Car Seats & Child Restraint Devices (CRD) On An Airplane
Updated January 2017
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.
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.)
Below are many of the questions that are asked about car seat and CRD usage on an airplane. 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. 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.
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.
British Airways– only allow airline approved forward facing car seats for use with infants over 6 months to 3 years.
Cathay Pacific allows forward facing car seats only, which have certain criteria to meet. Cathay also provides 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.
Delta– Allows certain approved car seats and the CARES harness only.
Emirates Airline. Car seats can be forward or rear facing but must be able to be secured to the aircraft seat by using a lap belt. They cannot accept car seats that need to be secured by a 3 point seat belt or shoulder harness.
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.
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. The seat must be forward-facing and can be secured to the aircraft passenger seat by means of the aircraft safety belt. It must also be approved by a foreign airworthiness authority /government standards.
Virgin Australia– Do not accept 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.
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. 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. However, 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.
The CARES harness is for use if your baby is over 1 year old and is FAA approved. American airlines therefore recommend purchasing a seat for you baby and using an approved car seat. Be aware that they do 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.
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