Car seats are not the only child restraint devices available for flying with young children. (For more in-depth flying with baby tips see here.) You can use a CARES harness, an infant lap belt or child restraint seat on certain airlines and/or seats. This article will explain rules and tips on using car seats and child restraint devices (CRD) on an airplane, starting with car seats, lap belts, CARES harness and airlines own child restraint seats.
But what is an airplane child restraint device?
A Child Restraint Device (often referred to as a CRD or Child Restraint Seat (CRS), is a device to safely keep your baby or young child secure on a flight. The most common example is a car seat or the CARES harness – which you must bring from home.
Some types of restraint devices are provided by your airline – depending on their aviation regulations. This could be an infant lap belt (belly belt) or a child restraint seat – a bit like a car seat but built specifically for that particular airline.
However, availability and rules for use do vary, so read the guide below. (For information on taking car seats abroad, this guide will help you decide whether you can take your car seat or if it may be more convenient to hire or buy one.)
This guide will answer many of the questions that are asked about car seats and CRD usage on an airplane, including pictures of the various types of child restraint device, airline policies, FAQ’s and much more.
Useful resources for follow up reading include:
- If you are looking for FAA approved car seats or a lot more in depth information on airline approved car seats, then this bumper post will help you and answer everything you needed to know in lots of detail. If you have any further questions, do ask below and I will endeavour to answer them.
- If you are interested in finding out about more flying with a baby rules, then this post may also help.
Can I use my car seat on the airplane?
There are some stipulations with this and there is no easy answer:-
Yes, you can IF your car seat is an airline approved car seat. To be airline approved, It usually must have a 5 point harness amongst other stipulations. A 5 point harness is one with 2 shoulder straps, 2 side straps and one strap which passes through the middle of the child’s legs. However, you must have booked a seat for this.
You may occasionally get lucky if there is an empty seat, however, this is not guaranteed. (Remember young babies are not meant to be in their car seats for more than 2 hours without a break, as this is recommended by the car manufacturers because of their developing bodies.)
Usual airline policy is to put the car seat in a window seat- so it will not impede an evacuation.
Another important point is that car seats can not be used where airbags are fitted to plane seats. For example, all of Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class suites and Premium Economy seats on many of their aircraft have airbags, so you will be unable to use your own car seat.
Also be aware, that even if your car seat is airline approved, it may not fit on a particular aircraft due to the airline seat measurements. Always check the measurements before you buy a seat, or you run the risk of not being allowed to use it. If you are flying alone with two under two, this would mean you would be offloaded.
Do I have to pay extra baggage to bring a car seat if it is placed in the hold?
All car seats can be taken on airlines for free and additional to your normal baggage allowance. A seat must be paid for to use a car seat in the cabin. This is at a child fare rate.
Luckily, major airlines will generally check a booster seat at no cost to the passenger. … The airline may allow you to bring the booster seat into the cabin as a free carry-on, provided it fits into the overhead compartment – but airline policies differ.
What do the aviation authorities say about using a car seat? Where can I find this information?
Aviation authorities rules vary from country to country. Every airline follows the aviation authority to the country which the airline is registered to. E.g British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, EasyJet etc follow the CAA and EASA; American Airlines, JetBlue etc follow the FAA.
Interestingly, the FAA insists that the airline must find an appropriate seat, where the CAA say it is up to the airline if it is acceptable…
“Forwards facing child restraint devices may be installed on both forward and rearward-facing passenger seats but only when fitted in the same direction as the passenger seat on which it is positioned.
Rearward-facing child restraint devices can only be fitted to forward-facing passenger seats. Child restraint devices can only be fitted on a suitable aircraft seat using the type of seat belt/harness for which they were designed.
For example a child restraint device that needs to be secured by a car type seat belt which includes a shoulder harness, cannot be installed on an aircraft seat that is fitted with a lap belt only.
The permitted use of restraint devices can differ between airlines, so it is important to contact your airline in advance of your booking or flight to ensure that the device that you may wish to use is acceptable.”
Whereas the FAA state,
“No aircraft operator may prohibit a child from using an approved CRS when the parent/guardian purchases a seat for the child. If an approved CRS, for which a ticket has been purchased, does not fit in a particular seat on the aircraft, the aircraft operator has the responsibility to accommodate the CRS in another seat in the same class of service.
The regulations also permit an aircraft operator to use its discretion in identifying the most appropriate forward-facing passenger seat location, considering safe operating practices. For example:
(1) A CRS with a base that is too wide to fit properly in a seat with rigid armrests can be moved to a seat with moveable armrests that can be raised to accommodate the CRS in the same class of service.
2) An aft-facing CRS that cannot be installed properly, because of minimal pitch (distance between seats) between rows, can be moved to a bulkhead seat or a seat in a row with additional pitch in the same class of service.
(3) A harness type CRS (approved under § 21.305(d) (2010 ed.) (i.e., CARES,
Part No. 4082) or under § 21.8(d)) with an upper strap unable to encircle some sleeper seats or very large first-class seats, can be moved to another seat that can accommodate the strap in the same class of service.
NOTE: An aircraft operator may have policies, based on safe operating practices, that establish certain seat locations for passengers who use a CRS on a specific aircraft. However, prohibiting the use of a CRS (if a ticket has been purchased), when there are seats on the aircraft in the same class of service where the CRS could be used safely, is not consistent with the requirements in parts 121, 125, and 135.”
What are the airline car seat policies?
Clearly, there are many variations and rules with each airline. So ALWAYS check first. Below are a few examples. As you can see the policies vary greatly.
American Airlines – Allows certain forward and rear facing car seats. But no device that positions the infant on the lap or chest of an adult. i.e a baby carrier or lap belt.
British Airways– The car seat harness must secure the lap, torso and crotch, but does not have to be 5 individual straps. Non-approved car seats may only be used during the cruise when the seatbelt sign is off. At other times, the car seat must be stowed in an overhead locker.
Cathay Pacific– Permit forward-facing and in operational condition. Rear-facing car safety seats are also permitted if the use of such seat will not cause any impact on other passengers’ comfort. You should contact their Reservations Offices to request for an assigned seat.
Cathay also provides a free infant seat known as a child restraint seat for infants over 6 months old up until 3 years old, which must be ordered 24 hours in advance. This is especially convenient, as on some flights, Cathay Pacific cannot allow the use of car seats due to safety regulations on certain aircraft types.
Emirates Airline. Infants weighing under 10 can travel in either a forward facing or rear facing car seat, however if your infant weighs more than 10 , their car seat must be forward facing.
It must face the appropriate direction, and it must be secured using the lap seat belt. Car seats that need to be secured by a three-point seat belt or shoulder harness will not be accepted.
JetStar– Will allow Australian made car seats, US and EU and others subject to conditions. Occasionally, they will allow rear facing seats depending on if it impedes on fellow passengers space. Generally, they don’t give approval for rear-facing car seats because they can inhibit the seat in front from reclining.
They can approve your rear-facing car seat if a family member or friend sits in the seat in front and is happy for their seat to remain upright for the flight. If your rear-facing seat is Australian designed the top restraint points are usually too far for the straps to reach. If your child weighs more than 18kg they can’t fly in an Australian-designed car seat. You need to purchase them an allocated seat. Please note Jetstar Asia cannot accept Australian-designed car seats on board the aircraft.
Qatar Airlines– they provide their own restraint device which must be requested at least 48 hours in advance. You must purchase a seat at the child fare though. The child restraint device (CRD) are designed to safely and comfortably seat infant and children weighing from 20 – 40 pounds (9.05 kg to 18.10 kg) or 40 inches (101.6 cms.) height. Car seats are allowed for infants and children within the age group from 6 months to 36 months.
Singapore Airlines– Approved car-type child seats may be used for a child under 3 years but not less than 6 months of age. Forward and Aft facing are approved. An aft-facing child safety seat that doesn’t have a belt path must be used with a detachable base. However, these child seats that require detachable bases may not fit properly in the passenger seat. An aft-facing child safety seat that has a belt path, and is properly labelled, doesn’t need a detachable base. It must also be approved by a foreign airworthiness authority /government standards.
Virgin Australia– Do not accept some Australian made car seats on their planes, as they are not suitable for the tether strap. They do accept forward and some rear facing seats. Do not accept some car seats on their planes. Car seats that comply with Australian design standard AS/NZS 1754 which do not bear the approved label for fitment in an aircraft are currently unsuitable for carriage on Virgin Australia aircraft, as they require a top tether in addition to the fastened lap belt to secure the three-point attachment.
If I don’t use my car seat on board, can I still bring it into the aircraft cabin?
Usually, they must go in in the airplane hold. As they are bulky, there just isn’t enough space to fit them in the over head locker, along with hand baggage. You can certainly ask, but don’t be surprised if the answer is no.
Will my car seat get damaged if it is in the airplane hold?
Most travel very well but sadly, some also do get damaged by over zealous airport baggage handlers. The best advice is to purchase a padded bag to help protect them. If it is damaged, contact your airline immediately and take photos for insurance.
Can crew help me install it on the plane?
No, not usually (for insurance reasons), although they will check it is not impeding other seats or exits. Remember, not all crew are not parents and may not know how a car seat is normally installed, so always bring the documentation with you to prove it is allowed and how to install it. They will know which seats they can be used on.
What Child Restraint Devices (CRD) can I use on an airplane and who provides them?
Airline Approved Car Seats
As you can see from above the rules do vary and car seats must have the correct stickers on them, showing they are airline approved car seats. You must provide your own car seat unless your airline provides a child seat. (See section on Child Seat Restraint below for examples). For further tips on how to use car seats on board see here for some useful advice. For some airline approved car seats see here.
Airline Lap belt Restraint
European, Middle Eastern, Australian and most Far Eastern airlines require the use of infant lap belts, which are provided for free by the airline. These loop onto your seat belt. These must be used for taxi, take- off, landing and turbulence according to certain countries civil aviation rules.
