Anyone Flown with a Toddler in a Forward-facing Car Seat?

Updated on July 29, 2011
K.L. asks from Bellingham, WA
28 answers

My daughter is two and a half, and big for her age. I have never flown with her in the big forward-facing car seat. It's a Britax Marathon and is certified for airplane use. We're flying on Allegiant and it checks out with their requirements according to their website.

BUT... I have heard stories where people brought their car seats when flying and were advised NOT to use them, and had to gate-check them. It seems like a hassle to carry a huge car seat through the airport just to be told to check it.

I think she would sit in a regular seat without a problem if necessary, but obviously the car seats are supposed to be safer, and she wouldn't be able to unbuckle herself like she can with a regular airplane seat belt.

Just wondering what people's experiences have been flying with the larger car seats? A hassle but worth it? Or not... ?

Edited to say: We would bring the car seat either way, the question is about just checking it with the luggage (to use in the car when we get there) vs. hauling it through the airport to struggle with it on the plane.

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So What Happened?

Thanks everyone! We ended up checking the seat with the luggage. I knew she wouldn't want to stay in the seat the whole time, she is a major kicker, and loves to put the trays down. With three kids total to drag through airports it was one less thing to deal with hauling. She did great on the plane, no problems keeping her buckled in her seat at takeoff or landing. I could see that that it would have been a very tight squeeze. Thanks again for all your input!

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answers from Seattle on

I flew with my 2-year-old in a carseat once (the first time I flew alone with him) and it counted as twice: first and last time. It was a giant hassle. We've flown from Seattle to central California, and also Seattle to Chicago to Iowa (and worse: Seattle to Dallas to Iowa) since he was an infant and have never felt we needed the carseat. Kiddo sits by the window (or between us) and it's been fine.

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answers from Seattle on

I have the same car seat for my three year old. Up until this last trip (just a few days ago) we took her car seat on the plane. It kept her more comfortable and *strapped in*. My daughter is always moving. It would have been very difficult to keep her entertained and still if we didn't take it.

This year, she is finally old enough to sit without the seat, and her legs are too long as well (darn those seats are packed in close these days!)



answers from Minneapolis on

I traveled with a big 2 year-old and didn't bring the car seat. She did fine in the seat with the regular seat belt.

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answers from San Diego on

I'd check it. We've done both, and it is a massive hassle to install and it takes so much room and they can't move around at all. Depending on how long the flight is, it's kind of nice to have the option to stretch out a little, let her sit on your lap, etc. Since she won't take up as much room as an adult, you will have a little more room too.

The other advantage of checking the car seat is that if you have a car seat bag, you can stuff other things into it. Car seats are always free to be checked, while most airlines now charge for checked baggage. You might be able to save yourself a little money if you check the car seat, plus you won't have to hassle with lugging it through the airport along with your other stuff.

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answers from Denver on

We have always taken the car seat for our boy, and he had the same seat you have. He's just four and has made about 20 round trip flights from Denver all over the country. His first flight was at eight months, and we purchased a full ticket for him.

My husband works in automotive research and development and he refuses to let our boy on the plane without it. His theory is this: Where is the MOST likely place that an airplane accident will occur? On the ground. The safest place for the child is in the five-point harness in the take-off and landing of the plane (in our opinion).

Is it a hassle? Yes. Is it hard to pull the plane seatbelt through the Britax and make it tight enough? Yes. Do the other passengers give you looks? Yes. However, I wouldn't do it any other way. In fact, I'm concerned now because he just graduated into the Britax Frontier seat and I don't think it will fit on the plane even though it is "approved" for aviation use.

All that said, the one last concern on checking the seat is how it will be treated in baggage handling. And, most airlines DO NOT consider it to be luggage, and therefore it is not covered by their luggage rules. I learned this when our McClaren umbrella stroller (into which we would stuff the Brittax Marathon to get through the airport) was broken by the ground crew at DIA or SEA/TAC when we made a trip to Seattle.

