Carseats on airplanes? Yes!

Q: Do we need a car seat for our 1-year-old on an airplane?

A: Airline travel with young children is no easy task. The planning checklist often includes items needed to ensure adequate entertainment, food, diapering and clothing changes and comfort or transitional objects. 

But the most fundamental planning must start when purchasing airline tickets. Though children younger than 2 years old are able to travel on an adult’s lap without a purchased seat of their own, both the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly urge parents to purchase separate seats for their children instead. 

From a convenience standpoint, an additional seat for an infant allows an adult more freedom, hands free, to entertain an infant or child and travel more comfortably themselves. More important, an additional purchased seat offers a much safer travel experience for an infant or child than traveling in an adult’s lap. 

Without this additional seat, parents are meant to serve the role of a safety restraint and are often unable to reliably overcome forces of turbulence. Lap-infants or children, during turbulence, are often catapulted several rows from their adults, which raises a risk of injury to the child as well as other passengers. 

Other times, infants have suffocated in parents’ arms while both have been sleeping in the adult’s seat. Parents also make the mistake of attempting to drink hot beverages while holding an infant or child and risk scalding them.

Under the age of 1 year, infants should travel on airplanes in their car seat in a seat purchased for them. This is the only strategy that will keep them safe in an emergency. Above the age of 1 year (and 22 pounds), children should also have a purchased seat. In addition to a car seat, a Child Aviation Restraint System (CARES), may also be safely used. CARES is a FAA-approved airline safety harness that may be purchased. It’s a five-point restraint, similar to that found in a child’s car seat, which attaches onto their airline seat and utilizes the airline seat’s lap belt. 

Planning travel to include purchasing a separate infant or child’s seat ­­— and arranging ample time on the day of travel to transport and install a car seat or CARES device — is worth it for your child’s safety.

Dr. Gigi Chawla is a board-certified pediatrician and the senior medical director of primary care at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.