Airlines based in the USA, let you hold your baby on your lap with no restraint and they do not provide infant lap belts. Other airlines based in the UK, Europe, and Australia amongst others will provide a lap belt. There is no charge for this.
The CARES AMsafe harness can be used if the child meets the height and weight requirements for use and if parents have paid for an additional seat for their child. It is the only FAA and airline approved safety harness.
CARES is certified by the FAA for all phases of flight: taxiing, take off, turbulence and, landing. Each airline may set their own rules based on staff training and aircraft type. For example you may not be able to use it in certain seats if they face a certain way, have an additional airbag seatbelt or simply it may not fit on one of the new lie-flat type seats in premium cabins. Always check with your airline first. It is normally mentioned on their website, near car seats.
You can purchase a CARES Airplane Safety Harness (affiliate link) from various shops and online including Amazon USA and in the UK, also from the NCT online shop. There are also places which will rent you a CARES Harness too, including ebay for around $14/ £6.
Who can use a CARES HARNESS?
An AMsafe CARES harness can only be used for children meeting the FAA weight requirements of between 22 and 44 pounds (~10-20 kg) and less than 40 inches (~101 cm) tall. . (This is usually around 1-4 years old) It is also approved as a toddler airplane harness.
American airlines therefore recommend purchasing a seat for you baby and using an approved car seat. Be aware that this child airplane travel harness does NOT fit all seats, and are often unsuitable for new premium economy, business and first class seats.
Child Restraint Seat
Cathay Pacific and Qatar airlines provide a child restraint seat free on request, if you have purchased a seat for your infant. They are all very similar. As a general rule they are suitable for infants and children weighing from 20 – 40 pounds (9.05 kg to 18.10 kg) or 40 inches (101.6 cms.) height- however check with the above airlines first. Virgin Atlantic no longer provide these.
- Q: Do airlines provide child restraints?
- A: Some airlines provide lap belts eg the UK, Australian, Middle Eastern, European carriers. US and Canadian carrier do not. Some airlines provide child restraint seats when they have seats not suitable for car seats. Currently, Qatar and Cathay Pacific provide these.
- Q: Do 4 year olds need carseats on airplanes?
- A: No, they don’t. Over two’s can use the normal lap belt provided. However, some airlines do permit the use of car seats for children over 2 IF they fit the seat and are airline approved. Some airlines will not allow car seats for those children over 36 months unless there is a medical issue – in which case they may permit the Crelling/Houdini Model 27, Meru TravelChair or the Leckey Firefly GoTo Seat. A further option is the CARES harness, which is permitted on all airlines but may not fit certain seats – so always check first.
- Q: Does a car seat count as a carry on?
- A: Not normally. They can be checked in the hold for free. Space permitting, you may be allowed to bring it inside the cabin. If you have purchased a seat for your airline approved car seat, then you can of course bring it on board to use.
- Q: Can you check a booster seat for free?
- A: Yes, you can check one car seat or booster for free per child traveling.
- Q. I have twins and I’m the only adult flying. Can I fly solo with two infants under two? What are my options?
- A You can either purchase a seat for both and use an airline approved car seat or have one infant as lap baby and one in a car seat.
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Thursday 16th of August 2018
I'm traveling within the UK and the US - with various domestic flights - and need a car seat that is both CAA-approved (UK) and FAA-approved (USA). This is for my 18-mo old who is very active and won't fall asleep sitting in a chair, so I doubt the CARE harness would work for him. The trip includes an 11-hour red-eye flight, so a comfortable way for him to sleep is key.
Ideally, it should fit on the budget airlines common in Europe, which means the base must be no larger than 17 inches/42 cm wide. I've searched everywhere online and can't find anything that meets these criteria and is available for purchase in the UK (where I live now). Do you have any suggestions?!? Thanks.
Flying With A Baby (@flyingwithbaby)
Friday 4th of May 2018
Hi Elizabeth. No a 2 year old in their own seat doesn’t need to have a special seat or belt but you have the option of a bringing your own car seat or or CAREs harness with you if you wanted too. Anyone over 2 just has a normal airline seat belt. Hope that clears it up!
Friday 4th of May 2018
We are flying to MEL from LHR next year with a 4 year old and a nearly two year old on SIngapore Airlines. I am so confused. Does the nearly two year old have to have a special seat or belt? I have booked them their own seat.
Tuesday 30th of August 2016
Such useful information, thank you
Friday 29th of July 2016
Hi Carrie, I hope this hasn't been asked somewhere else before, I'm flying from Melbourne to Munich via Dubai and I am going to take a Car seat however I will check it in as my little one is only 4 months and won't have her own seat. Any tips on how to prepare the car seat so it won't break?
Monday 1st of August 2016
Apologies for the delay in responding- we've been moving house. I've seen them packed in padded bags which you can get from Amazon and also canvas bags and padded out a bit with nappies round them. Hope this helps!