I learned something after traveling with my daughter for the first time: it is no longer a "vacation," but a "trip." Going places with a little one is hard work, from start to finish, but seasoned travelers will tell you that there are plenty of things that can make your life easier, and one of those things is picking the right car seat. These are the 8 best car seats for flying with toddlers, so you can focus more on the fun that awaits you at your destination and less about what your child is strapped in.
While parents know that children under two can fly for free on their lap, the experts are quick to point out that this isn't actually the safest option. "Flying with a baby — no matter how small — in your lap puts him at risk of injury or even death if the plane hits severe turbulence," wrote William McGee for Consumer Reports. "So it’s worth paying for the additional seat, even if there’s no discount for infants." McGee worked in airline flight operations management prior to becoming a journalist. And, terrifyingly, incidents of turbulence may be increasing. "Severe turbulence is expected to increase by several hundred percent in the crowded airspace over North America, Europe and the North Pacific by mid-century, when the CO2 in the atmosphere is double its pre-industrial concentration," explained an article in Forbes. Even if your baby is under two, it's wise to purchase a ticket for them and secure them in a car seat. After all, there is no price tag on your child's safety.
Before you head to the airport with your car seat in tow, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, your car seat needs to be approved by the Federal Aviation Association (FAA). You can find this information on your child's car seat in red lettering. If the sticker has been removed or it's illegible, I'd recommend bringing something as proof that your seat is FAA-approved, like an owner's manual. Finally, bring a print-out of the FAA's official word regarding car seats in airplanes, just in case a flight attendant is misinformed about car seat protocol (which has been known to happen). As long as you've got one of these well-reviewed car seats in tow, you can take comfort in the knowledge that you'll be starting your trip off on the right foot.
1. Cosco Scenera NEXT Convertible Car Seat
You've already got big suitcases and wild kids to take care of in the airport, so the last thing you want is a heavy, clunky car seat. The Cosco Scenera NEXT Convertible Car Seat is lightweight – weighing in at under eight pounds! – and only 17 inches wide, making it easy to carry through the airport and useable in a narrow airplane seat. It can be used rear-facing for babes five to 40 pounds, and forward-facing from 22 to 40 pounds. (Keep in mind that in order to use a car seat rear-facing in an airplane seat's limited space, the car seat needs to be pretty compact.) It's approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for use on airplanes, and features a "Compact TSA friendly design for airport security," according to Cosco's website. Plus, with a price tag of $47, what's not to love?
2. Safety 1st Guide 65 Convertible Car Seat
Another conveniently compact option, the Safety 1st Guide 65 convertible car seat is suitable rear-facing for children five to 40 pounds, and forward-facing 22 to 65 pounds. It's a little under 18 inches wide, so it will fit into an airplane seat without issue. While it's not quite as light as some options at 15 pounds, it can accommodate toddlers up to 65 pounds (higher than many other options).
3. The WAYB Pico Car Seat
WAYB was founded by parents who love to travel, so you can rest assured that WAYB car seats are good bets for air travel. The forward-facing Pico Car Seat is FAA-approved, only eight pounds, and folds up for easy storage. However, this option can only be used for kids over one, from 22 to 50 pounds, and is really recommended for kids who are at least two. It's got a higher price point, but the cost may be worth it for families who are always on the go but refuse to sacrifice safety.
4. Britax Marathon ClickTight Convertible Car Seat
If ease of installation is your biggest priority, look no further. The Britax Marathon ClickTight Convertible Car Seat features the ClickTight installation system, which allows you to install it in three steps: lift the front of the seat, buckle the airplane belt across the car seat, and then click the car seat closed. This system makes this car seat a breeze to install on airplanes, as well as in your rental car at your destination. This seat can be used rear-facing for children five to 40 pounds, or forward-facing for children 20 to 65 pounds. The main downside of traveling with this seat is its weight (a hefty 28.5 pounds) so you'll need to decide if the easy installation process is worth carrying a heavier seat around.
5. Evenflo Sonus Convertible Car Seat
The Evenflo Sonus gets a mention on this list because of its size and price. The seat weighs 11.28 pounds and has a width of 19 inches, making it airplane seat-friendly. It's suitable rear-facing for kids five to 40 pounds, or forward-facing from 22 to 50 pounds. At only $80, this is a great option if you're looking to purchase an extra car seat specifically for air travel.
6. Cosco MightyFit 65 Convertible Car Seat
Another Cosco option, the Cosco Mighty Fit 65 Convertible Car Seat wins points for size, price, and maximum weight. The seat weighs 14 pounds, has a width of 18.5 inches, and is suitable for children all the way up to 65 pounds. It's also compact, designed to take up less room when in the rear-facing position. An added perk of the MightyFit 65 is the fact that its fabric is machine washable and dryer safe, meaning you can get those airplane germs off with ease. Oh, and it's only $84.
7. Evenflo SureRide DLX Convertible Car Seat
Weighing in at 9.8 pounds, the Evenflo SureRide DLX Convertible Car Seat is an excellent lightweight option for long travel days. It's got a width of 19 inches, and can be used rear-facing from five to 40 pounds, or forward-facing from 22 to 65 pounds. Keep in mind that this car seat won't fit through an airplane X-ray machine, so give yourself enough time to have it examined by TSA agents.
8. Diono Radian RXT All-in-One Convertible Car Seat
The Diono Radian RXT All-in-One Convertible Car Seat boasts several features that make it an ideal option for travels with toddlers. The car seat fits children anywhere from five to 120 pounds, so you'll get your money's worth with this one. IT can be used rear-facing from five to 45 pounds, forward-facing from 20 to 65 pounds, and can convert to booster mode for kids 50 to 120 pounds. Best of all, it can be folded flat to make traveling and store it with ease, and it's only 17 inches wide so it fits in an airplane seat perfectly. However, keep in mind that this is a much heavier option at 27.68 pounds, and you'll need to plan accordingly!