An airline will not hold a complimentary seat for your child to sit in their car seat.
The U.S. government makes it easy to determine if a car seat is FAA-approved for air travel. To find out if the car seat you already have is approved, simply look for the label on the back, bottom, or side of your seat that reads, “This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft.”
The rules are the same on an airplane and in a car for whether or not your car seat should be rear- or forward-facing depending on your child’s weight.
A CARES device is the only FAA-approved car seat alternative and can be used for children up to 40 inches tall and between 22 and 44 pounds. Children this size can still travel in an FAA-approved car seat. Children that can sit upright and be forward facing can use a CARES device that utilizes the aircraft’s existing seatbelt.
Note that while there are FAA-approved booster seats, they, along with backless child restraint systems, are not allowed during taxi, takeoff, and landing.Hot Tip:
If you’re still unsure of if you want to purchase a seat and bring a car seat for your infant when traveling, some airlines may provide an extension for your seat belt. This allows you to secure your lap infant to your body through an extension of your own seatbelt. This is more common on international airlines.
Airlines do not provide car seats for use on their aircraft, but some airlines do provide bassinets for their youngest passengers. Requirements vary, but children must generally be 6 months or younger and weigh less than 22 pounds to travel in a bassinet. Bassinets are free of charge by the airlines that provide them, though you’ll need to be seated in the bulkhead to request a bassinet.
Bassinets are not allowed during taxi, takeoff, landing, and turbulence and are not as safe as when your child is in their own seat in a car seat or CARES system.
Car seats are allowed on international flights, but your car seat may not meet the standards for a car seat at your destination (which could be a problem if you plan to rent a car). In places such as the EU, a parent must be able to remove the harness in a single movement. For this reason, there is no chest clip on EU- or UN-approved car seats. Chest clips aren’t required in the U.S., but they’re still prevalent.
Most airlines do not require you to pay an additional fee for checking a car seat or for bringing a car seat to use in the seat you’ve purchased for your child. Car seats and strollers do not count toward your luggage or carry-on allotment.
If you choose to travel with your car seat but decide to check it at the airport, you may want to consider a car seat bag to protect it from dirt and damage. There are also car seat backpacks that hold the car seat and then allow you to — you guessed it — wear your car seat on your back. This frees up your hands to carry other luggage or push a stroller. We’ll dive in to accessories more later in this article.
There are dozens of car seat options out there, so for the sake of brevity, the FAA-approved car seats on this list are considered best based on a few criteria. Note that backless booster seats are not allowed for use on airplanes during taxi, takeoff, and landing and are therefore not included on this list.
Weight, size, price, overall reviews, and popularity are what make these car seats the best for air travel. When you’re juggling carry-on luggage, a child (or several children), passports, tickets, and more, the last thing you want to worry about is a heavy piece of equipment.
The width of your car seat of choice is also important. It might seem like air travel is getting more and more cramped, but thankfully and factually, the width of airline seats is not shrinking.
Even still, you’ll want to keep in mind that you won’t have as much room in an airplane seat as you do in your car, so size matters. To give you an idea of what to expect, here are the average seat widths for U.S.-based airlines on domestic routes less than 6 hours:
|Airline||Seat Width in Inches||Airline||Seat Width in Inches|
|Alaska Airlines||17.7 to 18.5||JetBlue Airways||17.8 to 18.4|
|American Airlines||16.5 to 19.3||Southwest Airlines||17 to 17.8|
|Delta Air Lines||17.2 to 19||Spirit Airlines||17.75 to 20|
|Frontier Airlines||18||United Airlines||17 to 20|
Before purchasing your ticket, check online for the seat pitch of the airline and aircraft that is scheduled to fly your itinerary (SeatGuru is a great resource). You’ll be able to get an idea of whether or not your car seat will fit properly in the seat before you buy.
And lastly, you should consider the price and overall reviews when making your decision. Each of the car seats on this list is FAA-approved. More expensive won’t necessarily mean safer. And reviews of happy parents and kids should also help make the decision easier.
The Safety 1st June 2-in-1 Convertible Car Seat is our top choice for an FAA-approved car seat. This seat measures just over 18 inches wide and 14.25 pounds in weight. And with an affordable price on Amazon, it’s not a huge investment if you decided to exclusively use this car seat for air travel while having another that stays in your car.
This car seat is convertible, meaning it can grow with your baby. Babies can safely sit in this seat when rear-facing from 5 to 40 pounds, then turn it forward-facing starting at 22 pounds and up to 65 pounds.
Next on the list is an infant car seat that can only be used rear-facing and for babies from 4 to 35 pounds. Just like in your car, an infant car seat must be rear-facing when installed on a plane. The Graco SnugRide is around 15.5 inches wide when installed without the base (which is not FAA-approved) and weighs 7.2 pounds.Hot Tip:
Infant car seats come with a base to use in your car, but the base will not fit on an airline seat (nor is it FAA-approved for use). Bases do, however, fit just fine in the overhead compartment, so you won’t have to check this important part of your child’s car seat for use at your destination.
