Traveling with a Baby Car Seat: A Robust Guide

traveling with a baby car seat

Traveling with a baby should not be a daunting experience for parents. And it’s pretty easy if you know how to ensure the safety of your little one during the flight. Where should the baby car seat go, and what are the airline policies to navigate? Should you gate-check or not? Can you bring a car seat on the plane? All of these questions often perplex parents, making the journey seem overwhelming.

We’ve delved into the policies of major airlines and gathered valuable insights. What type of car seats can you use on an aircraft, where should you place them, and how do you install them securely? This guide will transform all of your questions and challenges of flying with a baby car seat into a well-managed, stress-free experience. So, let’s explore!

Note: I’ve divided this article into two main sections. First, we’ll talk about the case when you want to bring the car seat on board with you and then we’ll discuss the second case where you want to check your car seat for baggage.

Should You Use a Car Seat on a Plane?

Yes, using a car seat on a plane is highly recommended for the safety of your child. According to the FAA, an approved child restraint system is the safest place for your child who is under 2 on a US airplane.

In the event of turbulence or an unexpected incident, a properly secured car seat provides an additional layer of protection. It ensures that your child is restrained and protected in their seat, reducing the risk of injury.

Additionally, using a familiar car seat can provide comfort to the child, making the travel experience smoother for both the child and the parent.

Major Airline Policies to Bring Car Seat As a Carry-on-Item

While there are so many Airlines operating in the US and globally. However, I presented a few popular airlines including Delta, United, American, Southwest Airlines, Emirates, and a few more to give a whole picture of how their policies work when it comes to bringing child safety seats on the plane. 

I’ve scratched the surface to explain the most general and vital consideration for the mentioned airlines but didn’t drill down into the details as all airlines have their separate pages about traveling with infants explaining their policies in detail.

Remember to bring your car seat as a carry-on-item, if you want to use it on the plane. If you don’t want to use your car seat during the flight, you can gate-check it and it will be transferred to the cargo hold. In this case, you’ll need to pack your car seat properly to avoid any damage or loss, more on it later in this article.

Note: Even if your child is under 2, you will need to buy a separate seat for them if you’re bringing a car seat. If you’re not using a car seat, your lap is enough but the FAA doesn’t recommend this practice. Most airlines don’t charge domestically for a lap child. But fees or taxes may apply if you’re going outside the US.

Delta Airlines

According to Delta Airlines, you’re allowed to bring child restraint seats, but only in certain conditions. If there is an open passenger seat in your row or you have purchased a separate seat for your child. And if you’ve not booked a separate seat and if an empty passenger seat is not available then your seat must be checked at the gate by a Delta agent. Also, make sure the car seat you’re bringing is FAA-approved.

You can learn more in detail about children and Infant items on Delta’s website.

United Airlines

United Airlines allows you to bring your car seat on the plane but they must be FAA-approved. According to United Airlines, children in the car seat should sit in a window seat. They also provide free bassinets in United Polaris, Business Class, and Economy on some international flights. You can check a single car seat and one stroller or collapsible wagon per accompanying child at no cost.

Learn more on the United Airlines website.

Note: Frequently, airlines have restrictions that prohibit the placement of car seats in exit row seats or rows immediately ahead of or behind emergency exit rows.

Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines allows you to check one car seat and one stroller without any charges. According to Southwest, Car seats are permitted in window and middle seats, provided they do not obstruct the exit path for passengers seated by the window.  

They don’t allow car seats in an exit row or aft of an emergency exit row of seats. They recommend a car seat less than 20 lbs face the back of the plane and 20-40 lbs face forward. Also, note that Southwest provides an optional reusable car seat or stroller bag for purchase at any Southwest Airlines ticket counter for $17.

Learn more about Southwest Airlines on their website.

American Airlines

According to American Airlines, Approved motor vehicle safety seats with a solid back and seat, secure restraint straps, and an aircraft-use approval label are generally suitable for use on airplanes. 

To bring a safety seat onboard, either purchase a seat for the child or ensure an available seat next to you. If no vacant seat is accessible, the gate agent will check the safety seat to your destination. Avoid using safety seats in exit rows or adjacent rows; opt for window seats when possible.

Certain planes restrict the use of safety seats in First or Business class due to specific seat angles. Find more details about planes on the American Airlines website.

Alaska Airlines

According to Alaska Airlines, Children traveling on the regular fare can use an appropriate child restraint system such as a car seat. Infants on laps can use a car seat if there’s an empty seat next to their parents.

Also, the car seat must be FAA-approved or conform to all applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards. And you can’t use a car seat in an exit row, any aisle seat, or emergency exit row. For optimal safety, the preferred spot for a child restraint system is the window seat; however, it can be placed in the middle seat if the window seat is unoccupied.

Learn more about Alaska aircraft seat width dimensions and other things in detail.

Emirates

According to Emirates, If you have an infant under 2 you can request a bassinet or carry them on your lap, and for older children you can bring your car seat but you’ll need to buy a separate seat for your child. But if you have booked a normal seat on child’s fare rates then you will not be able to request a bassinet.

And like any other airline policy, your car seat must be FAA-approved or exceed the regulations of federal motor vehicle safety standards. 

Learn more in detail about traveling with infants on the Emirate website.

Note: Frequently, airlines have restrictions that prohibit the placement of car seats in exit row seats or rows immediately ahead of or behind emergency exit rows.

So, finally, in most airlines a few things are common. First, you’ll need to book a separate seat if you’re bringing your car seat, and if you’re lucky, you can check to confirm if there is an open passenger seat available in your row.

