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2017 Recommended Carseats for Airplane Travel

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airplaneIt’s the travel season and for many families with small children, that includes flying somewhere. Since so many carseats are heavy and bulky, it makes sense in some cases to invest in a lightweight carseat just for traveling. Plus, this spares you the hassle of re-installing your main carseat when you get back to your own car, weary from traveling.

Ideally, a spare travel carseat should be lightweight (under 15 lbs), easy to install with the lap-only belt on an airplane seat and narrow enough to fit in a typical coach seat. With that criteria in mind, here are several options to consider.

Infant carseats – no need to buy anything new as long as your current infant seat can be installed without the base. I guess it’s possible to drag the base with you on the plane but that’s just making life harder than it needs to be. As long as your infant seat allows installation without the base (most do but there are some exceptions so make sure you know for sure), it’s easy to install the carrier rear-facing with the lap-only belt on the plane.

KF-airplane  Toddler on plane

If you’re leaving the base at home – make sure you practice baseless installation a few times so when you arrive at your destination you know how to install the carseat properly in the car, using a typical lap/shoulder belt.  Here is a video that demonstrates my technique for quick and easy installations of an infant carseat without the base.

Stay clear of products like THIS and THIS. These products are NOT acceptable alternatives to using an actual carseat on the plane to restrain your child. Along the same lines – using a sling or infant carrier also isn’t a safe alternative for your baby or toddler because you aren’t allow to wear your child during take-offs or landings when the risks are highest. There is a good reason for this but the details are ugly so I’m not going to go into it right now. If you would like more info on why slings and infant carriers are not a safe alternative to using a carseat on a plane, please see the NTSB website.

Baby B'Air vest - NO  Airplane hammock

UPDATED JUNE 2017

Convertible seats – if you intend to install the convertible seat rear-facing on the plane then you’ll be best served by a seat that is fairly compact which will increase your chances of the seat actually fitting rear-facing in the space you have to work with.

 

Cosco Scenera Next - stockCosco Scenera NEXT:

Rear-facing 5-40 lbs., or up to 40″ tall. Forward-facing 22-40 lbs., or up to 40″ tall

 

 

Evenflo Tribute - MaxwellEvenflo Tribute:

Rear-facing 5-40 lbs., or up to 37″ tall. Forward-facing 22-40 lbs., or up to 40″ tall

 

 

Graco Contender - Glacier

Graco Contender:

Rear-facing 5-40 lbs. (won’t be outgrown by height in the RF position before child hits 40 lbs.). Forward-facing 20-65 lbs., or up to 49″ tall.

 

 

Safety 1st Guide 65 - seaport fashionSafety 1st Guide 65:

Rear-facing 5-40 lbs, or up to 40″ tall. Forward-facing 22-65 lbs, or up to 43″ tall

 

 

No matter which seat you decide to take on the plane for your child – you will want to know where the FAA approval language is stated in case one of the flight attendants asks to see proof that your carseat is certified for use in an aircraft. Look for RED lettering on one of the sticker labels on the carseat. The FAA language is required to be written in red. The language can vary slightly but in general this is what you’re looking for:

Pria 85 - FAA certification  Evenflo Symphony FAA certification - cropped Britax B-Safe 35 Elite - FAA certification

 

For forward-facing kids, you’ll be best served by a seat that’s lightweight, fairly narrow, with tall top harness slots and a weight limit of 50 lbs. or more. Keep in mind that combination seats (aka harness/booster) can only be used on the plane in harnessed mode. Booster seats (or combination seats used without the 5-pt harness in booster mode) are not FAA certified and cannot be used on an airplane because all booster seats require a lap/shoulder belt, which airplanes don’t have.

 Keller

Evenflo Maestro:

Forward-facing only for kids at least 2 years old. With 5-point harness from 22-50 lbs., up to 50″ tall

 

 

 300 Loy

Evenflo Secure Kid LX:

Forward-facing only for kids at least 2 years old. With 5-point harness from 22-65 lbs., up to 50″ tall

 

 

Evenflo Sonus

Rear-facing 5-40 lbs., or up to 40″ tall. Forward-facing for children at least 2 years old, 22-50 lbs., up to 50″ tall

 

 

Evenflo SureRide:

Rear-facing 5-40 lbs., or up to 40″ tall. Forward-facing for children at least 2 years old, 22-65 lbs., or up to 54″ tall

 

Graco ContenderGraco Contender:

Rear-facing 5-40 lbs., Forward-facing for children at least 1 year old, 22-65 lbs., or up to 49″ tall. *Forward-facing beltpath is behind the back of the shell. This unique design means your FF child won’t have the metal latchplate of the airplane seatbelt in their back during the flight.

