Flying with a 3 Year Old

Updated on November 30, 2010
T.H. asks from Lake Oswego, OR
19 answers

Hi mamas,

I'm going to be flying from California to Oregon with my 3 year old in a week and I'm curious what your thoughts are on taking a car seat. At this time we have a Britax Marathon that we are using in the vacation car but it seems horrible to have to lug that along with my 3 year old and our luggage throughout the airport. I will be just the 2 of us and I'm starting to get nervous about what to do. Any experiences or advise you could share about what to do? Have any of you allowed your child to sit in the airline seat? The $70 CARES harness is out of the question - too expensive right now.

Thank you in advance!!

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So What Happened?

Well we opted for no carseat and it 'luckily' worked quite well. He stayed seated and was well engaged with flying in an airplane. Thank you for the tips...I've come to realize this is a rather personal decision but it was nice to hear I wouldn't be a "horrible" mom if I went without the carseat. Next year - booster - OH YA!

More Answers



answers from Boston on

We just traveled with our 2 year old and had her have her own seat. It was tough enough traveling with her. I think that installing a car seat on the plane would have made it almost impossible - especially if it is just the two of you. Then we rented a car seat with our rental car. When he was smaller did you have him as a lap child? If you are comfortable with that then i think you'd be comfortable traveling without the car seat on the plane.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Denver on

We have that car seat, and we use it on the plane every time. Our boy is also three and we fly frequently. My husband is in automotive research and development, and he says this: Safety first. The most likely time for a problem on a plane is while they are on the ground. So, a five point harness versus a lap belt is not a question for us.

Do you have an umbrella stroller? The Marathon squeezes into an umbrella stroller, making it easy to get it through the airport. You have to sort of "pop" it into place, but that's how I've been doing it for two years now. We fly about six times per year. Yes, it is a bit of a pain, but worth the peace of mind.

One last thing... you probably do not want to check the car seat because if it is damaged in baggage handling you're in a tough spot upon arrival in Oregon.

Good luck.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

We used our car seat last time, an will check it when we fly to Europe next month. It was great while my daughter was tired/asleep, but when she was awake, she did not want to sit in it and NOT having the car seat really gives you A LOT more room to move.
Another issue is that the car seat moves their feet a lot closer to the seat in front of them and she kept kicking it involuntarily every time she moved her legs (even in her sleep). It made for a very unhappy co-passenger. We also could not use the table...
The forces in an airplane during turbulence are very different from a car crash. My DD will also be three soon and while a car seat would surely protect a child fine, I feel comfortable just securing her with the regular belt.
Good luck!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Denver on

We don't take the car seats, too much hassle like you mentioned especially since you are flying alone with your 3 y/o. Mine always do great in just the airplane seat. My kids always seem to want to sleep when flying. You can just raise the arm rest in between the two of you and he/she can lean over onto your lap or just against you. Or just raise it and it gives you and them more room. Works great!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

I would bring it if you can! You can check it (to at least eliminate some of the shlepping), although I would bring it on the plan for him to sit in. We fly a lot, my 4.5 year old still sits in his marathon. I have seen people attach their seats to a folding luggage dolly (rolling cart) - that might help you!


answers from Los Angeles on

Hi T.,
What about renting the CARES system?

If you can't, I would bring and use the carseat. Sure, it's inconvenient, but what if something were to happen mid-air, God forbid? The adult seatbelts on the plane will not protect your child at all.

(BTW, I once flew w/ our 18 month old, by myself, and lugged a huge carry-on, her Roundabout carseat and our daughter, plus our checked luggage. NOT easy, but I made it. At least you'll have your husband to help you :) It's do-able!)



answers from Washington DC on

I would check with your airline. All airlines allow you to check your carseat for free with your luggage. Most will not let you use one on the plane. Even a booster, but a booster will fit under the seat in front of you. I took a booster on the plane in May, and the stewardess stopped me to let me know that I couldn't use it in the seat. It had to either go under the seat, which it did fit,or in the overhead which takes up room for other luggage. When we rented our car we included a toddler carseat in the price. The rental place had a ton of convertible, mid-grade carseats sitting there. Then we just dropped it off when we returned the car.

I just travelled with my 3y in June. She had her own seat on the plane and did fine. I had her sit in the middle or window seat, not the aisle.

