Should we bring our car seat on to the plane?
September 15, 2010 4:01 PM   Subscribe

One toddler, one 4-hour flight. Bring the car seat on board or not?

We're flying next week with our 2 (+ 3months) year old. We're bringing a car seat since we need it at our destination but I'm unsure whether it's better to use it on the plane or to check it. I guess safety is one concern but I'm also wondering if she would prefer sitting in the seat and therefore have more likelihood of maybe, oh god, please, taking a nap on the flight. Also, is it easier to manage a toddler with the car seat in place?

She'll be with me and my husband, it's a domestic American Airlines flight during the day. We have the 3-across row assigned to us. It's a Cosco Scenera seat that she's perfectly happy in in my husband's car so it's a familiar environment. We've flown with her before but it's been awhile and this is the longest flight we've ever done.

Of course, any other tips to make our lives, and the lives of the passengers around us, easier would be appreciated.
posted by otherwordlyglow to Travel & Transportation (29 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
My anecdote:

We just went NYC - Europe with our exactly two year old. We put her in the car seat on the way over. She hated every minute of it. Luckily she's not a yeller, but we had a constant refrain of "out car seat? out car seat?"

We checked it on the way back and she sat (between my husband and me) and was fine just with the lap belt. When seatbelt sign was off she sat on one of our laps because she's pretty cuddly.

Other tips? a doodle kind of thing to draw on, stickers, stickers, stickers, lots of snacks.
posted by gaspode at 4:06 PM on September 15, 2010

Airplane seats do not adequately protect toddlers in the event of a crash (highly unlikely) or serious turbulence. When my kid was a toddler, the airline wouldn't allow us to use our carseat, and I was unhappy about the potential risk.
posted by theora55 at 4:09 PM on September 15, 2010

Response by poster: I should add that she's super loud and very talkative so it'll be apparent if she's unhappy. Also, we've taken lots of long car trips and she's been pretty content in her car seat.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 4:09 PM on September 15, 2010

The pain of lugging it through security is not really worth it. Our 2yo would sleep on flights with or without it - if she has a favorite stuffed animal it makes a perfect pillow. Just make sure that when you check the car seat, you wrap it in a trash bag or equivalent because otherwise it could get really dirty.

One more thing - airlines won't charge you extra to check a car seat.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 4:12 PM on September 15, 2010

Is your car seat FAA approved (it should have a sticker on it saying so)? If so, American Airlines recommends using for safety reasons. If not, the question's irrelevant as they won't let you use it.
posted by dersins at 4:14 PM on September 15, 2010

Best answer: Our boy last flew when he was 2 years and 1 month old, the longest leg being two hours. Inconvenient as it was, we used the carseat because we were certain he would have figured out how to unbuckle the lap belt of the airplane seat and 1) try to climb under the seats and explore, or 2) stand up in the seat and jump up and down. Sure, we could strongly insist that he not do those things, but we weren't going to take the chance that he'd have a meltdown for being denied his fun.

When he's in his carseat, be it in a car or airplane, he knows he's stuck there and safe (when we buckle him in we say, "Time to make DakotaPaul, Jr. safe!"), so he pretty much sits quietly watching movies on the iPod.

However, we might be flying this Christmas and I don't know what we're going to do. The last time he flew his feet and legs were almost touching the seat back in front of him. He's grown a lot since then and I don't know that he'll fit comfortably now.
posted by DakotaPaul at 4:23 PM on September 15, 2010

I have flown with my kids several times a year since they were born. I have brought the carseat into the cabin zero times. Wrap it up in a lawn waste-grade bag and check it.
posted by padraigin at 4:23 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Airlines allow car seats on planes. People do it all the time.

That said - my son is 2.5 and we've flown with him numerous times, never bringing a car seat on the plane. Then again, we were always going somewhere where a car seat was waiting for us upon arrival.

I bought a CARES harness and have used it a few times, it seemed to keep him happy and in the seat much more effectively than the lap belt alone, which he can easily unbuckle himself.

From other threads on this topic I picked up some tips - the best one was for the mini-Magnadoodle. I can't believe how much mileage we've gotten out of that little toy! And tubes full of plastic dinosaurs/lizards/frogs, etc. Put them in, pour them out. You would be surprised at how much fun a hand puppet can provide as well. That plus a hundred little ziplocs of different snacks, that was pretty much how we got through the flights we've taken in the last year successfully.

