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Are you considering flying with a car seat? Or maybe you’ve decided it’s your best option and wondering exactly how to fly with a car seat? Then you’ve come to the right place! This guide covers everything you need to know about travel with a car seat on planes – from airline rules to installation quirks to insider tricks you can only learn with lots of experience. We’re sharing it all to make traveling with a car seat on a plane a smooth experience for your family.
Flying with a car seat is the safest option
Let’s start with the most basic question: why should you fly with a car seat? The simple answer is that airplane seatbelts aren’t designed for tiny bodies. The general recommendation is for children under 40lbs to fly in an FAA-approved restraint – either a travel car seat or a CARES harness (minimum weight 22lbs, but fits better at 30lbs – full review here). The best car seat for airplane travel depends on your child’s age, size and development level – start your search here to pick the right one. The FAA and the NTSB both recommend using your car seat on airplanes.
This video shows you exactly why:
Why aren’t parents required to use car seats on airplanes? First, because airlines have lobbied to prevent rules that might decrease the number of families who fly – and thus, their revenue. Second, air travel is much safer than car travel. Government statisticians have determined that society is better off overall with unrestrained or improperly restrained kids on flights than with many more families taking to the roads to travel. Learn more about the pros and cons of flying with a lap infant if you have a baby.
Even if you’re reading this after you’ve made your travel arrangements and you didn’t buy a seat for your baby, you can always ask at the ticket counter or check in with the gate agent. If the flight isn’t full, you can often use an empty seat for free to put your child (with their car seat) so that everyone on the flight is safer.
So do you need to bring a car seat when traveling? You need some way to keep your child safe in-flight and safe on the roads beyond, so in part it will depend on your child’s age and the type of trip.
Can you take a car seat on a plane? It depends on the airline
The US leads the way for using car seats on airplanes. Kind of shocking, eh? Not only do the FAA and NTSB encourage buying kids their own seat and using a car seat in flight, but your right to use an FAA-approved car seat through the entire flight is protected by law. Bookmark these FAA rules on car seats on your phone (or even save it) in case a flight attendant gives you a hard time. Across the border, Transport Canada maintains similar standards.
If you bring your car seat on board (and you should), you’ll have to use it for your child for take-off, landing and when the seatbelt sign is on during turbulent patches. All in the name of safety! Just make sure your car seat is certified for airplane use – nearly every car seat in the US is FAA-approved (just not this one). You can’t use a booster seat on planes at all since they require a lap-shoulder seat belt, but a combination car seat like this one is completely fine if the harness is still installed. Get more details on bringing booster seats on an airplane here.
Read more: Important info for traveling with car seats
How do I know if I have an airline approved car seat? Near the base of the car seat there’s a white sticker with lots of small print. In red letters it should say that it’s approved for aircraft use.
Below is an example of the FAA approved car seat sticker from this seat. It’s located inconveniently on the bottom of the seat, but they’re in different places on different seats. Make sure you locate yours before you get to the airport; for some international flights, we’ve had to show it at the check-in counter to avoid sending it along with the baggage. In other cases, we’ve been asked to show it before installing on the plane.
Some parents (and flight crews!) get confused when they see this because it has two separate sentences about aircraft. That’s because the seat can either function as a forward-facing harnessed seat or as a booster seat. Just leave the harness in and you’ll be fine! An FAA-approved convertible car seat will generally just have the first red sentence, while an all-in-one car seat will have both. Booster seats can’t be used on board so they will only have the last red sentence.
It’s been an uneven few years for airlines, and plenty of crew members don’t know the ins and outs of flying with a car seat. Here are a few things to keep in mind to avoid unpleasant encounters:
- It’s YOUR responsibility to know how to correctly install your own seat. Be sure to read the manual in advance of your flight and consult a CPST if you have questions.
- Infant car seats generally fit better than rear facing convertible car seats.
- You are allowed to rear face within manufacturers’ limits on US carriers, even if it impedes recline. You may want to consider seating someone else from your family in front of a large rear facing car seat so that another passenger isn’t inconvenienced.
- Car seats must be installed on forward facing aircraft seats, but that doesn’t mean that car seats must be forward facing.
Read more: The lightest infant car seats of 2023
Note that on some airlines the seats are so narrow that you’ll have to choose your travel car seat wisely. If you plan to fly Spirit airlines, for example, be sure to read this article for all the particulars.
There’s one important (and recent) exception to note: some of the new premium classes of service like United Polaris and Air Canada Signature aren’t able to safely accommodate car seats. In those classes, the only option is to hold a child under 2 in your lap and to buckle older kids in the lap belt. Personally, I wouldn’t book those with a young child.
