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Traveling With A Car Seat Tips for Family Travel

If you are heading off on vacation or packing for your holiday with kids, traveling with a car seat will be something you need to think about. If you are going on a road trip, then it is obviously easy to bring your own but if you are flying, cruising or needing to use public transportation at some point, then there are lot of things to consider.

When traveling with young children, ensuring their safety and comfort is paramount, this article covers how to travel with a car seat by plane if you are using it during your flight or if you wish to bring it with you as part of your baggage allowance or even if you need to use a car seat at your destination.

Traveling With A Car Seat Tips for Family Travel

Flying With a Car Seat Onboard

If you decide to fly with your car seat, our article on FAA approved car seats and other list of airlines approved car seats goes into a lot of detail about your rights, legalities, and provides information on the best travel car seats.

In a very brief summary, the FAA is an American federal government agency who advise using a car seat on flights with a baby or toddler, but it is not a legal requirement, and you are not obliged to. The FAA rules ONLY apply to U.S.A based airlines.

Other airlines do allow FAA approved car seats, and other aviation authorities including EASA for European Airlines also strongly recommend the use of approved car seats BUT they give the airlines under their jurisdiction more say over the type they may say only forward facing is allowed whereas U.S.A airlines will allow forward and rear facing.

There are other options, known as child restraint devices,  if you decide not to fly with your car seat. Alternatively, you can opt for your baby on your lap if they are under two.

car seat on a plane with a baby

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Car Seats Rules Vary on Airlines

Airline rules vary, so even if you have used your car seat with one airline you cannot assume you will automatically be allowed to use it on another airline in the same way.

To elaborate a little more from above, aviation authorities rules also 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.

The FAA insists that the airline must find an appropriate seat for your car seat, (with a few exceptions)  where the CAA/EASA say it is up to the airline if it is acceptable.

However, it is your choice whether to purchase an additional seat and to use a car seat OR have you your little one on your lap.

How to transport your car seat through the airport

Lugging a car seat or car seat base around the airport is not the most fun I have ever had, and when you discover you need to go down steps with not only your car seat, hand luggage and child, it is easy to see why many parents opt to hire a car seat at the other end! If you are all about convenience then hiring a car seat is your best option.

But if you decide to use it on the flight, you will have to carry it through the airport. Luckily, there are a few options available which will help in most situations.

  • Use your car seat as part of a travel system stroller, or a specialist car seat stroller like the Doona.
  • Use a car seat belt which will attach to your carry-on.
  • Use a car seat travel cart or trolley
  • Use a car seat bag with wheels, that way you can easily pull it around.

If you use a car seat travel cart or trolley, they often fix to the trolley by using the LATCH or ISOFIX connectors and you can even buckle up your child in the car seat and transport them through the airport with the cart.

They fold up and fit into the planes overhead compartments.  Alternatively, you could look for special car seat travel straps or belts to fix your car seat to your carry on wheelie bag. A car seat travel belt can convert your car seat and carry-on luggage into an airport car seat stroller & carrier.

Car seat travel options for the airport

1. The BabyTrend Snap’n’Go is a wheeled stroller frame which you can attach certain car seats to. Some compatible car seats include Chicco Key Fit 3,  Combi Shuttle 33, Cosco, Evenflo Embrace, Graco Snugride 22 and 35, & Safe Seat 32, Maxi-Cosi Mico, Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 30, Safety 1st on Board 35 and others. Britax also has their own line of travel accessories, including a padded car seat travel bag, and a travel cart.

2. Car Seat Travel Belt

car seat travel belt, simply connects your car seat to your hand luggage, so you can easily  wheel it around. This particular style is not meant for use with a child inside, but could be an option if you are using your travel stroller or baby carrier to carry your child around the airport. Check Car Seat Strap Prices here 

3. Volk Go travel strap

The VolkGo car seat travel strap, can be used with a child inside the car seat meaning you don’t have to juggle managing a child, car seat and case – so potentially a good option if you are flying solo with kids. I like the fact that it effortlessly fits into a backpack.

Fitting a car seat fit on the plane seat.

Most airlines stipulate which airline seats car seats can be used on. Usually, this is a window seat, so the path to the aisle is not blocked. Car seats will not be allowed on emergency exit rows either. Some airlines will not allow car seats in premium cabins due to the seat layout. ALWAYS check on your airlines website first.   

How to Install a Car Seat on an Airplane

As a pre-warning, and as an ex long haul flight attendant for twelve years, I actually never saw one car seat being used on any of my flights. However, if someone had, I had all the details and regulations in my crew manual to double check the requirements. Training did not include physically installing a car seat.

This may have changed now and obviously varies from airline to airline, so I think to manage expectations, don’t expect the crew to be an expert at installing it or to install it for you. I am aware some airlines make it entirely the passengers responsibility to initially install a car seat and then for the crew member to double check.

car seat label, air travel, airline approved
Car seat label showing approval for airline use

DO expect crew to check for the label and DO be aware that just because you could use a rear facing car seat  or use a car seat for an infant under 6 months on one airline or does NOT mean you can automatically use it on another. See above section ‘What are the Airline Car Seat Policies’ for more details.

