airplanesasMany parents ask about flying and what to do with car seats.  Is flying without a seat dangerous?  What car seats can I use? Airlines and regulations unfortunately often  require hard work for parents to find out what rules apply.  Especially on international trips.

There are many good reasons to bring a car seat on board a plane.  Surprisingly to most, pure safety is not one of the main reasons for using a car seat while flying.  All available research and data show flying with a child with a lap belt or no belt at all is incredibly safe.  This fact is not meant to discourage anyone from using a car seat on a plane, there are other good reasons to bring that seat on board.  Among them:

  • A familiar car seat might calm kids down
  • A car seat might help children  sleep better
  • A car seat on board means no risk of damage to  car seat together with regular luggage
  • Using a car seat at your final destination should be a goal for every parent since this statistically is thousands of times more dangerous than flying.  Bringing a car seat on board means having a car seat arrive at destination for sure.
  • A car seat is safer than a lap belt or no belt at all although difference is extremely small.  One can not compare the risks to using a car seat in a car.

There is plenty of  data and statistics  which show just how safe flying is for our kids.  Please click here for some more basic information

How do regulations complicate using a car seat on a plane?  Different countries have different rules governing what car seats are allowed on planes.  A car set in US must for example be FAA approved.  Problems often occur when parents travel with car seats internationally and are unprepared for different regulations.

Some airlines are very  helpful with car seat usage for parents and others don’t even allow car seats to be brought on board.

What should a parent do to use a car seat on board?  Call or email your airline and ask specifically what applies for your trip. Please do this far in advance to know what applies.  Using car seats in US is more common than other countries.  It’s uncommon to see car seats on board in for example Europe.  There are also some airlines  which don’t allow any car seats on board regardless of certification.

If you can’t or don’t want to use a car seat on board a CARES harness is a good option. It was invented by Louise Stoll, read more about her story here.



CARES is an elegantly designed belt and buckle device for kids 22-44 pounds that is easy to use and creates a safe airplane seat for your child without the hassle of carrying a 20 pound car seat.

CARES weighs just 1 pound and fits into a 6″ stuff sack!  It is simple to install, adjustable to virtually any size airplane seat, and keeps your child as safe as a car seat would.

CARES is made of the same industrial-strength webbing as your own seatbelt.  It is engineered and manufactured by AmSafe Aviation, the world’s foremost manufacturer of airline seatbelts.

carseatbag3If your child is flying with a CARES harness or lap belt you will most likely want to bring your car seat with you but check it as regular luggage.  You should use caution to make sure seat is not damaged.  One good option is to use a special car seat bag for extra protection.  A few examples of bags can be found here, here, and here.

Airlines don’t exactly treat luggage with great care, wrap your seat in a few layers of bubble wrap before using your car seat bag.  Add extra padding by filling up bag with diapers and extra clothing. When arriving at your destination, always check car seat carefully for damage.

gatecheckIf you can’t or don’t want to use your car seat on board, gate checking often provide your car seat better protection that regular luggage.  Your seat is also often carried by hand to a front compartment in the plane which means the risk of your seat being lost is very small.  To keep your seat clean, using a “Gate Check” bag is a good option.  Easy to carry in a small pocket and brightly colored making it easy to find.

Some good resources for more information are Travel Wíth Your Kids,, and Flying With Kids.