FAA Approved CARES Harness Review and Giveaway!

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A few months ago I posted about the ongoing debate over lap children on airplanes.  After that post, a couple of people reached out to me to share how much they loved their CARES (Child Aviation Restraint System) harness.  We had previously flown with C in her car seat on the plane and had not yet tried the harness.  While I feel the car seat is a safe way to fly, and it is certainly a seat she is used to and comfortable with, it is a bit of a pain to lug it through the airport and onto the plane.  In case you don’t yet have a car seat in your daily life, let me tell you they are big and heavy!  It also puts her so close to the seat in front of her that she can easily kick the seat and her legs also get pinned if the person in front of her decides to recline their seat.  So, we decided to give the CARES harness a shot.  I reached out to the Kids Fly Safe company to see if they would be interested in sponsoring a giveaway so that one of you can try the harness yourself.  They were generous enough to not only provide me with one to try (because I can’t in good conscience give something away that I wouldn’t use myself), but to share one with a Mommy Points reader as well!

First I will give you some of the official info regarding the CARES harness, and then I will share my experience using it for the first time on our flight yesterday.

Official Info:

  • CARES is the first and only harness-type Aviation Child Safety Device to be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as an alternative to a car seat.
  • CARES is a harness-type safety device designed for children who weigh between 22-44 lbs and are sitting in their own airplane seats. (Generally 1-4/5 years old.)
  • CARES takes the place of a car seat when traveling by air with your children and provides an equivalent level of safety (ELOS) to a car seat. (Stated in the FAA certification designation)
  • CARES weighs 1 pound (car seats weigh 15-20 lbs).
  • CARES comes in a 6 inch stuff sack that fits in a pocket or purse. (Car seats are over 2 feet high, 20 inches wide, heavy, bulky and hard to carry)
  • CARES is designed specifically for air travel: it is portable, light weight and easy to use.
  • CARES takes one minute to install on any airplane seat and augments the regular lap belt.
  • Parents who need the car seat at the other end of trip can ship it through as luggage, and carry their CARES on board.
  • CARES is manufactured exclusively by AmSafe Aviation, the foremost manufacturer of aviation seatbelts and pilot restraints in the world. (Turn over your airplane seat belt buckle. Chances are it says AmSafe.) CARES is made of the same industrial-strength webbing as your own seat belt and is engineered to the highest aviation-safety standards.
  • CARES has been certified by Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore.  Certification for many other countries is in process.

Mommy Points Info:

  • It was super handy to not have to haul the car seat through the airport.  We checked it as soon as we got to the airport and it was waiting for us at our destination.  This harness easily fit in my purse.  It is obviously great if you have reserved a seat for your kiddo, but it could also be handy to have this stowed in your carry-on in the event you are hoping to get lucky and score a “free” seat for your under-two-year-old.
  • It was also really nice to not have the car seat filling up all the space on the airplane.  It almost felt spacious sitting next to C without the car seat.  There was much more room for all of her toys, snacks, and activities.
  • Even though this was our first time to use the harness, it really did only take a couple of minutes to get it installed.  Now, in all honesty it was not at all installed correctly at first.  Getting it adjusted to C’s size did take a little bit longer.

Here it is before we got the straps adjusted. Reading the instructions ahead of time would have also probably been a bit advantageous.  We did get it adjusted after this photo was taken!

  • Since she is so used to being strapped down in car seats, having all of the buckles didn’t seem to bother her at all.  It is handy to have a toddler not able to climb all over the seats!
  • Once we had her properly strapped in, it did feel pretty secure!  Thankfully we didn’t hit any substantial turbulence or anything, but I trust it would have held her secure if we had.
  • I don’t know if it is just my toddler that does this or not, but C has a tendency to slump down out of harnesses or chairs that don’t have a bottom strap keeping them up.  Especially once she fell asleep she started slumping out of the bottom of the harness.
  • I also am pretty confident that she would have slept longer in her car seat than she did in the harness.  The main issue I think is support for her head.  It was flopping around a bit when she was asleep whereas with the car seat she has a little more head support.  I think as she gets older this will be less of an issue, but for now I think a car seat is a just a tad more comfy than the airline seat/harness combo for toddler sleeping.

All in all I am really excited we now have the CARES harness in our traveling arsenal!  Now here is the best part, one of you will get a CARES harness of your own!  Just comment on this post letting me know who you want the harness for and we will pick a winner at random.  The deadline to enter is 11/18/11 at 11:59PM CST.