Can you bring a carseat on a plane in other countries? Unfortunately, outside of the US and Canada it’s more like the wild west. Every airline sets their own policies. They can range from airlines that are extremely supportive of car seat usage on board in the interest of safety to airlines that prohibit all car seats in the cabin. Some don’t allow any car seats, some only allow forward-facing car seats, some only allow car seats for certain ages. Thankfully a few give discounts if you’re purchasing a child their own seat.
The strangest rule we’ve encountered is that even if you bring a car seat on board, some foreign airlines require you to use a “belly belt” instead during take-off and landing. Belly belts have been banned in the US and Canada because they turn a baby into an air bag. What should you do if you find yourself in that situation? Graciously accept the belly belt and attach your child to you. As soon as the flight crew is securely seated in their harnesses, strap your baby into the car seat to keep them safe during the most dangerous part of the flight.
The worst situation reported by one of our Tiny Globetrotters families was when traveling on an Asian carrier with their 3 year old and car seat. They wouldn’t permit the kid to sit in the car seat for take-off, but he was clearly not of an age to use the belly belt. The airline forced the family to gate check the car seat. Which leads me to recommend…
If you’re flying a carrier that isn’t based in the US or Canada, be sure to check their “traveling with children” section before booking your tickets to make sure you’re comfortable with the airline’s policies. You’d hate to arrive at the airport and be told that you need to check your car seat unexpectedly!
What’s the best carseat for flying?
The best airplane car seat depends on your child’s age and size – there’s a wide range to choose from but it’s important to consider your family’s specific needs in selecting the best car seat for plane travel. Check out these best car seats for airplanes, including the honest pros and cons of each one:
–Best infant car seat for travel
–Best travel car seat for a 1 year old
–Best travel car seat for a 2 year old
–Best travel car seat for a 3 year old
–Best travel car seat for a 4 year old
–Best travel car seat for a 5 year old
–Best travel car seat for a 6 year old
–Best travel booster seat
How do you travel with a car seat? The airport isn’t so bad
For lots of parents, the most daunting part of figuring out how to travel with a car seat is strategizing about the airport. How to travel with a car seat in the airport depends on your family’s specific needs, like how many kids, their ages and what gear you’ve chosen for flying with car seat and stroller.
Yes, a car seat is another thing to schlep with you on the endless trek through the airport. But it’s not the end of the world. Travel systems and other car seat-stroller combinations can help, and there are lots of creative ways you can transport your car seat through the airport all the way to the gate – read about them all here.
Just give yourself plenty of extra time to get through security. Some car seats fit through the x-ray machine, but others will require hand inspection. We’ve been delayed as much as 10 minutes at security waiting on an officer to poke at our car seats. Beyond that, it’s not much of an issue if you have a solid game plan for transporting your car seat around the airport.
Maneuvering through the plane with a car seat can be ugly
Ok, so getting through the airport is no big deal with the right tricks up your sleeve. Getting through the plane… that can be a little tricky depending on your car seat. Car seats have gotten wider, aisles have gotten narrower. So what can you do?
The first thing to do is show up at the gate with your small child, car seat, carry-ons and miniature circus tent and politely explain that you need some extra time to board the plane and get situated. Usually gate agents will let you on fairly early in the process even if there isn’t an official family pre-boarding policy. Trust me, the extra space in every direction can only help you!
There have been plenty of times when I’ve had to carry a car seat down the aisle of an airplane over my head. That’s why I personally prefer a lightweight travel car seat! The other great option is to use a foldable car seat travel cart to wheel your narrow car seat through the aisle. Just make sure the folks in front of you keep their knees in! If you have a Doona, you don’t even have to fold the wheels in until you get to your seat.
Once you get to your row, if possible put your child in the same row on the opposite side of the aisle. It’s for their own good! Raise the arm rests in your row to make your life easier. There’s usually a hidden lever on the underside of the aisle arm rest (near the hinge) to lift it.
If you’ve used a cart up to this point you need to detach the car seat from the cart, lift the car seat into the row and shimmy it to the window seat if need be. Then fold your cart and stow it under the seat in front of your car seat. If your car seat is light enough that you carried it over the tops of the seats, hopefully you can gently place it in position to begin installing the car seat on the plane.
For me, maneuvering down the airplane aisle was always the worst part of flying with a car seat!
How do you install a carseat on a plane? It’s usually pretty easy
Do you remember your first time?
The first time you huffed, puffed, sweated, swore and possibly cried… through installing a car seat, that is.
Installing a car seat on a plane won’t be like that. It’s generally the easiest kind of installation you can do. There are just a few simple steps for how to install a car seat on a plane:
- Find the correct belt path on your car seat for rear-facing or forward-facing
- Loosen the adjustable side of the airplane seatbelt
- Feed that side through the belt path
- Pray that your hand is tiny enough to reach through
- Buckle the seatbelt
- Put your weight into the car seat (possibly with the airplane seat reclined) while pulling the seatbelt tail to tighten
Here are few tips to help you out…
- An infant car seat is the easiest style to install since the “belt path” is just two little arms that are completely exposed.