 

Safety 1st Guide 65 Safety 1st Guide 65:

Rear-facing 5-40 lbs., or up to 40″ tall. Forward-facing for children at least 1 year old, 22-65 lbs., up to 43″ tall

 

 

CARES Harness*:

Unique product for kids over 1 year old who weigh between 22-44 lbs., and are under 40″ tall. *CARES harness is certified for use ONLY on the plane. It cannot be used in motor vehicles. It’s very useful for situations where you don’t need a carseat to use on the ground when you arrive at your destination. We have a review of the CARES Harness here.

 

If you want to travel with your usual carseat, or just want to make it easier to travel with any carseat in general  – there are many products that can help you transport it through the airport and onto the plane. Some are just generic luggage carts – other products like the Brica Roll ‘n Go Carseat Transporter, the Go-Go Travelmate products and the Traveling Toddler Strap are made specifically for a carseat.  There are also carseat travel bags with wheels but obviously you can’t put your kid inside it too. Britax, Peg Perego, Clek & Diono all make travel accessories specifically for their carseats too.

go-go babyz used go-go babyz travel strap used

Remember, only carseats with an internal harness can be used on a plane. You cannot use a booster seat on an airplane because booster seats require a lap/shoulder belt and airplanes only have lap belts. If your child rides in a booster seat and you are bringing it with you, you can gate check it or bring it on the plane and put it in the overhead bin (if it fits).

For more info on flying with kids and carseats – check out our related blogs on the subject:

Carseat on airplane

Lap Babies on Airplane – A Warning All Parents Must See

Flying with a Car Seat? Know Your Rights!

Flying with Kids & Carseats – the checked carseat controversy

Travel Carseats: The Ultimate Guide to What You Want to Take on A Plane

An Open Letter to the FAA

 

The Safest All-in-One Carseats? New 2017 Crash Protection Ratings & Methods from Consumer Reports

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Graco Milestone, Graco 4Ever & Evenflo Symphony with SureLATCH top the All-in-One ratings from Consumer Reports

3 years ago Consumer Reports implemented a new, more rigorous crash test for carseats and started releasing the results of their ratings to subscribers. CR’s goal in creating the new test wasn’t to recreate the wheel. We know every carseat on the market here in the U.S. must be able to pass a basic frontal crash test (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 213), therefore we consider all carseats on the market to be “safe” because they can all pass this baseline test. However, we also know that all carseats are NOT created equal and it would be naive to assume that they all provide exactly the same levels of protection.

Consumer Reports set out to find which seats provide additional margins of safety, above and beyond FMVSS 213, and so they developed their new crash test to be more rigorous than the federal standards. Their crash test ratings scale will indicate a “BASIC,” “BETTER,” or “BEST” rating to indicate how well the child restraint performed as compared with the rest of the seats in that “peer group” category. One main focus of this new crash test is head protection, since head injuries are very common in crashes, even among properly restrained children.

This crash test was designed by an automotive safety engineer and peer-reviewed by an independent crash testing expert with 40 years of experience in the field. Testing is performed at an independent, outside testing facility. This test utilizes an actual contemporary vehicle seat (a 2010 Ford Flex 2nd row seat) with a floor below it, unlike the government test which has a 70’s era back seat bench with no floor. There’s a “blocker plate” (pictured above) installed in front of the test seat to simulate the front seat in a vehicle. The blocker plate is intended to recreate the interaction that happens in real life crashes when the child or the carseat interacts with the back of the front seat. In addition, the speed of this test is set at 35 mph (instead of 30 mph which is standard in FMVSS testing). Those who follow vehicle ratings will recognize the 35 mph speed as the same speed used to crash vehicles in the NCAP program. CR’s new test applies 36% more energy to carseats than their old test protocol and a more severe test results in a greater distinction among carseat performance.

Consumer Reports crash tested 14 All-in-One models in up to 7 configurations, both forward-facing and rear-facing, with various dummy sizes, using LATCH or a 3-point seatbelt.  Several models that received a “BEST” rating for crash protection are also on our Recommended Carseats List. We recommend the Graco Milestone, Graco 4Ever and Evenflo Symphony DLX/Elite with SureLATCH because of their ease of use and fit-to-child in all 3 modes (rear-facing, forward-facing & booster).