Oh yeah, those things - and an Ipod Touch. That helped too :-)
posted by pinky at 4:25 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

If the car seat isn't approved for airline use, you shouldn't use it on the plane. Having the kid strapped in an inadequate seat is likely more dangerous than having the kid in an airplane seat. An airplane doesn't have the same kinds of anchors that a car does.

We always took the car seat through security and then checked it at the gate. I was always worried it would get lost if we checked it (classic irrational mommy fear, so YMMV). It was a huge pain.

The coach airline seats will seem very roomy to a 2-year old, so she'll probably be just happy and fine. We did a fair amount of flying with our toddler daughter, never took a car seat on the plane.

The classic small-kid-on-a-place advice applies:
Bring snacks your kid likes
Coloring Books
New (small, quiet) toys that she hasn't seen before

Dole these things out when she seems bored. Four hours isn't that long; you'll be fine.

Benadryl makes my kid irritable and not necessarily sleepy. Don't do this unless you're sure how your kid will react.
posted by jeoc at 4:29 PM on September 15, 2010

I've done it both ways. The car seat brings the seat back within kicking range. No car seat makes it a little harder to make them stay put. If you bring the carseat onboard, the airline will make you put it in the window seat. If you'd like to have her between you, no car seat.

You just have to weigh the factors and decide what works for you and your child. Me, I would check it.
posted by ambrosia at 4:47 PM on September 15, 2010

Best answer: My kids have actually preferred the car seat to the regular seat. It's easier for them to nap in the familiar car seat, which typically has sides conducive to sleepy wobbly heads. Also, consider your tot will not be able to get out of the car seat but will most likely figure out quite quickly how to unsnap the airplane seat belt.
posted by Sassyfras at 5:00 PM on September 15, 2010

Anecdote: we always take the carseat, except on this last flight we left it at security by mistake. It did not go well, since right from the start she was unhappy that she couldn't see out the window at takeoff. That carried through for the entire trip.
posted by true at 5:14 PM on September 15, 2010

I have very little to add here. Except w/r/t security out of SFO (at least in the int'l terminal - which I fly out of most because Virgin domestic flies out of there) they let families by pass the main security line and use the First/Business/Special people line in security. YMMV.
posted by bitdamaged at 5:18 PM on September 15, 2010

Best answer: If she's content to sit in her car seat and it's FAA approved, I'd use it. I never flew without using car seats with my kids. Granted, I'm a person who has seen a child flung from a parents' lap during awful turbulence (this was before I had my own children), so perhaps I was traumatized by that. Anyway, I also found that it was just easier for me to strap them in; my hands were free to entertain, to fetch toys that were "accidentally" dropped, to shovel food in their mouths.

If she's used to sitting in that car seat for long car rides, putting her in it on the flight will signal to her that it's time to take a trip! Just like in the car only more fun!
posted by cooker girl at 5:48 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I assume the car seat will not cause problems if it is not taking up any extra space.

The future crowd flying with you will be happy that your child will be confined and not screaming while running up and down the isle.
posted by EatingCereal at 6:11 PM on September 15, 2010

Best answer: We actually bought a Scenera (it is FAA approved) for flying because it is a hell of a lot lighter than our day-to-day seat. My son has flown 7 round trips in his 2 years - I would never fly without a seat. It makes it more like a car ride so he sits in it without complaint.
posted by a22lamia at 6:35 PM on September 15, 2010

Response by poster: Yeah, the Scenera is super light and we still have the carry bag it came in so that part really isn't an obstacle. I think I'm still leaning toward bringing it. She'll want to sit in our laps a lot of the time but it'll be really nice to have a secured place for her.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 7:15 PM on September 15, 2010

Bring the car seat. Would you ever just let her sit in the back seat of your car without her seat?

To all the people here who way "just let her sit in the airplane seat" - would you just let your child sit in the back seat of your car?

Your child is at as much risk in an airplane seat as she is in the back seat of your car.

I highly second the recommendation of the CARES if your child is big enough. This WILL make the airplane seat safe for your child.

