Tips When Flying With a Car Seat

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As most parents of little kids will tell you, flying with a car seat is not very much fun. Car seats do phenomenal things to increase child safety, but they are bulky, they are big, can be quite heavy, and they are not all that easy to get from Point A to Point B when there is an airport and a flight squashed in the middle of your travel plans. However, since there are absolutely big advantages related to safety, cost, and comfort when bringing your own car seat along for the journey, so I want to share a few tips to help make the process of flying with a car seat a little easier.

 

Bring the Right Car Seat

I’ve flown with our McMonster car seat that seems to be very comfortable for my daughter to sit in, but it is also huge, heavy, and expensive. I’ve also flown with our travel car seat that is lighter, cheaper, and totally adequate. There is a time and place for both, but make sure you think through which car seat is right for your trip, assuming you have access to more than one in the first place. If you do decide to add a lighter and cheaper travel car seat to your fleet, it could also be a good one to leave with grandma, a babysitter, etc. when you aren’t traveling.

Flying with our big Britax car seat

Flying with our big Britax car seat

One popular smaller and lighter car seat for toddler travel is the Cosco Scenera. There are a few versions of this car seat, but this particular one linked is just 7.6 pounds and the dimensions are 33 x 19 x 18 inches. The price is often in the $50 dollar range (check Walmart as they often have the best price), so it isn’t the end of the world if it should become damaged or lost in transit….which can and does happen.

For Infants, Get a Doona

If you are pregnant or have an infant at home, the best car seat for travel and getting through the airport by a wide, wide margin is the Doona. We have sadly outgrown ours now that our littlest is already 1.5 years old, but for the first year or so of her life it made everything from trips to Target to trips to New York City pretty simple in terms of car seat logistics.

Happy in her Doona at six months

Happy in her Doona at six months

The Doona converts from a car seat to a stroller with ease as wheels shoot out and retract, and this makes it the perfect way to get through the airport, fly on the plane, and then secure your baby in a cab or rental car without a problem.

Doona infant car seat

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Get a Gadget to Get the Car Seat Through the Airport

When traveling with a small child, you can check a car seat for free with pretty much every airline I am aware of (yes, even Spirit and Frontier), so the easiest thing to do logistically is check the car seat as soon as you arrive to the airport and see it on the other side. We have done that at times, but I will warn you that doing so increases the likelihood that something will happen to your car seat either while the airline is in the process of getting it through the airport to the plane, that it will miss the flight, etc.

Because of all of that, even when we check the car seat, we often lug it through the airport ourselves and have it gate checked onto the plane. This does not guarantee it won’t be damaged or miss the flight, but I have to think it decreases the odds. Of course you can also have your child fly while seated in the car seat, which we found worked very well for our first daughter as she was a great car seat sleeper.

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Whether you bring it on-board the plane or not (assuming you have a seat for your child), you will want to be strategic on how you get the car seat through the airport. With infant car seats, you can often purchase a travel system with wheels that snaps to the infant seat if don’t have a Doona, but once you are relegated to a toddler style upright car seat, you need something else to help you get it through the airport.

We often just strapped the car seat to our backs using the cover shown below. It wasn’t fun and we looked ri-dic-u-lous, but it worked. However, others have had great luck with a gadget like the Traveling Toddler or Go Go Babyz TravelMate that allows you to roll the car seat through the airport probably with much more grace than our ridiculous looking backpack approach.

Install the Car Seat on the Plane

In an ideal world, one parent boards the plane with the car seat as early as possible in the boarding process to get it installed and not whack others’ heads while getting it down the aisle of the aircraft, while the rest of the family boards a little later. Getting the big car seat on the plane is tricky, and installing it isn’t always the easiest thing in the world either, so just board as early as you can and have some patience with yourself.

Also remember that the car seat typically needs to be installed in a forward facing seat next to the window and it can’t go in an exit row or the rows just before or behind exit rows. If the car seat does not fit in your assigned seat, the airline must try and reseat you in a larger seat in the same cabin of your ticket if one exists. Some seats, especially some premium cabin seats, do not permit car seats due to their built-in seatbelt air bags or similar.

