The Scary Reason Your Kids Should Always Be in Car Seats on Planes

Baby on Board

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"Overall, when we think of car seat use, whether on an airplane or in a car, it's a lot like insurance. You pay for it up front, but do not need it until there is an incident to use it," Allana Pinkerton, Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician and Global Safety Advocate at diono tells "In this case, an airplane crash is highly unlikely [about one in 5.4 million, according to the Economist]. However, rough takeoffs, landings and turbulence are quite common. During these scenarios, it is safer for a child to be in their five point harness to adequately protect them." Currently, most airlines do not require car seats (or even seats) for children under the age of two. Why? "I'm afraid it all comes down to dollars and some complications," Pinkerton says. "Airlines are fearful customers would drive rather than fly if they have to purchase a seat for their child, and not all car seats fit on every airplane." In general, the same car seat requirements for age, height and weight apply to planes as well. "Your arms aren't capable of holding your child securely, especially during unexpected turbulence," the FAA website explains. And the alternative, strapping baby inside your own seat belt, could cause you to crush him or her with the weight of your body. The laws of physics do not change just because you're on an airplane.


A Risky Decision


So why don't you see more car seats on airplanes if it's really the safest way to fly? First of all, flying with infants on your lap is legal and saves money. However, strapping a baby inside your own seat belt, could cause you to crush him or her with the weight of your body. But Pinkerton says parents simply aren't aware of the risk. "There is no way to predict when these incidents will occur, just like we cannot predict a car crash," she says. "I always say 'Err on the side of caution.' If your child is not properly secured, they risk being injured or killed." Convenience is another draw to this choice. Some parents simply don’t want to or can’t add one more large item to the list of things they have to lug around. Understandable, however today's models really are much more travel-friendly. At any rate it’s not a good excuse to put your child’s life at risk.

How to Choose an FAA-Certified Car Seat

Britax Frontier 80 FAA Certification Label

Good news: The car seat you already have in your vehicle is most-likely FAA-approved — just check the manual (if you haven’t tossed it out) or look for the sticker label posted on the car seat. Once you’ve found that, simply follow the instructions. "In general, place the lap belt through the correct belt path," Pinkerton says. "Buckle the seat belt and pull it tight so there is less than one inch of movement in either direction. Depending on your car seat, you may need to get a seat belt extender from the airline." Keep in mind that flight attendants will probably instruct you to put the car seat in the seat by the window so it's not in the exit path of other passengers. Another bonus? "You and your child will be more comfortable, and they will be in a familiar area — their car seat," Pinkerton adds. "It just might make your trip more pleasant for all of you."