I'm sorry for being so blunt, but the number of responders in this thread that feel that it is just fine for their child to either be unrestrained on the airplane or restrained only by the lap belt is just ridiculous.
posted by dforemsky at 7:22 PM on September 15, 2010

We are flying with our two-year-old twins for the first time this Thanksgiving, and I've done a lot of planning and research. I used to work for the NTSB; there's no way I'm flying without having my kids in appropriate restraints. The FAA recommends that children under 40 pounds be in an approved safety seat (or CARES harness for 22-40 pounds). We probably would have done the CARES harness if we didn't need seats at our destination; instead, we bought Sceneras to use (our regular Britax seats are heavy, plus buying two Sceneras was cheaper than the cost to rent seats from the rental car company).

To assist in pre-flight logistics, a friend recommended this strap which connects a car seat to a rolling carry-on, effectively turning it into a stroller. You have to unhook it to get through security, but it seems to be easy and has gotten great reviews.

For in-flight entertainment, we bought a portable DVD player that has two screens. Car seats have to be in the window seats, so we're putting the taller seat-kicker behind his sister (better that he kick her than a stranger), then running their DVD cords along the window side. Insert "Cars" or a mix of "Yo Gabba Gabba" episodes, sit back, and enjoy the ride.
posted by candyland at 8:07 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Personally, I say bring it. You'll have enough trouble keeping your child occupied without also fretting over keeping them in their seat. Plus, if they fall asleep, they'll be more comfy, and they'll be in a seat they're familiar with, which is nice.

Downsides? Having to install it and carry it. But, as someone with twins who on numerous occasions had to carry both car seats hither and yon, usually with a couple of bags over his back -- I still think it was worth it. Just one child, just one seat? Seems positively dreamy.
posted by davejay at 8:46 PM on September 15, 2010

Oh yeah, and we switched to the CARES harness when they were old enough, and it worked pretty darn well.
posted by davejay at 8:46 PM on September 15, 2010

i second everything pinky stated above.

we've recently traveled with 2.5 year old. the C.A.R.E.S. harness was the way to go for us, as we were on a very limited time table and that sucker is easy to get into place quickly and even easier to stuff into diaper bag/purse for a quick getaway.

i will also mention that said toddler wet through her clothes on all 4 flights. (we had changed her immediately prior to 3 of the 4 flights, fyi). so, my word to the wise: ziplock baggies for wet clothes, extra dry clothes and your sense of humor in check. also, it was easier to change her right in the seat between us with the C.A.R.E.S. harness in place (as opposed to the car seat) rather than wait for all the other passengers to use the teeny, tiny airplane changing board.

also, i packed play-doh in a ziplock baggie and that helped distract her during take-off/landings when you cannot have electronic devices in play.

good luck to you!
posted by ms.jones at 8:50 PM on September 15, 2010

Use the carseat. Check out the GoGoBabyz stroller adapter - it's the coolest thing on two wheels. It attaches to most carseats to turn it into a stroller for pushing your LO through the terminal. It's small enough to be stowed in the overhead too. I did a 6hr flight with a 13 month old and was SO glad she had her own safe seat. We hit considerable turbulence and I'm not sure I would have been able to hold onto her had she not been strapped in.

Also, check out EarPlanes - my kid didn't cry at all going up or coming down and I attribute that to the EarPlanes.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 9:02 PM on September 15, 2010

Oh yes - as ms.jones said above, don't even try to change your two-plus-year-old child on the changing table in the airplane bathroom, they are much too small. I had the absurd experience of changing my then 23-month-old that way on a flight last winter. He's not a large toddler, but barely any of him fit on that board!
posted by pinky at 9:43 PM on September 15, 2010

Best answer: I've travelled a fair bit with my kids, including 11 hour international flights :-| My most recent 11 hour flight with my 3 year old and 15 month old was on an airline that does not allow car seats for kids over 2, which was annoying since we needed to take the car seats anyway. So having now travelled both with and without the seats, here's my list of pros and cons.