- For a rear-facing car seat, the buckle is usually between your child’s feet or knees so it won’t bother them. As long as your child is on the older side of infancy, it’s ok to install your rear-facing convertible car seat a little more upright. Sometimes that’s necessary on airlines with tiny seat pitches.
- The biggest challenge with using a forward-facing car seat on an airplane is that the seat belt buckle may end up right in the middle of your child’s back. We usually shove a sweatshirt in there after installing the car seat to offer more padding and that’s worked well. Some parents also recommend looping the short side of the seatbelt around the armrest so that the latch plate connects outside of the car seat.
- If your car seat has a lock-off for seatbelt installation pretty please read the manual to understand your seat’s particulars. The last thing you want to do is break the lock-off on your super expensive car seat! See the yellow box below.
That’s pretty much it when it comes to car seat airplane installation! The best place to look for details on your car seat is in your manual.
SPECIAL NOTE: Installing a car seat with a lock-off, ClickTight, SnugLock or other fancy tensioning mechanism
Lots of car seats today are designed to make seatbelt installation in cars easier, and I love them. They may have a traditional lock-off (Clek Foonf/Fllo, Britax Allegiance etc), a locking panel (Britax ClickTight, Graco SnugLock) or a “tensioning” panel (Evenflo LockStrong, Nuna True Tension).
The common feature of these seats is that you must consult the instructions to make sure you install the car seat on the plane without breaking it. Generally you’re instructed to bypass the tensioning/locking mechanism for aircraft installation.
At least once per week now I’m asked how to install a Britax ClickTight on a plane, or someone tells me that they couldn’t get it to work and had to check the seat. Below you can see the Britax ClickTight airplane installation instructions taken from the Marathon manual, and you’ll not that they’re totally different than the instructions for installing in a car! Note that the directions for installing the car seat rear facing and forward facing are different as well.
You can only be seated in specific places on the plane
Nearly all airlines have rules on where on the plane you can install your child’s car seat. Generally speaking, it needs to be in a window seat if it’s a single aisle plane, and it can also be in a middle seat in the middle section on a plane with two aisles. We’ve gotten away with putting a rear-facing car set in the window and a forward-facing car seat in the adjacent middle seat.
A car seat (or a child without a car seat, for that matter) can’t be in an exit row. In the US, you usually can’t install a car seat in the row in front of or behind the exit row either. Many airlines don’t allow car seats in the bulkhead row.
Errrrrr…. So where can you install the car seat?
Rest easy. You can install your child’s car seat in the vast majority of seats on any given flight (assuming the airline permits them). We’ve only run into an issue once in all the flights we’ve taken, and that was because we were assigned seats immediately behind the exit row.
If you’re having trouble figuring out the right seats to request or if you’ve booked a Basic Economy fare, I suggest reaching out to the airline in a private message on Facebook or Twitter and let them know you’ll be taking a car seat on the plane. It’s by far the fastest way to reach a real customer service representative, you’ll have everything documented and they can make changes for you immediately if you provide a confirmation number.
You have to install your car seat on a forward facing aircraft seat. Into the early 2000s, Southwest offered “lounge seats” (aka “party seats”) in the exit row that faced each other. You’re unlikely to see those again, but you also can’t install a car seat on sharply angled seats.
Some well-meaning parents worry about inconveniencing other passengers by limiting their recline on long flights. That’s awfully nice of you! Remember that your child’s safety trumps another passenger’s comfort and convenience. That said, you can try to mitigate the issue by putting someone else from your family in front of the car seat – especially if it’s rear-facing.
When we traveled with two kids in car seats, we’d book our family of four in the “AB-AB” (two rows of window seat and middle seat) configuration rather than “ABC-D”. The forward-facing car seat went in the window seat in front of the rear-facing car seat since there was no real need for recline. We missed having the aisle seat but survived lots of flights this way.
If you’re lucky enough to be flying in First Class or Business Class, you’ll definitely want to do your research in advance. There are many limitations on car seats in First Class and Business Class and they vary not just by airline, but even by aircraft type and configuration.
Rear-facing car seats are awesome for sleeping babies (and beyond)
Do you ever have trouble falling asleep on flights because you just can’t seem to get comfortable? Imagine if you got to sit in a perfectly-sized, cushioned recliner for the entire flight. That’s what I’m talking about.
But seriously, that’s what it’s like for your baby or young toddler when you put them in a rear-facing car seat on the plane. Their heads are properly supported so they don’t loll awkwardly forward. Our flights got much harder when our kids switched to forward-facing because they had a harder time getting comfortable!
