Tips and Tricks from a BIG-Little Happy Traveler!
A Guest Post by Ashley Weed Harnisch
Awareness around in-flight safety is ever-increasing thanks to the diligent work of both child passenger and air safety advocacy groups. The FAA1, AAP2, and the NTSB3 all recommend that children need to be appropriately restrained on an airplane. The Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives (B3A)4 allows us to see that aircraft incidents happen far more frequently than the media leads us to believe. An appropriate child safety seat eliminates the risk of your child being ripped from your grasp without warning during severe turbulence5, severe crosswinds6, runway accidents7, and even survivable crashes8. For a child under 40lbs and/or a child who is not mature enough to stay correctly seated with the airplane lap belt – the only option at this time is a FAA approved child restraint (i.e. car seat). Even after a child meets the minimum weight and maturity requirements to be safely restrained by the airplane lap belt, it is prudent to utilize their FAA approved car seat in-flight to eliminate the risk of damage from checking9, misrouting, or a total loss of the car seat! Two great sources already exist to provide you more detailed information on why a FAA approved car seat should be used on an aircraft10, and recommend car seats that often meet the needs for traveling11.
Note: The CARES Airplane Safety Harness12 is currently the only child restraint device approved by the FAA other than car seats. It should be noted, however, that CARES utilizes the airplane lap belt to restrain a child. This provides a very small window of opportunity for appropriate use as the airplane lap belt does not appropriately fit a child until they are approximately 40lbs.
A common misconception is that car seats are too large, too bulky, or too heavy to transport around an airport. To reduce the frustration for those traveling with children, child passenger safety experts often recommend traveling with a lightweight seat. What happens when your child outgrows the frequently recommended lightweight car seats!? As a frequent flyer, I’m here to debunk the naysayers with tips and tricks on traveling with some of the longest lasting (extended rear-facing) seats on the market! Even a task as difficult as clearing immigrations and traversing two terminals in 15 minutes is possible with the proper tools. (Ask me how I know!)
When choosing a car seat for travel, there are two key items that I consider and weight is not one of them:
Ease of install: Installing a car seat for the first time in a vehicle you are not familiar with is difficult enough. Add in the fact that you have just walked off of a red-eye flight and you will be cursing like a drunken sailor in no time! One minute oversight when installing a car seat could prove to be catastrophic. I find it
less nerve-wracking to travel with the car seat that we use on a daily basis, which allows me to be accustomed to all of its intricacies. Two items that are always readily available in my bag to assist with various installs are a locking clip13 and a tether connector strap (also known as a d-ring, used to create a rear facing tether point specific to seats that allow rear face tethering)14 since there is such a wide array of install possibilities across vehicles and countries.
Fit on aircraft: While no FAA approved car seat should ever be incompatible with aircraft, many seats prove to be a very tight fit when used rear-facing, require the armrest to remain up, or must be carried down the aisle of the aircraft above the airplane seats. While taking the time to carry the car seat down the aisle may seem negligible, imagine how much time is consumed if you were to do that 20+ times each year; 50 rows can be a long and tedious walk! How would you manage any other items going in-cabin with you during that time? Don’t forget about your little one either! As a frequent flyer, it was quintessential that we travel with a car seat that minimizes the door-to-door hassle by seamlessly fitting down the aircraft aisle.
This brings me to two seats that get a big “Gold Star” from a Mama who spends almost as much time looking down at the clouds as I do looking up at them! These two companies are both leaders in extended rear-facing seats, but most importantly they make some of the narrowest profile seats on the market, which allows for the car seat to be maneuvered down the aircraft aisle with minimal effort.
A big thumbs-up goes out to the engineers at Clek. Their tidy and sleek design makes my heart melt. Their minimalist design is number one on my list of features unique to the Clek convertibles that may often be overlooked by someone who is new to travel.
Tidiness: Every part of the car seat – from the LATCH belt and tether to the manual – has a special little cove! The built-in lock-offs allow for a quick and easy install across a wide variety of vehicles. The Clek Fllo conveniently has a fold-under rear-facing recline foot that reduces the number of items you need to keep track of when traveling and the optional anti-rebound bar can be placed within the harness the same way your car seat arrived from the factory or left at home for safe keeping. Clek also offers several fun designs from Tokidoki and Paul Frank to keep your little one excited and intrigued with their car seat – even at 30,000 feet above the ground!
Narrow profile: The compatibility of Clek’s narrow profile convertibles and the Go-Go Babyz Travelmate16allows for effortless travel (the Go-Go Babyz Mini Travelmate is another compatible option) . One of the most difficult components to travel with little ones is the final phase from the gate to your seat. This combination allows you to not only maneuver the car seat with ease throughout the airport, but also conveniently lets you roll your car seat straight to your assigned seat. With two quick motions the Travelmate folds compact for easy stowing in the overhead bin.
