Installing car seats on airplanes? Words that still cause my palms to sweat and bring on an uncontrollable urge to pop a preventative antacid tablet or two.
Yet the idea needn’t spawn nightmares for weeks leading up to your journey. Not if you can go in with a game plan.
To help, here are my five tips to help ease your way if you’ll be installing a car seat on an airplane.
Adapted from Travels with Baby: The Ultimate Guide for Planning Travel with Your Baby, Toddler, and Preschooler.
1. Clear the way.
Because a car seat (or CRS as the airline folks like to call it) can be an obstacle to other passengers for routine trips to the lavatory or needing to exit in the event of an emergency, you must place it in the least obtrusive seat possible–even if you have purchased several seats in a row for your own family. So be sure to install the car seat in either a window seat or, in large body aircraft, in the middle of a center row of seats, and keep this in mind when reserving seats in advance.
2. Belt it out.
Thanks to the ease of LATCH attachments, many of us have not needed to use safety belts to buckle in our familiar car seats. But on the airplane, there will be no LATCH anchors and you will have to use the lap belt for installation. Avoid the deer-in-the-headlights moment by consulting your car seat manual in advance and practicing routing the safety belt properly through it in your vehicle first.
3. Raise your arms.
If it’s possible on your row, lift the armrests up and out of the way to help ease your installation. Armrests are usually fixed on bulkhead rows, so don’t choose these seats unless your car seat is one of the narrowest on the market (follow these links to see recommended infant car seats and convertible car seats for travel, including their widths).
4. Ask for an extension.
Not on your taxes! If you’re having trouble getting the safety belt buckled behind your car seat, ask a flight attendant for a seat belt extension, which may make it much easier to get the belt latched. Once it’s buckled, you can adjust the strap it to take out the slack.
Finally, if you have one of the more commodious, full-featured car seats for your child–perhaps one that boasts being the only car seat your child will ever need from birth through college–it will likely be more trouble than it’s worth in the airplane cabin (unfortunately FAA-approval doesn’t mean a car seat is sized for coach seats). Instead, consider leaving it at home or simply checking it at the gate. Remember, for children 1 year and older who can ride forward-facing, the CARES flight harness is an FAA-approved child safety restraint that can be used instead of a car seat during all phases of your flight (read all about the CARES harness in my review here).
More help and advice for using car seats on airplanes:
Five Things You Should Know Before Flying with a Car Seat
Seven Easy Ways to Get Your Car Seat to the Gate
Ask Shelly: Best car seat for flying when kids are too big CARES?
When can kids safely fly without car seats on airplanes?
Will your car seat be allowed on the airplane?
What can you do if your child’s car seat doesn’t fit in the airplane seat?
Review of CARES flight harness for children flying in their own seats
See also: Flying with Baby, Toddler & Preschooler Help Index
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More tips and advice are on the way! For help for planning travel of every kind–with babies and children of every temperament–in Travels with Baby: The Ultimate Guide for Planning Travel with Your Baby, Toddler, and Preschooler.
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Shelly Rivoli, author of the award-winning Travels with Baby and Take-Along Travels with Baby guidebooks
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