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The Ultimate Guide To Flying With a Car Seat in 2023 [U.S. Airline Policies]

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Chris Hassan
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Chris Hassan

Social Media & Brand Manager

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Chris holds a B.S. in Hospitality and Tourism Management and managed social media for all Marriott properties in South America, making him a perfect fit for UP and its social media channels. He has a ...
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Flying with young children can be a great way to help get them used to travel and on their way to becoming mini jet-setters. However, any parent that has boarded a plane with a little one (or more than one) in tow will tell you that it can be very stressful.

Being a parent and just having a day at home is stressful enough. But adding packing, planning, airport security, delays, paperwork, and more is enough to discourage even the most seasoned travelers.

At the end of the day, we all want our kids to have a comfortable, and most importantly, safe flight. And the best way to accomplish that is by having them fly in their own seat, using an approved car seat whenever possible.

In the U.S., children under the age of 2 are allowed to fly for free as a lap child on the ticket of a paying adult. In many situations, it is very likely that a small child would spend the majority of the flight in the arms of their parent, especially on a short flight. However, turbulence and accidents do happen, so that is why car seats are recommended whenever possible. 

With full flights being very common, having an empty seat next to you is not guaranteed. And it’s no secret that paying for an extra ticket isn’t ideal if you don’t have to. But if you are planning on bringing a car seat on your next flight in the U.S., there are some basics that you should be aware of.

Here is an overview of what you need to know about car seats on planes.

FAA-approved Car Seats

Britax car seat FAA label
The FAA-approved label is in red lettering. Image Credit: Britax

First of all, if you want to use a car seat on your next flight, it must be a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-approved car seat or child restraint system (CRS). The airline crew will look for a sticker on the car seat that says “This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft.” Without that information, you will not be able to use your car seat on board.

Doona aircraft approved label
Doona aircraft-approved label. Image Credit: Doona

According to the FAA, the car seat or CRS must be used in a forward-facing aircraft seat, so keep that in mind if you are booking a business class cabin that offers both forward- and rear-facing seats. The car seat itself should be used as indicated by the manufacturer, as you would in an automobile. So the car seat can be rear-facing in a forward-facing seat, for example.

Booster seats, harness vests, and baby chest carriers/slings/wraps are allowed during flight, but not during take-off and landing.

How do you install your car seat on an airplane?It’s best to follow the guidance of the instruction manual provided by your car seat’s manufacturer. The FAA also has a helpful video offering tips for installing forward-facing car seats on a plane.

Car Seat Policies for U.S. Airlines (Overview)

Child in Clek car seat on airplane
Image Credit: Clek

Airline Policy Chart

SCROLL FOR MORE
AirlineMinimum Economy Seat WidthReservation Contact Number
Alaska Airlines16.5 inches (41.9 cm)800-252-7522
Allegiant Air17.8 inches (45.4 cm)702-505-8888
American Airlines16.5 inches (41.9 cm)800-433-7300
Avelo Airlines17 inches (43.1 cm)346-616-9500
Delta Air Lines17.3 inches (43.9 cm)800-221-1212
Frontier Airlines16.5 inches (41.9 cm)801-401-9000
Hawaiian Airlines16.3 inches (41.4 cm)800-367-5320
JetBlue Airways16.3 inches (41.4 cm)800-538-2583
Southwest Airlines15.5 inches (39.3 cm)800-435-9792
Spirit Airlines15.5 inches (39.3 cm)855-728-3555
United Airlines16.1 inches (40.8 cm)800-864-8331

Hot Tip: Traveling soon? Here are our best tips for less stress and more family fun

Individual U.S. Airline Car Seat Policies

Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines strongly recommends small children use a car seat or child-restraint system whenever flying in their own seat. Lap infants may use the seat next to their parents at no cost if it is not otherwise occupied.

To use a car seat on board, it must have both of the following labels attached to it:

  • This restraint system conforms to all applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards
  • This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft (in red lettering)

In addition to those requirements, there are some restrictions as well. Child-restraint systems are not permitted in:

  • Any aisle seat
  • Emergency exit rows
  • Rows immediately in front of or behind the exit rows
  • “A” seats in rows 1 to 4 on flights operated with Embraer E175 aircraft

To prevent the blocking of passengers in the event of an emergency, it is recommended that car seats are placed in a window seat first, or a middle seat if a window is not available.