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answers from Chicago on

I have 2 kids and have flown at least a dozen times. I used to bring 2 car seats, now I am down to one. I have NEVER had anyone tell me to check it. THey recommend using it in the window seat. It is slightly difficult to buckle since you are reaching behind the seat but never more than a few minutes and I don't think that I interfered too much with anyone else. My kids prefer the car seat and my older one often wants to go in. It is much easier if they want to take a nap in the car seat since they can lean their heads against the sides. My kids would probably not have had a nap without it.

What I do is hook the car seat belt together and then hang it on the stroller handle or occasionally will use a travel bag with wheels but it is easier to deal with the car seat not in the bag.

I have had so many flight attendants and passengers compliment me and thank me for using the car seat on the plane. My vote: use it!

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answers from San Francisco on

Check it with your luggage. Trying to fit a Britax Marathon on a plane seat is a nightmare unless you're lucky enough to be in first class. And honestly, car seats on a plane for safety reasons are kind of like floating seat cushions for safety reasons... if you ever have to use them for that purpose, you have WAY bigger things to worry about! ;)

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answers from Honolulu on

Well, per the destination you are going to, you will have to travel in a car... and you will then need the car seat, for her.
Or you will get ticketed by the Police.

So, you need the car seat.

But, whether you should take it in the plane with you or not, is up to you.
When my daughter was 2 (and she is a tall kid for her age), we didn't fly with a car seat. She sat in her own seat. And she was perfectly well behaved on the plane.

So, you have to decide, IF you want the car seat, checked in... or, in the plane with you.

CALL the airlines, and ask them.
IF it will have to be checked-in, or if you can bring it, on board the plane.

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answers from Portland on

Is it a hassle? Yep. Is it a hassle to strap your kid into a car every time you want to just go to the grocery store for that one last ingredient for dinner? Yep. But it's the same thing. You take that risk if you don't.

I just flew with my big 2.5 yo boy, and yes, I schlepped that thing on all the flights. I was the only parent that did it. But when a neighboring toddler boy threw a big old fit because he didn't want to sit in his seat and wear a lap belt for landing...I was secretly gleeful inside because there is no argument from a toddler and a carseat.

My husband balked at carrying and installing it, but waah, I gave birth without drugs. Tips for installation: send husband into plane FIRST on preboarding time. Once the plane is up, tip the seat back to get a good sleeping position. The carseat held my boy perfectly for him to snooze for the majority of the flights.

Safe travels! Mark my words, car seats on airplanes will be LAW in like 5 years.

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answers from Albuquerque on

I used to travel for business all the time and watched family after family struggle through airports with huge unwieldy car seats. On the plane it was even worse - some car seats were certified for air travel, but couldn't actually fit on the plane (especially the regional jets). And if they did fit, it took the parents 15 minutes to install them, sweating and apologizing the entire time. Once we were finally in the air, the parents found that that perfectly planned out car seat also had the disadvantage of raising the child by about 8" (the base of the car seat) and putting them about 8" forward (the back of the seat). Perfect position to kick the seat in front of them.

I vowed never to bring a car seat if/when I ever had kids. And I haven't! When my kids started flying at 2, we bought CARES harnesses and I love them. Seriously - best $80 I've ever spent. Neither of my four year olds can unhook the chest strap, so they're just as contained as a car seat. And a CARES harness weighs about a pound and fits practically in my pocket.

My advice? Try just a plain seat or get a CARES harness. Check your car seat at the baggage counter - they fly free on virtually every airline.

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answers from Seattle on

I would suggest checking the car seat. When they are in the carseat, they are close enough (and mine felt the need to) kick the seat in front of them. This was the primary reason we stopped putting her in the carseat on the plane.

And, generally you can expect that the kiddo will be out of her carseat at some point on the trip. I've had trouble getting mine back into the carseat and buckled up. So, at this point, it was no different than struggling to get my little one buckled into the regular seatbelt (with CARES harness) than into the carseat.

