When traveling as a family, safety is always the number one priority. And whether you’re traveling by land or air, a car seat is the best tool to keep your child safe and comfortable. That’s right – you read that correctly. A car seat is meant not only for the car but for planes too!
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recommends keeping your child in a car seat during flights. If there’s a rough landing or severe turbulence, keeping your kiddo hugged to your lap is not practical or safe. Plus, those airline seat belts aren’t meant for anyone under 40 pounds.
Of course, we here at Safe in the Seat totally agree that when flying, you should grab a car seat and bring it along! And when we say bring a car seat, we don’t mean gate check it. We mean bring it aboard, install it, and strap your child inside. Safe and snug!
Bringing your car seat on the plane not only makes your child safer while on the aircraft, but safer when you arrive at your destination too. This is especially true if you’ll need a car seat for your rental car. Those rented car seats are a source of mystery and worry — we really don’t recommend them!
And if you check your seat with your luggage, you run the risk of it getting damaged. (We’ve all seen videos of how our bags are treated by airline staff.) If you leave your car seat in the hands of baggage handlers, you may find yourself at your destination with a damaged, unusable seat — or even no seat at all! This stress isn’t something we’d wish on anyone.
All of this is to say, you should always plan to use your car seat on a flight. So, today, we’re dedicating a whole post to the best car seats for airplane travel!
13 Best Car Seats for Airplane Travel
Now, we know what’s going through your mind. You’re imagining breaking your nails as you try desperately to unhook those latch straps. You’re thinking about lugging around that massive 4-in-1 seat on your back while baby wearing and chasing a toddler. And you’re picturing the flight attendants folding their arms impatiently as you try desperately to install that seat. What you see in your future is pure chaos!
Mama, relax. It doesn’t have to be that way. If you’ve been reading our posts for a while, you know that not all car seats are equal. Because of this, many frequent travelers have opted to get a special seat just for travel. This travel seat is usually FAA approved, lightweight, easy to install, and narrow enough for those 18 inch airplane seats. And, honestly, we think a car seat just for travel is a great idea!
To help make your summer of travel a total blast and completely stress free (well, at least as stress free as possible!), we’ve made a list of the best car seats for air travel. Whether you’re looking for an infant seat, convertible seat, or a booster seat, we’ve got a comprehensive list of the best FAA approved car seats just for you. Check it out:
The legendary Doona infant car seat is perfect for airline travel. It’s FAA-approved and narrow enough for airline seats. So you know it’s going to make it on that plane without a problem. But, the best thing about the Doona is that it’s both a car seat and a stroller. Not only are you free from lugging around two pieces of bulk gear, but you don’t have to worry about how you’ll carry the seat to the gate and to your connection. Just wheel it around!
The downside to the Doona is that it is heavier and bulkier than other options out there. But, since it has wheels, this is only a problem when you’re carrying it to your seat on the aircraft. It won’t fit through most aisles, so you’ll have to lift it up and over. It’s also one of the priciest options on the list. But some feel it’s for good reason due to those handy wheels. If your baby will be a frequent flyer during that first year, the streamlined, multi-functional Doona could be worth the investment!
Nuna PIPA urbn
This new addition to the car seat market is truly revolutionary! This infant car seat comes without a base, but it has an amazing built-in latch system on the car seat itself that makes baseless install just as easy as popping another infant car seat onto the base. For city dwellers or frequent fliers who rely on the convenience of baseless installation to lighten their load, the Pipa urbn’s baseless installation will be a game changer.
The Pipa urbn is currently available only as a travel system with a selection of Nuna strollers. One travel system option includes Nuna’s Trvl stroller, which folds up small enough to fit in the overhead bin on most airliners. If you know your little one will be a frequent flyer in their first year, the Pipa urbn might be your favorite travel companion!
This convertible seat is a great option for a dedicated travel car seat. First off, it comes at a great price and it’s well-loved by tons of families. Also, it’s super lightweight (8lbs!) and compact. So it’ll easily get through security, down the airplane aisle, and into your seat. Plus, the fabric is both washable and dryable, and it comes off the seat in one single piece. So, even if your seat gets a little dirty during your trip, you can quickly wash it and dry it once you get to your destination – ready for the next day of excursions!
Some users did express concerns about the installation process; however, once you’ve practiced the “inside-out” install technique (pulling the cover out of the way so you have better leverage to tighten the seatbelt or latch strap) a few times, you’ll become a pro! This trick works for a whole lot of car seats, and we have a whole video about it on our YouTube channel!
This seat isn’t very long lasting, often being totally outgrown by age three or four. But while your child fits you can’t beat the ease and convenience!
