Check out this ultimate guide for how to travel with a car seat on a plane, plus the best travel car seat models for babies and toddlers!
There’s a lot to consider when flying with your baby as a first time mom.
“Do I need a car seat?”
“How do I navigate the airport?”
“What’s the best baby gear for travel?”
Luckily, we’re here to answer all your questions!
While air travel is much safer than car travel, we do recommend that you plan to use a car seat for your child.
Below, you’ll find information on the FAA requirements and guidelines and the best tips and tricks to travel with a car seat on a plane!
How to Travel with a Car Seat on a Plane
Car Seat Packing Tips for Plane Travel
Before you pack, make sure the type of car seat you have will work with your airline.
Some planes like Spirit Airlines have really narrow seats, so check the measurements of both the car seat and the airplane seat before heading to the airport.
You should also make sure your car seat is FAA approved. Most car seats in the U.S. are, but you’ll want to be sure.
Find the FAA-approved car seat sticker on your seat before you get to the airport. (These are usually located on the side or bottom of a car seat and will say “This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft”).
You may be required to show the sticker to a flight attendant before you board.
If you’re flying with a carrier outside of the U.S. or Canada, check their guidelines to make sure you’re comfortable with their rules and requirements.
This post from Chicco USA details what to expect from each US airline.
How to Pack a Car Seat for Checked Baggage
If you plan to check your car seat, keep in mind that not all airlines take responsibility for damage. So you might not want to check a super expensive car seat or stroller.
It’s not uncommon for luggage to sustain damage during a flight. And damaged car seats or car seats that have been in an accident aren’t safe for your child.
But, there are some things you can do to protect your car seat during your flight.
You can use regular car seat travel bags to protect your seat from germs and grime. Or, you can invest in a padded one to minimize impact damage.
You can also stuff the travel bag with some extra baby items for free!
NOTE: Lots of parents are interested in how to travel with a car seat base, however, car seats must be installed without the base on an airplane. So, if you’re planning to bring one, you’ll need to check it at the ticket counter or gate.
Recommended Guidelines and Requirements
Airplane seat belts aren’t made for small children, so it’s important to provide them with the proper restraints.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children under 40 lbs should always be in a child safety seat. But, it’s not necessarily required.
Depending on your child’s age you can use a car seat, CARES harness, or hold your child in your lap.
However, unrestrained children can be injured (sometimes fatally) in the event of extreme turbulence or a runway crash.
This is very rare, but it’s a risk you should consider.
0-2 Years Old
Children under 2 years old are permitted to sit on their parent’s lap. And you don’t have to purchase a seat for lap infants unless you want to bring their car seat on board.
However, children under two who have their own seat, are usually required to have a safety seat or harness.
Once you decide to bring your car seat on board, your child will be required to use it for take-off, landing, and turbulent patches. But they can get out of their seat during other portions of the flight
NOTE: If you purchase a plane seat for your child, it’s your legal right to bring a car seat on board.
Older children can use a car seat or a CARES harness. The CARES harness is the only FAA-approved child flying safety device (for the U.S.), but most airlines around the world approve it as well.
This device is for children 1 year and older (up to age 3 or 4). The height limit is 40 inches tall. And the weight limit is 44 pounds.
You can’t use a booster seat on a plane because they require a shoulder strap and not a lap belt.
Tips and Tricks for Navigating the Airport
You can check your car seat at the ticket counter or bring it to the gate. For most U.S. flights, gate-checked items will be waiting for you as soon as you de-plane. Check with your airline beforehand to be sure.
If you check your car seat at the ticket counter you’ll be able to pick it up at baggage claim. However, they’re usually not on the conveyer belt.
Instead, look for the “oversized luggage” area.
Car seats count as special items and are free to check if you’re flying with kids. You can usually check 2 baby items for free (eg. stroller, car seat, portable crib).
Plan to get to the airport early so you have extra time to get through security. If your car seat doesn’t fit through the x-ray machine, it may require a physical inspection by a TSA agent. And this can take more time!
From TSA to Your Gate
- Place the car seat on a stroller or stroller frame if it fits.
- Utilize the handles of your stroller (Loosen the car seat straps and hang them over the handle.)
- Wear it on your back (Loosen the straps and carry it like a backpack. Or, purchase a travel bag with straps).
- Use a travel bag with wheels.
- Use a car seat trolley.
- Attach your car seat to your suitcase.
- Invest in a travel car seat.
At the Gate
Once you get to your gate, speak to the gate agent and let them know that you’ll need some extra time for boarding. They’re usually very understanding and let families with small children take the time and space they need.
The gate agent will also provide you with a checked bag tag for any items you don’t plan to bring on the plane.
If you have a car seat and stroller combo, you can check just the stroller portion of the travel system. Or, if your stroller is small enough you may be able to store it in an overhead bin.
Other items like trolleys and stroller frames can be gate-checked as well.
Car Seat Tips and Tricks for On the Plane
Once you’re on the plane, a flight attendant can help you get your child’s car seat to the correct aisle if needed.
The safest place for your child is a window seat or middle seat on planes with larger cabins. Children can’t sit on emergency exit rows. And many airlines don’t allow children in car seats on the rows in front of or behind the exit rows either.
Keep in mind once you decide to bring your car seat on the plane, you’re usually stuck with it.
On most flights, there isn’t a good place to store a car seat. So it will likely have to stay in the seat.
However, some larger planes (usually for international flights) have more space in the overhead bin. So, you might be able to squeeze it in.
Or, if you’re lucky, a flight attendant may offer to stow it away in a closet.