The other advantage of rear-facing car seats on planes is that your kids can’t really drop stuff. We’d prop the tablet at our kids’ feet against the seat back when they were old enough to watch. If they dropped a toy or blankie, it rarely went further than their laps (or ours). These days I feel like half of our flights are spent retrieving their stuff from disgusting airplane floors.
If you’re traveling with another child in a car seat or adult, you may want to consider seating them in front of the rear facing car seat so that a passenger outside of your family doesn’t lose out on recline. It’s not required, but it is considerate.
Your kid may not be able to use the tray table (but that might be ok)
One downside of using a forward-facing car seat on a plane is that, with very few exceptions (this one, this one and this one), a standard tray table won’t come down all the way. Boooooo. That can make it hard to serve them meals or offer quiet hands-on activities on a long international flight. One option is to bring along a tray like this one that props on their laps.
Somehow, our kids managed to survive. By the time we let them face the front of the plane, they were much more interested in spending the whole flight watching movies on the in-flight entertainment system… at least as much as we’d let them. And our kids have almost always refused airline meals anyway – just a few nibbles even on 13 hour flights! So we don’t stress too much about it. I do recommend bringing a car seat with a cupholder so that your kid can have easy drink access to stay hydrated.
This, however, is the one bright spot of Spirit Airlines and their comically tiny tray tables. They are so ridiculously small that the car seat arm rests don’t interfere with them!
You can flip the airplane car seat around mid-flight if you need to
The FAA says you have to use your car seat per manufacturer instructions, but if your child is the right age and size to rear-face or forward-face then it’s totally up to what you want to do. Change your mind mid-flight? No problem.
Why might you want to flip your car seat back and forth during the flight? There are a few reasons. On a long flight, you might want to let your child face forward to eat and watch a movie but then flip her rear-facing (which offers more recline) for sleeping. Alternatively, if you have a child who’s old enough to face forward but won’t stop kicking the seat in front then switching him to rear-facing is the kindest thing you can do for the passenger in front.
When riding in a car, the car seat harness should come from below the shoulders for rear-facing and above the shoulder for forward-facing. I have changed them mid-flight when there was a big difference, but for the cruise portion of the flight I wouldn’t worry if they’re pretty close to the right spot. For take-off and landing I’d make sure the car seat is installed such that the harness height is correct.
There isn’t usually anywhere to store a car seat on board
Last but not least… once you decide to bring a car seat on a plane with you, you’re pretty much locked in to that decision unless you bring this. Your child will be required to use it for take-off, landing and turbulent patches. In between they don’t necessarily have to be strapped in (though that’s always the safest bet).
But don’t plan on taking your baby out and stowing the car seat elsewhere to let them play. There generally isn’t room. There are exceptions, of course – on a huge international flight, the overhead bins (if they aren’t full) are usually tall enough to accommodate an infant car seat.
Sometimes flight attendants will be nice and put a car seat in a closet in another cabin. But usually either you take it or leave it. A notable exception is this car seat (suitable for kids at least 2-3 up to 7-8): if you’re bringing it on board for a child over 40lbs and decide you don’t want to use it mid-flight, you can separate the base from the back for storage.
If your child is at least 30 lbs and you don’t need a car seat at your destination (or you have a Ride Safer travel vest for cars), you can use the CARES harness instead if you think you’ll want your child to have the whole seat available to relax and play rather than sitting in the car seat most of the time.
Get a quick visual summary of flying with a car seat!
Flying with car seat FAQs
While kids under 2 who have their own seat on a plane are often required to use a car seat, kids over 2 aren’t required to use one. However, it’s strongly recommended to use a car seat to keep your child safe through runway incidents or extreme turbulence.
If you buy your child their own seat and are flying a US-based carrier, it’s your legal right to bring an FAA-approved car seat on board and use it! If you don’t buy a seat for your child (under age 2), you may luck out and ask for an empty seat. If you’re flying a non-US airline, be sure to check their specific policies before booking your tickets.
While a car seat isn’t generally required on a plane, some airlines do require a car seat if you purchase a ticket for a child under age 2 (assuming he or she is under 40lbs).
Not sure if you do need a car seat on a plane for your upcoming trip? Reach out to the airline to confirm, but remember that the recommendation/requirement is in place to keep your child and the other passengers safe in a runway crash or during serious turbulence.
Car seats must be installed so that they don’t block the safe exit of another passenger. In a single-aisle aircraft, that generally means a window seat (or window seat and middle seat if you’re installing two car seats). On a two-aisle aircraft, you may also install a car seat in any airplane seat in the center section.