Even if you don’t win one, you can pick one up online or they are for sale at some stores as  well.  The list of stores is available here.  Although they aren’t inexpensive, retailing at $74.95, I absolutely think it is a worthy investment for a young traveling family.  When I think how busy the planes and airports are around the holidays, I think having a harness in your bag instead of lugging a big car seat through the airport would make things quite a bit easier.

Do you have a CARES harness yourself?  What do you think?

Other than receiving a CARES harness for myself and a Mommy Points reader, I was not compensated for this review.  All of the opinions in this review are totally mine.  🙂

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.



  1. We have been using one with our son for 2 years, on several trans-Atlantic flights and many domestic ones. He doesn’t seem to slide out, which is good, and does sleep well in it, even on overnight flights. The car seat puts them at too much of a good position to kick the seat in front of them, so this is much better!

  2. Wow, this seems pretty cool. It would be a great gift for my nephew Kevin when he flies … thanks for the giveaway opportunity.

  3. This would be perfect for my cousin Jana. We will be flying to Las Vegas for my other cousin’s wedding(she is the flower girl) this December.

  4. WOW! That is so much better than lugging a car-seat on the plane. My son is 1.5 and this would be a great improvement! Thanks for sharing. Love the blog!

  5. Great post…I had no idea something like this existed. My wife (currently pregnant w/baby #2), my soon-to-be 2yr old son and I have 4 flights between Christmas and October (weddings). We would defintely put the CARES harness to good use if we won it.

  6. We have a 15 month old and we would love to travel with her and have her safe! The frequent flier in me is excited to get one and not have to bring the car seat to Europe next year!

  7. My husband and I have just been researching this very product for some holiday traveling that we’re planning to do with our 18 month old son. We haven’t pulled the trigger yet to purchase one, maybe I’ll get lucky and we’ll win it!

  8. Would love to have this for my son! He is 15 months and we travel often. Oh and I gave your to my sister link for the Chase Southwest card! (I already had one). Also got Southwest week points and a free ticket from the grand slam. I would not have done either without your blog. Thanks!

  9. I’m not sold on it as being as safe as a seat, but without seeing it in person it’s hard to decide.

    I’ll throw my hat in the ring though 🙂

  10. I would love one for my two year old son. We do lot of travel together but every time I fly with him I swear that it will be the last time.

    If anyone is interested, there is someone on eBay who CARE systems them for a fair price.

  11. I’ve been warned against checking our car seat since seats do sometimes get broken (or suffer hidden damage). Gate checking is safer though not as convenient if you’re planning to use CARES.

  12. We flew with our 18 months old daughter in her car seat, she kicked the person in front of her all day, pretty frustrating for that person but also very embarrassing for us.
    Also, the car seat is a pain to carry in the airport, even with a car seat travel bag so next year, CARES harness for us, win it or buy it!!

  13. We just booked our award tickets(thank you BA, to visit Hong Kong and Singapore next June (for our 30th anniversary) and will be visiting friends with a one year old son (for whom the CARES harness would be perfect for).

  14. Love this harness!! My grandson, who travels often with his musician parents to their “gigs” will really benefit from this! Thanks for the opportunity!

  15. I have used one for my oldest daughter, and been very happy with it. No complaints from her re: comfort, and it keeps her secure and more contained. I would love to get another, as my younger daughter is ready to graduate from the car seat, and having two would make travel much easier.

  16. This would be great for my son. My wife and I are avid travelers and have several trips planned in the next couple of months (Omaha and Orlando). Thanks!

  17. I would use it for my older son (will be 3 in December) for shorter flights as I think he would have the same issues as little C on our long treks to Hawaii – slumping and not sleeping as long. To visit the grands in Missouri? Perfect. I would, however, still gate check his carseat because have you seen how damaged luggage can get in the baggage hold?

    We check our luggage with the skycaps and then strap the carseats (our youngest just turned 1) to folding luggage trolleys – the boys think their new “strollers” are the best thing ever and love to ride through the airport in them.

  18. I’ve got two kids, ages 2 and almost 5, and we travel a TON to see family. This would be most helpful for my 2yo, who has the same problems as Little C in a carseat kicking the seat in front and who thinks it’s great fun to drive me nuts unbuckling the airplane seatbelt.

