Child safety seats are not required by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).1 However, both the FAA and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) strongly encourage the use of a car seat or other child restraint system when flying with babies or young children.
Following FAA Safety Guidelines
The FAA has chosen not to mandate the use of an airplane car seat because it would force parents to purchase an additional ticket for their child, which may make air travel cost prohibitive for some families. The additional ticket would be required to reserve a seat in which airline-approved car seats could be installed.
Currently, airlines allow children under the age of 2 to fly without a ticket, permitting them to sit on a parent’s or guardian’s lap. Because flying is statistically safer than car travel, the FAA is reluctant to add barriers to air travel for families.
Unfortunately, the safest place for a child who is flying is not on a lap. Just as there are significant benefits to using an automobile car seat, airplane car seats can make travel safer. To help parents with babies and small children travel safely, the FAA provides a guide to airline-approved car seats. While there is no required airplane baby seat that must be used, front-facing models that are government approved with a hard back are most recommended.
In addition, the FAA has approved a child safety harness device that is specifically designed for air travel. These harnesses can be affixed directly to the airplane seat but are not approved for use in motor vehicles.
To find out if your current car seat is approved for use on an airplane, check the car seat’s label. It should read, “Certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft.” In fact, flight attendants are trained to verify that all car seats on the airplane have this label. To avoid potential problems with your flight, be sure to check the label and verify that you have an airline-approved car seat in advance.
You should also make sure that your car seat will fit in an airplane seat. To fit into a standard coach seat, the car or baby seat shouldn’t be more than 16 inches wide. If your car seat is wider than 16 inches, contact the airline to verify that lifting the armrest will give you enough extra space to safely secure the baby seat.
Additional airplane car seat safety tips include booking a window seat, staying out of the emergency exit row, and following all manufacturer’s instructions for your particular car seat.