Our daughter just turned two, and we have a few flights coming up. She has flown many times in our laps, and this will be the first time she has her own seat. She is usually comfortable in her car seat in the car, but I'm concerned about whether there will be enough space for the car seat and if it will feel different enough to her on a plane that it causes frustration.

Obviously if the plane goes down we're all hosed, but are the risks from turbulence enough that we should definitely use the seat on the plane?

  • There's the safety issue that there's small chance of turbulence and the standard seat belt not sufficing. There's also the reality that kids HATE being stuck in an airplane seat. (well, so do we adults). Maybe we're really bad parents, but we've often opted to let the kid have a bit of freedom on the plane vs. annoying 100 other people with 3 hours of tantrums.
    – DA01
    Dec 21, 2011 at 20:34
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    Thought I'd add a final comment: we used the car seat, which she slept in for most of two flights just as she does in the car, while on the other flights she hung out in our laps and reluctantly buckled in for just takeoff and landing. Thanks!
    – Nate Cook
    Feb 15, 2012 at 21:54

5 Answers 5


Your choices depend somewhat on the size of your child.

A child needs to be at least 40lbs. in order to safely use the seat belt provided on airplaine if it is snuggly buckled over the hips.

If your child is over 20 lbs., and within the safety limits of your seat, she can sit facing forward in the convertible seat. However, depending on the seat's weight limits, your child can sit rear-facing up until she is 30-35 lbs.. Rear facing is the safest option, so you should consider that carefully if it is an option for you.

There is an alternative to bringing a car seat if your child is too small to use the seat belt provided by the air plane, however.

The FAA has approved a device known as the CARES harness. This device is approved for children weighing between 22 and 44 pounds. I haven't tried one, or seen one used, but it certainly seems easier than lugging a car seat onto the plane (many airlines will apparently check children's car seats through baggage free of charge, although with the recent move to charge for most checked luggage, you should check with your airline prior to leaving for the airport).

  • I hadn't seen the CARES harness before - to late to get one now, but it looks great. Thanks!
    – Nate Cook
    Dec 24, 2011 at 8:24
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    We used the CARES harness with our son when he was two, and it worked GREAT! Just make sure you board early to give yourself time to correctly install the harness and get yourself settled. Make sure that you tell the flight attendants that the harness is FAA approved as many of them have not seen one either and it is strictly forbidden to use anything that is not FAA approved. Our son thought he was such a big boy sitting in the big seat and he did great.
    – Meg Coates
    Feb 28, 2012 at 13:40
  • For a 2 year old, the car seat is WAY more comfortable than CARES, having used both. Note that: there may not be room for it to facing backwards and for international flights the rules of the carriers country are in effect, not FAA (not all FAA approved car seats are approved by British Airways, I was told by a flight attendant)
    – Ida
    Apr 8, 2015 at 20:06

We've flown with our (now 4 year old) son several times, with a purchased seat and a carseat every time. Our main reasons were safety and comfort - your arms are no match for the forces of even mild turbulence, and holding on to a squirmy kid for 3 hours sounds exhausting.

Some other benefits we've found over the years:

  • He's already used to his carseat, so he had no problem sitting in it and promptly falling asleep.
  • Because he was used to it, it didn't have the novelty that an airplane seatbelt did where he might want to keep unbuckling and breaking out
  • We needed the carseat for the rental car at our destination, so we had to bring it anyways. Since we had it on the plane, there was no worry about it getting lost as a checked item, or waiting for it - I was able to leave right away and take the carseats, get a rental car, and have them installed by the time mom & the kids went potty, got snacks, claimed baggage, and made it to the car.

And this is probably the best thing I discovered: once we had a second kid, carseats worked really well for getting through the airports, and for entertainment at the gate. We got a folding luggage cart like below and strapped the older kid's carseat to it, then had him sit in it to ride through the airport (younger kid sat in her seat which sat in an umbrella stroller). When we got to the gate we let the younger one play with the carseat, trying to do the buckles herself and that kind of stuff.

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One thing to keep in mind is that airplane buckles are much easier to unbuckle than those in cars. This means it will come off when you don't want it to if your child isn't trained not to, and can even come off by accident when she is uncomfortable and squirming. If your main concern is lugging a car seat around the airport, I highly recommend getting a car seat travel bag. They have wheels and backpack-style straps that make it easier to manage.

  • We got a car seat travel bag with back-pack straps. Apart from having to be careful not to knock anyone over when turning round, it worked great. Feb 3, 2017 at 18:00

One point in addition to the other answers: check the rules for luggage on your airline. You will probably find that a car seat underneath your child does not count towards your baggage allowance, whereas a car seat stowed in the hold will. If you need a car seat at the other end then this can be a significant issue.


Definitely use the car seat on the plane! The buckle on the chair will NOT contain a two year old and therefore the temptation to get up will be too much for her! The airline will require that you put the car seat next to the window so that it will not block escape routes. In terms of the car seat fitting, you do need to go out and research which one is the least wide and use that one. I don't remember which one we got, but it is not the one we are comfortable using on a daily basis as it is difficult to adjust the buckles, however we do use it on vacation so as not to have to bring another car seat with us.

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