You might also like…
- Uber and car seats: what you NEED to know about riding Uber with a baby or child (2021)
- Best travel car seat options by age
- Want a folding car seat for travel? Here are your best choices by age (2021 reviews)
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57 thoughts on “Flying with a car seat on a plane: 10 things you NEED to know (2023)”
I just wanted to say, your site has so much good information. I had a mom email me for booster seat info and I sent her straight to your site. She was very appreciative!
Awwwwww thanks, that’s so sweet of you!
Thank you for the info! I have had so much trouble finding a convertible car seat that will rear face on standard airplane (Boeing 737) with the proper recline. I have tried 3 different ones including the Costco scenera and they are so upright! Any advice on specific car seats? Or specific rows in the airplane that might have more legroom?
Hi Kristin! Thanks for your comment. It’s all dependent on how the airline sets the seat pitch and configures for that specific route. Which ones have you tried? And how old/big is your child?
I’ve tried the scenera, clek Fllo, and Britax boulevard clicktight. My daughter just turned 2 but we have flown 30 times with her and have just given up and forward faced her on the plane shortly after a year. We do buy the upgraded seats on Alaska for when we fly to Hawaii so she can sleep reclined rear facing.
Since she’s over 2, I wouldn’t sweat facing her forward on a plane at this point. Even at 1 year old, the most important thing is just to keep her safely restraint in case of turbulence (which is a much more common issue than plane crashes). If you have more kids in the future, just note that some car seats require a minimum of 2 years old to forward face. In theory, US airlines have to try to seat you in a place where you can use the car seat safely in the correct direction, but that would be more of an issue when traveling with an infant.
We use the maxi cosi pria 85 it’s been perfect!
I’m glad it’s been working for you!
Hi! I had a question if you choose to buy a ticket for your infant (8 months) but decide to keep her on your lap, and check in the car seat at baggage, is that allowed?
Airlines will pretty much always allow you to check your car seat as baggage, though your risk of loss/damage is greater than if you keep it with you on the plane or at least until the gate. You would be required to hold your baby on your lap for take off, landing and turbulence; it’s up to flight crew discretion whether or not they’ll let your child use the empty seat at all during calm cruise portions of the flight, as some airlines do require that young infants have a car seat if they’re going to occupy a seat.
Hope that helps!
If a child is one and two years old are they suppost to bring their own car seat?
The FAA strongly recommends that kids under 40lbs ride in a car seat or CARES harness on a plane. If you buy a seat for children under 2, some US airlines do require them to sit in a car seat or CARES. Let me know if you have any other questions!
For a rear-facing infant car seat, do you need the base on the plane, or will just the seat do?
Hi Mindy, great question! For an infant seat, you’d install without the base. There should be a seatbelt guide (like a little plastic arm) on either side near baby’s knee. Thread the seatbelt through there, buckle and pull tight. That’s it! As long as you do not have the Nuna Pipa Lite, it’s very easy.
Hi!! Thanks for this amazing guide! I’m getting ready to fly in a couple of weeks with my 10 month old but I’m pretty sure I have to use the base with my car seat, the Nuna. Is this going to work- “installing” the base with car seat in the airplane seat? Thanks so much for your help!
Thanks for stopping by! Car seat bases are not approved for use on planes. If you have the regular Nuna Pipa, you can install with the seatbelt guides (little black or silver arms on each side of the car seat near baby’s knees). If you have the Nuna Pipa Lite, unfortunately you can’t install it without the base at all – either on the plane or in a car. In that case I’d suggest that you pick up a lightweight convertible car seat – probably either the Combi Coccoro (my favorite) or the Cosco Scenera Next DLX (more budget-friendly).
If you have more questions, just drop me a reply here!
I’m flying with my 4 and 6 year olds and they both have the across the shoulder seat belt type booster seat, would it just be easier to gate check those, since it sounds like they won’t work in the plane seat? I’m confused if I make the 6 year olds a backless booster if u could use it on the plane or just not worry about it?
Thanks for stopping by! Airplanes don’t have shoulder belts, so you can’t use any booster seat on them at all. A backless booster is very easy to carry on – check out the Bubblebum for one that will fit in a backpack (you can read my in-depth review here).
For your 4 year old, I know that a booster is convenient but it’s not really an ideal solution from a safety perspective. Most 4 year olds don’t sit properly in position 100% of the time (especially when sleeping as they often do after a travel day), and smaller kids run a greater risk of “submarining” under the lap belt in an accident. My favorite option for a 4 year old is the Ride Safer Travel Vest. It’s kind of a cross between a harness and a booster when you use it with the top tether, but it packs up small enough to fit in a backpack. The size small will last for several years. You can read more about it here. It’s on sale for Black Friday and I highly recommend it!
Let me know if there’s anything else I can help you out with.
