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Should you use a car seat when flying with young children?

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While laws do not currently require car seats on airplanes, safety experts strongly recommend the practice. Here are some tips on airplane safety when traveling with babies and young children.

Infant in car seat on plane

Pack the car seat

Proper use of an approved car seat (child restraint system or CRS) on an airplane enhances child safety in the event of turbulence or an accident. The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) strongly recommends that all children who fly, regardless of their age, use the appropriate restraint based on their size and weight.

Before You Fly

1. Ensure that your CRS has received FAA approval. Check for a label reading, "This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft."

2. Always follow the manufacturer's instructions regarding use of the CRS. Do not place a child in a CRS designed for a smaller child. Be sure that shoulder straps come out of the CRS seat back above the child's shoulders. Fasten the aircraft seat belt around the CRS as tightly as possible.

3. Check the width of your CRS. While airline seats vary in width, a CRS no wider than 16" should fit in most coach seats. Even if the armrests are moved out of the way, a CRS wider than 16" is unlikely to fit properly into the frame of the aircraft seat.

4. Ask the airline if they offer a discounted fare for a child traveling in a CRS. Purchasing an airline ticket (discounted or full fare) for your child is the only way to guarantee that you will be able to use a CRS.

5. Check with the airline to determine their busiest days and times. By avoiding these times, you are more likely to be on a flight with an empty seat next to you. In many cases, airlines will allow you to seat your child under two years of age in your CRS in the empty airplane seat without having to pay the airline fare for the child. Be sure to ask your airline for its policy regarding an empty seat.

6. If you purchase a ticket for your child, reserve adjoining seats. A CRS must be placed in a window seat so it will not block the escape path in an emergency. A CRS may not be placed in an exit row.

7. Try to make your flight direct. If you need to change planes to make a connecting flight, it can be very challenging to transport a CRS, a child, and luggage through a busy airport. Most airlines will help parents make the connection if they can arrange for assistance in advance.

Recommendations

The FAA recommends that a child weighing:

  • under 20 pounds be placed in a rear-facing CRS.
  • from 20 to 40 pounds use a forward- facing child restraint. Although the safety technology of forward-facing child restraint systems in aircraft is still developing, cur-rent restraints offer dramatic improvements in protection compared to lap-held or unrestrained children.
  • over 40 pounds may safely use an aircraft seat belt.

Reminders

  • Use an approved CRS when traveling to and from the airport, and when you arrive at your destination.
  • While booster seats and harness vests enhance safety in automobiles, they are banned for use on aircraft. These devices may be checked as baggage.
  • In the United States, supplemental lap restraints, "belly belts," are banned from use in both automobiles and aircraft.
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