It’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 those 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.
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 allowed 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.
UPDATED OCTOBER 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.
Rear-facing 5-40 lbs., or up to 40″ tall. Forward-facing 22-40 lbs., or up to 40″ tall
Rear-facing 5-40 lbs., or up to 37″ tall. Forward-facing 22-40 lbs., or up to 40″ tall
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.
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:
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.
Forward-facing only for kids who weigh at least 30 pounds. With 5-point harness from 30-65 lbs., 32″-50″ tall.
Forward-facing only for kids at least 2 years old. With 5-point harness from 22-50 lbs., up to 50″ tall
Forward-facing only for kids at least 2 years old. With 5-point harness from 22-65 lbs., up to 50″ tall
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
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
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.
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
A 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.
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: