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It is the start of the Thanksgiving travel week when lots of families will hit the airports and the skies to go visit family, escape family, and hopefully make lots of fun memories in the process. One memory that no one wants to make is an unpleasant exchange with airline staff about a car seat. I have a few of those unfortunate memories myself, and when I fly solo with both of my children this weekend (for the first time, I think?), I can share that my #1 concern has to do with car seat logistics. I’m not 100% sure yet how I will manage the bags, the stroller, the car seat, and oh yeah, the children. Not only is getting all of that through security and the airport a challenge, but then simply getting everything and everyone down the jetbridge, on-board, locked, and loaded will be a sight to see.
They should really have parent helpers you can rent by the hour in major airports!
Anyway, I am sure we won’t be the slickest show in town, but I presume it will all work out for us as one way or another as I have done similar dog and pony shows many times, my children have flown quite a bit themselves, and they are thankfully now almost 8 and 2.5 years old, so no longer tiny babies or squarely in the “hardest age to travel” zone.
However, if I was flying solo with a 3 year old and 18 month old plus two car seats, my stress level would undoubtably be several ticks higher. That is a really tough assignment, but it is what a mom was doing a few months ago on an American Airlines flight from Portland to Chicago. She had done everything right, bought seats for each child, had somehow managed to get both children and both car seats to the gate, and then the problems started just before boarding.
You can read a really good account of her experience here, but the gist of it was that she was told by the American gate agent that she could only use one car seat and had to hold the other child as a lap infant.
For those curious, the FAA rules state that no airline may prohibit a child, if requested by the child’s parent, guardian, or designated attendant, from occupying a child restraint system furnished by the child’s parent, guardian, or designated attendant if they have their own seat. American’s own website also doesn’t say anything about a limit of one car seat per traveling family.
It does state that If your infant will travel in his or her own seat, you must buy a ticket and bring a safety seat approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). It also states that the safety seat can’t be used in an exit row or in the rows on either side of an exit row.
From experience, I can tell you that car seats are typically to be installed at window seats in a one aisle aircraft in order to aid in an orderly emergency evacuation, and while the United website outlines more details about where car seats are to be installed, the American website doesn’t. I assume that this family’s problem came from the reality that one of the car seats would have to not be in the window position since there was only one traveling adult in the party, though to my knowledge this isn’t an FAA rule, but rather a common airline policy/procedure.
I know that airlines have an insanely long list of safety rules and regulations to follow, but like the author of the article linked above, I really fail to comprehend why car seats (and breastfeeding, for that matter) continue to be such difficult issues to master. It really seems that a one-sheet list of car seat rules and guidelines that is available to both passengers and staff should be able to answer pretty much all questions and situations.
If there is a one car seat per adult airline rule then say that on the website (though it would seem to go against the FAA’s rules on the topic). For this family, the older child could have probably utilized a CARES Harness and the 18-month-old could have been been strapped in their car seat, and both would have been pretty secure. My kids have never been as comfortable in a CARES Harness as in a car seat, but it would probably have been a better situation then holding one child throughout the flight.
The mom reportedly states in her complaint that after the gate agent told her she could only use one car seat she was “standing with both of my children, now feeling overwhelmed, saddened, scared, and frustrated” and that is a terrible feeling and one that is, in my mind, 100% the fault of the airline in this case.
If you are traveling this week with a car seat (or two), first know that my thoughts are with you, it is one of the big PITA parts of family travel. Second, do your homework and know what the FAA and your individual airline has to say on the topic. Typically, this means you need to have a seat for your child (unless an adjacent seat just ends of being available), that you have a forward-facing seat without a seatbelt airbag, that you aren’t in an exit row or the rows just before or after an exit row, and that you place the car seat in a window seat of a single-aisle aircraft, you have more options on a double aisle aircrat.
Should you be flying solo and require two car seats, I would be sure to get to the gate early and make sure you and the gate agent are on the same page. I haven’t seen any published limits, but the arrangement of the car seats is likely to be the challenge on the plane. If one of your kids could use a CARES Harness, that might be a decent alternative to having to manage two car seats.
I’d love to hear your flying with a car seat travel tips (here are mine!), especially if you have managed multiple car seats!
Editorial Note: The opinions expressed here are mine and not provided, reviewed, by any bank, card issuer, or other company unless otherwise stated.