I recently shared the story of United flight 232 and the online friendship that I developed with the lead flight attendant on that flight, Jan Brown, over our shared passion for child safety on airplanes.
Your arms can’t hold onto objects during clear-air turbulence and the FAA doesn’t allow you to hold a bag or laptop during takeoff or landing. However as the FAA guesstimated that more people will drive instead of fly if they require infants to purchase a ticket and have a carseat, they decided to continue to allow lap children, despite years of lobbying by Jan Brown and the NTSB after United flight 232.
But just because it’s allowed, doesn’t mean it’s safe. You should always buy a seat for your infant and bring a carseat for them to fly in.
Aside from the safety aspect, young children in a carseat are more likely to sleep on a plane and you won’t have to hold them or stop them from opening the airline seatbelt.
Some commenters mentioned that they have had trouble with some flight attendants not allowing carseats where they should be allowed.
You should make sure that your carseat says “This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft” and that you know where it says it to show to a flight attendant.
It’s a very good idea to travel with the FAA guidance on carseats printed out.
Section 10-f of the full guidance says, “No aircraft operator may prohibit a child from using an approved CRS when the parent/guardian purchases a seat for the child. If an approved CRS, for which a ticket has been purchased, does not fit in a particular seat on the aircraft, the aircraft operator has the responsibility to accommodate the CRS in another seat in the same class of service.”
Section 19 states that forward and rear facing carseats are both acceptable and that a window seat is the preferred location for a carseat, though other seats are acceptable as long as they don’t block other passengers from exiting the plane.
Airlines may allow you to use an empty seat for a carseat, but they are not obligated to allow you unless you purchase a seat.
When I do run into problems, I’ll often reference Jan Brown and United flight 232. Does that flight attendant really want to take responsibility for refusing to allow a child to fly in a carseat? If the answer is yes, I’ll ask for the lead flight attendant or even the flight’s captain. On Cathay Pacific for example the flight’s captain overruled the flight attendants in allowing a rear facing carseat in first class.
Our airport strategy has evolved over the years.
Flying with kids is always a challenge. We have found that they are easier to fly with when they are under 6 months and when they are old enough to be entertained with a tablet, probably about 2.5 years old. It’s the couple of in-between years that are toughest.
We started off with a Bugaboo Frog that we got free thanks to AMEX. After all, that’s what all the cool kids seemed to have.
Except it was hard to push, especially in the snow or on bad sidewalks. And it had a tiny, hard to reach basket. We knew someone with an UppaBaby Vista. It pushed like a dream and had a basket large enough for an entire grocery trip. We were sold.
We flew to Hawaii earlier this year in January and had 13 month old Maya in the top-rated Chicco Keyfit infant carseat with the Chicco attachment for the UppaBaby Vista. We gate checked the stroller and brought the carseat on the plane. It made getting our carry-ons through the airport and getting around our destination a breeze.
Plus, as the frame detaches from the seat or carseat, it falls under the 20 pound weight limit that airlines like American now rigidly enforce. People with double strollers learn that lesson the hard way.
We went to Israel in June and by then Maya outgrew her infant carseat. This time we checked the UppaBaby in the Vista Travel bag. We chose to bring the Vista so we would have a great stroller for Israel’s streets and hikes.
Maya was in Costco Scenera Next lightweight convertible carseat on the plane and we used a GoGo Babyz Travelmate to push her around the airport.
On past trips we have used 5 point harness Evenflo Maestro booster seats for Rafi and Talia. Carseat manufacturers advise avoiding checking in carseats as luggage as some baggage handlers like to handle them as carelessly as possible. That means having to lug them through the airport, but we also have GoGo Babyz Travelmates for those carseats that the kids can now shlep themselves along with a travel bag inside each of them. An added benefit that if the kids get tired or if there’s a tight connection we can strap the kids into their seats and push them to the next gate. We then gate check the carseats where baggage handlers typically have more respect for your belongings as they’re being watched by the passengers.
Those carseats and travelmates were lifesavers when we were running around JFK like headless chickens on our London fiasco. I can’t even imagine how it would have worked if the kids had to walk the 10 miles we covered in JFK and LGA during those 24 hours. Plus they were even able to sleep in them while we camped out in JFK overnight…
On the June trip to Israel we moved beyond the 5 point harness to the Evenflo Big Kid LX High Back Booster, which we just bring along for the car at the destination for the older kids.
Of course we could also rent carseats, though that can be expensive and it also means trusting the car rental agency to throw them away if they have been in accident. I wouldn’t trust a car rental agency with a scratch on the car, let alone with my kids lives!
Traveling with kids isn’t easy, but that’s what works for us!
What’s your airport carseat strategy?