Since Alaska aircraft have so many configurations, not all car seats will fit in all planes. If you are traveling on a Boeing 737-700, car seats wider than 17 inches (43.1 cm) will not fit. If you are flying on a 737-800/900/900ER, the limit is 17.5 inches (44.4 cm)

It is best to check with the airline to confirm if you have any doubts.

Allegiant Air

Allegiant Air has 2 options for passengers younger than 24 months: either fly for free as a lap child or as a ticketed passenger in an FAA-approved car seat.

Children older than 2 years must have their own seat, and it is highly recommended that they travel in a car seat or a child restraint system if they weigh less than 40 pounds.

Car seats or child restraint systems must have at least 1 of the following labels on them:

  • The FMVSS.213 insignia
  • Language indicating that they are certified or approved for use in motor vehicles and on aircraft
  • Language indicating they conform to all applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards

If the car seat is wider than 17.88 inches (45.4 cm), it is unlikely to fit in an Allegiant Air seat.

You can check the minimum and maximum seat widths of the different aircraft types on the Allegiant website.

American Airlines

American Airlines is pretty clear about what car seats can be used and where they can be used on its flights.

The airline says that “most safety seats that are approved for use in motor vehicles are acceptable for use in aircraft” as long as they have a solid back and seat, restraint straps, and the proper labels.

The labels to look for will likely have:

  • “This child restraint system conforms to all Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards,” and “This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft,” or “This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft”
  • Approval of a foreign government or a label showing that the seat was manufactured under the standards of the United Nations

While it is recommended that parents purchase an additional seat if they plan to use a car seat, if the neighboring seat is available, it can be used for the child.

Like other airlines, car seats are not allowed in exit rows and window seats are preferred, although middle seats can be used if necessary. The child must remain in the car seat with the harness fastened during taxi, takeoff, landing and whenever the “fasten seatbelt” sign is on, especially during turbulence.

Since American Airlines has some first and business class products with angled seats, car seats are not allowed in the following cabins:

  • Airbus A321T (first class)
  • Boeing 777-200 (business class)
  • Boeing 777-300 (business class)
  • Boeing 787-800 (business class)
  • Boeing 787-900 (business class)

Avelo Airlines

Avelo Airlines is a relatively new, low-cost airline from California and it has plenty of information for young travelers.

When it comes to car seats and child restraint systems on board, there are some basics you need to know.

The car seat must have:

  • A solid backseat
  • Placards to determine the orientation of the device in the airplane seat
  • A width of no more than 16.5 to 17 inches (which is the space between the seat armrests on Avelo aircraft)
  • Restraints installed to secure the car seat to the aircraft and internal restraint straps installed to secure the child to the car seat
  • Appropriate labels indicating the seat is approved for use on an aircraft
  • 2 labels: “This CRS conforms to all applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Standards” and “This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft” in red lettering

To use a seat that was not built to U.S. standards, the seat must have a label showing approval from a foreign government or that the seat was manufactured under standards of the United Nations. This label consists of the letter “E” surrounded by a circle followed by a number of the approving country.

As is standard practice, car seats cannot be used in exit rows and cannot block other passengers.

Delta Air Lines

Delta Air Lines has plenty of information for parents traveling with young children.

For parents traveling with a child restraint system or car seat, they must:

  • Ensure that the child restraint seat meets FAA guidelines
  • Ensure that the child restraint seat functions properly and is free of obvious defects
  • Secure the child according to the manufacturer’s instructions
  • Ensure the child does not exceed the restraint’s weight limit
  • Ensure the child restraint is secured to the aircraft seat using the aircraft seat’s safety belt

If the car seat was manufactured in the U.S. after February 25, 1985, it must have the following labels on it:

  • Conforms to all applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Standards
  • Is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft

If the car seat was manufactured outside of the U.S. it must:

  • Have the approval of a foreign government
  • Have been manufactured under the standards of the United Nations

Booster seats are not allowed, and car seats cannot be used in a seat equipped with an airbag seat belt.

