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.2
Are Child Safety Seats Required on Airplanes?
Why the FAA doesn't require child safety seats
The FAA chose not to mandate the use of an airplane car seat because it would force parents to purchase an additional ticket for their child, which could make air travel cost prohibitive for some families.3 The additional ticket would be required to reserve a seat in which an airline-approved car seat could be installed.
Currently, airlines allow children under the age of 2 to fly without a ticket, permitting them to sit on a parent or guardian’s lap. Because flying is statistically safer than car travel, the FAA has been reluctant to add barriers to air travel for families.3
FAA-approved child seats are safer than laps
Unfortunately, your lap isn't the safest place for a child during a flight. Your arms aren't strong enough to securely hold a baby during turbulence or other unexpected events.4 Plus, you need your hands free to put on your oxygen mask if it's deployed.
A child seat is much safer. To help parents with babies and small children travel safely, the FAA provides a guide to airline-approved car seats. Here's a quick summary:
- Front-facing car seats with a "certified for aircraft" label are the best option.
- Seats less than 16 inches wide fit most airplane seats.
- Car seats must be installed in forward-facing airplane seats, preferably in a window seat.
In addition, the FAA has approved a child safety harness that is specifically designed for air travel. Called the Child Aviation Restraint System or CARES, these harnesses can be affixed directly to the airplane seat but are not approved for use in motor vehicles.
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- Federal Aviation Administration, “Does the FAA Require Children on Commercial flights to Be in Child Restraint Systems (CRS)?” Accessed November 21, 2022.
- American Academy of Pediatrics, "Car Seats: Information for Families," December 2021. Accessed November 21, 2022.
- Don Phillips, The Washington Post, "FAA Won't Mandate Child Safety Seats," September 1992. Accessed November 21, 2022.
- Federal Aviation Administration, "Flying With Children," September 2022. Accessed November 21, 2022.