The ultimate guide for travel with children from birth to 5 years.

Review of CARES Harness for Children on Airplanes

The FAA-Approved Child Aviation Restraint

CARES child aviation restraint
3.5 / 5 stars

My detailed review of CARES, the flight safety harness / child aviation restraint, which I have now used when flying with all 3 of my children. Includes pros and cons, photos in use, how to use CARES on airplanes and more.

The first time we used CARES, I was 7 months pregnant and traveling with two children under the age of 5 years. As you can see, CARES was a tremendous help and convenience to us all. With each 1 lb. CARES harness stored in its small stuff sack, we were able to breeze through the airport with our kids and our carry-ons without any special effort. As you can see from the photo, two CARES harnesses travel much more easily than two car seats.


Since then, I've gone on to use CARES with each of my 3 children at different times. I've also flown without CARES, depending on the trip and circumstances of our travels. I hope this review of CARES will help you decide whether it's the right option for flying with your own toddler or preschooler. I'll start with a quick overview of the CARES flight safety harness:


What is CARES?

CARES is an additional set of straps that fits over an airplane seat back and attaches to the standard seat belt. It converts the airplane’s lap belt into a 4-point harness securing the child against the airplane seat back, and is FAA-approved as an in-flight alternative to car seats. It weighs only 1 lb, and packs into a 6” stuff sack. CARES can be used in airplanes only, not in automobiles.


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Who can use CARES?

CARES is approved for use by children who are at least one year old and weigh a minimum of 22 lbs. It can be used for children weighing up to 44 lbs. Children using CARES must have their own assigned seats on the aircraft.


When to use CARES:

The FAA has approved CARES for use during all phases of flying, including taxiing, take-off, and landing. CARES is not intended for use in cars or other motor vehicles however (please see the RideSafer Travel Vest).


Where to use CARES:

Since CARES does not block the passage of others onboard the aircraft any more than an airplane seatbelt, CARES can be used in center and aisle seats, unlike car seats which can only be installed in window seats or the centermost seats of jumbo jets with two aisles.



How to install CARES on your child's airplane seat:


Lower the tray table on the back side of the seat where you want to use CARES (explain to your rear neighbor if he’s already seated), and slip the red cinch strap around the seat back with the black straps hanging down, buckles facing outward. Slide the red strap down to where it is at or just above your child’s shoulders (or higher if necessary for the seat shape) and tighten this strap. Feed the airplane seatbelt through the loops at the lower ends of the two black CARES straps, and adjust their length as appropriate for your child. Fasten, and tighten the airplane’s safety belt around your child—and don’t forget to raise your neighbor’s tray table back into place!


It’s not hard to install a CARES harness, and it really does only take a few minutes, but we found that the specific shape and even upholstery of the airplane seat can present some challenges (and it was different for us on each flight). For example, with an airplane seat that has sides curving forward from the back, it was easiest to install the main strap higher on the seat than at or just above the shoulders, as recommended. When it was placed lower and closer to the shoulders, the seat’s shape worked against it the red CARES strap would actually stick out from the seat center and kept sliding down. Moving it up higher did the trick and didn’t seem to be a problem for our 2-year-old. Leather (or faux…) is more slippery, so we needed to adjust the main belt much more snugly around the seat back than we did when flying with a fuzzy, upholstered seat.


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Flying with CARES vs. flying with your child in a car seat


The main drawbacks we found using CARES instead of a car seat were that neither girl could see out of her airplane window when seated. This would have been a non-issue if they weren’t seated in window seats, hoping to look out.


Also, when both girls were very tired and I hoped at least one would snooze, the straps did little to comfort or support them in that respect, whereas a car seat with deep side wings and a slight recline might have aided in the nodding off. However, I've since discovered that some car seat strap cushions can be added to CARES to help support the cheek or chin during redeye and naptime flights (see the Cradler and CushyStraps).


While it was also more difficult for both children to reach their trays (it was easiest on the first airplane, where the tray extended toward the seat), it also made it impossible for them to kick the seat in front of them (bonus!). You can see from this photo how CARES gives a small child more legroom than most car seats installed on airplanes.


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Others you might consider:


At this time, CARES is a truly unique product and there is no other car seat alternative that is FAA-approved for use during all phases of air travel for toddlers and young kids riding in their own seats. As an alternative to using CARES during the flight, you might consider using any of the recommended car seats for travel (check out the Sit N Stroll car seat + stroller shown left or lightweight and low-cost Cosco Scenera) or accessories and travel bags that can help simplify travel with your car seat.


If you will be using CARES for your flight, you might also be interested in pairing it with the RideSafer Travel Vest to use in motor vehicles on the other end, or the Go Hybrid portable car seat which folds up into an easy-traveling bag you can check along with your suitcases.


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