1. Kid is in a familiar comfortable seat, which has head support when they fall asleep. Adult airplane seats are not comfortable for a toddler to nap in, since there is no side support for them to lean on, and the seat isn't big enough for them to curl into a ball on.
2. Kid can easily be kept restrained. My 15 month old can undo airline lap belts, your 2 year old certainly can. And will enjoy undoing it repeatedly for the excellent CLACK! noise it makes :) Lap belts also barely adjust down small enough to be snug on a small toddler. My (tiny) 3 year old is at the bottom of the percentiles and we did manage to get it snug, so your child might be on the edge of fitting well.
3. You need to take it with you anyway, its safer and more protected with you in the plane, than it is being hurled around with the luggage. You can buy car seat bags on amazon for $20, but they don't really protect them from anything except dirt.
4. Safety. Plane crashes are rare enough and generally disastrous enough that they shouldn't be a realistic concern. Very harsh turbulence is a possibility and can be disastrous to a small child. I don't really feel that an adult lap belt will help a small child in the case of serious turbulence. Average turbulence is usually fine though.

1. You have to lug it with you through security. Pain in the ass unless you buy a Gogo Kidz Travelmate (I did and I LOVE that thing), which is expensive. Depends if you think you will use it again. The strap someone mentioned upthread will do fine too, there are ones which attach the car seat to a rolling suitcase.
2. Your kid will easily be able to kick the seat in front of them.
3. The tray table will not fold down flat on your kid's lap, as they are too high up now. This makes it hard to do coloring and eat snacks that require a tabletop. This is really the most annoying thing about travelling with a car seat IMO.
4. When you get on and off the plane you will have to install/uninstall the car seat while bending over in the cramped space, while everyone else is getting on/off. Practise a bit, or at least re-read the manual and memorise the procedure if you don't install/uninstall the seat very often.

I know the rule about car seats having to go in window seats is true if you're on the side rows, but don't remember if they are OK in the center seat of the center row too. The reasoning is that if there is an emergency and everyone has to evacuate, no-one should have to climb over a car seat to get to an exit. You should call the airline and check what policy is. Good luck. Bring an iPod touch, PSP or DVD player, snack foods and lots of stickers :)
posted by Joh at 9:56 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Bring it. my now 3 year old has flown a few times, each time in his carseat. it's familiar and makes travelling more comfortable for the kid, if a bit more of a hassle for you when going through security, but it's nice to have once your get to your destination.
posted by jrishel at 8:28 AM on September 16, 2010


Your child is at as much risk in an airplane seat as she is in the back seat of your car.

Huh? How is that? The likelihood that either severe turbulence or a crash are to occur are waaaaaay less likely than a car accident.

Not the same thing . . . not even close.
posted by eggman at 2:21 PM on September 16, 2010

Not the same thing . . . not even close.

Exactly the same in that when something happens, they're going to get hurt. They're not magically protected just because it's an airplane. A lap belt isn't going to help when they slide under it.
posted by dforemsky at 5:31 PM on September 16, 2010

Response by poster: Back from our trip. We took the seat on the plane and it worked out great. As others noted, it brought her feet close enough to kick the seat in front of her but she was pretty compliant with our request that she not do that (and taking her shoes off helped). It also meant that we couldn't bring the table down fully but that wasn't too much of a hardship. She initially protested sitting in it but quickly realized things weren't going to change and sat in the seat the entire flight both ways, even napping for over an hour on the flight home. There were a couple of points where she loudly expressed her desire to get down but she really seemed to understand that she needed to sit there to be safe and that we were all sitting in our seats with our seat belts on to be safe, too.

It was a minor annoyance to install and de-install but we managed it fine and no one seemed put out by our logistics. It wasn't heavy to carry at all (I love that Scenera!).

Note to future car seat flyers: Although you can book the row before and after the exit row with no questions asked, they do not allow car seats to be installed in the exit row OR the rows immediately before and after the exit row. On the flight out, I had booked us in the row behind the exit row, not knowing this and it wasn't until we were taxiing to the runway for takeoff that the attendant noticed. We had to very quickly swap seats with the row behind us (including de-installing and re-installing the car seat) and though everyone was very good-natured about it, I felt bad for causing a commotion. Lesson learned.

We had tons of snacks and new, small, quiet toys stashed in every pocket and bag so that at a moment's notice we could provide more entertainment. Mostly though I was pretty proud of our daughter; she held up great and kept her fussing to a minimum. She was pretty scared at takeoff and landing but closing the window, holding hands, and reading books throughout those stages helped quite a bit.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 2:19 PM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

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