A guide to air travel with babies: regulations, gear & more
At Magic Beans Boston, at the Prudential Center in Back Bay, our proximity to countless hotels in the area and a shuttle bus to and from the Logan Airport mean that we get a lot of questions about air travel with a little one in tow. Unfortunately, there is no quick, easy, and foolproof answer, but hopefully this blog can answer some of your questions and give you a little peace of mind before your trip.
While the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has its own set of rules, it’s important that you check in with your airline to see what their specific policies are in regards to car seats and strollers and which items can be carried on the plane and which have to be gate checked.
Air Travel With Car Seats
As far as car seats on an airplane go, the requirements and suggestions are a little different than what we’re used to on land. For instance, Southwest Airlines states that you may hold your child in your lap on a plane if they are under two years of age. You definitely shouldn’t be doing that in a car!
While we usually recommend having your child rear facing for as long as possible in the car, air travel is a little different. The FAA tells us that if your child weighs:
- Less than 20 pounds: they can be in a rear facing car seat
- 20 to 40 pounds: they can be in a forward facing car seat
- 22-44 pounds: they can be in a CARES Harness
- More than 40 pounds: they can use the airplane seat belt
In order to use a car seat on an airplane it MUST be approved for airline use. You can find this out easily by checking the labels on your car seat. The label you’re looking for is most often on the side of the car seat, but can also be found behind or below (as pictured). It should be written in a red font and easy to detect. If your car seat is not certified for aircraft use, it cannot be used on an aircraft.
If you are planning on using your car seat on the plane, make sure you reserve adjoining seats ahead of time. The car seat should always be installed in a window seat, so that it is not blocking an escape route in case of an evacuation. If you ask them, some airlines will give you a discount on a seat for your child. Others might allow you to use an empty seat for your child if you did not purchase a seat ahead of time, so be sure to avoid busy days to make this possibility more likely.
Air Travel With Strollers
As far as air travel with a stroller goes, the rules are a lot less complicated than car seats, but there are greater variables.
Before you go on your trip, make sure you find out ahead of time what their rules are when it comes to checking baby gear. Many, but not all, airlines will allow you to check one stroller and one car seat free of charge. Most will allow you to gate check any stroller.
Here are some policies of a few common airlines:
- American Airlines strongly discourages checking a stroller that weighs more than 20 pounds, as there is a high risk of damage to your stroller. If you have a stroller with a padded travel bag as an accessory, then springing for a little extra coverage could end up saving you money on replacement parts after your vacation to Disneyland.
- Delta will check any of your car seats and strollers for free.
- Jet Blue states that they are not liable for any damage done to your checked strollers or car seats.
- Southwest Airlines will allow you to check one stroller and one car seat for free, but will also not pay for any damages caused during the flight.
- United Airlines says that absolutely no strollers may be taken on the flight as a carry on, regardless of their size.
Gear That Will Make Your Life Easier
This all sounds like a lot to think about, but we’re all about making your life easier, and there are a few pieces of baby gear that will make air travel with your baby a cinch.
The Babyzen Yoyo+: This stroller weighs in at only 13 pounds, and can fit in the overhead of an airplane. Most airlines should allow you to use it as a carry on, unless their rules state otherwise (so make sure that you check in advance!). The Yoyo+ also gives you the option to purchase a bassinet and car seat adapters, which currently support the Cybex Aton Q.
The Doona Infant Car Seat/Stroller: The Doona is an infant car seat with built-in wheels that pop right out for an easy stroller conversion. It is FAA certified, and would allow you to stroll your infant all the way up to your seat on the plane. While the car seat is a lot heavier than most others, you don’t have to worry about carrying it too much because it has wheels.
The Orbit Baby G3 System: The Orbit system isn’t for everyone, and it’s pretty pricey for a one-time trip, but if your family does a lot of traveling to all sorts of different places, I would suggest reading up on it. The infant AND convertible car seats will fit right onto the stroller frame, so you can pop back and forth between city sidewalks and taxis without carrying heavy gear. It is one of the only strollers with a seat that rotates 360 degrees, allowing a sideways-facing seat for the child to better see what you’re walking past at the zoo, aquarium, or museum. The frame itself is also a one-handed fold, making it a dream for quick packing.
The J.L. Childress Seat Travel Bag: Car seats are heavy, and if you’re planning on using one on the plane, it’s not going to be much fun dragging it around the airport. Luckily for you, this travel bag has wheels built in, so you don’t have to strain your muscles right before your vacation. It will fit most convertible car seats and a small handful of infant car seats as well. If your car seat is a little too bulky though, I suggest the Ultimate Car Seat Travel Bag, which has loads more space and two convenient straps to throw your car seat over your shoulders, backpack-style.
Before your flight, don’t forget to call the airlines and check their policies so that you don’t run into any unpleasant surprises right before your trip. And whether you’re in the market for new gear, or you want to make yours work, you can always count on Magic Beans employees to give you some of our expert advice. We’ve seen thousands of families off on their vacations, and we know what works and what doesn’t, so ask us. Safe travels!
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