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What to Know About Bringing a Car Seat on the Airplane

Your questions answered!

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Flying with a baby is no easy feat. We've covered a few tips to help you through that adventure here and here. But flying with a baby AND using a car seat adds another challenge to the flight. What kind of car seat? How do you strap it in? How do you carry it through the airport while carrying the baby? What if the baby wants to get out?

Don't melt down yet. We've got your questions covered!

Here's what we learned first-hand about flying with a baby and a car seat. Have any other questions or want to share your own experiences, send them in!

WHY BUY A SEAT? 

Buying a seat for your baby and using a car seat is actually recommended because it's so much safer than keeping the child on your lap. However, buying a seat is an extra cost so we know most people put it off until they have to, which is when the child turns two. 

For us, it was a no-brainer. Our little Beefcake, as we affectionately call our third kid, is about 30 pounds. At the age of one. Holding him for five hours on a cross-country flight, while dealing with two other children, was not an option. No way. So we bought him a ticket and then went about parent-sourcing for some tips and tricks on how to use the car seat on the plane.

(With our older girls, they were light enough to hold until they were two. And when we did buy them seats, they were happy to sit in their seat with the regular seatbelt and their toys. Most of the time. But Beefcake, in addition to being a giant, is squirmy.) 

WHAT KIND OF CAR SEAT? 

After buying the airplane seat, you'll need a car seat, preferably a light-weight one. We bought a new car seat for Beefcake because he had already outgrown the Graco Snugride 35 that we've used since birth. But the Graco 4Ever seat I bought for my car is hefty. I wanted a lighter seat to bring on the airplane because you know, a-doy, we'd have to haul this through the airport to the gate. 

A few parent friends recommended the Doona, the fabulous stroller which turns into a car seat and supposedly can be wheeled down airplane aisles. But it's expensive and Beefy would grow out of it too quickly. That said, if you have a young baby and plan on doing a lot of traveling, Doona is worth the investment. Multiple parents will vouch for this!

Another mom of three recommended the Cosco Scenera Next which she said was super light and could rest on the back of an umbrella stroller. My aviation reporter friend and fellow parent, Brian Sumers, also recommended it. I ended up buying a very similar carseat called the Cosco Apt 50 in Black Arrows color

Indeed, it is super light. We were able to sling it over our shoulders and it didn't bother us at all, even while carrying our backpack/shoulder bags and odds and ends that our older kids needed us to hold. (Sidenote: why do kids suddenly become unable to hold anything while walking through an airport?)

Whatever seat you do bring, make sure that is it is approved for aviation use. There should be a sticker on the side of the carseat with this approval and also in the product description section if you're buying online. The airline attendants W I L L ask you about this. 

WHAT ARE THE AIRLINE RULES?

Being good rule-followers that we are, we watched the Federal Aviation Administration's video about how to install a car seat on an airplane. This helped us understand what we would be in for once onboard the plane. If you're placing the car seat in a rear-facing position, the person in front of you needs to know that they probably can't recline their seat. We didn't feel comfortable asking that and so we had Beefcake front-facing on the flight out. On our flight home, we had an extra leg room seat and thus plenty of space to put him rear-facing. This worked out better because he was not as distracted by the seat-back TVs. 

Other rules to know is that the car seat cannot be in an exit row and the car seat actually has to be in a window seat, so as not to hamper any emergency exits off the plane. 

WHAT IF BABY WANTS TO GET OUT? 

By all means, take that baby out. So long as it's not on takeoff or landing. Beefcake wanted to play with his sisters during the flight and also say hello to everyone else, so he was probably out more than in. However, on the flight home, which was timed around his bedtime, he slept four hours out of the five-hour flight. Then he woke up happy. I was happy too.  

ANYTHING ELSE TO KNOW? 

This time around, we didn't bring our stroller since my parents had one for us at their house in New Jersey. When we arrived at the airport, I put the Beefcake in a baby carrier and after we were through security, I put him down to let him toddle around before the flight. Once we landed, back in the carrier he went, and we got off the plane without having to wait for any gate-checked luggage. 

If you do want to bring a stroller and gate-check it, again, pick a lightweight travel stroller that can easily fold up and open. A few people love the YoYo BabyZen stroller which can actually fit in the overhead compartment. And they even have a special limited edition AirFrance stroller. 

But that is also a serious investment. Looking for an affordable option? Try the Summer Infant 3D Lite Convenience Stroller.

One other thing we did buy but didn't use was a car seat travel belt, which you can use to strap the car seat onto your luggage while hauling it through the airport. Again, our car seat was so light we just carried it but we brought it just in case.

And that's basically my packing motto. "Bring it...just in case."

Share your flying with a carseat tips in comments below! 

OTHER STORIES YOU MIGHT LIKE: 

Is the CARES Harness Necessary or Not?

7 Travel Essentials for Babies and Toddlers 

That Time We Forgot a Bag for Our Car Seat


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