Parents traveling with children younger than two years old who are looking for the best car seats for air travel should look for car safety seats specifically labeled for use in aircraft.

What to Look For

Not every car seat will work for restraining a young child under two years of age in an airplane seat. Parents should be aware that manufacturers of child car safety seats label seats that fit and can be satisfactorily restrained to an aircraft seat.

Child safety seat systems manufactured to U.S. standards for aircraft use after February 26, 1985, bear the label: “This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft” in red letters.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), child safety seats should not exceed 16 inches wide for best fit. This is especially important on small commuter aircraft.

The American Academy of Pediatricians has the following recommendations:

  • Children should be placed in a rear-facing child safety seat (CSS) that is properly secured and installed until they are at least one year old and at least 20 pounds in body weight.
  • A forward-facing seat labeled for use on aircraft should be used for children at least one year old and 20 to 40 pounds in body weight.
  • Children who weigh more than 40 pounds can be secured with the aircraft seat belt.

Check NHTSA Ease-of-Use Ratings

Before selecting a child safety seat, the best car seats for air travel not only need to have the exact wording approved by the FAA, but they should also have a good rating for ease-of-use by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). This is a five-star rating ease-of-use in four basic categories: evaluation of labels, evaluation of instructions, securing the child, and installation features.

Keep in mind that all car seats rated by NHTSA meet Federal Safety Standards as well as strict crash performance standards. But not all are the same when it comes to how easy they are to use.

NHTSA’s Ease-of-Use Rating system for car seats shows manufacturer/model name, model number/manufacture date, harness type, weight/height, and how the seat ranks in the four basic categories.

Listing of Child Car Safety Seats

Healthy Children, a site maintained by the American Academy of Pediatrics, has a listing of car safety seats for 2011 that may prove helpful to parents looking for the best car seats for air travel. There are listings for infant-only (rear-facing), convertible, and 3-in-1 seats that can be used for securing your child on an aircraft.

Always check with the aircraft carrier first to find out if they can provide a child safety seat or if you should bring your own. Follow any restrictions they may have on the size of the child safety seat.

Some Recommended Child Safety Seats for Airplane Travel

Although parents will need to do their own research to find the manufacturer and model of child car safety seat that’s FAA-approved for use on aircraft, here are several that have been recommended on numerous sites, including Travels with Baby.

  • Britax Roundabout 40 Convertible Car Seat – Streamlined for travel, with no bulky armrests. Rear-facing from 5 to 33 pounds, forward-facing up to 40 pounds. Weights 14 pounds.
  • Evenflo Titan Elite – Rear-facing from 5 to 35 pounds, forward-facing up to 50 pounds. Weighs 14.5 pounds.
  • Graco ComfortSport – weighs 11.5 pounds and is 17 inches wide to fit most airplane seats easily. Rear-facing from birth to 30 pounds, forward-facing 20 to 40 pounds. Weighs 11.5 pounds.
  • Radian 65 Folding Car Seat – Narrow, folds to 6.5 inches thick. Rear-facing from 5 to 33 pounds, forward-facing to 65 pounds. Weighs 20 pounds.
  • Radian 80 Folding Car Seat – At 17 inches wide, it’s a good fit for most airplane seats. Rear-facing from 5 to 33 pounds, forward-facing to 80 pounds. Weighs 20.5 pounds.

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