This cousin of the Cosco Scenera Next is another great convertible car seat for travel. Also weighing in at about 8lbs, it’s so easy to carry this thing backpack-style when you’re walking to your gate. And you won’t break a sweat (or your back! This one also has a cover that’s washer and dryer safe (and it’s also free of flame-retardant chemicals). With a cushier cover and more padding than the Cosco Scenera Next, the most discerning toddlers are sure to find this seat a comfy ride!
It is a little pricier than others on the list, but it’s still a good choice for parents who want light and easy with maximum comfort for young passengers too! It comes with a detachable cupholder too, which you and your kiddo both could use on a long flight. (Seriously, why has no one put cup holders in airplane seats?)
Were we just talking about cup holders? Because, this one has TWO! One for you and one for your kiddo, right? Anyway, the Safety 1st Jive is a fantastic airline car seat. It’s almost as light the Scenera Next and the Romi, but it’s longer lasting than both those seats with a maximum forward facing weight limit of 65lbs. If you want the most bang for your buck out of your travel car seat, this one is a great option!
It’s super narrow, so it will give you extra room when sitting next to the car seat, and still only weighs about 8 pounds. We’re sad to say that the openings for the rear facing belt path are small, so you might pinch a hand reaching in to buckle that plane seatbelt. And nailing the perfect recline when you install it rear-facing in vehicles can be a little more finicky than the Scenera Next and the Romi. But with some patience and practice (this is another seat where the inside-out trick will be your best strategy!) you’ll nail that secure install. No stress!
Okay, this one might just be the cutest! (But, that’s not why we think it’s great for traveling). The Century Drive On 3-in-1 is the first seat on our list to offer some fancier features like a no-rethread harness, meaning you just move the headrest up or down with the squeeze of a handle to achieve that perfect harness fit. With multiple rear facing recline settings built into the seat, you’re sure to get the perfect install in that rental car at your destination!
Featuring two cupholders, removable infant padding, and even a high-back booster mode, this seat has it all — and still manages to weigh in at just about 14lbs! If you’re wanting to travel light but still want a seat with premium features, this one is a great option at a great price. It is 19″ wide, so go ahead and flip those plane armrests up; and the single rear facing recline line can give this seat a decent front-to-back footprint, especially for taller kids. But if you’re not super tight on space, consider this impressive and long-lasting seat!
The Graco Contender is a tried-and-true travel favorite for frequent flying parents! It’s another inexpensive option with features you’d expect on a fancier car seat. Our favorite thing about this seat is the closed belt path design — meaning no bulky airplane buckle sticking out into your child’s back during your flight! This can be a big comfort issue for some kids when taking to the skies in the other car seats on our list, so this alone sets the Contender apart among travel seats.
Like the Drive On, this seat is wide enough that you’ll want to move that airplane armrest out of the way. But that installation process for planes and vehicles is simple (pro tip: ask the flight attendant for a seatbelt extender when you board the plane so it’s easier to get the seat undone after landing) and it’s light enough that schlepping it through the airport won’t be an awful chore! And if you like a sleeker look, you can opt for the Graco Contender Go or Contender Slim, two equally amazing updated versions of this top-notch travel seat.
If you’re looking for the easiest possible vehicle install when you reach your destination, the Allegiance might be the travel seat for you! This seat that has so many fancy features and comfortable amenities that lots of parents pick this as their child’s everyday car seat. But it’s a decent travel option too! While it’s on the heavier side for typical “travel-friendly” options (tipping the scales at a whole 17lbs!) its ingenious lower anchor system makes it a cinch to install. And it even has convenient velcro to hold the straps out of the way while you load up your child!
It’s also one of the lightest and least expensive car seats that has a seatbelt lockoff feature, making it our top pick for international flyers! Did you know that locking seatbelts aren’t a thing outside the US and Canada? This can make life difficult if you’re traveling overseas with your little one. With a built-in lockoff like that on the Allegiance, the seat takes care of that for you and holds the seatbelt nice and tight.
The Allegiance has a single rear facing recline setting, which is naturally pretty upright in most cars. And while that seatbelt lock-off is a must-have feature for any parent heading overseas, we’ll point out that seatbelt install is a little more cumbersome than the super-easy lower anchors — so when possible, take advantage of that installation method for as long as you can (it’s allowed for kids up to 50lbs!). As you think about your travel car seat “must-haves” versus “nice-to-haves,” the Allegiance’s effortless lower anchor install and comfortable ride just might be worth a couple extra pounds.
The Baby Trend Trooper is another super affordable and lightweight travel car seat option. It’s pretty easy to install, has a handy built-in cup holder, and fits newborns all the way through big kids! It’s also just 17 inches across, so it will fit right down that narrow airplane aisle. Super easy!
We love that this budget-friendly seat offers comfy padding and a stripe on the harness to help prevent accidental twists. It does take up a lot of space, especially rear facing for smaller passengers, and we’ve heard some of our more particular kiddos complain about the required harness pads. However, this long lasting seat will be easy on the wallet and easy on your back as you carry it through the airport, so it’s a winner to us!
