The Truth About ‘Airline Approved’ Car Seats!

Firstly, I’m aware this post is about to burst many peoples’ bubbles who may have already spent upwards of ¬£200 on a car seat they have been informed is airline approved, only for me to come on and say it might not be allowed on board. Secondly, I’ve made this post to the best of my knowledge. With both Alex and I working in aviation here in the UK, we’ve both encountered disagreements with parents who assume that because they have an ‘airline approved’ car seat, they can use it on board regardless. Unfortunately, as you’re about the find out, that isn’t always the case.

You only need to do a quick Google search to read horror stories of flying with lap children. Thankfully, today with increased safety standards, events like those are incredibly rare. The main issue I’m dreading with our little one on my lap is comfort for both them and myself. Whilst flying with Alex will mean another pair of hands to hold our little bundle of joy, flying on my own before they reach the magic 10kg will be a different matter!

Why the magic 10kg (22lb) and not two years old? 

The CARES harness or ‘Child Restraint Device.’ All infants under two years of age either have to be on their parent’s lap or in an approved restraint device if travelling in their own seat. Usually, that would mean an approved car seat, but another option is much less bulky and easier to transport, which you can use once your child hits the magic 10kg (22lb) – the minimum weight they can be to use a CARES harness. The one I recommend is the harness from¬†Kids Fly Safe. Not only does it have the all-important FAA approval label (be warned that some cheaper ones don’t, which means you may not be allowed to use it on board), but it takes up virtually no room in your hand luggage! The downside is that you can’t use it in premium economy, business class or first class on most airlines. Still, if you’re planning to only fly within UK, Europe or long-haul economy before your little one reaches the age of two, then it’s the perfect solution to an almost impossible mission of finding a car seat that can be used on all airlines. The recommendation is that the CARES harness is used on the last row (window seat); otherwise, the seat behind has to be unaccompanied on some airlines. The beauty of that means you’re never too far from the toilets onboard!

Why your ‘Airline Approved’ car seat still might have restrictions onboard! 

Picture this. You’ve got your ‘Airline Approved’ car seat onboard, got it secured onto the seat, but it’s rearward facing. You cannot use a rearward-facing car seat during take-off, turbulence, or landing on most UK airlines. Some go as far as saying you cannot use a rearward-facing car seat at all! Some also have restrictions on who can use a car seat; for example, Alex’s airline requires that the parent sitting next to the infant is an able-bodied person. This means that those requiring assistance cannot travel on their own with their child if planning to use a car seat (they can, however, use the CARES harness once they hit 10kg). Another downside is that you cannot use a car seat in all cabins. Economy? Fine. Business or first? Just like the CARES harness, it usually isn’t possible to use a car seat.

If you want to use your car seat in all stages and it’s rearward facing, I highly recommend flying with Lufthansa. Not only do they allow the car seat to be used in all phases of flight if it’s on their approved list, they’re the only airline I’ve found so far with a comprehensive list of approved car seats which you can find here.

So what can you use before 10kg? 

Everyone knows that lap infants in the UK and Europe are secured using an infant extension belt, which isn’t great when you need to eat/drink/get up, but you have nowhere to put little one! Alex and I would always urge parents never to put their child on the floor on board. It’s really not sanitary; those planes do not get cleaned that often! My advice is that if you are planning to lap child within Europe, get a changing bag with a built-in carrycot (this is the one we’ve picked from Amazon) so that if you need to pop them down or they want a nap, you have somewhere safe to put them when waiting around in the airport. On long-haul flights, get a bassinet position! It will save you a lot of hassle, and you’ll be able to relax more onboard.

Our saving grace for allowing me to travel alone with the baby once they’re here is that on Alex’s airline, you can keep an infant in a baby carrier or sling as long as the infant extension belt is around them. That, for me, means that I have my hands free for repositioning, transfers and other tasks. But in an emergency, it means that I’ll be able to get myself and little one to an emergency exit safely – something both Alex and I concluded would be complicated if little one weren’t in a carrier. Unfortunately, on other UK airlines, it’s not so clear cut. But with Alex’s airline allowing the baby to be in a carrier even as a lap infant, it makes my life easier as it means I can still travel on my own with them before they hit the magic 10kg and can sit in their own seat using a CARES harness. Of course, most of my flying will be with Alex, and we’ve already devised a plan for layovers or if we’re on a flight that he’s operating. Still, there will be times where I need to fly on my own with little one, and once they’re here, I’ll be doing a post on what it’s really like to travel with an infant when you’re a passenger with reduced mobility (PRM).

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