travel with infant
November 24, 2009 11:46 AM   Subscribe

Travel with infant. Do I have to bring a car seat for the trip?

We are flying to LA with our 6 month old next week. Quite nervous about the adventure.

The car seat we have right now is bulky, heavy and very unwieldy. We are trying to avoid it as much as possible.

The baby will probably sit on our lap during the flight. But do we need a car seat after the trip? We haven't decided if we will rent a car or just do taxi, but I would imagine a car seat is required by law in both cases, right?

We have a Baby Bjorn. The little guy likes it very much. Can we use it for all purposes even when riding the car?
posted by kingfish to Travel & Transportation (36 answers total)
If you are riding in a car, you need a car seat for your baby in California, and most other states. This includes Taxis as well.

Many car rental places will rent you a car seat as well, though you need to call ahead to confirm.

A Baby Bjorn does not count.

Safe trip

The airline will check for free the car seat for you if the baby is going to be a lap baby on the flight.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 11:50 AM on November 24, 2009

Yes, infants are required to ride in car seats in California. You may be able to rent one from the car rental company, but make sure to arrange that in advance. If you do bring your own seat, something like this roller attachment can help with the bulkiness.
posted by mbrubeck at 11:52 AM on November 24, 2009

Car rental places will also rent you a car seat. Make sure you specify an infant car seat, as some of the rental guys won't know the difference.
posted by ook at 11:53 AM on November 24, 2009

No, you can't just use the Baby Bjorn. Collision or airbag could kill him. The car rental company should give you an infant car seat.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:54 AM on November 24, 2009

You can rent a car seat along with your car; we've done it. It is frequently legal to carry a child in a taxi, but it's desperately unsafe, even in a Baby Bjorn.

If you're going to be there for more than a couple of days, what you might do is just purchase the cheapest possible infant seat (I seem to remember that they cost about $40) in LA, and then donate it to a women's shelter when you're done with it. Hassle should be pretty minimal on either end.
posted by KathrynT at 11:54 AM on November 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

Please bring a car seat. It is far safer to have a car seat buckled into the plane seat than to hold the baby in your lap or even in a Bjorn. Also, have you tried holding your baby for 5+ hours? It's not fun.

You will need a car seat for auto travel, period.

It is truly a safety issue. Period.

If you haven't reserved and paid for a seat for the baby, and you do take a car seat on board to hedge the bet that you'll wind up with an extra seat for baby, they will gate-check the seat if you don't end up using it. You'll get it back when you deplane.

Your local Target, Wal-Mart or Babies R Us will have nice displays of car seats that you can pick up and try out, if you'd like to buy a new one for travelling. That's what we did--we got a lightweight but comfortable Evenflo--and it wasn't that expensive, maybe $60 with a coupon from Babies R Us.
posted by FergieBelle at 11:55 AM on November 24, 2009 [4 favorites]

I just did this last month, except I use an Ergo rather than a Bjorn. We rented a car from Hertz with a car seat. The only thing is that they don't install the seat for you, and it's usually a really no-frills seat. Allow time to install it before you can leave the lot, and have a towel or blanket somewhere easy to reach from your luggage to pad around the baby's head. I've rented both a bucket seat and a convertible, and in both there needed to be something tucked around baby's head, lest it loll around. Oh, and there won't be window tint or baby shades either. I had to rig up another blanket to the handle above the door to create a sun shield.
posted by xo at 12:00 PM on November 24, 2009

Most airlines (at least, the last time I flew US Air and Continental) will let you check a carseat for no charge (even in this $20-per-checked-bag world we now live in).

We've flow a few times with our soon-to-be-one-year-old. We take a car seat and check it, and bring a stroller
or frame backpack (he's too big for the bjorn now) to the gate and gate-check it.

I checked recently and renting a carseat from Hertz seemed to be pretty expensive: it would've paid for a new one over the course of a week. I would bring one from home.

If there's any chance of being in a car, you gotta bring it or rent it.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 12:12 PM on November 24, 2009

I have a two year old and we've taken her to Malaysia, Turkey, Spain and France. You definitely need a car seat, but every single rental place I've ever been to has them. For piece of mind, book one when when you book the car. But you don't need your own.

Long haul flying - make sure you get a seat by the bulkhead; many airlines will give you one automatically if they know you have a kid. They usually have little beds the kids sleep in that bolt in.

Taxis. Taxi drivers have often let me take my child without a seat, but probably best not to count on it. Also some, esp those you book have seats.

Err apart from that it's a pain compared to travel by yourself, but actually ok; we took ours to the Borneo highlands at 17 months and she loved it and went hiking in the pyrennees at 4mos.