Good luck!



answers from Medford on

I've flown with my daughter and her car seat. We have an Cosco Alpha Omega Elite and it is also certified for airline use. It was a huge hassle every time we used it on a plane. It didn't fit through the x-ray without taking the base off of it and reassembling it before continuing on to my gate almost made us miss a flight. I did have to check it at the gate when we were on a short flight on a small plane (less than 30 seats), but I've not ever been asked to gate check it other than that one time. I think if you're asked to gate check the seat, it may be because the flight is full and it is a hassle to get the seat down the aisle and in the seat. However, once it is buckled in the seat, it doesn't take up more space than anyone sitting in the seat. That being said, I would still take the car seat on an airplane because the seat belts in airplanes are intended for larger children and adults. I just felt she was safer in her car seat than she would have been in the plane seat alone. Also, I thought my daughter was happier in the car seat because it raised her up a bit and she was better able to see out the window and what was going on around her. In the end it is a question of safety. Yes, it's a hassle to travel with a car seat, but I know I personally felt my daughter was safer in it. Also, the first time we felt she was big enough to fly without the car seat, once we got to our destination, we were less than thrilled with the outdated car seat the rental company gave us to use. I wished we had still brought her seat.



answers from Seattle on

With the larger car seats the key is to measure the width and depth of the seat to make sure it will fit. Check with the airline about dimensions. The deeper the car seat the more likely that the seat in front of your toddler will be kicked. Maybe you could borrow a smaller car seat if necessary. I found this and other travel tips on



answers from Seattle on

Check it in. Such a pain! If she's big for her age, she needs more wiggle room than her car seat has to offer for a flight.



answers from Pittsburgh on

We have always (until last month, DS is 5-1/2) flown with our car seat. Since we took it to the airport and would need it to get from the next airport to wherever we were going, and since DS was used to sitting in it (and sleeping in it during car rides) we never considered NOT taking it. Nor were we ever told not to use it. We never gate checked it. We did invest in a GoBabyZ which is essentially luggage wheels for your carseat.

We recently purchased the Britax Marathon since it will take DS up to 65 lbs and did NOT take it on our last trip - we brought a low back booster that we stuck in the overhead compartment of the plane. Will you be travelling by car wherever you are going? If so you would need to rent a car seat if you don't take yours.

We flew 3-4 times a year with DS. I would have purchased a lighter car seat to travel with if I had the Britax at that time. That thing weighs 25 lbs.



answers from Washington DC on

We hauled the Britax Marathon on a flight with us a few years ago. Darn it was a huge pain. The flight attendants refused to help me install it, and I blocked I don't know how many people before 2 nice fellow passengers stepped in to help me (traveling with a 18 month old, 3 yo and husband who was afraid of flying, hauling all their carry ons and the seat, i had my hands full). My son slept through most of the flight in the seat but probably would have otherwise. There are special restraints you can buy for air travel that turn the seat belt into a 3 or 5 point car seat like restraint and I really wish I had used it. If I had to do it again I would leave the seat at home.



answers from Seattle on

This is just me, but I HATE flying with carseats. I have spent too much time apologizing to bumped passengers, and wrestling it through security while trying to keep a hand on my squirmy toddler. I finally bought one of these: (Unfortunately, I've never used it - it was delivered the day AFTER we left home on our last plane trip. *sigh* ) Still, it's a lot smaller than a carseat to lug around, and rated to be just as safe. It came highly recommended from a well-traveled friend.

Happy travels!



answers from Portland on

We flew with my 15-month-old to Dubai (a 24-hour trip) and took the car seat on all our planes. It worked great! He slept in it and ate in it, but when he needed play time, we held him on our lap and he walked up and down the aisles. However, the car seat put him really close to the seat in front of him and we fought with the kicking the whole time.

Skip ahead a year, and we just flew with him to Indiana (he's 2.5 years). We didn't take the car seat on the plane (baggage checked it) and we didn't have to fight with the kicking the seat in front of him because his legs didn't reach. However, keeping him in his own seat for takeoff and landing was REALLY hard. It was easier for him to sleep because he could lay down with his head on my lap and stretch out, but I think he also could have slept in the car seat.

