FAA Making it Easier for Families With Car Seats

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When flying with young children, it is typically safest and most comfortable for all involved if the child has not only their own seat, but is secured in that seat in an approved “child restraint system” (car seat) during the flight.  This is how we flew with Little C for most of her flights between 1 – 3.5 years old or so (when she wasn’t in her CARES Harness), and it is how we will probably fly with Baby S once she also reaches closer to one year old.  Right the baby would just scream throughout the flight if she was in her car seat…just like she does in the car much of the time, so we are holding her as a lap baby even though there is a slight safety trade-off over having her in a car seat.


If you have kids, you probably have noticed that car seats, even infant seats, can be quite bulky.  As an example, one popular car seat in my mommy group circles is the Britax Marathon.  There are several flavors of this car seat, but it can be 18.5 inches wide (not to mention it is quite heavy!).  Even though 18.5 inches may not sound especially large given an entire back seat of a car, airplane seats can often be smaller than 18.5 inches wide.  As an example, Spirit lists their A319 seats as 17.75 inches wide. Think Spirit must be the worst?  Think again as United lists their 737-700 seats as just 17.2 inches wide. This is by no means just an issue for those who fly budget carriers.

In reality lots of economy airplane seats will be narrower than many popular car seats that we use in cars for everyday travel.  Apparently the FAA has taken notice of this issue and plans to make it easier for traveling families who bring along their car seats via a new rule.

Per the new FAA Rule, effective by February 29, 2016, airlines must list on their websites the width of the narrowest and widest passenger seat in each class of service for each make, model, and series of airplane used in their fleet for passenger transportation.  The reason for this new rule is so that parents can know in advance if their CRS can be used on the airplane that they expect to fly on with their child.

The FAA already has a website dedicated to using car seats on planes and recommends that a CRS no wider than 16 inches should fit in most airplane seats.  I am not a car seat expert, but I don’t think many exist that are smaller than 16 inches wide.  Even the Cosco Scenera that I highly recommend for travel due to its cost, size, and weight is listed as 17 inches across.  The Doona infant seat that turns from a car seat into a stroller when wheels shoot out (that I am absolutely in love with) is about 17.3 inches wide.  In other words, good luck finding any seat under 16 inches wide!


Doona Car Seat/Stroller

As an FYI, the FAA also has an existing rule that if the CRS does not fit in a particular seat on the aircraft, the airline is responsible for accommodating the CRS in another seat in the same class of service (assuming one exists), which I could see being interesting if a larger “premium” economy seat is not considered a different class of service.  In practice a car seat being slightly too wide doesn’t matter frequently as long as the arm rest isn’t in a fixed position because the extra space it takes up is simply taken away from the parent or caregiver seated next to the car seat.  However, car seat and airline seat size is an issue you need to be aware of, especially if you are on an aircraft where the arm rest does not raise.

I’m a big fan of anything the FAA and airlines do to make flying with children even a little bit easier, so thumbs up on this new rule!

Thanks to Gary from View From the Wing for passing along this information!

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  1. Good information!

    On the car seat widths, looking at the seat width rather than the shoulder width would be helpful, but that information is a little harder to come by.

    I have 2 Diono Radian RXTs for my kids, and they touted as being narrower than most cars seats (they claim 3 across wil fit in most cars), but even they are listed as 17″ wide. But searching a review site, they are 16.5 across at the hips, 17 at the shoulders. So, they should fit in any seat 16.5″ or wider. I imagine that many other 17″ seats are similar.

  2. Thanks!
    I was planning on contacting you regarding a family trip planned next June for seven of us, including our grand daughter who will be 2.5 years old for that trip.
    I had been curious if the airlines published these types of seat dimensions.
    For someone age 2.5 years, would you recommend the harness instead of wrestling the car seat onboard? We will be bringing the seat for auto travel.
    We already have Gramps and Grandma in seats in front and Uncle/Auntie seated behind as buffer for the rest of the travelers.

    • Logistics are easier with cares harness. Our daughter did better in car seat but we would decide what to bring based on logistics of the trip.

    • CARES are fantastic at that age. We used them exclusively with our twins, even when the car seats were lugged along. They are particularly great when travelling with lap child on Southwest. If there are any empty seats on the plane it will be next to the infants in the back (where we’d always sit unless we had a really tight connection.) With the ability to carry on the CARES in a regular bag we got a free seat for both kids many times.

      Note it is possible to rent a CARES harness (at least it was a few years back) if you think you’ll only need it for one trip.

  3. @Joe S,

    Butting in….

    With our 1st, we quit doing lap child at toddler age and bought a seat, and wrestled the Britax onboard. Forward facing can be a real pain with the seatbelts I recall needing an extension piece. We used rear-facing most flights, when the person in front didn’t care about recline.

    With out 2nd, we had heard about CARES. she was in lap, then straight to CARES. No way were we wrestling the Britax again. Unlike with a car seat, a 2.5+ yo could probably escape from the CARES harness, but if they are conditioned by a car seat harness they don’t think to try. The CARES harness goes in her personal backpack along with toys. MUCH better for us.

    Since Hertz provides AAA discount renters with a complimentary child seat, our days of lugging a Britax through the airport are thankfully over.

    • Vicente,
      Any information is good information. It’s nice to hear from people with first hand experience.
      And yes, at 1.5 years she’s already conditioned to being strapped in a car seats. She even helps. So I’d expect nothing less next summer.
      Much appreciated.

  4. I will be interested to see your follow-up post. We have our 2-year-old in a Britax. We’re still rear-facing her, but she’s so tall I keep questioning if I should forward face her. I hope you cover this topic!

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