Oh and get a mac pack when he's bigger. they're great.
posted by rhymer at 12:12 PM on November 24, 2009

FergieBelle has it correct. Buy a cheap carseat at Target or Walmart - you can get them in the $45 range and they plenty safe. Having the carseat with you makes travelling on the plane so much easier, and it helps the flight crew give you an extra seat for the baby (if available). And then, when you get where you are going you have the seat to put the kid in the car, sure, but also to put the kid in while you GET the car, and while you wait for luggage, etc etc etc.

And, again, if there is no extra seat to be had you gate check the carseat and they give it to you as you get off the plane.
posted by dirtdirt at 12:27 PM on November 24, 2009

(1) Of course you need a car seat.

(2) You need a rental car in LA. You don't want to be lugging around a baby and a car seat wherever you go, hopping from taxi to taxi.

(3) See (1).
posted by dfriedman at 12:28 PM on November 24, 2009

Just a warning: it can be surprisingly expensive to rent a car seat along with a rental car. Ask first, as you may decide just to bring the bulky one along, if it's a lot of money. You can always just check it first thing; that's what we do when we fly, so you're just getting it from the car to the check-in desk.

I strongly disagree with the people who think it's a safety issue to have a lap baby, no car seat, on a commercial flight. As with everything to do with commercial flying, it's very, very safe to carry your baby on your lap. The safest thing you'll do that day with your baby, guaranteed.
posted by palliser at 12:30 PM on November 24, 2009

If you do decide to take your carseat on the plane, and if you have a convertible car seat instead of an infant carrier, we found GoGo Kidz Travelmate (surely available lots of places) to be invaluable. Hoiking a carseat through airports sucks. This makes it easy, and the baby can ride in it. It basically turns your carseat into a stroller (although we never used it as such outside the airport.) Super easy.

If you do check your carseat, you might want to get a sturdy nylon bag to put it in; it makes it much easier all around---easier to carry, easier to check. And as folks have said, checking carseats is free.
posted by leahwrenn at 12:37 PM on November 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

Bring the car seat you are used to. Don't count on a car rental agency to have one. If they do, it will likely be a cheap piece of crap. If you travel with an infant or toddler, a necessary evil is dragging a car seat along. We typically had ours checked at the gate so we knew it would be on the flight.

Improper installation of a car seat is a chronic reason for infant fatalities. Consider the risks you are taking, driving in a foreign city, with something you learned to install in the airport parking lot that may or may not even be worth a ham sandwich. The struggle of the schlep will evaporate once you get to the rental agency and can install the seat you are used to in a way you know will keep your infant safe in a collision.
posted by docpops at 12:44 PM on November 24, 2009 [4 favorites]

I would strongly recommend against renting a car seat. For one, there have been a number of recalls on older models in the last couple of years and I've known of people on other parenting forums who encountered those recalled models when renting a cars seat. For two, until you see the car seat, you won't know if it is an expired car seat and you don't want to use an expired car seat.

We're traveling by plane for Christmas, and we'll be bringing and checking our huge Britax convertible for our soon-to-be-one-year-old. Please bring your own or buy one you could use for travel.

Checking a carseat should not be a problem with any airline.
posted by zizzle at 12:48 PM on November 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

We are visiting with our six month-old in Madrid, where infant seats are compulsory in private cars but not in taxis (don't get me started about the crazy exception: taxi drivers are also exempt from the obligation to wear seatbelts). We nevertheless carry our own seat (well, a loaner) that we install in each taxicab before each travel. Some cab drivers don't like it, some others congratulate us on our thoughtfulness, and apologise for not carrying one themselves.

We have done the baby bjorn thing a couple of times, but would not do it again: it feels really unsafe.

Compulsory or not, a seat is the safe way to carry a child in a car, fullstop.
posted by kandinski at 12:48 PM on November 24, 2009 [3 favorites]

I strongly disagree with the people who think it's a safety issue to have a lap baby, no car seat, on a commercial flight. As with everything to do with commercial flying, it's very, very safe to carry your baby on your lap. The safest thing you'll do that day with your baby, guaranteed.
posted by palliser at 12:30 PM on November 24 [+] [!]

No, not really. Holding a baby on your lap during flight is insane. It's just that the cost of travel makes it so that people will choose the cheaper option most of the time, and overwhelmingly they will be ok. If you've ever hit clear-air turbulence that sent a food cart into the ceiling you know the odds of losing a ten pound infant to an airborne ride six rows ahead are pretty decent. Also, on United, and some other carriers, they will insist that the infant not be held in the Bjorn but on the lap. Also madness, but the point is that airline policy is based on things other than the safety of your baby.
posted by docpops at 12:49 PM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

I came in to recommend the Gogo Kidz Travelmate as well. Its basically wheels and a handle for your existing car seat, and it saved my sanity flying to Las Vegas and back (for a family wedding) with my then nine-month-old child. Car seats are a pain to schlep around. Having him in a seat is more comfortable for him, and more comfortable for you.
posted by anastasiav at 12:57 PM on November 24, 2009

We've got an 18 month old who's been on probably 7 round trip flights around the US and internationally to Asia. As soon as he was eligible, we used the CARES strap on the plane, which saves a ton of hassle vs. the car seat. We rent car seats at our destination, unless we won't be renting a car (grandparents) - in which case we check our car seat to use at our destination, but not on the plane.