Other seats that car seats cannot be used onboard a Delta flight include:

  • Aisle seats
  • Emergency exit rows
  • Any seat 1 row forward or 1 row back from an emergency exit row
  • Bulkhead seats when the safety seat is a combination car seat and stroller
  • Flatbed seats in the Delta One area of theAirbus A330-200 or A330-300 or Boeing 777, 767, or 747 aircraft due to the airbag seatbelt

Frontier Airlines

Frontier Airlines encourages little ones to travel in their car seats, as it is the safest way for them to fly. However, seat widths vary by aircraft, so you will need to double-check before boarding.

The minimum seat widths are 17.4 inches (44.1 cm) on the A319 and A320 and 16.5 inches (41.9 cm) on the A321.

As is industry standard, only FAA-approved car seats are allowed on board and must have the proper labels. If the labels are missing, it cannot be used.

Booster seats may be used during the flight, but not during take-off and landing.

Car seats cannot be placed in:

  • Emergency exit rows
  • Rows directly in front of or behind emergency exit rows
  • The very first row

Car seats are recommended to be placed in window seats so as to not impede aisle access to fellow passengers.

Hawaiian Airlines

Hawaiian Airlines wants to make sure your “keiki” (kid) arrives safely on the islands and back home, so its website is loaded with valuable information.

Regarding car seats and child restraint systems, using an FAA-approved front-facing or rear-facing car seat in flight is recommended.

In order to use your car seat, it must bear 2 labels, written in red:

  • “This child restraint system conforms to all applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards”
  • “This restraint is certified for use in Motor Vehicles and Aircraft”

Booster seats may be used during the flight, but not during take-off and landing.

Since Hawaiian Airlines has a variety of aircraft, seat sizes can vary, which may prevent some car seats from fitting in some seats. Here are the seat dimensions from the inside of one armrest to the other:

  • Airbus A321 — Main Cabin: 16.3 to 18 inches (41.4 to 45.7 cm), Extra Comfort: 18 inches (45.7 cm), First/Business Class: 21 inches (53.3 cm)
  • Airbus A330 — Main Cabin: 16.5 to 18 inches (41.9 to 45.7 cm), Extra Comfort: 18 inches (45.7 cm), First/Business Class: 19.5 to 20.5 inches (49.5 to 52 cm)
  • ATR 42-500 — Main Cabin: 17 inches (43.1 cm)
  • Boeing 717 — Main Cabin: 18 inches (45.7 cm), Extra Comfort: 18 inches (45.7 cm), First/Business Class: 19 inches (48.2 cm)

Car seats and child restraint systems cannot be used in the following locations:

  • Aisle seats
  • Exit rows
  • Rows immediately in front of or behind an exit
  • Row 4 on the B717 planes

Booster seats may be used during the flight, but not during take-off and landing.

JetBlue Airways

JetBlue Airways is a fun airline for kids thanks to free snacks and free live TV during the flight.

For parents, here is what you need to know about flying with a car seat on JetBlue:

  • The CRS or car seat must be FAA-approved and have the appropriate labels
  • Car seats should be placed in the window seat but can be used in the middle seat or aisle seat as long as the other seats remain empty
  • Car seats may not be placed between 2 passengers
  • If a seat is equipped with an airbag seatbelt, a seatbelt extension must be used

JetBlue has quite a few different aircraft, so seat sizes vary. Car seats must be able to fit in the following dimensions:

  • Airbus A220 — 17.8 to 18.9 inches (45.2 to 48 cm)
  • Airbus A320 Core — 16.3 to 18.36 inches (41.4 to 46.6 cm)
  • Airbus A320 Even More Space — 17.5 to 18.65 inches (44.4 to 47.3 cm)
  • Airbus A321 Core — 16.3 to 18 inches (41.4 to 45.7 cm)
  • Airbus A321 Even More Space — 17.3 to 18 inches (43.9 to 45.7 cm)
  • Airbus A321 Long Range — 16.55 to 18.36 inches (42 to 46.6 cm)
  • Airbus A321 Mint — 18.87 to 22.25 inches (47.9 to 56.5 cm)
  • Airbus A31neo Core — 16.55 to 18.36 inches (42 to 46.6 cm)
  • Airbus A321neo Even More Space — 17.5 to 18.65 inches (44.4 to 47.3 cm)
  • Embraer E190 — 18 inches (45.7 cm)

Booster seats may be used during the flight, but not during taxiing, take-off, and landing.

Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines is another family-friendly carrier thanks to its generous cancellation and free checked bags policy.

Onboard, car seats and child restraint systems are welcome and encouraged. However, if the car seat was manufactured before February 25, 1985, it must have one of the following labels. If it was manufactured on or after February 26, 1985, it must have the following first 2 labels:

  • “This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft.”
  • “This child restraint device conforms to all applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.”
  • “FAA APPROVED IN ACCORDANCE WITH 14 CFR PART 21.305 (D) APPROVED FOR AIRCRAFT USE ONLY.”

Car seats approved by foreign governments or the United Nations are also allowed in flight. The CARES CRS is the only harness-type device approved for use on board. The device is designed for small passengers weighing between 22 and 44 pounds.

The car seat or CRS should be used in a window seat or a middle seat as long as it doesn’t block the path to the aisle for other passengers.

Car seats cannot be used in:

  • Aisle seats
  • Emergency exit row seats
  • Seats directly in front or behind the emergency exit row

Southwest’s aircraft fleet is pretty standardized, so almost all seats should be the same size. However, here are the seat dimensions to ensure your car seat will fit:

  • Boeing 737-700 — 15.5 to 17 inches (39.3 to 43.1 cm)
  • Boeing 737-800 — 15.5 to 17.8 inches (39.3 to 45.2 cm)
  • Boeing 737-MAX 8— 15.5 to 17.8 inches (39.3 to 45.2 cm)

Spirit Airlines

Spirit Airlines welcomes parents to bring on FAA-approved car seats on their flight as long as a dedicated seat has been purchased for it (there are no free seats for a lap child).

If the car seat is too large for your selected seat, you may be moved to another seat for free, but not the Big Front Seats which are a “premium product” and would come with an additional charge.

Seat width dimensions for Spirit Airlines aircraft are:

  • Airbus A319 — Big Front Seats: 22 inches (55.8 cm), Deluxe Leather Seats: 15.5 to 17 inches (39.3 to 43.1 cm)
  • Airbus A320 — Big Front Seats: 22.8 inches (57.9 cm), Deluxe Leather Seats: 15.5 to 16 inches (39.3 to 40.6 cm)
  • Airbus A321 — Big Front Seats: 22 inches (55.8 cm), Deluxe Leather Seats: 15.5 to 17 inches (39.3 to 43.1 cm)

As expected, car seats are not allowed in emergency exit rows and may not be used in any seat equipped with an inflatable seat belt.

Additionally, rear-facing child restraint systems may not be accommodated if the height exceeds 25 inches (63.5 cm).

United Airlines

United Airlines welcomes families with FAA-approved car seats and child restraint systems in certain seats, including in Basic Economy.

The preferred location of car seats during the flight is a window seat. However, if a member of the same party is in the window seat and the car seat doesn’t block the exit to the aisle, it may be used in the middle seat.

Car seats cannot be used in the following locations:

  • Rear-facing seats
  • Directly in front of, behind, or in the emergency exit row on any aircraft
  • United Polaris business class on 767, 777, and 787 aircraft

And finally, booster seats are not allowed at all during the flight.

Hot Tip: If your baby is breastfeeding, read our guide on flying with breast milk and how to find nursing rooms at airports.

Tips

Car Seat in American Airlines Economy Class
Using an FAA-approved car seat in their own seat is the safest way for children to fly. Image Credit: Chris Hassan

Traveling with kids can be very stressful, so eliminating some surprises is a good way to reduce some of that stress.

Here are some tips that may help with your next flight.

