I feel I need to start this review with a disclaimer. I am not a huge infant seat user. I didn’t have one for my older daughter, and I didn’t purchase one with my baby. I was looking forward to the Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air road test as a way to try out something I’m not used to at all.

And if I may echo Darren, WOW.

As Darren stated in his review, the installation is easy. He put it in his Prius and Odyssey, and to that we can add a 2001 Nissan Xterra, 2008 Acura TSX, and 1989 Subaru GL. More on these later. I’m a scant 5’1”, so there would never have been a concern with putting it directly behind me in my Xterra, but what is a concern is the angle of my backseat. To put my convertible in rear facing for a newborn angle I required FIVE pool noodles. My baby is eight and a half months old now, and so does not need a newborn angle, but I installed the onBoard 35 Air as for a newborn in my car to see how easy it would be with the Mt. Fuji of sloped backseats. And wow (is there a wow quota? I may go over it).

No noodles were needed. Nothing. Just put the foot out and install.

Dorel has included a nice level adjuster that has two ranges on it. One range for a 4-11 pound baby, another for 11-35 pounds. This is a recommendation, not set in stone. Aim for it, but use your best judgment. With the foot all the way out and parked on a level surface, I got a 4-11 pound newborn recline in about three seconds flat. Getting it into the 11-35 pound angle took a little more work, but that was before I phoned Dorel to ask if that was set in stone or not. Knowing now that it’s not it would have been a lot easier to get it more upright for my baby.

The base is quite rectangular in shape. While I was road testing this seat, a parent and I met up trying to configure his car for his two upcoming little girls. He wanted to be able to have his two girls next to one another, then an adult sit in the third seat in his Acura TSX. We tried a Graco SnugRide and Graco SafeSeat 1 next to one another, and they were acceptable, but then we tried two onBoard 35 Airs next to one another. Even though these are currently the largest infant seats on the US market, they fit so well next to one another. The rectangular bases meant they didn’t bump or touch anywhere, and the lockoffs meant we could pull one base toward the door and make sure that in addition to being snug, it didn’t slide toward the middle at all. I was shocked at how well two of these fit next to one another. Wow.

In addition to fitting two next to one another, I met with a father who had intended to use an Evenflo Embrace in his 1989 Subaru GL for his soon to be born child (much sooner than we anticipated. His son was born less than 24 hours later. LOL). The dad is 6’4” and the mom is 6′. The Evenflo, which of course requires the handle down and 1.5” of clearance, would not fit for love nor money. Not to mention, it’s a short 22 pound seat. Given his size, and his wife’s, it’s unlikely that his son will be a small child. So since I had an infant seat sitting there, we gave it a go in his car. It had to go in the middle, since nothing needing a newborn angle could go behind a front seat and still fit a parent in there. And the big, huge, largest infant seat out there onBoard 35 Air fit like a dream. Wow. So he gets a lot more use out of a seat that fits better over the smaller infant seat he had previously bought. We were both astonished at just how well it fit.

The onBoard 35 Air with the premium base has a two part lockoff that’s used. With the seatbelt you flip up only the top flap (flap A) of the lockoff, and install the seatbelt through there. For LATCH you flip up both flaps A and B, and the LATCH straps are easily routed from their storage place in the base, out the beltpath, and to your connectors. I don’t have LATCH in my car, so I didn’t install the seat with LATCH. Darren has stated it went in easily, though, and I believe him. The only annoying thing about the LATCH was that the storage flap over the alligator connectors did not stay down and locked. It was not in the way and I never needed to do anything about it, but for an OCD parent who wanted it to lay flat constantly, it was annoying.

The lockoff has more of a tacklebox release to it than two thin flip ups like the Britax Chaperone or the one large flip up on the Graco SnugRide 35. However, while taking an extra half second to get used to, and another half second to align it properly, it was no more difficult to use. Plus, with the large flap on top you could keep the seatbelt nice and snug by adding weight there while you got the lock aligned and closed. It had a visible red patch if you had not locked the lockoff, and it had a green patch for when you did. A nice visual clue. To get it undone I simply added weight back to the lockoff so it was easier to maneuver the release, then undid it. Very easy.

Getting the seat in and out of the car had a definite learning curve for this infant seat newbie. But once I figured it out it was very easy to do. I was able to get my baby in and out quickly while she was awake or asleep. The canopy, when down, often tucked under the seat, so I’d spend a minute getting that out of the way, but I don’t think it ever got in the way of actually locking the seat in. See above about OCD. :)

The handle can be in any position of the three offered while in the car, and Dorel has included a nice green indicator so you can see if the handle is in a locked position at a glance. I simply left the handle up while driving, and sometimes lowered it to get my baby out. It’s such a tall handle, though, that guiding her head under it was very easy to do. The handle isn’t as smooth as some other infant seats, but it adjusts fairly easily. The canopy is thinner than others at the top, so it doesn’t get in the way of the handle at all.