It is recommended that car seats should be placed on a window seat. In almost every airline it is restricted to use a car seat in an exit or emergency row. You can further read your airline policy to know more about this car seat placement in detail. To use a car seat on a plane it must be FAA-approved, which you can confirm by looking at the labeling on the car seat itself.

How to Install a Car Seat on the Plane?

a men installing a baby car seat on an airplane seat

Ensuring your child’s car seat is properly installed on an airplane doesn’t have to be stressful. Whether it’s an infant seat, rear-facing convertible, or forward-facing convertible, keep the airline’s policies in mind explained above, and follow the quick guide to simplify the process:

Infant Seat Installation

  • Confirm your seat is FAA-approved with the designated sticker.
  • Place the infant seat on the airplane seat at the correct recline angle.
  • Secure the airplane belt buckle under the belt guide, over your child’s legs.
  • Buckle in and tighten – it’s that simple.

Rear-Facing Convertible Seat

  • Adjust the recline angle similar to a car installation.
  • Align the designated line with the airplane seat.
  • Thread the airplane buckle under the child’s legs and tighten.

Forward-Facing Convertible Seat

  • Utilize the forward-facing belt path on the seat.
  • Thread the airplane belt buckle through the path and buckle in.
  • Ensure tightness, considering potential discomfort if the buckle is directly behind your child.

Note: In some cases, not all seats on an airplane will accommodate a child safety seat. Contact your airline in advance to confirm this.

Where Should You Check Your Car Seat?

a men and a women checking a baby car seat

First of all keep in mind that If you want to use your car seat on the plane, you should never check it. Instead, bring it as a carry-on item with you.

And if you need to check your car seat, avoid checking the car seat with luggage when flying. Most airlines permit gate checking for car seats. A gate agent will put a special tag on your car seat and deliver this to a handler to put your car seat in the cargo hold. This significantly reduces the chances of losing or damaging your car seat because of less handling processes.

How to Pack the Car Seat for Check Baggage?

an illustrations of a men packing a baby car seat in a box

In case you want to check your baby’s car seat, there are a few important things to keep in mind.

Pack the Car Seat Using Its Original Box

Do you remember when your car seat arrived properly in its original box? If somehow you still have the original box of your car seat, using it this time can be a great idea as it was made specifically for your car seat structure. So, you’ll never need to make tweaks and keep changing the angle to fit the car seat in the box. Insert the car seat in the box effectively with the nice padding covered around it. 

Don’t forget to add the extra space in the box, you can utilize this space by using durable padding or cushion to prevent any damage.

Use a Car Seat Travel Bag

If you don’t have the original car seat box, the best alternative for protecting your car seat during check is to use a dedicated car seat travel bag. These bags are designed to provide a layer of protection against potential damage, scratches, and dirt. They are often padded, durable, and equipped with handles for easy carrying. 

Investing in a specifically designed car seat travel bag ensures that your car seat remains secure and well-protected during the handling and transport processes.

Labeling your Car Seat with Proper Information

an illustration of a girl labeling on a baby car seat

Don’t forget to miss this step at all costs. I do this every time. It’s common to lose an item in such a big environment And to be honest, most of the time you’ll never be able to find your item, and we often don’t have a way to blame anyone for this. 

Instead, do your best and label your car seat with the proper information including your name, phone number, email, and postal address. This creates a high chance of getting your car seat back if unfortunately, you lost it.

What If You Have Lost Your Car Seat?

Most of the time it never happens if you’re traveling with a well-known airline. But in the worst case If you’ve lost your car seat, politely request a loaner from the airline’s baggage office. Airlines often have spare car seats available for passengers facing this issue. Whether brand-new or not, these loaners can be a preferable option to waiting without a car seat.

Also, immediately contact the airline’s lost and found department or customer service for your lost car seat. Provide them with details about the lost item, including the flight information and any relevant identification marks on the car seat. Airlines have procedures in place to track and locate lost items. 

Additionally, check with airport security or any other relevant authorities. It’s essential to act promptly to maximize the chances of recovering your lost car seat. Keep records of your communications and any reference numbers provided by the airline for tracking purposes.

Final Words

Traveling with a car seat seems overwhelming, but in reality, it’s not, if you know the process and prepare yourself for any expected or upcoming challenge. Adhering to airline policies is essential for a smooth and secure journey. Whether installing the seat on the airplane for added protection or packing it properly if not in use, understanding the nuances ensures a stress-free experience. 

Remember, immediate action and clear communication with the airline’s staff are crucial if the car seat is misplaced. By staying informed and prepared, parents can navigate air travel with confidence, ensuring the well-being of their little ones at every stage of the journey.

Does the Car Seat Count as an Additional Item on Board?

Not in a case if you have purchased a separate seat for your child or an open passenger seat is available next to you.

Can I Use Any Car Seat on An Airplane?

No, your car seat must be FAA-approved with a sticker proving the statement of using your car seat on an aircraft.

Can I Check My Baby's Car Seat with My Luggage?

While possible, it’s not recommended. If you want to use the car seat on the plane, bring it as a carry-on item or gate-check it, but avoid checking it with regular luggage.

What Is Gate Checking, and Is It a Good Option for a Car Seat?

Gate checking involves handing over the car seat at the gate before boarding. It’s a convenient option, but remember that you won’t be able to use the car seat during the flight.

Are There Restrictions on Where I Can Place the Car Seat on the Plane?

Most airlines recommend placing car seats in window seats, and some may allow the middle seat if the window seat is vacant. Avoid placing it in exit rows or rows directly in front or behind emergency exits.

Can I Bring My Car Seat in a Rental Car or Taxi to My Destination?

Yes, you can bring your car seat for use in rental cars or taxis at your destination. Ensure it complies with local safety regulations.