Are you planning your next adventure with your little ones? Does this trip involve flying to the destination? If so, you’re one brave mama for taking on the task of traveling with small children. AND you’re also being super responsible for looking into how to bring a car seat on an airplane safely & efficiently! 

One of the most important things to consider when traveling with children is how to bring their car seats on board. If air travel wasn’t already stressful enough, planning for what to do with your car seat can add a whole other level of worry! 

Safety is your number one priority when traveling. Of course, car seats are one of the best ways to ensure your trip is safe and unforgettable! So to make your travel a little less stressful, we’ve developed a list of 10 tips for traveling with a car seat. Hopefully, these tips can make your next airplane travel adventure a breeze! Check out our list: 

10 Tips For Bringing Your Car Seat on an Airplane

Traveling with a car seat doesn’t have to be difficult. We’ve got a series of tips to help prepare you for your upcoming family trip! We’ll tell you all about how to get there safely and efficiently and arrive with your sanity intact.

1. Bring Your Car Seat on the Plane with You

Though the thought of putting that car seat in gate check and being rid of the whole ordeal might sound enticing, it’s not the best option for your child’s safety or the safety of the car seat itself. If your car seat is coming with you, your child should be seated in it on the plane rather than lap children.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics highly recommend flying with your child safely strapped into their car seat. During severe turbulence or a potential runway collision, your child is not safe in your arms! 

Your car seat kiddo can safely ride just like they do in the car. Whether they’re rear-facing or front-facing.

We know it can be a bit of a hassle, but bring your car seat onboard!

It’s not difficult to install using the belt path and your child will be safe and comfortable in a familiar seat. Bringing your car seat with you also ensures it will show up at your destination when you do!

For help with all things airplane travel, kids and car seats, we recommend taking our Wheels Up course. This course will help you learn the ins and outs of airline travel with a car seat. Plus help you choose the best option to fit your specific needs and child. AND, there’s a private Facebook group to ask questions and get tips!

If you are traveling internationally with your car seat that does not have a built-in lock-off or your lightweight car seat is tilting after installation, you may need to install it with a locking clip. In this video, learn why you might have to use one and how to install a car seat with a locking clip.

Contact the car seat manufacturer for a free locking clip.

How to install with a locking clip

2. Even if They’re Under 2, Buy Them a Seat

No one is going to get any peace if your child is crawling all over you and wiggling all around. And don’t forget about the stranger in the window seat so may not want to share their view! Though the airline allows you to have a child on your lap if they’re under two, we recommend purchasing an additional seat and fastening them into their car seat for safety and sanity!

You’ll get the rest and relaxation you need and your child will get the space they desire if you each have your own seat. Countless parents have shared that traveling with a kid in a car seat while on the airplane is a total game changer.

Size matters. You’ll want to be mindful of the seat you purchase. In the US a car seat can’t be in an exit row, immediately behind or in front of the exit row, or in the bulkhead row. That may sound like a lot of “cant’s,” but we promise a majority of the airplane seats are available for car seats! 

If you’ve already booked your tickets, you can ask at the ticket counter when you check in if there are any open seats available. Sometimes you will get lucky and be able to bring the car seat on board. Most airlines are happy to oblige if they have the available seats!

3. Research the Airline

Before you head off and happily bring a car seat along, do some research on the airline. In the US, airlines are required to allow you to bring your car seat onboard, but in other countries, car seat use is left up to individual airlines. 

Because of this, you may end up having to check your car seat or purchase a smaller seat. Even in the US airlines may have specific requirements and mandates regarding your car seat.

Do some research before leaving to save you some unwanted surprises!

4. Select The Best Car Seat Carrying Option

Schlepping through the airport is often the most challenging part of the car seat shuffle. You’ll want an easy way of carrying your seat through the airport! There are a few carrying options that will keep your hands free for grabbing snacks and changing diapers. 

Car Seat Bag 

The most popular option to carry a car seat is a simple airplane car seat bag. You can get one that is on wheels or one that fits like a backpack. If you’re taking the seat on the plane with you, you can easily roll up a thin bag and store it in the overhead bin for when it’s not in use.

If you’re planning to check your car seat, most bags unfortunately don’t offer much protection aside from shelter from the elements. Also if you do choose a car seat bag, we recommend one with lots of padding like this Car Seat Travel Bag.

Car Seat Travel Belt

Car seat travel belts can easily link your car seat to your wheeled luggage or your stroller. This will keep your seat close, but allow for easy installation once you get on the plane!

Car Seat Cart

If you have a heavy car seat, travel carts are the way to go! With car seat travel cars like this one, your seat is turned instantly into wheeled luggage. You can maneuver it with ease, carry items in it, and even cruise your babe around in the makeshift stroller! Once you are on the plane, simply fold it up and store it in the overhead compartment.