The CARES strap isn't super common, so you'll regularly run into flight attendants who've either never seen it (~30-40%) or try to claim it's not approved by the FAA (~10-20%) - so bring the documentation.

Taxis might be exempt from the car seat requirement, but you should check on this.

Yeah, the car seat's a hassle for people who like to travel light, but you're a parent now - you're already stuck hauling bottles, clothes, diapers, food, strollers, toys etc. for someone not pulling their own weight - the car seat represents not that much more stuff by weight or volume considering the rest of the stuff you're now saddled with.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 12:58 PM on November 24, 2009

docpops, your feeling that it is "insane" is not borne out by actual statistical information on its safety.

The risk of dying on a commercial flight is about 1 in 8 million. Being an unrestrained infant brings that up to about 1 in 2 million to 1 in a million. And those numbers are from groups that advocate the use of safety seats. If you're worried about risks that small -- worried enough to spend hundreds of dollars to reduce them -- you are curled in a fetal position in the bedroom, cradling your baby, all day long.

I stand by my position: irrational to worry about, irrational to spend money on. Have your groceries delivered for whatever time period with that $300, if you want to put it to a more reasonable safety use.
posted by palliser at 1:04 PM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

1 in a million

There are other things that can befall an unrestrained infant than death. Your overall point that worrying over statistical improbabilities is a good one, but misplaced here.
posted by dirtdirt at 1:08 PM on November 24, 2009

Uh, I meant "Your overall point that worrying over statistical improbabilities is irrational is a good one"
posted by dirtdirt at 1:10 PM on November 24, 2009

Link to American Academy of Pediatrics position on child restraint policy on aircraft.

Palliser, choosing to travel but cutting corners on safety for your infant says a lot about a person, not necessarily that they are an inveterate worrywart.
posted by docpops at 1:14 PM on November 24, 2009

Palliser, with all due respect, you're nuts. Wanting to put my child in a car seat on a plane does not equate with cradling my baby all day long. Thankfully, she's old enough to use the CARES strap now, but we've been paying for a separate seat for her all along, and brought the car seat when we needed it.

As has been said, plenty of other things can happen including all kinds of turbulence, and if you're holding your baby, she's probably the first thing that can and will bounce out of your lap.

Statistically, I'm not going to be in a car accident today, either, but I still wear the seat belt and put my daughter in her car seat.
posted by dforemsky at 1:14 PM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

It's only misplaced if there's data out there for a probability of lesser injury that's worth worrying about. You're bringing up the possibility of lesser injuries, but no information on statistical probability.

Lots of infants travel unrestrained, and lots of infants travel restrained. If there is a statistical probably of injury to the former relative to the latter that is compelling to a reasonable person, please share it with me; I'd be grateful to know if something I was doing put a child in actual danger so I could change it.
posted by palliser at 1:18 PM on November 24, 2009

Gee, I don't have that data handy - you must be right!
posted by dirtdirt at 1:19 PM on November 24, 2009

As for checking the car seat, bring a large (plastic) bag for it. The one time that we didn't, the airline refused to supply one and took that as free license to return the seat to use in two pieces with some of the padding gone.
posted by plinth at 1:26 PM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

I strongly disagree with the people who think it's a safety issue to have a lap baby, no car seat, on a commercial flight.

Agreed. The reason airlines don't require an infant to be belted is that it would cost more to buy another seat, resulting in more people driving rather than flying, resulting in more infant deaths. A child is safer unbelted in a plane than belted in a car.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 1:26 PM on November 24, 2009

WGP - I used to hear that point as well, however, the linked article makes this point:

The FAA has argued that a mandatory requirement for CSS use on aircraft will result in more injuries and deaths to infants and toddlers because parents would not be willing to buy a ticket to reserve a seat for the infant and would opt to travel by car instead6; however, no data support this argument.

