Here are my recommendations for the best travel car seats in the “convertible car seat” category, meaning those that can be used both rear-facing for babies and forward-facing for toddlers. All of these car seats are FAA-approved for use on airplanes. UPDATED for 2019.
However, bear in mind that most car seats are FAA-approved for air travel and with little to no consideration given to the size or width of the car seat and how it might–or might not–actually fit in an airplane seat(!). For that reason…
Car seat dimensions are included for each of these along with other considerations for car seat travel pros and cons. And hey–your click-throughs from this page help fund this site at no extra cost to you – thanks for your support!
Cosco Scenera NEXT Convertible Car Seat
Why Shelly recommends it:
IMHO, the Cosco Scenera NEXT is the best “extra car seat” for travel, Grandma’s car, or back up. With an entry price of around $50, a weight of only 7 lbs, an airplane-friendly seat width of 17.5″, and extra features like side-impact protection and a removable cup holder, it’s hard to go wrong traveling with a car seat like the Scenera.
Not to mention, the five harness height slots and 3 buckle locations give a better fit for your growing child than most other convertible car seats that are rated up to 40 lbs, though your child may outgrow this seat faster than some larger and heavier travel car seats.
At least the price point of the Scenera NEXT makes it easier to swallow the investment in a larger car seat and/or booster when the time comes and in the mean time keeps you happier during travel! Large families will also appreciate that they can fit three across the back seat of most cars (see also the Safety 1st Guide 65 below).
I also like that the Scenera NEXT has a rear-facing weight limit of 40 lbs–which comes in handy when you want to prevent your child from kicking the seat in front of him.
Be aware that what you see is what you get–beneath the seat cover is nothing but hard plastic. FAA certified for airplane use. Rear-facing from 5 to 40 lbs, forward-facing 22 to 40 lbs. 17.5″ W at its widest without cup holder (base itself is 11″ W) x 22″ x 23.5″. Weighs 7 lbs. See deals for the Cosco Scenera NEXT at: Amazon.com
Cosco Mighty Fit 65 Convertible Car Seat
The Cosco Mighty Fit 65 car seat seems to be built with travel in mind. With an airplane-friendly seat width of only 17″ and a rental-car-friendly seat height of 23.5″ (takes up less leg room installed rear-facing), you might be surprised that it can also accommodate kids up to 65 lbs. And if you run with a crowd, you can fit three of these across the back seat of most cars.
The car seat itself only weighs a mere 14 lbs, making it an easy travel companion. And 5 harness heights with easy up front adjustment and three buckle locations ensure a good fit as your child grows from infant through the preschool years. Yep, it’s got side-impact protection, too.
However, if you expect your child to stay on the tall side of the growth spectrum–or having an optional cup holder is important to you, you might prefer the Safety 1st Guide 65 below.
The Mighty Fit 65 can be used rear-facing from 5 lbs. to 40 lbs. rear-facing, and forward-facing up to 65 lbs. measures 22″ x 17″ x 23.5″ H and weighs 14 lbs. FAA certified for airplane use. See deals for the Cosco Mighty Fit 65 at: Amazon.com
Safety 1st Guide 65 Convertible Car Seat (AKA Sport)
Why Shelly recommends it:
Without its cup holder, the Safety 1st Guide 65 is just shy of 18″ wide–one of your best bets for an FAA-approved car seat for travel that with actually fit in an airplane seat (ahem). Like the Scenera above, the Safety 1st Guide 65 can fit three across most car back seats as well.
Also like the Scenera, it can be used rear-facing from 5 lbs to a respectable 40 lbs. However, forward-facing it can carry your child through 65 lbs. If you want to use the Guide 65 with an infant, it includes multi-position adjustable head support and lumbar body pillows, though you will likely remove these once your child uses the car seat as a toddler.
Other helpful features of the Safety 1st Guide 65 include a 5-point harness with up-front adjustment, 5 harness heights and 3 buckle locations for a safe and comfortable fit, EPP energy absorbing foam, and a removable cup holder you can pop off when preparing to fly with your toddler.