For walking through the airport, I had a buddy harness. It has a long tail that you can hold onto like a leash. They sell them at Target,Walmart, Babies R Us. It was a life savior. You do have to take it off and put in on the belt at security, but it gave her some freedom and me some control.

My other tip is to check all luggage except one backback. In it you can have all the dry food snacks,blankets, etc. that you need. No liquids until after you are through security. Make sure to include at least one change of clothes.
Last tip is to have your child wear easy slip on/off shoes. Again its part of getting through security.

Also, since your child is under 5, you will be allowed to board the plane in the second group.




answers from Las Vegas on

my daughter is 3 now and she has flown on an airplane about 6 times already from nevada to ohio ( a very long trip!) she rode in the airline seat just fine once it was safe to take the seat belt off she leaned over on my lap and fell asleep or just leave the seatbelt buckled and let her fall asleep but i was just looking myself on information about carseats and options for once we get to our destination and the backless booster seats say they are safe for 40-100lbs now my daughter is only about 32 lbs but i did manage to find a backless small booster that was safe for 30-100 lbs i was looking because we always have to rent a car once we land and we have always taken a large car seat but just checked it never for her to sit in in the airline seat.



answers from Portland on

I took my car seat on the plane 1 time and it was horrible. I'm sure all seats are different, but mine did not allow enough leg room which made him kick the set in front of him; u can imagine how that went over. However, I have 2 kids and always take my seats with me. Now my oldest only needs a booster, but I take it too. I check it with the rest of the luggage. I never take them on the plane anymore. It's too hard juggling the seat, carry ons and the kid (and possibly a stroller). Plus, you can't cuddle. Airports used to let you check them for free, but I don't know if they still do or not. If they charge now, it might be better to rent a seat from the car rental agency.
If you do take the seat, the easiest way to handle it is to attach it to the suitcase you're rolling around. My kids walk everywhere (my youngest just turned 4), which helps a lot. because I never have to take a stroller. If you need a stroller, use an unbrella stroller (light, compact and easy to stear, so you can push with one hand), push it with one hand, while you drag the suitcase behind you in the other.
I've travelled with 2 kids (then 2 & 5), 2 seats, 2 suitcases (one seat on each, so I just rolled a suitcase in each hand) by myself and managed just fine, but only because I did not also have a stroller. I had each child hold onto a suitcase while crossing roads and going through airports. People took one look at me and must have thought I was nuts. I had offers to help me all over the place, which was great.



answers from Richland on

We flew from Oregon to Alaska when my oldest son had just turned 3. We opted to let him sit in the seat w/o a car seat (we were just going to rent a car seat once in Alaska but ended up having my parents buy one so that he would have one there when we visit in the future) and he did great! He is also a tall/big kid for his age and the seatbelt did tighten up for him. Its a 3 flight from Seattle plus we had 2 other small fights as well. He was a trooper with all of them, for the longer one we rented a DVD player and let him watch a new movie (great idea whoever came up with that!) We let him get up and take breaks to stretch legs, go to the bathroom etc. and he had a great flight. SO - if you don't really need it once in Oregon, and your ok with just a plane seat - then its something that is very much doable. Good luck with whatever you choose and have a great flight!



answers from Seattle on

Have you asked any friends if they have a CARES harness you can borrow, or looked online for a used one? Or, you might try just using a backless booster, since part of the problem on an airplane is that kids are too skinny for the lap belt to fit properly. Lastly, you can just not use anything. We did that when my son was three or four and he was fine.



answers from Medford on

I've done both, flying with the car seat and without and flying without it is infinitely easier. Especially if you're going to be flying with your little one alone. You didn't mention if you have the option of using a carseat once you get to your destination, but if you can get one to use there, I highly recommend it. We took a vacation last month and it cost us $50 to rent a carseat to go in our rental car. We have an Alpha Omega Elite and on a previous trip I fitted it with a Go Go Kids carseat carrier. It's like a luggage rack that screws on the back of the seat. Unfortunately, it's a big pain to assemble and disassemble and since it doesn't fit through the x ray scanner at the airport, it had to be taken apart to go through, then put back together to use it. It also doesn't fit into the airline seat, so you have to take it off again once you get the seat on the plane. Giant waste of money!! Let me save you from that right now! : ) I moved to Oregon from California, so I've flown with my daughter between the two destinations a lot. Depending on where you're going and the size of the plane you'll be on, the flight crew might have you gate check the carseat anyway and have your child sit in the regular airline seat anyway. I've personally never had a problem with my daughter sitting in the seat on her own once she was over 2 years old and I was required to buy her her own seat. I hope you have a great trip and that this helps you!



answers from Seattle on

We took our nearly 3 year old to Hawaii in April and did take her carseat on the airplane. I wore it on my back in the airport like a backpack. It wasn't super comfortable but since it's a 5 hour flight, I knew she had someplace that she could and would sleep. Totally worth the slight discomfort of wearing a carseat.