Those are the rules that typically apply for US based airlines, but if you are flying an international carrier you should check with them for their seat belt rules and regulations.

Get a Cover for Your Car Seat

If you are going to check the car seat on the flight instead of having your little one sit in it on the plane, you probably want a cover in order to keep it clean, dry, and a bit more protected. There are lots of options for Car Seat Covers, but we have the JL Childress Ultimate Travel Bag as it is padded, has straps you can put on your back, and has served us well for years. I have also seen a wheeled version that might work better for some who don’t want to turn into human pack mules.

Our car seat cover

Our car seat cover

Don’t Bring a Car Seat

There are plenty of very legitimate reasons to bring your own car seat on your trips, but you don’t always have to. We recently flew without a car seat as our toddler was a lap baby on the plane, and we simply used Uber Family when we arrived in New York City. This way she had a car seat in the Uber cars going to and from the airport, and we didn’t have to lug one along halfway across the country for no good reason.

Baby S comfortable in her Uber car seat

Baby S comfortable in her Uber car seat

We have also skipped bringing our own car seat when we rented from Silvercar last year since they provide car seats and booster seats at no additional charge.

Passed out in her Silvercar car seat

Passed out in her Silvercar car seat

If you are renting a car seat from the rental car company, or otherwise have access to one at your destination, you can also consider just flying with a FAA approved CARES Harness if you need an alternate way to keep your toddler a bit more secure in-flight. Our first daughter didn’t do great in her CARES harness compared to a car seat, but it is logistically much easier to just throw in a carry-on bag.

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If you do decide to rent a car seat, remember that one is free for AAA members when renting from Hertz using that CDP code.

If you have any tips when flying with a car seat to add to the mix I would love to hear them!

Editorial Note: The opinions expressed here are mine and not provided, reviewed, by any bank, card issuer, or other company unless otherwise stated.

Comments

      • No I have sat in many rows with it….but helps to get it installed before row behind you boards as it goes around the seat and thus you often have to open the tray table for the seat behind you to install. The tray table goes back up and functions normally once harness is arranged.

  1. How did you like the IMMI Go seat in the Uber Family car? We need a second travel car seat and I’m debating between getting the Go or a second Cosco Scenera Next.

    • I thought it was totally fine. I don’t know that I researched it enough to say if I would pull the trigger on one or not, but I didn’t have any concerns for it during our Uber trips!

  2. We LOVED the bubble bum. Loved. Bought a half dozen for friends and family. Also doubles as lumbar support for an adult or a camping pillow!

  3. Life changed when we could start traveling with just a booster! I kept my kids in five-point-harnesses at home until they were 60 pounds, but we began traveling with a booster sooner than that. They each pull small SkipHop rolling suitcases when we travel and we fasten the backless booster seats to their suitcases with a short bungee cord. They are still small enough to fit under the seat in front of them for easy storage, and we just unbuckle the seat and leave it in the floor after takeoff so that they can access the things in their bags until we buckle it back on before landing. Life-changing, I tell you.

  4. We like checking our car seat in a bag and shoving it full of additional stuff, basically a free checked bag.
    Also, I would suggest investing in whatever you choose early. We debated too long to get the seat with wheels and then had another kid and still didn’t get one. Looking back, we should have done that early on and could have got a lot of mileage out of it.

  5. Thanks for this helpful post! We’ve found a travel stroller system that works with toddler upright car seats, including the Cosco Scenera you mention – the Mountain Buggy Nano Travel stroller. It has a strap that mimics a car seatbelt, so many different car seats can theoretically work with it. It, combined with a Cosco Scenera, has thus far survived a trip to New York City, Rome and Tel Aviv. With the car seat removed, it also folds down to quite a small size. If it survives our continued international travels, I’d recommend it as a travel stroller that can take an upright car seat!

  6. Really helpful blog. Travelling with a baby really so taught for parents. Thanks for infant car seat travel bag ideas. It’s really essential for every mom to manage traveled with the baby and to feel comfortable and easier while traveling with the baby.

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