Book in Advance

Unless you have decided to pay for an extra seat, you will need some luck on your side to get an empty seat next to you.

But you can increase your luck by booking in advance and letting the airline know that you will be traveling with a lap child.

If the plane is not completely full, the airline may block an empty seat next to you for the baby, which you could then use for the car seat. This is not guaranteed, but it could help.

Choose Your Seat Wisely

While most airlines won’t let you choose an exit row if you have a small child on your reservation, if you haven’t added your child yet, be sure to know the rules when selecting your seat.

Each airline has its own rules, but in general, you should avoid emergency exit rows, the rows immediately in front of or behind them, and even some angled lie-flat seats, if you plan on using a car seat in flight.

Pay Attention to Birthdays

Many parents dream of taking their kids to Walt Disney World for their birthday, but be careful if you are flying around the child’s second birthday.

If you traveled when the child was 1 year and 364 days old and then returned after they turned 2, the child would need a paid ticket for the round-trip flight.

One way to avoid that would be to book 2 one-way tickets, so at least the outgoing flight would be free as a lap child.

Bring ID for Your Child

While your child won’t need an ID to get through TSA security or to board the plane, the airline may request proof of age at check-in.

This would only be in the case of a lap child flying for free, as the airline would want to charge an extra ticket if the child was older than 2.

Getting Through the Airport

Doona car seat stroller at the airport
Image Credit: Doona

There is no way to sugarcoat this part. Navigating security and getting around the airport with a car seat can be a pain, especially if you are traveling with a large infant car seat.

Many stroller and car seat manufacturers offer travel systems that allow the car seat to be connected directly to the stroller. That is a good way to get through the airport once dismantling everything for TSA. Most airlines will allow you to gate-check the stroller and board with the car seat during boarding.

If you are looking for a travel-friendly setup, Doona offers a 1-piece car seat and stroller combo that folds into itself and can be rolled right onto the airplane.

Hot Tip: Check out our in-depth buyer’s guides to the best travel strollers and best travel baby carriers.

Gate-checking

If you are crossing your fingers for an empty seat next to you for your lap child and you find the flight to be full, you will not be able to use a car seat.

In that circumstance, you will have a couple of options, mostly depending on the type of plane you are on and how much overhead bin space is available.

If there is space and your baby’s car seat can fit, you can store it in the overhead bin. However, if it doesn’t fit, you will need to gate-check the car seat. That means it will be tossed under the plane and is likely to get dirtier than you might like.

While some airlines might offer a plastic bag for protection, you shouldn’t count on it and should plan to have some sort of cover or bag to place the car seat in to help keep it clean.

Hot Tip: From newborns to 18-year-olds, we’ve got you covered. Be sure to read “What ID and Documents Does My Child Need To Fly?

Final Thoughts

Traveling with your child can be stressful, though it can also be incredibly rewarding and memorable. The most important thing is that your kids have a safe flight, and the best way to ensure that is to have them fly in their own FAA-approved car seat.

While every airline has its own rules and size limitations, the general guidelines are the same throughout different U.S. carriers. As long as you do a little research in advance, your next trip with a car seat should go smoothly.

Safe travels and (try to) enjoy the memories!

Frequently Asked Questions

Do car seats count as checked bags?

No, most airlines will not charge you to check a car seat or stroller if you do not want to bring it on board.

Can I bring my car seat on a plane?

Yes, and it is strongly encouraged as it is safer and more comfortable for the child. The car seat must be FAA-approved and have the proper labels on the side.

Does a 3-year-old need a car seat on a plane?

Although it is not mandatory, the FAA highly recommends that children use an approved car seat or a CARES harness when flying.

Do airlines have an approved car seat list?

Approved car seats will have 1 or 2 labels on the side written in red lettering. If the car seat is from a foreign country, it must list the government approval or United Nations label on the side to be allowed on U.S. flights.

Chris Hassan's image

About Chris Hassan

Chris holds a B.S. in Hospitality and Tourism Management and managed social media for all Marriott properties in South America, making him a perfect fit for UP and its social media channels. He has a passion for making content catered toward family travelers.

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