To wear it, just extend the straps and then slip them on. Some can be worn with the flat part of the back of the seat against your back.



answers from Seattle on

first it all don't worry everything is going t to be ok
I been flying with my kids to Mexico twice a year since my first one was 3 months old and now he is 3 ( and also has autism)and my second 11 months that by the way next week is going to be his second time flying..
anyways flying into California is easy , you just have to bring the snacks that he love the most , books , and some candy just in case , dvd player , never without!! wherever he like it....
i always bring my car seat,stroller,carry on, diaper bug...and not charge for that , plus 4 extra luggage under the plane ... they give the stuff when you arrived ..I never live them walk or anything in LA always in the stroller , they have to tougher out for awhile, better that running away.....when you arrive just walk and get your kid in the stroller and walk to get the rest of your luggage,, and even when you check in at the airport you can ask for help with your luggage , but they just do it to the door , better that not easy but you can do it and he'll be ok believe me
good luck and nice trip



answers from Seattle on

I've seen many a toddler in an airline seat, with and without a car seat. I would check my luggage so you aren't hauling it thru the airport and carry the carseat or don't haul the carseat, check it as luggage. Be aware of the luggage charges, as much as $50 for that 2nd piece on some airlines. Sticker shock!! Does the rental car company have car seats?



answers from Seattle on

I have flown with my kids loads of times and never bring a car seat on board. Too bulky and too many other bits of luggage to worry about besides the kids, stroller, etc. Currently when we fly our twins sit on our laps (they are one) and our three-and-a-half-year-old has been sitting in his own seat with the airline seatbelt since he's had to have his own seat at two years old. Mostly we fly to Toronto (my home) so it's a lot longer than from California to Oregon and he does just fine. I'd leave the car seat at home or if you don't have one at the other end, check it. The other thing I recommend is to get a car seat bag from Babies R Us and stuff it full of stuff if you're checking the car seat as that way you have fewer bags to carry at the other end and you don't pay for the car seat so you can save yourself money if you have to pay for checked luggage. I do it more for the convenience of having fewer bags, but every penny counts, right? Have a great trip!


answers from Medford on

I see this question a lot. I usually see mixed answers, but more towards checking the carseat as opposed to lugging it around. I personally check them for that reason. Plus you never know what mood your shild will be in on the plane and having the bulky car seat in the way when he wants to lay down or snuggle mom is a huge hinderance to everyone's serenity on the plane! :)



answers from Seattle on

Your 3 year old will be fine sitting in the plane without a car seat . . what we do it check one for the rental car. Actually the car seat puts the kid way too close to the seat in front and they will kick it.

My main advice - is you buckle them in - treat it like a car - they are only allowed up to the bathroom. Otherwise you'd be walking up and down the aisle and even worse if there is turbulence the kid will be rather upset to have to stay seated.

I'm not sure if your kid is big enough for a boaster seat - we bought one - since our daughter could fit it - it's not as fancy as the Britax which we use daily in our car - but it's nice for carpooling and travel. We also bought a rolling duffel to stick the seat it for the checking the luggage.



answers from Seattle on

I have had my 3yr old who is small for her age sit in the seat w/o car seat. The seat belt barely gets tight enough for her. She thinks it is fun, but she can't get comfortable enough to sleep and she always wants to be in my seat. It is easier the times she has her car seat.
If it is a direct flight lugging it through the airport isn't so bad. Plus you'll need it at theother end...renting a car seat w/ your car is expensive. Unless you have one you can borrow or AAA member w/ hertz rental gives one free carseat rental (cosco scenera when we've done it).

I saw on another post to use backless boosters. They aren't FAA approved and I haven't seen them allowed on any flight I've been on.

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