  

In addition to the Crash Protection Rating, Consumer Reports still gives each model an overall numeric “Score.”  This is based in part on the Crash Protection Rating and also other more subjective factors, such as ease-of-use and fit-to-vehicle in various modes.

Top Performers in the All-in-One Category

2017 Chicco NextFit Review: Convertible Carseat Nirvana!

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Updated Chicco NextFit & NextFit Zip Convertible Carseat Review

I’ll admit that I was a little worried. The Chicco KeyFit is possibly the most well-loved infant seat of all time and the bar was set pretty high for any convertible carseat that would wear the Chicco name. There was no doubt that the expectations were high and they needed to nail this one or else it was going to go down in the carseat history books as the biggest disappointment since the Nania Airway (long story with unhappy ending). Thankfully, my anxiety was for nothing because the Chicco NextFit convertible exceeds every expectation that I had for ease of use and ease of proper installation. Chicco people, you can pat yourselves on the back for another job well done!

The Chicco NextFit & NextFit Zip are Recommended Carseats and an Editor’s Pick.

What makes the Chicco NextFit stand out in a crowded field of high-end convertibles?

One word – SuperCinch. Well, technically that’s two words but Chicco has made it one word and trademarked it so that’s what I’m going with. SuperCinch is a force multiplying system that makes it possible for anyone, even an elderly grandparent, to get a rock-solid installation in less than 1 minute using LATCH. It’s so easy that even my husband can do it properly! Without me hovering. Or coaching. Or leaving post-it notes in the seat. Seriously, it’s that easy. This seat could not only save lives – it could save marriages!  😉

In addition to the incredibly innovative force-multiplying SuperCinch system, Chicco has really gone out on a limb to design and engineer a seat that is very easy for parents and caregivers to use correctly and equally difficult to misuse if you’re actually making an attempt to “do it right”.

NextFit Specs:

  • Rear-Facing: 5-40 lbs
  • Forward-Facing: 22-65 lbs; 49″ or less; at least 1 year old. *Chicco and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend all children ride REAR-FACING until age 2 or they reach the weight/height limits of this seat.
  • FAA Approved for use on aircraft
  • 8 year lifespan before seat expires

Naked Chicco NextFit Naked NextFit - tallest setting image image

There are 4 trim lines. MSRP for the “base” version of the NextFit is $299. The NextFit CX is $329. The NextFit “Zip” model is $349. The BabiesRUs exclusive NextFit Zip Air is $359. What’s the difference between the models?

Harness Covers Infant Insert Cup Holder ComfortFlex™ harness padding Zip-off Cover AirMesh™ backrest
NextFit
NextFit CX
NextFit Zip
NextFit Zip Air

NextFit Matrix NextFit Amethyst NextFit Saffron
NextFit available at Amazon.com: Matrix, Amethyst, and Saffron

NextFit Zip Lavender NextFit Zip Sapphire NextFit Zip Notte NextFit Zip Regio
NextFit Zip available at Amazon.com: Lavender, Sapphire, Notte, Regio

Graco 4Ever Extend2Fit All-in-One: Rear-Facing Space Comparison

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One of our most popular blogs is the Rear-Facing Space Comparison where we rate convertible seats based on the amount of room they take up in my vehicle compared with other seats in the group.

I was eager to add the new Graco 4Ever Extend2Fit to the comparison but I knew this was going to be more work than usual based on the many rear-facing installation options you have with this particular seat. This seat has 4 recline positions on the base that can be used to achieve an acceptable rear-facing recline position as per the angle indicator. The angle indicator is a liquid bubble level that has to be in the range of the blue line shown on the window. 4Ever Extend2Fit also has Graco’s unique 4-position legrest extension feature (truthfully there are 3 extension positions, the first position is fully retracted) AND the coveted 50 pound rear-facing weight limit.

 

I summarized my findings in the space comparison ratings but I wanted to supplement that information with the full scope of my conclusions here.

I started with the 4Ever Extend2Fit in base position #1 (most reclined), no legrest extension, head rest flush with shell. This is how the seat would be installed for a newborn or younger baby. I gained 3.5″ of room (based on the worst performing seat in the peer group). This measurement translates into a “B” rating in the comparison.

