Taking a car seat onboard could mean a few hours of bliss for everyone on the plane. I have found it makes a very noticeable difference. If you fly regularly with a car seat or what the aviation industry called child restraint system (CRS), children learn to associate the car seat much like taking a ride in the car and this becomes the safe and familiar place to sit and even sleep in when flying. Even if you fly once off with a car seat, you can notice the difference.
If you have a toddler that can happily sit on your lap or with their lap belt secured tightly in their seat for the duration of the flight, I am in awe of you. Please tell me your secret!?
Car seats are safe
Whilst my initial reason to bring a car seat onboard was to survive a flight with toddlers, it’s very clear to me that car seats are the safer option for a child. The Australian Government – Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) in their FSA issue 94 states that:
“Whether in an aircraft or a car, an approved child restraint system (CRS) is a much safer place for an infant than an adult’s lap. It is impossible to hold a child securely during turbulence or an impact with ground, water or another vehicle.”
“…there is also evidence that an individual seat may be inappropriate, with some tests showing a higher rate of head injury for young children.”
Whilst any parent can manage without a car seat. If you have an option to bring one along and you are flying with a mighty toddler, I highly recommend it.
The problem with Australian airlines and car seats onboard
I picked up this tip living in the USA where there are loads more parents flying with a car seat. I feel the American airports and airlines are better set up for traveling with little ones, more so than Australia.
Americans have a better understanding of flying with car seats and have a more uniformed approach. Not just with car seats, the strollers are with you right from embarkation to disembarkation, meeting you at the jet bridge on the other side, whereas most Aussie airlines check it in at the gate and you don’t see it until you pick up your other luggage at the turnstiles.
Australia is slowly coming around to the idea of flying with a car seat. I’ve flown with most of the major Aussie airlines with a carseat and generally you can bring them aboard, though there are inconsistencies not only between airlines but also between their own staff members. If this doesn’t deter you, here are some tips and suggestions on flying with a carseat.
Tips for flying with a car seat
1. Pay for your child’s seat
Remember, you have to purchase a seat for your child. You cannot bring a car seat onboard for a lap child.
Best age group to fly with a car seat
There is a sweet spot in terms of age when flying with a car seat. It’s not necessary for infants to fly in their own car seat. Children aged 2 years and under fly free and a bassinet can be requested. Though at 18 months, we were ready for Layla to have her own seat. She was a bit crazy without one.
On the other end of the scale, and generally speaking kids aged 3.5 years of age and older will be OK without a car seat. This is dependent on the child and some are more disciplined than others.
A 3 year old can more or less be reasoned with and have longevity to stay in their own seat with the lap belt secured safely. However for long-haul flights, a car seat is still beneficial, I have found that they sleep better, sleep a little longer and because they don’t have an avenue to escape they aren’t trying to make a run for the aisle. This age is a slightly grey area, so use your own judgement to see if you child is ready to fly without a car seat.
The best ages to bring a car seat onboard is from 18 months – 3.5 years. Especially during the terrible 2’s as I think 2 year olds are the most difficult to fly with.
2. Notify the airline of your intentions
Unfortunately there are inconsistencies in procedures and regular updates to internal policy concerning car seats, these differ with each airline, do your homework and call the airline in advance to notify them that you intend to travel with car seat.
Provide the details of the car seat including the certification stickers, make and model. Request that you have these added to your notes of your booking and get a confirmed written approval.
Reconfirm again at least 24 hours prior to departure. Airlines have a way of forgetting, which is no big deal for them but inconveniences you as you are the one left carrying the bulky car seat during your travels.
The airline will perform a physical inspection of your seat at check in to look for the certification stickers, so it’s handy to know where they are located yourself. We flew with a Meridian Safe and Sound and the sticker is in tucked away around the back.
3. Have the right car seat
Booster seats are not permitted
Booster seats are not permitted onboard as they require a car seatbelt mechanism for use. Generally if your car seat does not have a 3 point safety harness, it can’t be used for flying.
Flying with an Australian car seat
Australian car seats must be approved to Australian Standards AS/NZS 1754.
However, on my recent international flight to Bali in September 2014, on Virgin Australia I came across new regulations.