Thanks for the info. It is my first time flying with my first kid, only 5 month old! Your page is so great! But, a question I have?! Am flying with very small plane, one aisle and totally 4 seats! 2 on each side. My wife and I and no ticket for baby. In this Covid world, am not planning to find any empty seat to use. So, what is your suggestion? Still, taking the car seat into cabin? Or using the baby holder on chest like a kangaroo? Or what else to make this nightmare sweeter?!! 🙂
Thanks for your comment. Whether or not there’s an empty seat will definitely depend on which airline and what route. My husband and I had to fly (separately) last month for an emergency and our smaller flights on Delta were at 50% capacity, with all aisle seats open (2-and-2 configuration). I recommend at least bringing the car seat to the gate with plenty of time to spare and asking if there’s an open seat you can use. Remember, it’s in the airline’s best interest for your baby to be safely strapped in a car seat as well so she doesn’t become a projectile in bad turbulence! US airlines do not permit the use of a carrier during takeoff and landing, as your baby becomes your own airbag in a runway accident. You can wear your baby during the cruise portion of the flight (though you may have to remove her in bad turbulence).
I hope this helps!
Thank you for your informative post about flying with a car seat. I was reading some other posts but I do have a question for you. So I have the Nuna Pipe Lite car seat. So I am assuming that in order to travel with this specific car seat I’m going to need to bring along the base so it can lock into the airplane seat.
Unfortunately the Nuna Pipa Lite is the only car seat you can’t use in-flight 🙁 Car seat bases are NOT approved by the FAA.
I recommend that you buy either the Combi Coccoro (my favorite!) or the Cosco Scenera Next (more budget-friendly, just make sure to get a solid color). They’re both lightweight convertible car seats that will fit your baby well now and last for several years to come.
Please let me know if you have any more questions!
Thank you for your website and all this great information! My question is in regard to checking our carseats and double-stroller. We have an upcoming flight on American Airlines and their website specifically states:
*Each ticketed customer is allowed 1 stroller and 1 car seat to be checked free of charge
*Strollers over 20 lbs / 9 kgs must be checked at the ticket counter
*All other strollers should be checked at the gate before boarding
*If you have a stroller and a car seat only 1 can be checked at the gate
We are traveling with 2 kids under 2. We just wanted to see what your advice was if they are going to indeed make us check our double-stroller (Which is definitely over 20lbs). We may ask if they have extra seats, but if not, we are planning on just checking both car seats as well. What do you recommend as far as maybe bags to protect these items while they get thrown around during the process?
Thanks for stopping by! American does indeed have a stingy limit for gate checked strollers. Is there any chance you can get away with a single stroller and a baby carrier? We always had great success with that! Otherwise you won’t have your stroller in the airport at all – on either end.
Unfortunately protective bags can only do so much good for car seats. This is one of the more padded options. They can prevent the cover from getting dirty or torn, but if baggage handlers chuck them from the belly down to the ground hard enough then there can still be damage. You’d want to make sure to inspect a checked car seat for signs of damage (namely stress marks on the plastic shell) before using in the car. If you do wind up having to gate check your car seats, the good thing is that I’ve never encountered an airline enforcing a rule of only gate check either the stroller or the car seat. I can’t promise anything about American because they’re pretty stingy in that department, but it would be worth bringing everything to the gate. I would avoid checking car seats with baggage if at all possible – there’s that much more opportunity for loss or damage. You can read more about checking car seats (if you haven’t already).
If you haven’t already, make sure you’ve told AA that you will have two lap children, as a standard single aisle plane only has four oxygen masks for every three seats – your family would have to be split onto opposite sides of the aisle and seated next to strangers unless they happen not to assign a third adult to an ABC set of seats.
I hope this is helpful! Please let me know if you have any other questions.
Have you brought a Doona on Spirit? Can you confirm that it fits in the seat?
Thanks for stopping by! I have not tried that particular combination. Some of Spirit’s seats are 17″ wide (which the Doona could probably work with) but some of them are a paltry 15.5″. You may be able to find specific widths for your aircraft if you check SeatGuru, though it’s always subject to an equipment change. I will say that we managed to squeeze our Evenflo SecureKid in on Spirit and it’s a little wider than the Doona.
If you anticipate flying Spirit often, I suggest picking up the Combi Coccoro. It’s the narrowest convertible car seat and also extremely light. We traveled with ours for many years and loved it so much that it was our younger child’s main seat at home too 🙂 It’s not the tallest convertible car seat but will last a few years. Also – it’s currently on sale!
Thanks for this extremely informative article, Melissa! I have an upcoming trip, flying American, and would like to bring my 13 month old’s car seat to use on the plane, and then in the car at our destination. What do I do with the car seat base? Does this have to be put in our checked luggage then? Thanks!