  19. Hi
    I’d love a CARES harness. We travel a lot and a lot of the airlines we fly won’t let me bring my car seat onboard. They will though accept the CARES harness

  20. I would love to give the harness a try, and I think I would use it more than anyone else.

    You inspired me to check my Southwest Companion Pass balance, and I found that I was only 35,000 points away from a CP. A few point transfers and a purchase of Southwest gift cards later, and when my statement closes on December 2nd I will have my Companion Pass!!!

    This comes at a critical time, because my wife is trying to write a cookbook for people who have various food allergies. Since we both work full time and have an energetic 2-year-old boy, progress has been, well, slow. She needs some dedicated ‘quiet time.’

    I plan on using my Companion Pass to take my son to visit his grandparents in California, at least once a month until the book gets finished (at least June, I think). In addition, we’ll also fly cross-country to Boston to visit my sister and her kids. We already have family trips planned from Seattle to San Diego in January (with one stop on Southwest) and to Palm Springs in February (another 1-stopper). I’ll probably fly Luke to CA in April and leave him with the grandparents while I meet my wife in Austin on a business trip for 2 nights of adult time.

    So, we have lots of flights in the next 6 months – at least 9. And, because of all of the stops Southwest makes on these routs, that probably 15 takeoffs/landings.

    Traveling with Luke has always been exhausting, especially with a 1:1 adult:toddler ratio, but I need to do this so my wife can work in peace and quiet for a weekend. And, with a CP, it’s cheaper for me to visit the grandparents than for my wife to go to a hotel!

    I think the harness could help Luke stay safe on all those flights, especially with all the takeoffs and landings on ‘long-haul’ Southwest flights,and might help me keep him in his seat! But, all of our flights will be on Southwest, so we wouldn’t get to test it out on other airline seats.

  21. This is a great idea. Balancing a car seat on your carry on, rushing through the airport with a toddler in tow is quite a feat. Thanks for the great family oriented frequently flyer posts. It’s great to read someone who’s just trying to visit family or vacations vs Fiji. One day, it will be about Fiji but for now, it’s not dropping a $1000+ to fly anywhere. Thanks!

  22. Fantastic renew! Would be a perfect gift for our best friends who have a 1 year old and they are gearing up for some serious travel.

  23. May be just the thing for my just-turned-4-y.o. who said last week she didn’t want to sit in the carseat on a plane anymore.

  24. I just returned from a trip to Hawaii (with 15 month old in tow). We could really use this device. Carrying the car seat, carry-on’s, diaper bag, and baby is no small feat through a narrow aisle. At one point I had the strap of a small camera bag hanging from my mouth. Next time I’m wearing a t-shirt that says “Baby’s Sherpa”.

  25. This is a much needed alternative to the cumbersome car seat! I would love one for my son who is 21 months-we have a few flights coming up!

  26. First time parents, never flown with our precious boy before. In-laws would like us to go to East Coast this Christmas. Sadly it might be first and last chance for his wonderful great grandmother who is ill to see him, but we are so overwhelmed by the thought of lugging all the baby gear with us. Not carrying a car seat will definelty help and be more motivating!!

  27. My sister is having her baby any day now and loves to travel. I’d be the best brother ever if I were to turn up to Christmas with the CARES harness :-).

  28. This would be great for my 3 year old and save my wife and I have from carrying his 15lb car seat when we travel as well as the questions from flight attendants wanting to ensure it is FAA approved!

  29. I am NOT in the drawing, since we have 2. Please draw again if you happen to pull this number.

    We love our CARES. In fact, our little Bubba is in one of the photos on Amazon (where you can get the cares for $65 with free shipping.) He has the magna-draw on his lap.

    As MP says, before they began collecting their own points we were able to score a number of free seats having the harnesses in the diaper bag.

    I agree with the comment about needing a head support. Still working on that solution, since it seems that many airlines don’t have pillows anymore. I have heard that slumping is a problem, but haven’t seen the issue. Remember that the lap belt is still the core of the system so it needs to be as tight as possible.

    Still, we LOVE the CARES.

    • @Mikes, thanks so much for sharing your experiences! The head bobble really is an issue if you have a kiddo that will sleep on planes – hopefully there will be some accessory soon to solve that issue. 🙂

  30. Just traveled from Europe to West Coast with a 10 month old learning to stand. I’m sure we’ll need a harness for the next international trip.

  31. I have a 2 year old and 3 year old and will be traveling to Thailand on a 20 hour flight to visit their grandfather. I would love to use this so that I could have a meal without having to hold them. Thanks for the review!