Speaking of the handle, to carry the seat around, while it is a large seat, is surprisingly comfortable. I was able to carry around my 15+ pound baby, without a stroller, through a large shopping center without too much discomfort at all. Even though the seat is large, it seems to be shaped very well for carrying. The handle was flat and fit nicely into the crook of my arm. The seat sat against my hip nearly as if it was designed to be there.

The only drawback to the tall handle and the big seat while carrying, is that at 5’1”, I was finding it difficult to carry the seat with my arm stretched straight down. I was afraid the seat was going to rub against the ground. Most parents won’t have this issue, as a good number are taller than I am. But it is a drawback of a large seat.

It’s also a small seat. As Darren mentioned, his four pound preemie doll fit perfectly in the seat. I don’t doubt it in the least. Again, for the twin dad who met up with me, he and his wife are expecting their babies at 37 weeks. Given then the definite possibility of smaller babies (neither he nor his wife are big people, then they’re having twins at 37 weeks), he was very impressed with the small size this seat goes down to. For the dad with the Subaru GL, his son was born at 9 pounds 7 ounces. When we discussed his son’s fit in the seat, I told him he may need to move everything up and out from the tiny position. This seat fits small babies SO well that your average or above average newborn may need the second set of slots.

It also has the ability to fold the extra length of the crotch strap back on itself so you don’t have a tiny baby with a crotch strap at their belly button. Or at least, maybe slightly lower. Small babies do tend to be tiny. But this crotch buckle can be lowered even more than what it comes out of the box as. This needs another WOW for how well it’ll fit small babies. The innermost crotch strap position may never be used, but if you are able to bring a four pounder home, you’ll appreciate it. For most babies, I think the second position will be needed soon after birth, if not at birth.

My baby, at eight and a half months, is right at the top slot for the harness. She’s a bit of a long torsoed baby, especially given that she’s short overall. Even with a longer than average torso she has inches and inches above her head in the onBoard 35 Air.

I found it interesting that even with the headrest in, and with the seat adjusted for her weight and age, there was a good amount of head slump (or head uprightedness, as this is an infant seat) as she slept. However, and this is a however I want to shout most of the time head slump is mentioned, she was NOT bothered by it in the least.

Putting my baby in the seat, and getting her out, was not difficult at all. The harness adjuster is easy to access, and there’s just enough give in the continuous harness that I could get her arms in and out without loosening and tightening. Tightening the harness took more effort than say a Chicco KeyFit, but not as much as others. It’s one smooth pull, not a ratcheting motion, and I often gave it just a few extra pulls to get the last of the slack out. I’d make sure the harness was equal on both sides and pull a hair more. The harness is a little thinner than some others, though, which meant that it twisted fairly easily. I checked it every time I got her into the seat. However, since I was vigilant, and because they were thin straps, I was able to easily untwist them every single time. I found it something worth mentioning, but it wasn’t a big deal at all. Joe Public using the seat may find that the straps are twisted fairly quickly, though.

I did not find the need to install the seat baseless, but I tried it out while I had the seat. The belt guides on this seat are huge! So much nicer than other seats with small thin guides. The installation was nice and easy, and I got a snug fit with minimal effort.

Ok, just a few more notes about the seat itself. The cover wipes down really easily, at least the cover I had. I don’t have a baby eating in it, but with this seat being so large, I can see that happening. I’d give the seat a shake and a quick wipe with my hand and that was it! Getting the cover off was also quite easy, though I did not remove the harness from the seat to get it all the way off. There are six plastic pins and two small slits, and that’s it for the cover to stay on.

Down the sides of the seat are the Air technology packets that Dorel has added to the seat. They go low enough to protect even a newborn. EPS foam goes down the back of the seat to the baby’s lower spine, but it does not continue under the legs and feet.

The manual was clear and easy to read.

All in all, from a non infant seat user, WOW. It was not as smooth and polished, or quite as easy to install and adjust as say a Graco SnugRide or Chicco KeyFit, but it will fit smaller babies better, bigger babies longer, is far more configurable, fits better in a lot of cars, it’s comfortable to carry, and given the amount of time you’ll get out of it, the bang for the buck is there. I’ve been recommending the Graco for years, along with the Chicco KeyFit. The onBoard 35 Air is right up there with these two. They each have their place, but the onBoard 35 Air could easily do what the SnugRide 35 and KeyFit do. It does them all. Wow.

Thank you to Dorel/Safety 1st and their team at 360 Public Relations for providing our review sample, model 22395AIN!  You may visit the Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air product page for more details!