Thanks for your comment! As long as the seat isn’t the Nuna Pipa Lite, I would consider leaving the base at home and installing baseless. If you’ve never done that, I’m happy to help you through it. If you do want to bring the base, the safest option is to put it in the overhead bin or under the seat in front of your baby. You could also consider checking it in a hard-sided suitcase, but you’ll need to keep your eye on the airline’s weight limit as some bases are close to 10 pounds on their own and suitcases that can fit bases could weigh nearly that much as well.
Hope this help!
Can my 5 year old sit in a seat without a carseat?
If your child is 40 pounds, your child can safely fly without a car seat. We did continue bringing our harnessed booster on the plane even after 5 to avoid checking it. Another option would be to bring a Ride Safer Travel Vest to use in the car, which you can tuck in a carry on for the flight.
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Hello, is it safe for baby to sleep in the carseat in a plane? I am planning to fly 6 hours ( lax to bos) with a 6 month old. I have the Doona which I will be taking her in.
Everyone should get up to stretch and move around every ~2 hours, including babies, whether you’re traveling by car or plane. It’s never ideal for baby to sleep in anything other than a safe, flat place like a crib or bassinet but when we’re trying to balance safe transportation and safe sleep it’s ok to let baby snooze in the car seat as long as it’s reclined at the proper angle.
I’m traveling with my 2 year old in august and debating on which car seat to use. We are flying through copa airline, Do you have any advice or recommendations?
Thanks for stopping by! The most popular option these days is the Cosco Scenera Next. It’s super affordable and super lightweight. It is generally outgrown once a child reaches 37-38″ tall, so if your kiddo is at the top of the growth charts a different option may be better.
You can read about the pros and cons of many different travel car seats for 2 year olds. If you need more guidance, please just reply with your child’s height and weight.
Hi Melissa. Thank you for putting together this amazing article, it is so helpful! I am a first time Mama to twins. They will be a year old this summer and we have a flight booked from NJ to SC. I bought seats for them and wanted to bring my car seats on the plane (and gate check my double Zoe twin stroller that folds). I even bought the travel wheel thing I can attach their car seats too to wheel them through the airport thanks to you! We have the Britax One4Life. We are flying United. The Britax website says its FAA certified. The website says its 19.5 inches wide. We are flying regular economy. I’m so scared we will get on board the plane and the Britax seats won’t fit in the airplane seats! Any tips?
Thanks for stopping by! Somehow I didn’t get notified of your question in a timely manner, so I’m really sorry for the delay. Personally I’d only fly with the One4Life if I was relocating and had to take it with me. If the plane is narrow you may be unable to wheel them down the aisle. Even if you can, it’ll be a tight squeeze. And times two!
Since your twins are still so young, I’d pick up two of the Cosco Scenera Next (get the solid colors). They’re not nearly as fancy, but your travel day will be infinitely easier.
I’m traveling soon with my 4 and soon to be 7 year old. Both are still in harness car seat, but my daughter does have a booster seat convertible seat, with the harness option. Has anyone ever traveled with an older child still using the harness option?
Your child can legally use a harnessed car seat on a plane in the US as long as she’s within the manufacturer guidelines. That said, if it’s an “all in one” seat you may want to check the maximum height limit if she’s average height. I believe that the all-in-one seats cap out at 49″ in harness mode and you also need to be sure the straps are still coming from above her shoulders. If she’s mature enough to sit still for the whole car ride, a booster seat is a VERY safe option at her age. If she’s still a little wiggly, you can look into the Ride Safer Travel Vest and use it with the top tether.
Let me know if you need more ideas!
What if we couldn’t get a window seat for car seat? You said it generally needs to be a window but we had book same week as we’re flying and could only get middle and aisle seats.
They’ll need to do some shuffling! Reach out to the airline ASAP via Twitter dm or Facebook messenger. Include your last name and confirmation number and give them a heads up that you’ll be bringing a car seat. They should shuffle for you, and it’s easier before day-of. If they can’t, be sure to allow extra time at the airport and it should get sorted out.
In a couple of weeks we will traveling to Costa Rica from North Carolina , it is an international flight with one stop on Atlanta, , We have a Chicco Keyfit 30 car seat that fits in our Chicco Bravo Stroller; My plan is to bring both the carseat and the stroller to the gate and use the car seat for my daughter (7 months old) during the flight, and for the stroller let the crew members take care of it (the stroller is less than 9kg) so I can use it again when we landed (We have a 3h layover).
I have read that it is permitted either the stroller or the car seat on the gate, but not both , but in this case we are using the car seat and the stroller as “one piece”, and I’ll just “de-attached” once we reach to the gate. Do you know if that is possible?