 

 

Base position #2 (more upright), no legrest extension, head rest flush with shell. This is how the seat might be installed for an older baby who has good head and neck control and can tolerate being seated in a more upright position. In this position I gained 4″ of room. This is a B+ rating in the comparison.

 

 

Base position #3 (very upright), no legrest extension, head rest fully extended. In this position the bubble level was outside of the acceptable range for rear-facing. This was NOT an acceptable installation as per the angle indicator so I’m not counting it. However, for those who are curious, it only gave me an extra half inch of room beyond what I got with the base in position #2. My measurement with the seat in this position was +4.5″ of space.

 

 

At this point, it seemed likely to me that you would only be able to use 2 of the 4 base positions in any particular vehicle to achieve an acceptable recline angle in the range allowed. But as I found out when I started to install using the legrest extension, the recline angle can change when you start to use this feature. More on that in a little while.

I went back to base position #2, extended the legrest 1 notch, head rest is still fully extended. Because I’m using the legrest extension now, I’m starting to lose space. Now I have +3.5″ (which is what I had with the seat fully reclined reclined in position #1 and no legrest extension). Again, this rates a “B” in the comparison.

 

Here we are in the same #2 base position, with the legrest fully extended and the head rest fully extended. As you can see, it’s taking up a LOT of space now. At this point I’m measuring a gain of only 1″ (based on the biggest space hogs in the peer group). In the comparison, this is a C- rating.

However, I was surprised to see the bubble level indicator in the middle of the blue line range now. When I installed using the same #2 base position without using the legrest extension, the bubble was much closer to the end of the allowable range. This made me wonder if I could get an acceptable installation using recline position #3 on the base with the legrest panel fully extended…

 

 

Final installation: Base position #3, legrest fully extended, head rest fully extended.  The liquid bubble is on the most upright end of acceptable range but it is within the range. I picked up a extra half inch of space with the base in position #3. The measurement is now +1.5″ which is a little better but still rates a C- in the comparison.

 

The other thing to keep your eye on when using the legrest extension feature is the amount of overhang allowed. When you start extending the legrest panel you increase the space between carseat and the vehicle seat and that positions the base closer to the edge of the vehicle seat cushion. Thankfully, Graco put a little blue sticker label on the edge of the base to show what the acceptable amount of overhang is. Overhang past that blue line is NOT acceptable. Too much overhang could be an issue in backseats with shallow cushions (e.g., Jeep Wranglers, some compact cars, extended cab pickup trucks, etc.). Luckily, you don’t have to use the legrest extension so you can just ignore that option if overhang becomes an issue.

 

Summary:

The Graco 4Ever Extend2Fit is a versatile 4-in-1 product with a 50 lbs. rear-facing weight limit and a very unique legrest extension feature. You may use base positions 1, 2, 3 or 4 to achieve an appropriate RF recline angle as per the angle indicator but don’t expect that all 4 positions will yield an appropriate recline position in your vehicle. You may use any of the legrest panel positions rear-facing without restriction. The only rules are: make sure your recline angle is in the allowable range and make sure you don’t have too much overhang of the base.

Having so many rear-facing installation options creates more potential for finding a suitable recline angle, giving your child some extra legroom and taking up less space in your vehicle. However, the reality is that once you start using the legrest extension feature, the seat definitely takes up more front-to-back space in the vehicle. I lost 2-3″ of space in my vehicle when I extended the legrest fully and that was using the more upright #2 & #3 recline positions. The seat would have taken up even more room if I had extended the legrest in the most reclined position.

Parents who are taller than average and/or driving vehicles with limited legroom in the backseat may find that they aren’t able to take advantage of the legrest extension feature without seriously compromising the space upfront for the driver or passenger. I found it interesting that in my vehicle the less expensive Graco Extend2Fit convertible actually takes up slightly less space without the legrest extension than the 4Ever Extend2Fit model. With the legrest fully extended, both seats had the same +1.5″ measurement.

Regular Extend2Fit convertible on left; 4Ever Extend2Fit on right

 

 

 

If front-to-back space is a big issue in your vehicle, and you don’t think that you will ever be able to take advantage of the legrest extension, then you might be better off with a different convertible seat since it doesn’t make sense to pay for a feature you won’t ever use. The original Graco 4Ever All-in-One, Graco Milestone All-in-One, Graco MySize 65 convertible & Graco Contender 65 convertible are all options that did better than average in our Rear-Facing Space Comparison but don’t have the Extend2Fit legrest feature.