If you’re looking for a long-lasting car seat for your forward-facing big kid, the Tranzitions should grab your attention! It’s narrow, lightweight, and usable in three modes (forward facing harness, high back booster and backless booster). While the booster modes aren’t plane-approved, you’ll still get lots of mileage out of this car seat!
Like some of others on this list, a few users have expressed that installation was a challenge, and the user experience can really vary by vehicle. They love the seat once installed, but getting the seat into a rental car might take some time. Practice before you leave on your trip to avoid unnecessary headaches!
Here’s a phenomenal budget option for a forward facing harness! This seat is a great next step for families whose little travelers need to move on from the Cosco Scenera Next — these two seats are so inexpensive that it’s often cheaper to buy these two seats over the course of your child’s car seat journey than one, longer lasting travel seat from our list! Like the Cosco Scenera Next, the beauty of the Finale comes in its minimalism: there’s nothing fancy about it, and that’s the headlining feature! It’s less than ten pounds, easy to use, and it fits almost anywhere!
Like other boosters, it can only be used with its 5-point harness while on the plane. The Finale does offer high-back booster mode, but don’t expect to get much use out of it — this seat isn’t adjustable in booster mode, making it hard to achieve a safe and comfortable seatbelt fit. However, for the price, it’s worth it just for its use as a great harnessed seat!
This lightweight car seat is crazy cool! It’s only eight pounds, suuuuper narrow, and TOTALLY foldable. This means it’s the smallest car seat on our list! If you are looking to make it even more portable, there is an optional add-on travel bag that perfectly fits the seat. We love efficiency!
Some users do report that the Pico is a tough install, especially when you use the vehicle seatbelt instead of the lower anchors. The straps also take some getting used to — they tighten separately at each hip, instead of with a single strap between your child’s feet. And the last big complaint we often hear about this seat is that it’s not very supportive for sleeping on those long haul flights. This seat is definitely pricey, but it offers a unique convenience that you simply won’t experience anywhere else. If you’re the parent of a tiny frequent flyer, this seat provides a tempting solution!
Another great car seat option is the Evenflo Maestro Booster Seat — this one is great for taller kids! It’s wider than some of the other seats here but it’s still an easy ten pounds. It’s also got a little more padding and head support than the Finale, which sleepy travelers will appreciate!
Like the other forward facing seats on our list, this seat must be in harness mode for airplane use. And like the Finale, it doesn’t usually make a great booster seat because the booster mode can’t be adjusted for the best seatbelt fit. However, like the Finale, the price tag, size, and user-friendliness of this seat keep it high on our list of favorites for travel!
This booster seat is meant for the sky! Why do we think this? Because it looks like it’s from the future. (Well, and a few other reasons). The car seat is only 13 inches wide at the base and can completely fold up for easy carry. In fact, it has a built-in handle and carrying straps – no extra device needed here for comfortable carrying!
That folding feature is key: this seat is small enough to fit in the overhead bin on most aircraft. Since boosters can’t be used on airplanes — they require a lap/shoulder belt, but planes only offer lap belts — most parents of big kids are left checking their child’s booster seat with luggage. This is a risky move! You never know whether you checked car seat will arrive in usable condition, if it arrives at all. That won’t be the case for users of this car seat, who’ll fold it up and carry it right onboard. Upon landing it’ll be waiting in the overhead bin, safe and sound and ready to hit the road!
This is another great foldable booster option that has a carrying case accessory! It’s narrow and only 16 lbs, so lugging it on your back or attached to some luggage will be no problem. It’s another ultra-comfy car seat choice that has separate height and width adjustments to get a perfect, comfortable fit now and as your child grows.
This seat will function on your trip just like the Diono booster would — carry it onboard and store it in the overhead bin to keep it safe in transit. The only downside is that this foldable booster will cost a pretty penny, especially if you go for the added case. But if you need the ultimate comfort and the utmost convenience, this is a fantastic travel (or everyday!) booster seat choice.
Flying with one of these FAA and Safe in the Seat approved car seats will keep your child safe while traveling and keep you sane on the airplane!
Car seats on planes are a must. But, traveling with your seat doesn’t have to be a chore when you have one of these great airline options! Carrying, installing, and using your seat will be a walk in the park (or on the beach) when you arrive at the airport with one of these carefully curated car seats.
Once you’ve selected your seat, read our 7 tips for bringing your car seat on an airplane and take our Wheel’s Up: Airplane Travel Course to ensure you’re 100% prepared for your holiday! Because when it comes to traveling, the more prepared you are, the more relaxed you’ll feel. And a relaxing trip is what a great mama like you deserves. Have a great vacation and don’t forget your trusty car seat.
Ready, jet set, go!
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