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 to 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!
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!
Friend, 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 airplane 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! Here’s our review of the Doona.
The Evenflo DualRide has 4 installation methods and can be used with or without the stroller base.
This infant seat-to-stroller combination could be a good choice for you if:
✔️ you want to be able to detach the stroller frame from the carrier
✔️ you want the added safety feature of an anti-rebound bar
✔️ you’re looking for a base with easy seat belt installation
✔️ you want to be able to install the seat baseless using European routing
✔️ you’re looking for a seat that will fit small babies well
⭐️ BONUS SensorSafe is available on all models!
You may want to reconsider if:
❌ you want a light weight seat
❌ you need to fit seats side by side
Doona and Evenflo DualRide are the only two seats on the market with the unique feature of an infant seat and stroller in one. This car seat review video will compare car seats and detail their similarities and differences to help you choose the best infant car seat for you.
Here are the notable differences:
- DualRide can detach the stroller portion from the carrier
- DualRide will fit small babies better
- DualRide has a higher shell height to fit a baby longer
- Doona’s wheels are a bit more substantial
- DualRide’s base has a StrongLock tension arm for easy-to-install car seat
- DualRide’s stroller handle height is 1.5″ higher
- Doona harness: rethread. DualRide harness: no-rethread
- DualRide has buckle tongue holders
- DualRide has a SensorSafe chest clip
- Doona is lighter by 3 lbs.
- DualRide’s stroller has a detachable carry-all basket
- Doona has a parent attachment and cargo basket on some models
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 installation 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!
The Clek Liingo truly stands out as an exceptional travel seat, offering a range of remarkable features and an intelligently designed structure. One of its key advantages lies in its compact size, which not only ensures easy maneuverability but also allows it to seamlessly fit into diverse modes of transportation, including airplanes, taxis, and rental cars. What sets the Clek Liingo apart is its innovative design that eliminates the need for a separate base. Instead, the seat incorporates lower anchors cleverly concealed within a compartment on the back.
This unique feature provides flexibility during installation, allowing parents to choose between utilizing the lower anchors or the seat belt, depending on their preference or the specific situation, without having to carry around a base. While it does not come as part of a travel system, it is compatible with many of the most popular strollers. Whether it’s the ease of installation or the versatility of use, the Clek Liingo proves itself as an exceptional travel companion that brings convenience and peace of mind to every journey.
The Cosco Scenera Next is one of our favorite convertible car seats for air travel. 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!
Read our review of the Cosco Scenera Next Convertible Car Seat here.
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 for a comfortable convertible car seat 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 as the Scenera Next and the Romi. But it’s longer lasting than both those seats with a maximum forward-facing weight limit of 65 lbs. 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!
Read our Safety 1st Jive Review here.
Watch our How to Install Safety 1st Jive Video here.
This seat is about the same weight as the Jive above, but it has a much taller harness height. This means it is far more likely to get a child to the stated limit of 65 pounds. This seat only has one allowed recline for rear-facing, but we’ve found it fits well in most vehicles. Just like we recommend with many seats, the Inside Out Trick will be helpful when installing this seat.
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 14 lbs! If you want 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. This closed belt path can make installing the seat in a vehicle more challenging.
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 Emblem might be the travel seat for you! This seat 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 18 lbs!) 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 lock-off 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 lock-off like that on the Emblem, the seat takes care of that for you and holds the seatbelt nice and tight.
The Emblem 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 installation 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 Emblem’s effortless lower anchor install and comfortable ride just might be worth a couple of extra pounds. The versions with SafeWash fabric are free of flame-retardant chemicals as well if that’s important to you!
The Graco TrioGrow SnugLock is one of our favorite seats for international travel. While it is 18 pounds, it is still one of the lightest options available if you want a seat that has a seat belt lock-off. As we mentioned above with the Britax Emblem description, seat belts in most vehicles outside of the US and Canada do not have the locking mechanism needed for a seat belt installation and that’s why we recommend taking a seat with a lock-off. Unlike the Britax Emblem above, this seat has multiple recline options for rear-facing, which makes this seat more compact front to back. You can find our full review of this seat here.
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 for us!
If you’re looking for a long-lasting car seat for your forward-facing big kid, the Comfort Ride should grab your attention! It’s lightweight (12 pounds), narrow, has a no-rethread harness, and is 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! This seat is made from recycled materials, which is something we always like to see as well!
Read Safe in the Seat Safety 1st Comfort Ride Review here.
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!
Read our Wayb Pico Review here.
Another great car seat option is the Evenflo Maestro Sport 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 is 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 your 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!
Read our Diono Monterey 5iST FixSafe review here.
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 every day!) booster seat choice.
Read our Peg Perego Viaggio Flex Review here.
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. But if you prefer not to buy a separate car seat just for travel, you may find that your everyday car seat is FAA-approved already. Nearly every harnessed seat in the US is. You can find a sticker on the side of your car seat that has red lettering describing its aircraft approval or you can check your manual.
Once you’ve selected your seat, read our 7 tips for bringing your car seat on an airplane and take our Wheels 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.
Whether you’re flying with kids or flying with a baby, it’s not only important to travel safely– but to keep your little ones happy and occupied on the journey! Being prepared and confident before your flight is key! Check out my recent Amazon Live, where I share my favorite products, toys, fidgets, and tips for flying with kids.
Ready, jet set, go!
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