5. If You Have to Check It, Take Precautions

If you must check your car seat and stroller due to airline restrictions or personal preference, beware! We’ve all seen videos of how poorly checked luggage is taken care of. And don’t even get us started on the dreaded and all too common occurrence of lost baggage. Just imagine being stuck in a new place with NO car seat to get anywhere. YIKES!

Once you’ve selected a car seat travel system, make sure the seat is very well padded. Additionally, take a photo of your car seat prior to your trip for proof of its condition if it does arrive damaged. 

Another great option is packing the car seat back in the original box with as much padding as possible! The original box was good enough to protect it during its original trip to your home. So it’s more than equipped for another round. 

Though there’s risk with checking your car seat, don’t fret about the expense. Checking a car seat is free with most airlines! 

6. Consider the Car Seat You’re Bringing

Once you’ve researched your airline, you may discover that there are restrictions on the size of your car seat. We all know airplane seats aren’t known for their roominess! 

Make sure your car seat fits within the airline’s requirements, and check the bottom of your car seat for red text indicating whether it’s approved for air travel! Most car seats are, but there are a few on the market that are not FAA-approved

Maybe you have an FAA-approved car seat, but it’s just too darn heavy. If you fly often, we recommend having a lighter car seat for travel. This way, you have a lighter, less-expensive car seat to travel the world with without the hassle or risk of lugging around your top-of-the-line seat. A convertible seat will last longer than an infant seat!

It’s also important to note that although some infant car seats and convertible car seats can be installed on a plane, booster seats can’t be used with lap belts only. So your older child will need the convertible-style with the full car seat harness to sit in the seat on the plane. If you do have a booster rider, look into one that folds and can fit overhead like this one.

Our Favorite Car Seats for the Airplane

7. Know Where to Find Your Car Seat’s Aircraft Approval

US seats will have many stickers on the side of them. Look for red lettering on one of the stickers and this should be where it talks about the seat having aircraft approval. The wording for infant seats and convertible seats is “This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft.” If you have a 3-in-1 or all-in-one seat that has a booster mode as well, the wording will say that it is approved for harness mode, but not for booster mode. It’s a good idea to bring the car seat manual with you, especially with the aircraft installation page folded down, in case you need additional proof of its suitability for use on the plane.

8. Know How To Install Your Car Seat On The Plane

Installing a car seat on a plane is often easier than in a vehicle. If you’re using an infant seat, it’s generally not necessary to bring the base on board the aircraft, unless your car seat’s manual specifically states otherwise. Most infant bases lack aircraft approval.

When using a convertible car seat rear-facing on a plane, you will typically need to install it more upright than would be allowed in a vehicle. This is acceptable to do on an airplane only.

If your car seat features a tension panel (such as the Nuna Rava) or a seat belt lock-off, you’ll need to route the airplane seat belt over that panel or lock-off, following the instructions provided in your car seat’s manual.

For guidance on airplane installation of infant seats and convertible seats that don’t have a tension panel or lock-off, you can refer to the video below.

9. Minimize the Items You Are Bringing Onboard

Packing light can significantly enhance your travel experience when flying with a car seat. By minimizing the number of extra items you bring on the plane, you’ll streamline the boarding and deplaning process. This means less to carry, less to stow, and less to worry about during your journey. Focus on essential items, such as your child’s necessities and travel documents, to ensure a hassle-free and efficient travel experience

10. Plan for In-Flight Sanity

Once your child is safely in their seat on the plane, your kids will probably want some form of entertainment or comfort! Bring snacks, consider activities, and a few toy safety straps to avoid spending half the flight searching for things on the floor. Here’s a link to our Amazon live with our recommendations for toys, snack containers, and more!

We hope you now feel more equipped to travel with a car seat on your next flight. 

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! Preparation and confidence are key before your flight! Check out my recent Amazon Live, where I share my favorite products, toys, fidgets, and tips for flying with kids. 

Don’t forget! If you feel overwhelmed about choosing the perfect car seat for air travel, we at Safe in the Seat have developed a full course called Wheels Up: Airplane Travel with a private Facebook group. This course teaches you everything you need to know about air travel car seat safety. From booking the flights, through installing the seats in the rental car, and everything in between. This course will give you confidence in your ability to travel safely with your car seat-riding kiddos! 

Remember, flying with a car seat is not only the safest option for your child, but the safest option for your expensive car seat! Take these tips and plan your next vacation with the entire family. You got this! 

Head over to our YouTube Channel for tips for traveling with kids, like this one!

Tips for flying with car seats

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