Car Seat Installation
According to the Federal Aviation Administration guidelines, a car seat must be used according to the manufacturer’s instructions. However, it’s okay to install the seat a little more upright if needed.
How to install a rear-facing car seat on an airplane:
- Find the correct belt path on your car seat for the rear-facing position.
- Loosen the adjustable side of the airplane seatbelt.
- Feed that side through the belt path.
- Buckle the seatbelt.
- Put your weight into the car seat and pull the seatbelt tail to tighten.
Check your car seat manual if you’re in doubt.
Flight crews and fellow passengers are typically very accommodating to families with small children. But, if you run into any issues, remember that your child’s safety trumps the comfort of other passengers.
Car Seat Tips and Tricks for Rental Cars
If you need a rental car at your final destination, you’ll likely be in a different vehicle than you’re used to. So, give yourself some extra time to get your car seat installed.
Make sure in a designated loading and unloading area and that you’re actively working to get your children and luggage in the car.
Other Plane Travel Tips for Babies and Toddlers
On a long flight, you may need to get creative to keep your child settled and entertained.
It’s hard for young children to make it through an entire flight without moving around. So, feel free to let them stretch their legs as long as there isn’t any turbulence.
If your child is old enough to be forward facing, you can also flip their seat around during the flight.
This can make meal times easier, and give them a chance to use the in-flight entertainment. Tablets are also a good option for older kids if you don’t mind your child getting extra screen time!
Kids may also enjoy:
- Busy books/quiet books
- Reading books
- Card games
- School supplies
- Magnet tiles/toys
- Finger puppets
- Pre-made travel kits/busy kits
- Extra snacks
The Best Car Seats for Plane Travel
The best travel car seat will depend on where you’re going, who you’re traveling with, and what you’ll be doing while you’re there.
But, in general, it’s a good idea to avoid bulky car seat models that aren’t easy to schlep through the airport or fit into narrow airplane seats. And many parents prefer a convertible seat.
Here are some good lightweight car seat options:
- Safety 1st Guide 65 Convertible Car Seat
- Evenflo Tribute LX Convertible Car Seat
- Graco Extend2Fit Convertible Car Seat
- Evenflo Sonus Convertible Car Seat
- Cosco Finale Dx 2-In-1 Booster Car Seat
- Cosco Apt 50 Convertible Car Seat
- Combi Coccoro Streamlined Lightweight Convertible Car Seat
- Evenflo Stratos Convertible Car Seat
- Graco Size4Me 65 Convertible Car Seat
The best infant car seat options:
- Graco SnugRide SnugLock 35 LX Infant Car Seat
- Clek Liingo Infant Car Seat
- Century Carry On 35 LX Lightweight Infant Car Seat
- KeyFit® 30 Infant Car Seat
Portable car seat options (with wheels):
Tips for Travelling Internationally with a Car Seat
Always check the child safety rules for international airlines and your destination country before you plan your trip.
You don’t want to be caught by surprise when it comes to your child’s safety!
- The car seat cannot be wider than 42 cm (16.5 inches)
- During take-off and landing, child car seats may be secured in a rear-facing position. At cruising altitude, they must be placed facing forward, to allow recline of the seat in front
- Reservation of a car/child seat may be required in advance
In addition to differing fight requirements, your car seat may actually be illegal in other countries. U.S. car seats are not certified in Europe, for example.
So make sure you plan for this.
If your car seat isn’t allowed, the best option may be to use a harness (if applicable) and rent a car seat at your final destination.
If your destination is walkable, you may not need a car seat post-flight. Or, you can plan to use public transportation.
NOTE: If you don’t abide by another country’s rules, you may be fined. And if you happen to get in an accident, some insurance companies won’t cover it.
If your child is under 2 and has their own airplane seat, they will most likely be required to have a car seat. Children older than two are not required to have a car seat, but it’s highly recommended. Check with your airline for their specific rules.
And if you plan to get a rental car in the United States, your child 8 years and younger will need a car seat appropriate for their age, weight, and height.
Yes, you can take a car seat through TSA. Just make sure you arrive a little early in case your seat doesn’t fit through the X-ray machine. In that case, an agent will do a physical check of your seat.
Typically, yes. Most airlines allow you to gate check baby items like a car seat and stroller.
However, you should always double-check with your airline before planning your trip. This is especially true for international travel.
The Bottom Line
Here’s the bottom line on how to travel with a car seat on a plane:
Even though airplanes are considered the safest way to travel, young kids need the proper restraints for safety.
- It’s legal for a child under 2 to sit on a parent’s lap, but it is recommended that all children under 40 pounds be placed in a car seat or harness.
- Always check the rules for your airline before planning your trip. This is especially true for international travel.
- If you plan to check your car seat at the ticket counter or gate, consider packing it in a protective covering (with padding if possible).
- You can make airport navigation easier by attaching your car seat to a stroller, trolley, or rolling suitcase, or by wearing it by the straps or by using a protective cover with straps.
- Plan to arrive at the airport early to have plenty of time to make it through security.
- Once at your gate, be sure to talk to a gate agent to receive a checked bag tag if needed and help with priority boarding.
- Car seats should be installed according to the manufacturer’s instructions and used for take-off, turbulence, and landing. However, your child does not have to stay in their seat for the entire flight.
If this post was helpful, be sure to check out:
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- 8 Must-Have Baby Essentials
- 35 Smart Mom Hacks
- 15+ Genius Newborn Baby Hacks
- Proven Newborn Sleep Tips
- Creative Monthly Baby Photo Ideas
- 3 First Time Mom Books
- The Ultimate List of First Birthday Party Ideas
Did we answer all your questions about how to travel with a car seat on a plane? Let us know if we missed anything in the comments!