See our updated post for new travel seat suggestions: Travel Carseats: The Ultimate Guide to What You Want to Take on A Plane
Is one seat better or easier for airplane traveling than another? Perhaps. It all depends on our mantra: the best carseat is the one that fits your vehicle, your child, and your budget. We’ve obviously got 2 vehicles here: the airplane and the car. You may think that your carseat looks too wide to use on an aircraft, but it may not be. Remember that armrests can be lifted and often the widest part of the carseat is above the armrest on the airplane seat, so it can be done. Some folks who travel often do buy a different carseat just for traveling because their main carseat is heavier or bulkier than the travel seat. The travel seat can also be a backup seat for a babysitter or grandma’s car.
A travel vest is a nice option for those with older kids who are forward-facing since it packs so easily. The RideSafer Travel Vest has been around for years and is available in two sizes: small (30-60 lbs.) and large (50-80 lbs.). The only time the RSTV requires a tether anchor is when it’s used with a lap-only belt; most newer vehicles (e.g. rental vehicles) have either lap/shoulder belts everywhere or a plethora of tether anchors, so that shouldn’t be a problem in those cars. It might be a problem for you in Grandpa Tony’s 1979 Grand Marquis, however. Another alternative to the traditional carseat is the IMMI GO. This is a harnessed backless booster and requires a tether anchor for use with the harness. It packs down into a travel bag that very easily fits into the overhead compartment of a 737. While it can be installed with the seat belt when used as a harnessed seat, this carseat really is designed to be used with LATCH and the seat belt installation is difficult. It’s also expensive as a strictly travel seat, but is pretty narrow, so it can fit in tight spaces.
Aside from those obvious travel options are the carseats themselves. If your baby still fits properly in his infant seat (read the instructions or the labels on the side), use that on the plane. Very few require the base to be used at all times, so you can install the carrier without the base on the plane. Some bases, however, can’t be used on the plane, so either put it in the overhead storage or master the baseless install. It’s easy! The Cosco Scenera NEXT convertible seat (see our review) has been recommended as a travel seat since it came out because it’s one of the lightest on the market and we all know that when your plane leaves from the last gate at the airport, every ounce counts. Then there are the Diono Radian convertible seats, which were originally designed to be travel seats: they fold so they can be carried through the airport. They also have an accessory carry strap. While there are many plusses to the Radian seats, the biggest downside is their weight: they weigh over 25 lbs.—hardly a seat you want to be lugging through the airport. Still, once installed forward-facing on the airplane seat, the tray table can be fully lowered so your child can make full use of it for coloring or eating and that’s something that other carseats don’t allow because of their high sides. The Combi Coccoro convertible seat is a nice small seat that fits well rear-facing on a plane. Its pod-like shape is reminiscent of an infant seat, but it’s most definitely a convertible without a base.
The Evenflo Maestro combination seat is a good travel seat. It’s lightweight and installs easily in a variety of vehicles, plus its versatility as a belt positioning booster for smaller older kids is a plus (see Kecia’s review of the Maestro as a booster seat here: https://carseatblog.com/?p=5923). More experienced booster riders can make use of boosters that travel easily like the Bubble Bum, Harmony Youth Booster, and Safety 1st Incognito Kid Positioner.
Taking a carseat through the airport requires some thought unless you relish the idea of hauling all your gear plus your child’s carseat on your back. Go-Go Kidz makes a cart that attaches to a carseat. It’s a product specifically designed for carseats and it’s sturdy enough so that you can even put your child in the carseat and drag her through the airport when she gets tired of walking. If you don’t travel by plane much, a luggage cart and bungee cords may be your answer. You can also use those bungee cords to bungee your carseat to a stroller. It will take a bit of undoing when it comes time to go through the security line, but as long as you’ve practiced removing the seat from whatever apparatus you’ve chosen to use, you won’t get too many nasty looks ;). There’s also a nifty strap called the Traveling Toddler that attaches your carseat to your rolling carryon using the carseat’s lower anchor straps and top tether (aka LATCH straps). I’m sure you can figure out lots of ways to get your family and your carseat through the airport with a little ingenuity, but it always helps to have some ideas.
With a little planning, airplane travel with your child doesn’t have to be an anxiety-ridden adventure that requires prescription drugs for all involved. Some simple devices combined with a little knowledge will make you look like an experienced traveler even if you’ve never set foot on an airplane with your little one before and soon you’ll be jetting off to unknown lands and faraway places.
To make your travels easier, here are some links you may find helpful:
Links to print out for your next airplane trip
Know your rights before you leave on your trip
Department of Transportation’s aviation consumer complaint web page
A former flight attendant’s tips on flying with children
And don’t forget that in yesterday’s post, you learned why you should use a restraint on an airplane.