I’ve been flying a lot back and forth across the country recently and that involves flying over mountain ranges where turbulence is prevalent and there’s always some big storm to fly over that makes the plane ride feel more like a roller coaster ride. The pilot inevitably announces that drink service must be stopped and the flight attendants should take their seats until the air settles down and it’s safe to move about the cabin again. But wait! Across the aisle is a child under the age of 2 who isn’t required to be restrained, being held in a parent’s arms. Something is wrong here.
The airplane coffee pot is supposed to be restrained during take-off, landing, and turbulence, but children under 2 are not required to be restrained. The American Academy of Pediatrics has a policy recommending that children of all ages be restrained on an aircraft. Safe Kids USA recommends buckling kids up on aircraft. Even the FAA recommends it. It’s just good common sense.
Let’s face it: car seats are a PITB to lug through the airport. I’ve done it, I know what it’s like. I did it when traveling by myself with a baby and I did it when traveling with my dh and 2 kids. No matter what, it’s schlepping something with bags tossed on it, plus dragging another car seat or booster, plus dragging my heavy computer (What?! Me travel without my computer? Never!), plus dragging 2 complaining kids along. No wonder I’d rather just stay home, lol.
Enter the CARES (Child Aviation Restraint System) harness by Kids Fly Safe. This FAA-certified harness is designed for use on airplanes only, for children weighing between 22-44 lbs. who ride forward-facing in a vehicle. That means it’s not for babies or little toddlers. The harness is a very simple design: there’s an installation strap, made of seat belt material, that wraps around the plane seat and gets tightened underneath the tray table. Since it’s snug to the seat, it won’t interfere with the tray table of the passenger sitting behind leading to any grumbling from that direction. The harness itself lays down over the child’s chest and buckles with a chest clip. The plane’s seat belt passes through 2 loops at the bottom of the harness which keeps the harness secured at the bottom.
The harness is very simple to install. I watched the installation video on the web site many months ago, so I had the gist of how it installed, and I read through the instructions the night before our trip. It took me probably less than 2-3 minutes to get it installed–I wasn’t timing myself, rather I was trying to get out of the way of the oncoming passengers and not get knocked out by passing luggage . The only thing I forgot to do was secure the long tail end of the installation strap: it’s made to go around first class seats too; alas, we were flying coach, so the strap was long enough for the little girl sitting behind my dd to grab and play with for a bit.
The CARES harness was designed by a grandmother who watched her own very pregnant dd getting off an airplane (pre-9/11) with a car seat, small child, and carryons in tow. Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say, and she thought there must be something better! Today, CARES is also certified for use in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the UK and Singapore.
I thought the CARES harness was very simple to use and my 6.5 yr old dd liked it. She’s harnessed in one of our vehicles, so she was up for trying the harness out on the plane. I did loosen the harness so she could access her tray table and draw pictures. The harness comes in its own small pouch and weighs about a pound–very lightweight when compared to a car seat. The lightest convertible car seat on the market is the Cosco Scenera and it weighs about 9 lbs. Another seat on the market for forward-facing kids that bills itself as a travel seat is the SafeGuard Go and it’s also around 9 lbs., but can’t be used on airplanes. It really wasn’t any trouble at all “lugging” the CARES harness through the airport: I had dd strap the pouch to her rolling carryon and away we went. It could also fit in a purse if you’re so inclined to carry one.
There are a couple of drawbacks to the CARES harness that I simply have to address seeing as how we’re a car seat blog. The harness does pull the lap belt up on the belly. But let’s remember what we’re protecting against in a plane: turbulence. We’re more about keeping the child contained in the plane seat than abdominal injuries. Yes, there are many incidents every year where planes run off the end of the runway or some other mishap where the crash forces may be similar to a vehicle crash, but still, the main problem in a plane is turbulence. Also, what are you going to use to transport your child when you get to your destination? We used CARES this trip because we went to Washington, DC, and used public transportation and walked everywhere. We didn’t need car seats. During my layovers in all of the airports I visited over the past 2 weeks, I saw a lot of car seats in luggage holds and it was depressing to me. Please don’t check your car seats; they can get damaged. I didn’t see any baggage handlers intentionally mishandling car seats, but luggage does shift around during flight (remember turbulence?) and those really nice Britax seats that you’re checking can be really expensive hunks of broken plastic at your destination. If you’re visiting a relative and they have an appropriate car seat waiting or you’re using public transportation like we did, then CARES is perfect for you!