The Cosco MightFit is a convertible car seat that can safely accommodate children from 5 to 40 pounds in rear-facing mode. At 21.5 inches wide, it’s great for airplane seats and can even fit 3 across a row in most cars — music to the ears of parents with 3 or more small children.
This convertible car seat will work for your child until they are 65 pounds, weighs just over 10 pounds, and generally costs less than $100.
For stylish parents ready to shell out a few hundred dollars on an infant car seat, the Nuna PIPA lite rx might be just what you’re looking for. This FAA-approved car seat come in a variety of colors and patterns and has grown in popularity over the last few years.
This infant car seat weighs just under 7 pounds and is for babies weighing between 4 and 32 pounds in a rear-facing position. The seat is 17.5 inches wide.Hot Tip:
Infant car seats are great for traveling with an baby because they can go from your car to the plane without much effort or having to switch equipment. Just be sure that whichever infant car seat you choose is FAA-approved.
The Doona Infant Car Seat is the most expensive on this list, but it’s easily the most convenient and offers some of the greatest value. That’s because you can go from car to stroller in 1 move thanks to the car seat’s built-in wheels and handlebar, making it a fantastic option for families on the go. The thousands of 5-star Amazon reviews from happy parents confirm it’s a great buy.
The car seat weighs 17 pounds and is just over 17 inches wide. Keep in mind that an infant car seat must be rear-facing and can only hold children up to 35 pounds before needing a larger option. The Doona Infant Car Seat comes with a base for use in the car that should fit in the airplane’s overhead compartment.Hot Tip:
Doona also makes accessories designed to fit its car seat and stroller, such as a rain cover and detachable storage bag.
Though another pricey option at ~$500, including a carrying bag, the WAYB Pico Travel Car Seat is a great investment for families who do a lot of travel and are in the market for convenience.
The WAYB Pico is a forward-facing car seat for kids that weigh 22 to 50 pounds and are between 30 and 45 inches tall. The seat itself folds up neatly and the option above even comes with a carrying bag for the 8-pound car seat to travel in when not in use. And at only 14.5 inches wide, it’s easily the most airline seat-friendly option on this list.
This is a really great option whether you rent cars or use rideshare apps on vacation. While it’s true that some countries don’t require car seats at all, or your taxi driver won’t require a car seat to transport your family, you can have peace of mind knowing that your child can comfortably ride in this compact car seat anywhere you go.
The Child Aviation Restraint System (CARES) Harness is for children who are at least 1 year old and weigh between 22 and 44 pounds. The harness works together with the aircraft’s seatbelt to provide added security to young children.
The harness is extremely lightweight and at just 1 pound, it can even fit into your pocket. In addition to being FAA-approved, the CARES Harness is also approved by air authorities in Canada, the U.K., France, and more. Contact your preferred airline to confirm that this car seat alternative is approved for travel outside of the U.S.
Note that CARES Harnesses are not approved for use in motor vehicles.
When traveling with a sometimes bulky item like a car seat, you might want to consider a few items to make it easier to carry everything.
If you’re checking your car seat, great — you can get a car seat cover that will protect your seat from the elements. The JL Childress Ultimate Backpack comes with straps to allow you to wear your car seat on your back. And if you’re taking your seat with you on the plane, you could tie your car seat to your carry-on suitcase with a car seat travel belt.
When considering a car seat for air travel, you’ll want to look for car seats that fit the width of seats on the aircraft you’ll be flying as well as the type of seat you need. Infant car seats must be rear-facing and are generally only for babies no heavier than about 35 pounds. Convertible car seats grow with your child and can be used rear-facing or forward-facing. However, these seats can be heavier to carry and too large for some airline seats. This guide will come in handy when choosing your child’s car seat for air travel.
Most car seats are FAA-approved, but to be sure, look for a sticker that specifically states that your car seat is approved for motor vehicles and aircraft. Backless booster seats, for example, are not FAA-approved to use on airplanes.
FAA-approved car seats are clearly labeled on the car seat. To find out if your car seat is FAA-approved, look for a sticker either on the back, bottom, or side of your seat that reads, “This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft.”
Yes, the Doona car seat is FAA-approved. The base that the car seat fits into in a car cannot be used on an airplane but can be stowed in the overhead compartment for later use in a car.
No, a 2-year-old does not need a car seat on a plane. While it is recommended that all children have their own seats and sit in a car seat while on a plane, this is not a requirement.
Children are not required to be in a car seat on a plane. However, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) both highly recommend that babies and young children fly in their own seat in a car seat or other child safety harness.
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