On that note, plenty of airlines and crew, especially American based airlines see car seats used on a more regular basis and are very helpful.

1. Installing a Rear Facing Baby Car Seat on an Airplane

  • You can install an infant car seat in the rear facing position on a plane if that is what the car seat manufacturer recommends for the age/weight of your child (AND if the airline allows it.) If your airline is governed by the FAA then your airline DOES allow you to use a rear facing car seat as long as the airplane seat is forward facing, whatever the age of your child. (See above section ‘What are the Airline Car Seat Policies’ for more details and to check the details if you are flying from a non FAA governed airline.)
  • You must make sure the car seat is not blocking anyone from exiting the aisle – this means you should install the car seat  next to the window, or in a centre row section of the plane).
  • Here is a useful video (not by the FAA) on how to install rear facing car seats for airplanes.
forward facing car seat

2 . Installing a Forward Facing Car Seat on an Airplane

Follow the instructions provided to you in your car seat manual for installation on aircraft vehicle. This is often stowed in a small compartment in the back of your car seat. If not, just look for the make and model serial number on the car seat frame and then look it up online.

An ideal seat is the bulkhead seat (not an emergency exit) as you have no passenger seated in front of you and with a car seat, a small child is at an ideal height to kick the seat in front of them.

Choosing a bulkhead seat can stop this from becoming an issue and causing any potential tension with another passenger. Window seats are often the seats airlines will advise you to use for car seat installation – so it won’t get in the way in event of an emergency.

To make installation easier, you may want to recline the seat so that you can more easily feed the seat belt through (returning to an upright position to tighten the belt and be ready for take-off). If you need an extension seat belt, just ask the flight attendant.

Here is a useful video from the FAA on how to install a forward facing car seat on an aircraft vehicle.

Using a Car Seat on Vacation Abroad

If you are planning on using your car seat abroad on your family holiday trip, you need to check the laws of the country you are travelling to including taxi and Uber laws.

In most countries, using a car seat that is not regulated in the country you are visiting is illegal, even for short term visitors like tourists. This affects your insurance as there will always be small print noting that you must comply with local and country laws for travel insurance to be valid.

Sometimes rules vary even within the same country (eg state to state) and depend on the mode, make and model of transport you are taking: hire car, taxi, coach, Uber etc.

These laws may make you reconsider travelling with your own car seat, and look for alternatives options instead. This could means using a CARES harness and then borrowing, buying or hiring a car seat abroad.

However, if you are legally allowed to use your own car seat abroad, then the benefit of knowing how your car seat works, knowing it is your preferred facing method eg rear facing is very beneficial as car hire companies may not always meet your expectations or be able to guarantee a certain type of car seat. With a rental car seat, you never know the history for sure.

Car Seat Law in different countries

  • Countries like Australia, also have a tether strap attached to Australian made car seats which attach to a tether point on the car (for additional protection). It is a legal requirement that the tether strap be used – so a UK, EU, USA car seat would not be suitable for use over there.
  • USA car seats are not suitable for use in the UK  as they cannot release with one clip (they have an additional chest clip)
  • UK car seats are not suitable for use in the USA

Below are some useful links to help you regarding car seat laws abroad.

Will my car seat fit the hire car?

Newer car seats are ISOFIX or ISOFIT (also known as LATCH and UAS)- to increase safety. Some ISOFIX models are not suitable for use with the normal 3 point harness seat belt method. They MUST only be secured to the ISOFIX/ISOFIT points in the car.

You will need to check with the hire car company if your hire car has ISOFIX points if you are intending to take this type of car seat on your journey.

Some car seat models can work dual purpose and can also be used in cars that don’t have ISOFIX points, as they have retractable attachments. They can attach by using the normal 3 point seat belt.

If your car seat doesn’t have ISOFIX then it will work with a 3 point seat belt. Always check the child seat legalities of the country you are travelling to first.

If you have an ISOFIX base and a car seat that slots into it- you will again to check with your manufacturer if the car seat can be attached to the hire car using the 3 point harness only, or if you need to take the base with you.

Do I need a car seat in a taxi?

Again, this depend on the law of the country you are flying to, and if traveling to the USA, Canada, or Australia, state law will also need to be checked due to variations.

You can sometimes book a taxi or car service like Uber equipped with a car seat. A quick google of your destination before hand will let you know this.

In the UK a car seat is not legally required in a taxi: Official London Black Cabs in the UK now have 1 child seat belt which is adjustable in the centre of their cabs. In Florida a child under 6 must be restrained in a car seat.

Do you need to bring a car seat for train travel?

No. Children on trains don’t need car seats.

Do you need a car seat on a local bus?

No. A car seat is not required on a bus and usually there are no seatbelts. Long distance coaches in some countries may have seatbelts.

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