PD: We are flying with American Airlines (we are paying our daughter’s seat)
Thanks for stopping by! It’s no problem to bring your car seat on board and gate check your stroller. We did it all the time 🙂 Please let me know if you have any questions, and be sure to read up on Costa Rica car seat laws before you go.
We are planning to travel to PHX from EWR soon and wanted to know if United Airlines allows us to gate check our stroller for 3month old and use car seat? Getting her separate seat on the flight as well.
Thanks for stopping by. Yes, you can gate check the stroller and use the car seat on the flight 🙂 We did it many times on United!
One thing I’m still not sure is whether you NEED to bring the car seat base, in addition to the actual car seat. We are traveling across country to see my family and would have a carseat available when we arrived. So, I’m thinking NOT having the base would make lugging around the seat (and baby, and dog, etc) a little easier. Can you please confirm whether having the base is necessary?
Thanks for stopping by! As long as you do not have the Nuna Pipa Lite (including Lite R and Lite LX) you can travel without the base. How you choose to do it is a matter of personal preference. We generally left the base at home for our Chicco KeyFit but did bring it once or twice when we were renting a car AND our kid was a very consistent car sleeper. The base fit well in the basket of our KeyFit Caddy and then in the overhead bin. Other than the Pipa Lite mentioned above, the base is not approved for installation on a plane.
As a more experienced parent now, I’d probably leave it at home for most trips. If you go that route, be sure to practice a baseless seatbelt installation (including locking the seatbelt) in advance. If you are traveling outside of the US or will be installing in a very old car (pre-1997 generally) be sure to have a locking clip and know how to use it. In contemporary cars in the US that’s not a concern.
Please let me know if you have any more questions!
Hi! Thank you so much for your article. We’re planning our first Family vacation for Orlando and we’ll be traveling (kids first time) through JetBlue. My question is, my daughter (4 at the time of travel) will be using her Diono Radian, but I’m not sure if my son (who will be exactly 6 years old at the time of travel since it’s on his b-day week) should and can have his Diono Radian? He’s a bit on the shorter side but “big-boned”. Or should I “check it” at the gate? I’m not sure what would be best.
Traveling with two Radians is downright heroism! I’d strongly consider something lighter for the birthday boy. He can legally use the Radian on board but basically anything else will make YOUR life easier! Since he’s the older one, you’d get a lot of mileage out of a Ride Safer Travel Vest tucked in his backpack. Here are additional travel car seats for 6 year olds that you can consider.
As a side note, the Radian is outgrown fairly early forward-facing – usually once the harness is no longer above the kiddo’s shoulders. It doesn’t make a great booster seat for a variety of reasons unfortunately. I’m a co-admin in this very helpful car seat group, which you’re welcome to join for a photo fit check and recommendations on the next step 🙂
What is the risk of a 5 yr old, 53lber, in an airline seat? Curious about if submarining is an issue. Unable to bring the harnessed booster for the flight, and am thinking of either the whiz rider or travel vest for the car portion of the trip once we leave the airport. Really wish the CARES system was an option but as we wouldn’t pass the extended usage of CARES exemption, am curious about the safety aspect of a lap belt only seat for the 5 yr old. Thank you!
Thanks for stopping by! At 53lbs, your kiddo is fine using the airplane seatbelt alone. You could bring the Ride Safer Travel Vest or, if mature enough for a booster seat, hifold. The vest is more compact but the hifold is easier to use properly when getting in and out of a rental car frequently.
Question: we didn’t purchase a seat for our 15 mo on an upcoming flight but hope to be able to bring his car seat on. If they don’t have room, we have a bag and we’ll gate check it. If they do have room and we can put him in it for the flight, what do we do with our big, bulky car seat gate check bag for the flight?
I’m so sorry I’m just seeing this! Most of the car seat bags can fold up and then go under the seat in front of your child.
I’ll be flying with my 3 year old next month. At what weight is the lap belt acceptable? He’s currently about 38 pounds and a little over 40 inches tall. I’m thinking I’ll take the car seat but just wanted to know the options. Thank you 🙂
Airplane seatbelts generally begin fitting at 40lbs, but on some larger seats it they might not give a great fit until closer to 45lbs. Taking your seat on board also ensures that it arrives without damage, and at your destination!
Thank you so much for this page. I’ve read it several times now! My one concern still is that we’re taking a long-haul flight (9 hours) and I know it’s only recommended for babies to stay in the car seat for 2 hours-ish. Is this ok? It’s an overnight flight so I’d really love it if our little one (1yo at the time of the flight) could sleep for the majority of the time.
Thank you so much for the advice!
Thanks for stopping by! I wouldn’t wake a sleeping 1yo mid-flight, but when they wake up naturally that’s a great time to get out of the seat and get everyone’s blood flowing. The real risk at that age is blood clots, which is the same risk as for adults on a long-haul flight.