In theory, I suspect there's some truth to this possibilty as well, but even if true it doesn't have anything to do with dimishing culpability of a parent that chooses not to restrain a baby in a seat on a plane. When I drive my streets and see a car load of hispanics holding their babies in their arms I try my hardest to imagine the cultural or economic issues that play into it. But then I just can't. You are playing statstical roulette with a life so you can save a few hundred bucks. Just stay home.
posted by docpops at 1:33 PM on November 24, 2009

Take your car seat. Renting one costs extra money you save by bringing your own. As others have pointed out, you can gate-check the seat for free. Rental car seats are often outdated and low-quality.

But most importantly - you're going to want to rent a car in LA. Taxis can't be hailed off the streets here in the same way as New York or other large cities. They simply don't drive around looking for fares. You can find them outside large hotels and at the airports, but other than that you have to call for one, and then wait 20+ minutes for the cab to arrive.
posted by Joh at 1:57 PM on November 24, 2009

A couple other reasons for bringing your own car seat:

(i) You (presumably) already know how to safely install it in a car. Also, it's much easier to do this once when you get your rental car than doing it every time you hop in a taxi.

(ii) As mentioned above, the airline should allow you to check your stroller and/or car seat for free, either at check-in or at the gate. Sometimes if a flight is not terribly full, the flight attendants have allowed us to bring our car seat on board for our lap child, which is ideal. We've had this happen more than once on Southwest, but I can't recall it happening on United, where there are typically fewer empty seats. You can ask when you check in whether this is a possibility and thus whether it's worth lugging the car seat to the gate.

Another word to the wise: bring a copy of the child's birth certificate if you have it. Although most airlines don't ask to see it (especially for a child who looks obviously under 2), it is technically required. Southwest, for example, recently instituted a policy requiring you show the birth certificate every time you bring a lap child.
posted by partylarry at 2:06 PM on November 24, 2009

Take the seat. I've been in your place, it will be worth it.
posted by TooFewShoes at 2:13 PM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have three children. I have been flying with them since the oldest was four months old. I fly with them 2-3 times a year.

Yes, the whole carseat thing is a fiasco. It's inconvenient. It's a pain checking the thing through with luggage and then holding your breath waiting for it to emerge at the other end.

I've also lugged the thing through the whole flight. That was more of a hassle - especially when meeting connections. Three children, a car seat and running through Detroit airport. NOT FUN. Do you have any connections?

But it's necessary.

I liked having the car seat on the plane with me because baby was used to the car seat and felt comfortable in it. It made the flight easier. Baby just dosed in the car seat like any other day.

But, more than not, I just check the stupid thing and have the baby in my lap. Most airlines won't allow you to have the baby in a Bjorn during take off and landing, but are ok during the flight. The Bjorn is still nice to have during the flight and in the airport.

IF YOUR CARSEAT DOES GO MISSING/LOST LUGGAGE, most airports/airlines have car seats they will lend you until you get yours found. This has happened a few times. Not too much of a big deal.

Rent a car, bring your car seat, life will be better, even if it's a bit of a hassle during the flight/check in process.
posted by Sassyfras at 2:14 PM on November 24, 2009

Do American air services not provide infant belts? When I flew with baby anachronism we had the meitai for the airport/boarding and an infant belt that clipped to mine during the flight. It meant I could feed her during takeoff and descent and she wouldn't be flung out of the seat during turbulence (and indeed, when we hit turbulence I was in the midst of changing her damn nappy). Most of the carseats for the under 12 months set wouldn't fit appropriately into the plane seats from my experience anyway.

But yes, you absolutely need a car seat for car travel. Taxis count as public transport here in Oz so car seats are optional but I don't know that I'd ever be comfortable travelling with baby anachronism unrestrained.
posted by geek anachronism at 4:18 PM on November 24, 2009

Nthing bringing your own seat. We brought our own seat four times out of five, and we did not like the seat we got with the rental car that one time.
posted by DakotaPaul at 4:23 PM on November 24, 2009

For a sixth month old, bring your car seat. Any older and I would say just carry them. It is a pain in the ass, but you and your baby will be a lot more comfortable. I don't think safety is the issue here. If I hit turbulence, best believe that I will have my baby gripped up tight.

But......the tougher decision is whether or not to buy a seat / ticket for your child. Children under 2 fly for free if they sit in your lap. You are not guaranteed a place for the car seat if you don't buy a seat for your child. If the flight is full, you will have to check the car seat and hold onto your baby. Where is the flight to LA originating from? If its JFK / ORD / MIA buy a ticket / seat.

The handle on my carseat ( Graco ) fit perfectly around the handle of my carry-on suit case when place upside down. So I could simply drag the suitcase as per usual, with the car seat essentially attached.

If you usually use a base for your carseat, practice installing it without the base a few times before you leave. The little metal clip is the key to getting a snug fit.

Good luck. Traveling with children is a true test of character and logistics.
posted by jasondigitized at 5:30 PM on November 24, 2009

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