Congratulations! You made the decision touted by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as the safest way for kids under two to travel on an airplane-- you decided to purchase a seat for them and bring the car seat on the plane. Now what do you do with the darn thing? Travelin' Dad has fought this battle many times, and we have a few tips (from the FAA website and our experience combined) to help make traveling with your car seat go a little more smoothly:
- Check the manual before you leave home and make sure your seat is FAA approved. In fact, you may want to throw the manual into your carry-on. Once we had a flight attendant question whether our car seat was FAA approved. Your seat should have "this restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft" printed on it. If it doesn't, you may be asked to check the car seat as baggage (which would defeat the whole purpose of purchasing an extra seat).
- Review how to install the seat into an airplane in the calm and quiet of your home. As Travelin' Dad knows, it is tough to work under pressure when passengers are trying to board all around you and your wife and kid(s) are smushed into the tiny space of the row in which you are trying to install the seat. He refers to this exercise as a travel version of "beat the clock."
- Don't be afraid to ask for help from a flight attendant if you really get stuck. They're usually more than happy to help. In fact, they may not-so-subtly offer help if you're creating a gridlock of boarding passengers.
- Be prepared that many airlines insist the car seat be installed in the window seat (so it is not a barrier to people trying to exit). Also, say goodbye to exit rows and the row in front and behind the exit row when traveling with a car seat.
- Just like in the car, if your child is less than 20 pounds, place the seat facing the rear. From 20-40 pounds, you can place the seat facing the front. Let the games begin when you face the seat forward - TJ's feet almost touch the tray table of the seat in front of him, and of course he finds it an irresistible game to kick it constantly. I take his shoes off during the flight to soften the blow of his kicks.
If all else fails, do your best to properly tighten the airplane seat belt into the frame of your car seat, and then put an extra hand on the seat to stabilize it during take-off and landing (no offense to Travelin' Dad's handiwork). Remember, even if the process seems a little inconvenient, you can rest assured that you are doing to safest thing for your child by reserving an extra seat and strapping him into the car seat for the flight.