Q: If I’m flying with a toddler; should I really drag a car seat on the plane? — Rachel
A: I can’t wait to fly with my toddler, said no person ever. Although there’s a lot to be said about sweet toddlers, dragging them, and their stuff, and a massive car seat through the airport does not usually make the highlights reel.
First things first: an onboard child “car” seat is officially called a “child restraint system” or “CRS” (and if the seat you use for your child in your car does not say “This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft” — then your seat may be too large and you’ll be asked to gate check it. Ugh.)
Officially, the FAA “strongly urges you to secure your child in a CRS or device for the duration of your flight.” You can visit their web page for more info.
Also, officially, there is no law or rule that says you have to bring a CRS for your child or secure them in one for a flight (they do have to wear a seatbelt of course).
It is, however, safer to have them in a CRS — both for turbulence and to keep them from running around the plane and being underfoot with flight attendants.
There is, however, a compromise between lugging your massive car seat through the airport and onto the plane where it then uses up any available room in your row for your child to play or move freely (which they desperately need to do if you have a flight more than a few hours) and not having a car seat at all — it’s the CARES soft safety harness. It rolls up into a small ball and is the only soft restraint approved by the FAA. For modern flying it seems like a no brainer (except for the $75 cost; remember to include it in your vacation budget when planning).
Have more questions about airline seat policies for kids? Here are links to most domestic airlines and their guidelines to flying with infants and toddlers:
Have a family travel question?
Email Melissa at firstname.lastname@example.org