Air Travel, 4 Year Old & Car Seats

Updated on February 28, 2008
C. asks from Newington, CT
7 answers

I will be traveling overseas soon with my 4 year old (40 inches, 35 lbs). I am getting conflicting reports about whether or not to use a car seat. I think my son might be too large and uncomfortable in his car seat - given the size of economy seats. The CARES safety harness sounds great, but pricey. Does anyone know of other options?

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answers from Boston on

I have flown with my daughter last November and she was almost 3 at the time. She weighs about 33 lbs. I used her carseat. It is a pain in the butt, however, it is the safest way to travel and I needed it at my destination anyway. I would advise if you do go with a carseat the GO Go Kidz stroller attachment. It actually turns your car seat into a stroller and attaches and detaches fairly easily. It worked great. My other advice would be is to make sure that the airline you are using allows families with your children to pre-board. I had flown Southwest and where the rates are awesome, they have a new rule and only allow people with small children to board either in their A boarding group or after A group.....its awful...much better to be able to board before everyone else!!!



answers from Bangor on

My son has been traveling (although not overseas) since he was 6 months ago. I have never used a car seat. Let me give a list of why:

1. Logically, if the plane crashes, what good is a car seat going to do?

2. Lugging him, car seat, carry-on, all the food/diapers/change of clothes for the day - I'm only human.

3. When he was older - he felt like a 'big boy' without the car seat and that reward was enough to keep him seated longer.

4. With kids, you often need more room to do things (change of clothes for instance). I liked having the extra seat (Car seat free) to make changes.

5. Little ones can lay across the seat, with you as a pillow on long flights.

I did, however, bring one of those folding strollers for while in the airport - not the HUGE ones.. but those cheap $10 ones that fold up. He had great fun between flights pushing it around if we had time, and if we were short on time, we could speedwalk (without dragging a 4 yr old).

On a side note: I found mini carrots a great, healthy, option to gum chewing for the ears. Enjoy your trip!



answers from Providence on

hi C.-we flew with our then 3 yo last september-and I had been concerned with the same things. I even looked into the cares harness. We ended up just letting him sit in his seat with the lap belt and all was fine. At that size, I think the carseat will be too much and take up what little room you already have. Good luck! Have a safe trip! L.:)



answers from Springfield on

I am a Child Passenger Safety Technician.

Those who say, "Don't bother with a car seat, what good will it do if the plane crashes." CLEARLY do not understand what they are talking about.

Why do you think you have a seat belt in the plane? It's to keep you from getting injured or killed in severe turbulence or runway crashes. Children under 4 years and 40 pounds are TOO SMALL to be effectively protected by the plane seatbelt. ALL CHILDREN from birth to 4 and 40 NEED to be in an FAA approved child restraint on a plane.

Also, I'm sure other passengers will appreciate not being killed because they were hit in the head with a flying child!

Lap babies and children not in car seats have been SEVERELY injured and even killed in minor turbulence and accidents that everyone else on the plane survived, because they were not in harnessed car seats.

A 40 inch 35 pound child is MUCH too tiny to sit in the plane seatbelt alone.

The CARES harness is an acceptable option. Make sure the seatbelt is cinched TIGHT across his lap, and then cinch the shoulder harness down TIGHT. The belt should not rise up on his belly, and the shoulder straps should NOT be loose.

However, if you are going to be going by car at your destination, you need to bring a car seat, and you should never check a car seat on a plane.

The only acceptable option is to bring a car seat on the plane OR use a CARES harness on the plane AND have a seat waiting at your destination.



answers from Denver on

Hi C.,
I have done both on over seas flights, with and without the car seat. First off check with the airline, some have their own policies on whether or not they require a car seat for certain ages/weights. The pro of a car seat I found was my peace of mind, the negatives being lugging it through security, on to a crowed plane and the space it took up. My daughter didnt spend the entire time belted in, so getting her in and out was difficult. You can always gate check the car seat before take off if you decide against it, personally I wont use a car seat for her again. she is only 2.5, but is 35 inches tall and the last flight we took was without her seat and she did fine. On take off and landing she had her seat belt on and I held on to her, and not having to carry it, her, the carry-ons and the gate checked stroller was great. I know the safety first catalog has a bunch of faa approved safety harnesses/belts so you might want to check that out.
Good luck!



answers from Burlington on

I think we generally only use a car seat over 4 yrs old with our kids if they are so active that they would not stay seated in the airplane seat. After 4 we bring a laptop or portable video so they keep entertained and in their seat.



answers from Providence on

Hi C.
I have a 5 year old almost the same size (38 lbs and 41"). In April I'm flying cross country. In the past when I've taken her I've used her car seat but at those times she was 10 month and 2. It was conveint because I needed it at our destination and it's a place she is used to sitting in. However this time since she is now in a booster seat I'm planning on letting her sit just in the seat alone and stowing the seat overhead (it's one of the booster seat without a back to it). I figure if I need it I can always use it. Hope this helps.

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