CARES Harness Review – The Kids Airplane Restraint

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My detailed CARES harness review covers the flight safety harness for children from Kids Fly Safe. It’s the only alternative to car seats approved by the FAA as a child aviation restraint for use in all phases of flight.

I’ve used CARES when flying with all 3 of my children at different ages and stages. This CARES review includes the pros and cons of the product, photos of CARES in use, tips for how to use CARES safety harness on airplanes and more.

Topics I cover in this post:

But first… pin this to your travel board for future reference and to help others!

CARES Harness review, the airplane safety harness for children
Review of CARES Harness, the flight safety harness for children

Backstory: When (& Why) I First Used CARES with My Kids

The first time we used the CARES airplane safety harness, 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-on bags without any special effort. As you can see from the photo, two CARES harnesses travel much more easily through the airport than two car seats!

Two traveling kids holding up their lightweight CARES harnesses at the airport
My daughters carrying their own CARES harnesses in travel stuff sacks. Easy for them – easy for ME! Photo: Shelly Rivoli

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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 the CARES airplane harness?

CARES stands for “Child Aviation Restraint System” and is an additional set of straps that fits over an airplane seat back, attaching to the standard lap seat belt. It converts the airplane’s lap belt into a 4-point harness, securing the child against the airplane seat back.

It’s the only child aviation safety device approved by the FAA as an in-flight alternative to car seats. What’s better, this flight safety harness weighs only 1 lb, and packs into a 6” stuff sack. So it easily tucks into your diaper bag or purse.

However, CARES can be used in airplanes only, not in automobiles. See How to Travel with a Car Seat (Without Losing Your Mind) for tips on how you might best manage your car seat needs for the rest of your particular trip. (Also check out other recommended Car Seat Alternatives for travel and the RideSafer Travel vest for use in automobiles.)

BUYER BEWARE: Quick note on counterfeit CARES knock offs

Watch out for the counterfeit CARES harnesses flooding the market for cheaper prices (especially on Amazon and eBay)! They are not made with the same materials and have not undergone the same rigorous testing as the original CARES by Kids Fly Safe. And they do NOT have FAA approval or certification.

Who can use CARES?

CARES can be used by children who are at least one year old and weigh a minimum of 22 lbs. Toddlers and children weighing up to 44 lbs. can continue using the CARES harness until they’d be big enough to fly without a car seat.

Note: Children using CARES must have their own seats on the airplane.

Little girl flying on airplane with CARES harness for air travel

When can you use CARES in airplanes?

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has approved CARES for use during all phases of flying, including taxiing, take-off, and landing. The CARES harness is not intended for use in cars or other motor vehicles however (please see the RideSafer Travel Vest and more tips in How to Travel with a Car Seat (Without Losing Your Mind).

Where to use CARES:

Since CARES does not block the passage of others onboard the aircraft any more than an airplane seat belt, CARES can be used in center and aisle seats. Car seats can only be installed in window seats or the center-most seats of jumbo jets with two aisles.

view of CARES harness installed from airplane row behind
The “back seat neighbor’s” view of the CARES safety harness when installed on an airplane.

How to install CARES in your child’s airplane seat:

1. Lower the tray table on the back side of the seat where you want to use CARES. You might want to explain to your rear neighbor if he’s already seated!

2. Then slip the red cinch strap around the seat back with the black straps hanging down, buckles facing outward.

3. Slide the red strap down to where it is at or just above your child’s shoulders and tighten this strap. If necessary due to the seat shape, move up higher if necessary.

4. Next, feed the airplane seat belt through the loops at the lower ends of the two black CARES straps. Adjust their length as appropriate for your child.

6. Fasten, and tighten the airplane’s safety belt around your child. And lastly, don’t forget to raise your neighbor’s tray table back into place!

The CARES harness installed part-way on airplane seat

It’s not hard to install a CARES harness, and it really does only take a few minutes. However, 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.

best travel strollers and gear for travel with babies and toddlers

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. Car Seats:

Are you still deciding between flying with CARES or flying with your child in a car seat? The main drawback we found using CARES instead of a car seat were that neither child could see out of her airplane window when seated. (A non-issue if they weren’t in window seats, hoping to look out.)

Also, when both girls were very tired and I hoped at least one would snooze, the harness straps did little to comfort or support them. In contrast, 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 red-eye and nap-time flights (see The Cradler in Car Seat Travel Accessories).

You can see from this photo how CARES gives children more legroom than most car seats installed on airplanes. While it was more difficult for both children to reach their trays, it made it impossible for them to kick the seats in front of them (bonus!).

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Others you might consider:

As an alternative to using CARES during the flight, you might consider using the WAYB Pico lightweight and portable folding car seat (see my full review of the WAYB Pico here). It’s not only has FAA approval for use in airplanes, but it’s also a highly rated car seat approved for use in motor vehicles, and it’s easy to install.

You might also look at my recommended convertible and forward-facing car seats for travel.

Final thoughts…

Final thoughts…CARES is a truly unique product for toddlers and young kids riding in their own airplane seats. No other car seat alternative is FAA-approved for use during all phases of air travel. (And as mentioned, watch out for the counterfeits NOT made by Kids Fly Safe.)

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 consider these recommended Car Seat Travel Bags and Carriers to help bring your own car seat on the trip — just not into the airplane cabin. See more posts you might like below!

Buy CARES online at: (thank you for supporting this site!)

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You might also like:

Flying with a Baby or Toddler Advice Index (start here!)

How to Travel with a Car Seat (Without Losing Your Mind)

Car Seat Alternatives for Travel 

Review of the WAYB Pico Folding Car Seat

Seven Easy Ways to Get Your Car Seat Through the Airport

Best Lightweight Travel Strollers

Worldwide Directory of Baby Gear Rentals

Baby and Toddler Travel Beds

Convertible Car Seats for Travel

How to Plan Your Best Vacation with Baby

Review of the Bubble Bum Inflatable Booster

Airline-Specific Tips for Flying with Babies and Toddlers

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