travel with a car seat
Melpomene (depositphotos)

Preparation to travel with a baby is much different than without. Many people don’t realize the small details of flying, road trips, and traveling abroad with a child. The logistics of keeping your child safe and following government guidelines are much more complex than many might think.

First of all, the most crucial question is whether or not you are going to travel with a car seat. Many parents struggle with whether to bring a car seat aboard a plane or not. There are many questions most parents have that are vital to that decision. The next question is if the car seat you may already have is traveling-friendly, as well as the different travel laws within the US and outside of the country when it comes to car seats. Here is a guide to all the important questions and information about a wide range of travel with a car seat.

Travel With a Car Seat: Things to Consider

Flying With a Car Seat

It may seem easy to answer: Bring a car seat aboard the plane! Not so much; depending on the airline, car seat type, age of your child, and the destination and its laws, the option to bring a car seat becomes more limited.

Are Car Seats Allowed On US Airplanes?

Yes! Most United States airlines allow you to bring a car seat onto the plane. However, all children two years and older must sit in their own chairs. So, even if you are okay with holding your child rather than using a car seat, this won’t be allowed if they are two years or older. Therefore, it is always safer to have them in a car seat.

It is essential to ask yourself a few questions before deciding:

How Far Am I Flying?

If the flight is a few hours from one state to another, holding the baby is very doable, although still not recommended for safety. For longer flights, more than four hours, holding a baby could get very uncomfortable for you and the child. Having a car seat for your child on a flight is helpful because the child is used to the feeling of being in one. Comfort is vital when putting the child in a new environment, like an airplane. The more comfortable the baby feels, the more comfortable everyone will feel. This also goes hand in hand with the question:

Will I Be Renting a Car at My Destination?

If you plan to rent a car at the final destination, having a car seat along the way is much easier. There is the option of renting one, but that can get pricey and inconvenient.

Consider the following:

  1. Your baby might not be used to the car seat rental, making them uncomfortable
  2. Renting a car seat costs money
  3. Some countries use different car seats that you might not find safe compared to the ones in the US.
  4. There is a potential of damaging a car seat rental.`
  5. If you are traveling to multiple destinations, you must keep picking up and returning them.

So the first things to consider when flying in the state would be: How far am I flying, and what are my transportation plans when I arrive? If the flight is short and you don’t plan to rent a car, it is probably better not to worry about hauling another large item when you won’t be using it for more than a few hours. On the other hand, if the destination is far and a car will be needed for your travel plans, prepare that car seat because you will be happy you bought it!

Some car rentals offer car seat as well, but be ready to make some compromises
Some car rentals offer car seat as well, but be ready to make some compromises – nito103 (depositphotos)

How Old Is My Child?

Different airlines have different requirements regarding the age of a child, how old they need to be to surpass not buying a ticket, and the age at which a car seat is acceptable. For example, American Airlines states, “Children 2 or older are required to have their own seat, a ticketed adult fare. Children under five can’t travel alone under any circumstances.” This rule applies to almost every other US airline.

With that said, children under two years old can travel fare-free with no ticket in their parent’s lap, although if you want your child in a car seat, it is recommended to buy a ticket for them.

The Safety of Having a Car Seat On an Airplane

Having a car seat rather than holding the baby on your lap can save lives. A lap baby is sometimes a convenient and easy way to travel, without the hassle of a car seat, the regulations, and if the flight is short.

The FAA recommends car seats over the lapping technique for a reason. You can never predict how much turbulence there will be on a flight. Excessive turbulence is hazardous for the child as their head can become unstable, especially if one of you drifts to sleep or the turbulence is sudden and unexpected. Being safe rather than sorry is always a good idea.

Are There Specific Airplane Friendly Car Seats?

Yes! There are modern car seats designed for travel convenience. There are rolling car seats that mimic luggage, great for the airport, car seats with adjustable straps, car seats that can be used for both the car and attached to a stroller, and many more. Typically car seats less than sixteen inches wide are the best option to fit on an airplane.

Does my Child Have a Ticket?

If your child is two years old or older, you will need to have a ticketed seat for your child. Having a seat guarantees the possibility of using a car seat. On the other hand, if your child is younger than two and you don’t have a ticketed seat, there is the chance that the plane will have no extra seats to install the car seat. In this case, if you prefer to fly with the safety of the car seat, it’s crucial to purchase a ticket for your under two years old child so that they can have a spot safely fastened in their car seat.

Checking in Your Car Seat

Perhaps you are traveling on a short plane ride and have decided against bringing the car seat on the plane’s cabin; however, at your final destination, you will need to use it in the car. You are in luck! US airlines allow you to check in your car seat for free. It is also free and considered an extra carry-on if you decide to take it aboard the plane. However, it is usually much simpler to carry it on the plane unless it is a tiny airline with no overhead room or extra seat space.

Covering the Car Seat Before Check-In:

Some airlines provide a car seat cover at check-in, and others don’t, but it is always wise to have one. Before arriving at the airport, make sure to be prepared with a car seat cover or ensure the airline will provide one, as it will prevent the car seat from getting damaged and dirty in transit.

Consider Using a CARES Harness

If you have not heard of a CARES harness, I am glad you came across this article because many airlines require them to allow you to have your child on a plane when you do not have a car seat. A CARES harness is an alternative to the car seat and is used more frequently when the child is over two years old and required to be in their seat. The CARES harness is a travel safety harness used for FAA-approved airplanes. Airlines such as Ryanair allow children to use their seats if they are at least one year old and use the saddle or a car seat. The possible downsides to the harness:

  1. Children are more comfortable in the car seat
  2. There is no surrounding cushion that a car seat provides
  3. Your child is above or below 22-44 pounds (the standard to use the harness)

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Approval and Recommendation

Most modern car seats are FAA approved! You can find an approval sticker on the car seat, marking it as fly-friendly. Even though most car seats are approved, it is vital to double-check to be 100% sure. Although the FAA and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) do not require airplane car seats, they strongly recommend using one for safety reasons.