Virgin Australia’s new requirements for carseat as of August 21st 2014 – show two stickers
- Car seats must have the new AS/NZS 1754:2013 (Aircraft use criteria) label affixed to the car seat which is approved for use in aircraft.
- OR, car seats must have a manufacturers date of 2013 onwards. However, if there is no green aircraft use sticker, but it is dated 2013 or later, it should be suitable to fly. However it’s best to check with Virgin Australia as this is a grey area. If you get confirmation from VA, make sure they add it to your booking notes. As opinions do differ.
- AND all car seats must have a AS/NZS1754 label affixed, see example below:
Please refer to Virgin Australia website for more information, though it requires an update as their site still says that all AS/NZS 1754 cars (basically all Australian car seats) are not safe to fly due to the top tether. I beg to differ on this statement:
- The internal manual which all Virgin Australian flight staff have access to onboard (VAA Vol 16) which you can quote is more up to date than the website and states that the new AS/NZS 1754:2013 criteria makes Australian Car Seats suitable for flying
- I am confirming whether car seats prior to 2013 are still permitted onboard without the official sticker and the reasoning behind it. The problem with car seats prior to 2013 is that the existing AS/NZS 1754 label does not specifically state that the top tether point is not required to be used onboard.
Flying with a US car seat in Australia
Most Australian airlines will permit a car seat that is FAA (Federal Aviation Association) approved. The FAA label reads “Certified for motor vehicles and aircraft.” Once again, check with the airline to confirm your booking prior to departure.
Even for Virgin Australia, no manufacturers date is required. More information can be found at the FAA website.
“The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) strongly urges you to secure your child in a CRS or device for the duration of your flight”.
Flying with an Australian car seat in America
America is ahead of the game when it comes to flying with a CRS and the procedures are quite consistent across each airline. Always confirm prior to booking and have them add it to your notes that you received pre-approval.
On the rare occasions that US airlines asked about flying in the US with an Australian car seat, we showed them our Australian Standards AS/NZA 1754 sticker for flights with South West, American and United, Qantas (international), without any problems taking it onboard. However, it’s best to check with your airline and get confirmation of approval.
Flying with a EU car seat in Australia
Australian airlines allow car seats that have been approved by the European Safety Standard requirements of United Nations ECE Regulation 44 (UN/ECE 44) with a valid ECE label affixed to the car seat. Obtain pre-approval with your EU car seat during booking and obtain written confirmation.
Flying with a Canadian car seat in Australia
Australian airlines allow car seats that have been approved by the Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (CMVSS) No. 213 entitled “Child Restraint Systems” or CMVSS No. 213.1 entitled “Infant Seating and Restraint Systems with a valid CMVSS label affixed to the car seat. Obtain pre-approval with your EU car seat during booking and obtain written confirmation.
Australian airlines allow car seats that have been approved by the European Safety Standard requirements of United Nations ECE Regulation 44 (UN/ECE 44). Once again, obtain pre-approval with your EU car seat during booking and obtain written confirmation.
Flying with asian car seats
Most airlines including Australian airlines do not recognise safety standards of it’s Asian counterparts it doesn’t help when car seats are optional in some asian nations. Below a reason why asian car seats aren’t up to scratch, a car seat that is being sold on Ali Express.
Do not buy this car seat, the below image is used to illustrate the unsafe asian car seats available:
3. Insist you can bring a car seat onboard – because you can!
At times, particularly with the Aussie airlines, we have run into some road blocks. Some have said you can’t take the car seat onboard. Others weren’t quite sure. So if you contact your airline, insist on them putting a note on your booking and request an email to confirm you have approval. If anyone queries you and you have followed all their procedures, be confident and insist you can bring it onboard – because you can.
Usually it’s up to the Cabin supervisors discretion, for example Jet Star state the car seat needs to “…be in good condition, showing no signs of damage”. Which is a subjective decision by air stewards perhaps not trained in what “good conditions” are.
So long as you state your case, back it up with confirmation and comply with the regulation, stand your ground and defend your case as unfortunately not all airline staff are on top of correct policies and procedures. One Virgin Australian staff mentioned she has never let an Australian car seat onboard, even though I had flown with a car seat on Virgin Australia several times.
