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Surprisingly, many plane crashes are survivable. This 3 year old was the only survivor of a plane crash – and was found uninjured in the wreckage, hanging upside down in her car seat.
A recent study found that lap infants were much more likely to suffer an in-flight injury than children who had their own seat on the plane. “Examples of in-flight injuries included burns, contusions, and lacerations from falls in unrestrained lap infants; fallen objects from the overhead bin; and trauma to extremities by the service cart or aisle traffic.” By virtue of requiring kids to sit next to the window (so they don’t block an adult’s exit to the aisle) AND having a restraint the child can’t climb out of, car seats automatically prevent much of these in-flight injuries. For example, kids in car seats can not get their hands or feet hurt by the service cart or aisle traffic, can’t have things fall on them from the overhead bin, and can’t fall off an adults’ lap. Burns are also much less likely to a child in a car seat as they are far away from the service cart and no one will be passing hot liquid over them to another passenger.
You’ll usually need your car seat to get to and from the airport safely. Kids who don’t ride in a car seat on the airplane often don’t ride in a car seat on the ride to or from the airport. This is exceptionally dangerous (and usually illegal too).
Planning to rent a seat to avoid the hassle of having to bring one on the plane? We advocate bringing your own seat on your trip, not renting one. You’re more likely to install a car seat correctly if it’s one you’re already familiar with. And we’ve heard more than one story from families who showed up to the rental car counter only to find the seat they were promised did not exist, or was covered in dried vomit, or was missing parts, expired, broken, etc. Bringing your own seat, while inconvenient, avoids these potential problems.
If you check your child’s car seat – including gate checking it – the seat can get lost or broken because it goes the same place under the plane (where the luggage goes.) If your car seat gets lost or broken, your child likely won’t be able to leave the airport safely, a trip which usually involves highway driving. And you’ll have to scramble in an unfamiliar place to find a replacement seat, which may be quite difficult if you’re arriving late at night or in a place without many shops.
Have you ever tried to hold a toddler on your lap at a restaurant, sporting event, music concert, etc? It often feels like holding a fish–toddlers are squirmy and want to be moving their bodies and exploring their surroundings.
Even a 12 month old can quickly figure out how to open the airplane seat belt and then play a fun (to them) game of standing up on the seat, grabbing the hair of the person sitting in front of them, etc, and doing generally unsafe actions that will not endear you to the flight attendants or fellow passengers.
Most kids CANNOT climb out of their car seats though! To keep them occupied in their seat, check out our travel toy guide, with options for all ages of kids.
Children are more comfortable in the car seat since it’s familiar and just their size. They’re probably used to riding and napping in their seat in the car at home. Because your child can’t climb out of the car seat, they’re more likely to go to sleep when it’s nap-time or bedtime during the flight, for the same reason toddlers sleep in cribs and not beds that they can climb out of! And when your child goes to sleep, you can go to sleep too! Yes they’ll need a break during a long flight, but when they’re in the car seat YOU will get a break.
When in a moving car or a moving plane the car seat is the safest place to be for any child – of any age, awake or asleep. Even on a 12+ hour flight we want kids – including infants – in a car seat while awake and asleep. You might be tempted to loosen baby’s car seat straps on a long flight – especially if baby is going to sleep. Make sure you keep baby buckled snug – as loose and partially buckled straps introduce the risks of strangulation and asphyxiation. Co-sleeping on flights has the same risks as it does on a couch or your bed at home. Kids in car seats have their own safe place to sleep and aren’t at risk of being dropped or suffocated by an adult rolling on top of them.