  32. I would use the harness for my daughter (Samantha). She is a little to small for it right now (she’s a little under 20 pounds), but I think she’ll be big enough in a couple of months to start using it. Thanks for the info on this product!

  33. I would love to have one of these. My husband and I have often said we look like the Clampett’s going through security with 2 young kids. Car seats, strollers, luggage…oh my! It would be useful for us to have and to loan to friends when they travel.

  34. For my 2 1/2 year old, Virginia, who has been on 30 flights in her life. Sure would help to keep her in her seatbelt at takeoff and landing (she squirms out if we just try the lap belt).

  35. I would love to win this for my niece. She’s 4 and already has 30,000 airline miles (the first two years she earned zero since she traveled for free).

  36. This looks awesome! We take the little guy to grandma’s house in nashville frequently and lugging the car seat, the roller wheels, and the baby bag make traveling even more stressful. Will be great to get one of these.

  37. This would be awesome for my sister who just had another girl. She has two girls now (1 year and 5 years)and is planning a trip to Europe this summer with her husband.

    Of course I’m trying to get them to use points!

  38. I could really use this for a flight this weekend…unfortunately I just started thinking about the carseat dilemma. It’s too bad that airports don’t rent them for a cheaper alternative. THanks for the info.
    Good luck to all!

  39. We are taking our almost 3 year old daughter to Disney World in a few weeks. we were going to have her sit in the plane seat with the seat belt on but were not feeling very comfortable with it. We would love to get a cares harness so our daughter will have a safe flight. Mickey Mouse is waiting for her afterall!

  40. My son could use one of those. Looks so much easier than lugging the carseat! Would be great in taxis, especially for international travel. I’d still rent a carseat for a car rental though!

  41. I would give this to my hair colorist who has a little boy and is expecting another child! She travels from VT to Florida a lot!

  42. I would like to see if my 2 year old daughter ” lil ex-nonrev” would like this better than her car seat. We just ordered a device that you strap the car seat to turn it into a Stroller while traveling, I’m sceptical but Mrs ex-nonrev wanted it

  43. The CARES harness seems like a wonderful way to restrain while flying. The only problem is that when you check your carseats as lugguge they can be dropped, thrown, and damaged from rough handling. Visible and unseen stress fractures in the plastic may develop and thus prevent the seat from properly protecting a child in a crash. In fact, we tell parents that once a seat is checked as luggage it is almost the same as being in a crash and should be disposed of. A 30 lb child in a 30 MPH crash exerts 900 lbs of force on the seat and you will need a perfect seat with the child restrained properly. I am a certified car seat technician and advise taking carseats on the plane or buying new at your destination.

  44. Thank you for the blog, it’s always great reading about things that make life easer. Our 19 month old has flown over 107,000 miles. Anything that helps make the journey easier is appreciated.

    Thank you for sharing. I, of course, would love one for our daughter.

  45. We’ve been reading your site for some time now–great to hear from a like minded parent. Thanks for posting the info on this harness….our little one will soon be joining our frequent flying in her own seat so this is the perfect addition to our travel pack. Any posts on building mileage balances in a child’s name would be great–we’re hoping all her flying back and forth to Grandma’s house will help pay for a big family trip in the future–thanks!

  46. My daughter “I” would love one of these. She’s 9 months old and just took her first international trip earlier in the month. She looked so funny sitting in a seat with the seat belt strap. We saw these before we left, but we weren’t sure if they were worth the hefty price tag.


  47. Mommy as I’m “soooo Big” and won’t fit in the harness anymore, enter our newest little “C” Carter, my grandson, the “Frugal Travel Dude” for the harness.

    Your contributions to the travel hacking game are greatly appreciated and a represent a fresh “real” perspective on family travel.

    Thanks for all you do.

  48. I’d love to have one for my son, he’s going to be a big brother next spring and I’d love to not carry 2 car seats with me!

  49. This will be great for my son, Little H. He turns two next month. We are planning his first flight to visit family who haven’t seen him since basically he was born.

    Even if we don’t win, I will definitely check this product out. Thank you for the heads-up.

    Also, I want to say thank you. I’ve only been reading your blog for about two months and you are a fountain of knowledge for young family travel.


  50. Just a few days ago I would not have needed this (we have 3 older boys) but we have been trying to adopt for the last two years and we just got contacted by a birthmother for adoption. She is due in January so this CARES harness would really come in handy.

  51. This looks much more convenient than a bulky car seat. I would love one for my daughter who will be traveling to Asia with us.

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