Prepare to lose the fight sometimes. We flew a very small domestic airline in Australia called Air North and we backed down on brining the car seat onboard as we though the plane was too small to accommodate a car seat also it was a short manageable flight.
4. Get the right window seat
At check-in, make sure they place your child in a window seat at least two rows before or back from the emergency exit row. It’s an industry regulation that car seats can not be fitted on an aisle seat, bulkhead row or exit row.
If you are travelling with two car seats, this means the kids are not sitting side by side. You can specify two window seats directly behind one another when making your booking arrangements.
5. Allow time for security
Going through security with young children is something from which I would love to opt out. With a car seat, you need to allow even more time to go through. If it’s in a bag or attached to a trolley, the car seat needs to be taken out for security to inspect it. Some car seats do not fit through the standard X-Ray machine. A staff member has to pick up the car seat and manually check it. You often have to wait until someone is available and then wait again whilst it gets checked.
6. Get onboard first
Airlines are quite good at recognizing parents with children. They often board families early because you need that time to fiddle with the car seat and not block other passengers from locating their seat. If they do not automatically offer priority boarding, request that you board first.
7. Become an expert at installing the car seat onboard
Thread the plane’s seatbelt through the bottom of the car seat, just as you thread a car seatbelt. Once it’s threaded through it clips onto the plane’s seatbelt buckle . If your car seat is particularly wide, you can ask for a seatbelt extender.
The belt that attaches to the anchor from the back of the car seat is not often used. There are exceptions.
We flew a JetStar domestic Australian flight and the attendants installed a special belt that had an anchor point which looped over the plane’s seat. You then clipped the belt to the makeshift anchor point. They had asked us to board first so they would have time to attach the seat and assist us with installing it. Also, on some select Qantas flights there are allocated seats with anchor points where they will seat you if you are traveling with a car seat.
8. Keep your child in the car seat
Once it’s installed, pop your child into the car seat and DO NOT release your child from it unless you absolutely must. Valid reasons include a gross nappy or a sick child. Set a precedence that once you are in the seat you remain there, just like in the car. You have to be seated in it! If the child is protesting and you can’t bear it anymore, take your child out but make it as brief as possible. Their little toes shouldn’t touch the ground. Otherwise, it’s a very slippery slope.
9. A note on rear facing car seats
For newborns, there are separate rules for flying with rear facing car seats. Ring your airline to inquire before bringing it onboard. Some airlines do not accept them as they interfere with the plane seat in front. We were able to bring the Safe n Sound Meridian and have it rear facing, but it was in Business Class.
For newborns, I’m not sure if it’s absolutely necessary to bring a car seat on board. There are often built-in bassinet seats where they can sleep rather than carrying a car seat that may or may not be accepted onboard.
10. Get some good gear to help with carrying the car seat
Get some gear to help you carry the car seat. Carrying a car seat through airports can be a bit of a pain. They are heavy and cumbersome. But stay with me…it’s well worth it. However, there are some great contraptions available to help navigate a car seat through airports.
Go-Go Babyz Kidz Travelmate & Go-Go Babyz Travelmate Deluxe
This a cart designed to wheel your car seat. I bought one of these, but it didn’t fit the Aussie car seat even though Britax and Safe N Sound are the same manufacturer.
The Travelmate Deluxe is apparently a universal carrier, however, be wary as this is a USA site and it might mean universal for US car seats only. For USA car seats this is perfect. Check it out here.
BRICA Roll ‘n Go Car Seat Transporter
There is also the BRICA Roll ‘n Go Car Seat Transporter which is also allegedly universal for carrying car forward facing seats for USA car seats.
JL Childress Ultimate Backpack Car Seat Travel Bag
This is a car seat backpack with wheels so you can leave your hands free. I thought twice about this because I was also carrying an infant in a baby harness; which becomes a big load to carry. But if you have a partner that can assist, this is a great option. If you have a wide car seat, the carts or trolleys will not fit down the aisle after business class as the aisle gets narrower and you’ll have to pick up your trolley or detach the car seat and carry it down the aisle anyway. With a back pack you don’t have that problem. It fits. Check it out here.