Flying Abroad With a Car Seat

Traveling abroad with a car seat is different from the US. Each airline has its policies, and most of the time, US car seats are illegal to bring on a plane. Also, unlike in the US, many airlines like British Airways do not allow you to buy a ticket or to obtain a car seat for a child under six months old. Do not worry; this does not mean all international airlines are identical. It’s crucial to check the ticket details and information and choose the airline and flight accordingly.

How Will I be Getting Around For the Majority of My Trip?

Car seats are always easy to use while you are at home, driving the kids to school, or taking a trip to the store. When you are traveling, however, things are much more hectic, which is why you need to ask yourself if bringing a car seat will be more of a burden than a convenience based on how you will be traveling around:

Traveling on Foot

If you plan to do much of your travel on foot, a car seat that can be built into a stroller would probably be most convenient for you and your baby. Many car seats attach to a stroller, a great way to fit two conveniences. The next step is to consider how you would fly with the stroller from one destination to the other. Luckily, strollers can be checked in as luggage free of charge! All you need to do is detach the car seat from the stroller before you go through security. So, there is no need to worry if your large convertible stroller will fit onto the airplane.

Traveling in Ubers & Taxis

If you are taking Ubers and taxis, having the stroller with a built-in car seat is also very handy. Most Uber and taxis have a big enough trunk to fit the stroller portion into so you can store it and always have the car seat whenever you book a last-minute Uber.

Traveling in a Rental Car

Some rentals offer car seat as well but be ready to make some compromises such as build quality or cleanliness. The good thing is you can leave the seat in the car while you’re out so a stroller isn’t strictly necessary.

What is the Best Travel Car Seat?

Our topmost recommendation can be read at the best travel car seat. We’ve outlined different factors that play into the decision and what is best for you and your personal needs, budget, and type of child. Making a decision on which travel car seat is best should be done based upon traits such as weight, convertibility, size, and more.

Car Seat Travel Accessories

There are many travel car seat accessories on sites like amazon that can make the trip with your baby more comfortable for them and yourself! The accessories are easy to use and can be added right onto the best travel car seats. Here are two of some of the most useful:

  1. Support cushions – perfect for possible plane turbulence and moving fast through airports and public transit
  2. Head and cheek cushions – Perfect for sleepy babies during a long flight, moving fast through airports, and unexpected turbulence

Car Seat Regulations Abroad

Many people don’t realize until they reach their final destination abroad that laws abroad can differ from those of the US regarding car seats.

Europe

Most countries in Europe require people to use an EU-authorized car seat. This does not mean you cannot use the one you have; it just needs a “locking clip” added. The locking clip is one of the significant regulation differences between the two car seats. The locking clip can be attached to the US seat, so there is no need to worry about renting a European one.

Locking clips are easy to find at places like Walmart, Target, or online. Having one ready before going abroad is highly recommended. In most European countries, babies must rear face until they are eighteen months old.

Renting a Car Seat In Europe

There is nothing wrong with renting a car seat in Europe if you want to be sure you follow European car seat laws; however, your child may not be used to the car seat, and they can also get quite pricey. If you are going to be driving around in ubers or taxis for most of your trip or renting a car, that money to rent the car seat by day could add up fast.

If you plan to take a lot of trains and public transit, which is much more common in Europe than in the USA, renting a car seat could get confusing, as you will likely travel to multiple countries, and returning the seat will be difficult. In that case, it might be easier overall to have your own car seat and make sure to follow the standard regulations like locking clips mentioned above.

Asia

Asia is probably the most relaxed continent regarding car seat rules. Therefore it will most likely cause no problem to bring your own US or other international car seat and use it. Because the law is so relaxed, car seats are not enforced as much, even for the locals. Therefore, it would be better to bring one aboard the flight or check it in as luggage because renting one might not always be an option or standard.

Renting a car seat in Asia means that the car seat is not FAA-approved, like in the US, which might be an essential consideration if you are used to using and following FAA-approved car seat mandates.

Canada

Canada and the US have very similar car seat regulations and airline laws when it comes to bringing one aboard the flight. If you are visiting Canada, you will most likely be fine temporarily bringing a US car seat; however, technically, all car seats used in Canada should have a National Safety Mark of Canada on it. If you are worried that your car seat will be inspected, rentals might be a better call for you. However, safety is of top priority, so if you need to use a US car seat on the plane, the risk of compensation is worth keeping your child 100% safe once you enter Canada.

Mexico

Unlike the strict car seat enforcement and laws in the US, Mexico is very carefree with its car seat laws. This is important to consider when deciding to bring a car seat or rent one. If you prefer to rent a car seat when they travel, it may be a bit unsafe to do so in Mexico because their standard builds and models do not follow the same guidelines as the FAA-approved seats in the US. Many people suggest bringing a locking clip with the car seat to Mexico, as installing the car seat is different than in the US, and a locking clip makes things much more manageable.

Summary

Traveling with a car seat is usually very convenient but depends on the many factors listed above. When deciding if you should bring a car onto an airplane, ensure you are familiar with the rules for that specific airline because they can vary greatly, especially when traveling abroad. Ask yourself what type of travel you will be doing at your final destination and if it will require a lot of time in the car or not. Keeping your child safe is the most important part of it all at the end of the day, so choose a great travel car seat and have an amazing, safe, and smooth trip with your kiddo!

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