So, there are pros and cons. Just know that she will have hardly any leg room because the car seat will put her very close to the seat in front of her. Good luck!



answers from San Diego on

I took my 2.5 yr old and used a "CARES" seat harness made for airplanes. It attaches to around the seat for the shoulder harnesses and connects to the lap belt. That way we could just check our carseats in with luggage (no fees for baby gear)



answers from Anchorage on

I think the Marathon is big for planes. I've brought the Roundabout on but not the Marathon.

At your daughter's age, my experience is that it's worth bringing a car seat on the plane if you think she'll nap/sleep. If not, the car seat takes up too much room, and she'll probably be kicking the seat in front of her, and you won't be able to put her tray table down.



answers from Portland on

I've flown with both the CARES harness system and my Britax Marathon. The Britax definitely is more secure, but it is a little bit more work to lug it. If you are flying a lot or are flying and getting a rental with a car seat, the CARES system may be worth it. We bought it because we were flying to Europe and had no need for our car seat there. I definitely always felt better flying with my Britax Marathon, though. If you bought a seat on the flight for your daughter (which you would have to at 2, right?), then you shouldn't have any problem using your car seat. I've never had them hassle me. I would definitely insist, though, if they suggested that I couldn't use it. Bring the website printout with their policy and the confirmation that you seat meets their requirements.

Good travels!



answers from Lexington on

We flew with our Marathon a bunch of times. When DS was 2 1/2, I made the mistake of checking it instead of bringing it on. It was a nightmare! All he wanted to do was sit on me instead of buckled in his seat. He was so bad that all the flight attendants just let me hold him even though he was passed the lap child allowability.
In his seat he was always great. He's 4 now and we haven;t flown in a while but I will miss not having his seat with us.



answers from Portland on

We flew with our big convertible carseat when our son was almost 2.5. We did use it on the airplane but had it rearfacing just because it was easier for him to see us and he didn't seem to mind. It worked great to keep him where he was supposed to be and he could see out of the window better than if he had been sitting in the seat. I would definitely do it again.


answers from Washington DC on

I would just check it in. We fly a lot and we have always checked in the car seats. So much easier!



answers from Tyler on

My daughter has the same car seat (heavy..I know!!) and we have flown several times. We always fly American Airlines and have never had a problem bringing it on board. Although it's a pain carrying it through security and throughout the airport it is much safer in case of turbulance. If your flight is long it may help her to have something she is familiar with and to stay seated. Have a safe trip! :)



answers from New York on

We tend to fly jet blue and have a Britax Roundabout 50. We took our car seat on the plane 3 times. The second trip home we skipped it because my husband couldn't face the install/uninstall again.

I hadn't heard about the window seat being a good idea, so didn't do that and maybe it helps. Also perhaps the marathon is easier than the roundabout, but be prepared.

On the way down (2nd trip), we ended up checking it, because my husband literally could not figure out how to install it. The part of the strap you needed to pull through was the SHORT part, and the buckle wouldn't fit. We gate checked it, and just checked it on the way back. On the other trip we ended up having to get a technician on the plane to help us uninstall, and he almost just cut the strap to get it out.

I'm not sure what you could ask beforehand to avoid these issues. I do know that they won't hassle you, but the attendants also won't help you. I would take it on the plane, do pre-boarding, try to install, and just gate check it if you can't.



answers from Seattle on

we travel a lot with our daughter, starting early on. When she was young, like under 2, I took the car seat, but not after that. We have a Britax Marathon too and it is a pain and huge. Plus by the time she was 2, she was kicking the back of the seat in front of her while in the seat. So we switched to the CARES restraint system and have used it up until this year (age 4 1/2). They you can just check the seat and use this restraint which is FAA approved, small and easy to use with just the regular seat.
They are expensive, but you can find them on ebay and I think you can rent them. I actually need to sell mine since my daughter has outgrown it. I just haven't gotten around to it yet.
It is so much easier to just check the car seat.



answers from Anchorage on

I have flown with and without car seats with my kids from all ages, and my advice is to check it. It is a huge hassle to get it on and off, and if a plan crashes lets face it, a car seat is not really going to do much good.

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