Traveling Toddler Car Seat Travel Accessory
This is a strap that hooks onto your rolling carry-on. Apparently, a child can also sit in the car seat and you can wheel your suitcase, the car seat and the child all together. It’s pretty affordable to get the job done. This will have the same issue wheeling the car seat down the narrow economy aisle. Also, you can’t access any of the contents on your carry on, as there is a child strapped to your luggage, apart from that it looks quite neat. Check it out here.
Go-Go Babyz Travelmate Luggage Strap
Go-Go babyz also also makes the same type of car seat strap which has also garnered some great reviews. Check it out here.
Consider access to your carry-on; you would have to unstrap everything to do so. I also prefer to carry a cross-body or large shoulder bag rather than a wheeled carry-on suitcase, but that’s personal preference. You might still have a separate backpack or should bag with baby essentials and the not so essential items in the wheeled carry on, which takes a load off your back.
A make-shift car seat trolley
I had to travelled solo on a long haul international flight with my infant son and the GoGo-Babyz Kidz Travelmate cart did not fit my car seat. I ran out of time before having the opportunity to buy a new gadget to help me carry the car seat a umbrella stroller, an infant, a baby bag as well as a car seat.
I ended up getting a $15 collapsible metal luggage cart that comes with bungee cord and I wrapped the car seat around it. The car seat did wobble a bit but it made the trip. I would invest in a couple more bungee cords and it would have be a bit more sturdier. I got this one from Walmart. Check it out here.
There is a Britax trolley made specifically for the bulkier USA Britax car seats that resembles a trolley but uses latch connectors to secure. This is really only for USA made Britax car seats and comes at a hefty price of $60+ US dollars.
CARES safety harness – alternative to a car seat
The CARES safety harness is a FAA approved alternative option to a car seat, which means for Aussies that it is also approved on Australian flights. It’s light weight and fits in a pouch that can be carried in your baby bag.
Whilst it’s not a true five point safety harness, it provides a little more security for bubs by threading the harness through the lap belt and over their seat creates a H harness is created. You fasten the child’s lap belt and clip the straps together to secure the child in their seat.
The CARES harness loops around the plane seat, which means that you will have to request the passenger directly behind to have his tray table down so that you can loop it around and down the seat. It however does not intrude on the passengers space at all, the passenger can then put the table up and down at anytime. I’ve seen it first hand in action and people are quite accepting of the request, though you get the few odd looks, perhaps emphasise that it doesn’t intrude in anyway on their personal space.
The CARES safety harness does not provide a strap between the legs which means that the child can slide down and if wiggled enough can set themselves free. It does not provide the familiarity and comfort of a car seat.
There is also a concern that if they slept unattended they might slouch down causing concern that they may choke. One way of preventing the child from slumping over is a neck pillow.
CARES safety harness is tested by the FAA, certified by CASA (Australia) and CAA (NZ) and the company boasts it is “As safe as a car seat”. I’m not sure know how safe it is compared to a car seat as aviation authorities have recommended a CRS (carseat) but not specifically the CARES harness. The key difference is the position of the child, your child will be sitting in an adult passenger and positioned quite low compared to a car seat and something to ponder is whether this provides the same protection on impact, but still safer than a lap belt alone.
The major benefits of the CARES is not having the hassle of taking a heavy and cumbersome car seat onboard as well as battling the red tape with the airlines. It’s a good alternative and much easier to bring onboard. Ideal for shorter flights, though I would still take a car seat on long flights. My friends who have used it on long and short flights, highly recommend it.
If purchasing, they are cheaper in the USA check Amazon and eBay
A sherpa otherwise known as travel partner
If you are traveling with a companion, then all is well. This is, by far, the most inexpensive solution. To have someone else carry the seat.
Car Seat Benefits
A car seat may be able to take back a little bit of precious travel time to yourself and most importantly keep your bubs safe and secure on a flight.
Fancy enjoying your in-flight meal without taking turns with your partner or perhaps sitting back with a glass of wine, a book, a movie and my most favourite is just being able to close your eyes onboard knowing that bubs is content and in familiar surroundings. They just might even sleep on the plane too.
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I mainly use it to show examples with pictures, however you are under no obligation to use these links and are welcomed to visit Amazon directly instead.
Have you flown with a car seat? Any good tips to share? Or do you have a question about flying with car seat. Please comment below.