Rear-facing 5 to 50 lbs, forward-facing 22 to 65 lbs. Measures approximately 30 x 17.9 x 14 inches without cup holder, and weighs 15 lbs. FAA certified for airplane use. See deals for the Safety 1st Guide 65 at: Amazon.com
Diono Radian RXT Folding Car Seat for Travel
Why Shelly recommends it:
The combination of safety, size, and portability make this a top pick among Best Travel Car Seats. The Diono Radian RXT is narrow enough to fit three across the back seat of most cars–an impossibility with other car seats that meet this higher weight limit, and at only 17″ wide you can also use it in airplanes with confidence.
When you check in for your cruise, you can simply fold it and store it away in your closet. Its safety features also exceed U.S. standards with a full, steel alloy frame for strength and four panels of EPS foam for impact (including side impact). And it also features a tether for use when rear-facing for enhanced safety and stability.
Again, it is not the lightest-weight car seat for travel, but you may feel the safety, size, and convenient storage features “outweigh” this one drawback. FAA-approved for use in aircraft. Measures 28.5″ x 17”W x 16″D open, folds to 28.5″ x 17″ x 10″. A car seat carrying case with shoulder strap is also available.
Rear-facing from 5 to 33 lbs, forward-facing to 80 lbs., then converts to a belt-positioning booster for kids up to 120 lbs. Weighs 25 lbs. FAA certified for airplane use. See more photos and read up on my experiences in this review of the Radian RXT. See deals for the Radian XT folding car seat at: Amazon.com and Baby Earth
Clek Fllo Convertible Car Seat
While you might have to guess how to pronounce the Clek Fllo, you won’t have to guess if its narrow enough to fit in most airplane seats. It’s 16.9″ wide and, like many others here, should fit in most airplane seats and even fit three across a car’s back seat.
The Fllo has some similarities to the Diono Radian RXT, such as its whopping 25 lb. weight owing to a metal substructure. However, it does not fold fold for travel. Still, it has some notable differences, which may appeal.
In rear-facing mode, it accommodates children up to 50 lbs for extremely extended rear-facing use–up to the 4th birthday for some children. It also has a steel anti-rebound bar to use in this mode, providing an extra measure of safety not found in others on this page (remove when facing forward).
Unlike most convertible car seats, the Clek Fllo requires a 14 lb. weight minimum for earliest rear-facing use, though that won’t be a problem if you start your travels with an infant car seat. Be warned that if you want a cup holder, it will cost around $20 to purchase separately.
Use the Clek Fllo rear-facing from 14 to 50 lbs., forward-facing from 22 to 65 lbs. Measures 22 x 16.9 x 26″. FAA certified for airplane use. See deals for the Clek Fllo car seat at: Amazon
Britax Marathon Click Tight Convertible Car Seat
Why Shelly recommends it:
COMFORT and the “Click Tight” quick-and-easy installation using safety belts. Just lift the front of the car seat up out of the way and buckle the car’s safety belt right across the seat with nothing blocking your way, then click the car seat shut and you are ready to load your child.
While it jumps in weight up to 28.5 lbs (see Car Seat Carriers & Travel Bags for help getting it through the airport), and it is not always the best fit for coach seats, if you have much travel in changing vehicles in your future–rental cars, taxis, relative’s cars, shuttles–you’ll enjoy this fool-proof super-safe system many times over. Plus, the Marathon is hard to beat for comfort in the car, and if you have many lengthy road trips in your future, the higher price of this car seat may be worth it.
In addition to extra padding, plush fabrics, and an adjustable recline for both rear-facing and forward-facing installations (great for snoozing): it offers the widest width for any harnessed child up to 65 lbs. The 12-position easy-adjust harness also makes it easy to keep up with your fast-growing child.
The Britax Marathon Click Tight is FAA certified for airplane use. It measures 18.5″W x 26″H x 21″D. Rear-facing from 5 to 40 lbs, forward-facing up to 65 lbs. Weighs 28.5 lbs. See deals for the Britax Marathon car seat at: Amazon.com and Baby Earth