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Car seats on planes: What parents need to know   | Bugaboo

Car seats on planes: What parents need to know

Your most precious cargo is your child. So what’s a parent to do when traveling by plane? What’s the safest way for your baby to fly? If you’re considering using their car seat on the plane, there are a few things you should know. 

In this article, we’ll give you the low-down. 

First, we’ll discuss the safety aspect of using car seats on planes. Then, you’ll read about how to know if your car seat is plane-approved. Finally, we’ll offer some tips for using it when you fly. You and your tiny travel buddy will be ready to roll in no time.  

Car seats on planes and safety

Car seats are an absolute must-have when your baby is traveling by car. But what about on a plane? Putting your baby in a car seat while flying isn’t required by law, but it’s recommended by both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). 

This means giving your child their own seat and letting them ride in their car seat. 

The FAA says that this is the safest way for them to fly. But the other option is to carry your baby on your lap (usually for free) until they turn two years old. 

Mother carrying baby on her lap during a flight

What about when your toddler has outgrown the car seat? 

We won’t go into detail in this article, but here’s the short story: Kids between 22 and 44 pounds can be buckled in with something called a CARES Child Safety Device. It’s the only harness that’s approved by the FAA for toddlers in that weight range. 

Is your car seat plane approved?

Parent buckling baby into car seat on plane

If you’ve chosen to fly with your baby buckled into their car seat, the next big question is whether or not your car seat is plane-approved. 

First of all, you need to be sure that your car seat (which can also be called a Child Restraint System or CRS) is approved for air travel. 

This is as simple as checking to make sure your car seat has a sticker that says: "This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft."

If that isn't spelled out on your car seat, it’s a no-go. Keep in mind that the airline staff may even ask to see the sticker. So if your car seat isn’t approved, you might have to check it as baggage.

Once you’ve double-checked that your car seat is approved to fly in general, you’ll also need to make sure it’s accepted by your specific airline. With that squared away, you and your child are ready to fly! 

Tips for using your car seat on a plane

Check with your pediatrician

Before you make plans and take off on your adventure, ensure that your baby is healthy enough to travel by plane. 

It’s especially important to get the go-ahead from your pediatrician if your baby is a preemie or newborn, recently had ear surgery or an ear infection, or has heart or lung problems. 

Choose a light car seat

If you’re in the market for a car seat that will serve you well on the road as well as on a plane, choose one that’s light. You’ll be carrying it around a lot and a car seat that’s light as a feather will make travel much easier on you. 

For example, the Bugaboo Turtle Air by Nuna is our secure and ultra-light car seat, weighing in at only 7.1 pounds. And, with premium materials, ultra comfort padding, and merino wool, your baby will feel like they're traveling first-class. 

Measure your car seat

In addition to a light car seat, opt for one that’s relatively slim. Car seats that measure 16 inches wide or less will fit well in most airplane seats. But don’t worry if yours is a bit wider. You can lift the armrest to fit a slightly bigger car seat. 

Bring your travel system stroller

Empty Bugaboo stroller

We recommend bringing a travel system stroller when using your car seat on the plane. A travel system stroller includes a stroller frame and a car seat that can be easily removed and fits into the stroller as well as the base in your car. 

With a travel system, you’ll be able to stroll around the airport easily, and when it’s time to board, you’ll pop the car seat out of the frame and fold the frame. Ready to go in a matter of seconds! 

Your car seat will go with you onto the plane, and you can gate-check the stroller frame. 

We recommend the Bugaboo Lynx, our lightest full-size stroller with an innovative, one-piece fold. It’s compatible with the Turtle Air by Nuna car seat that we mentioned earlier as well as our other car seat option, the Turtle One by Nuna. Don’t forget the adapters! 

Mother folding her travel system stroller

Rest assured that our designers and engineers spend years developing, testing, and refining every product far beyond industry standards. Every joint, stitch, and click is designed to help you and your family enjoy the most comfortable ride, whatever the journey.

When it’s time to fold the stroller and fly, store it in a comfort transport bag. This protective bag offers carry handles, shoulder straps, and handy wheels, so rolling from baggage claim to your waiting taxi is a breeze. 

If you don’t have a travel system or don’t plan on traveling with your stroller, you can purchase a car seat travel strap that attaches the car seat to your wheeled suitcase.

Choose your seat

The only way to ensure that you can use the car seat on the plane is to buy your child a ticket. That way, their spot is reserved. The good news is that there is usually a discounted rate for babies. So ask about this when purchasing tickets. 

According to the FAA, many airlines require that you occupy a window seat for your baby in their car seat. You’ll also need to steer clear of exit rows. In the case of forward- and backward-facing airplane seats, choose a regular, forward-facing seat for the car seat. 

Is there an alternative to buying a ticket for your child? Some airlines will let you put the car seat in an empty seat without purchasing a ticket. Ask what their policy is. 

But there’s no way to ensure that the flight won't be full. The only sure-fire way to have a spot for your baby’s car seat is to purchase a ticket.

Install the car seat

Parent installing and buckling baby into car seat

Once you’re on the plane, all that’s left to do is install the car seat. You may need a seat belt extender, in which case it’s best to ask for it when you board. If you don’t need it, you can hand it back later. 

Before you travel, look for the instructions for airplane car seat installation that are listed in your car seat owner’s manual. If you can’t find the manual anywhere (it happens to the best of us), search online for your car seat’s brand and model to find the manual. 

When it comes to forward-facing or rear-facing, install the car seat as you normally do in your car, based on your baby’s size. Check out this video from the FAA for tips on how to install the car seat. 

Ask for help

Even if you’re flying with your baby by yourself, that doesn’t mean you have to go at it alone! Don’t hesitate to ask for help from the flight crew or the airline staff in the airport. 

Making your way through the terminal can be a challenge when you’ve got your baby on your hands along with their car seat, your luggage, and all the rest.

Bring a car seat travel bag

We recommend flying with your car seat travel bag. If for some reason you have to gate-check the car seat at the last minute, the travel bag will help protect it. 

Up, up, and away!

Mother and baby on airplane

As you’ve read in this article, using a car seat on the plane isn’t a necessity, but it’s recommended by the FAA and the AAP. If you choose to fly with your baby’s car seat, be sure that it’s approved by the government as well as your particular airline. 

Then, keep the tips we listed in this article in mind. If you’re purchasing a car seat, we recommend the Turtle Air by Nuna since it’s lightweight and easy to use with a travel system stroller, such as the Bugaboo Lynx.

Flying with a car seat doesn’t have to be hard. With the right preparations, it will keep your baby secure, and you’ll both be off on your adventure in no time.