Pro Tip: When arriving at the x-ray belt, you should see a small passageway either to the left or the right of the x-ray machine. You can park your Clek – attached to the Travelmate – at this passageway and then proceed through the x-ray machine as directed. Security personnel will promptly retrieve the items and maneuver them past the x-ray machine for a hand screening. When in doubt, a pleasant “Hello Ma’am/Sir, my child’s safety restraint is too large to pass through the x-ray machine. Where would you like me to position it for a hand screening?” should suffice and get you quickly back on your way to the gate.
Anti-Rebound Technologies: Unlike the Foonf, Clek’s Fllo can be installed in a rear-facing position without the use of the Anti-Rebound Bar (ARB). With the continuous reduction of economy class seat space, every inch of space is valuable and can often be the difference in achieving a proper car seat install. The Fllo’s advantage extends to installing the car seat in a vehicle once you have reached your destination.
Note: Clek convertible car seats conveniently allow for the use of either the ARB or a rear-facing tether when installing in a vehicle that provides dedicated rear-facing tether points. In the US, vehicles typically restrict the use of a Swedish style rear-facing tether (for the select few car seats which allow for rear face tethering), but the practice is more common in other countries. Clek also prohibits the Fllo from overhanging the vehicle seat, so the ability to remove the ARB is often necessary for a proper install in some vehicles.
The Diono Radians get an A+ for ingenuity. There are three features unique to the Diono Radians that may often be overlooked by someone who is new to travel:
Fold flat design: The Diono Radians have a convenient fold flat design. Not only does this allow the car seat to be carried like a backpack, but the car seat also fits on the airport security x-ray belt with ease. The Diono Radians can be carried on your back with carry straps18, or with Diono’s Car Seat Travel Bag19 which also conveniently holds the car seat’s rear-facing boot and the angle adjuster20 that is likely needed for any aircraft install and is also available for purchase separately. I highly recommend Diono’s travel bag if you are traveling with one of their car seats as it also keeps the LATCH straps and tether tidy while you chase your little one across the terminal – or make a mad dash for a connecting flight!
Bracing: While not an important factor to the majority of consumers in the US due to vehicle manufacturers prohibiting this practice, the Diono Radians do permit bracing.
This allows you to safely utilize the seat in a rear-facing position on even some of the tightest aircraft installs. Additionally, outside of the US, it is the norm rather than the exception for vehicle manufacturers to permit bracing of car seats. Vehicles outside of the US are often more compact and the ability to brace a rear-facing seat like the Diono convertibles can save you from playing vehicle roulette in the rental car parking lot. Unfortunately, this seat does not have a built-in lockoff so if you are traveling outside of the U.S. you may need to use the aforementioned locking clip since most vehicles outside the U.S. do not have locking seat belts, and ISOfix/LATCH may be unavailable.
Low profile: I’m convinced that one of Diono’s engineers is a frequent flyer and said “wouldn’t it be a dream if my child could appropriately use the tray table in flight”!? Diono’s low profile seats are often touted for ease of vehicle use when placing a child in the seat; however, this low profile design makes the Diono convertibles a dream during in-flight use with a child who is utilizing the seat in a forward-facing position.
Regardless of the child restraint device you choose to take with you on your next adventure, always consult the manual and know ahead of time where the FAA sticker is on your car seat. Reaching out to a CPST or the car seat manufacturer may prove to be invaluable to you as some seats have features or quirks (e.g. seat belt extender, reclining aircraft seatback then raising it back up after installing, leaving aircraft armrest up, etc.) that need to be accommodated when traveling. If you do not already own one of these two extended rear-facing seats, or if they are out of your budget for purchasing a narrow profile travel seat – never fear! Several budget-friendly and lightweight travel seats are available to choose from as well. Depending on the age, weight, and height of your child, the Cosco Scenera NEXT21, Safety 1st Guide6522, Combi Coccoro, Evenflo SureRide DLX 6523 or Evenflo Sonus or Stratos may all be great options for you. For a child over the age of 2, who is forward facing, the Graco Tranzitions, Harmony Defender 360, Cosco Finale or Evenflo Maestro may be worth considering. Feel free to consult my friends at Super Car Seat Geek24 to see which seat would be a good choice for your situation. The most important thing is to do is to travel safely and make lots of wonderful memories!
Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives4 http://www.baaa-acro.com/
severe turbulence5 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KvgDrw81B0g
severe crosswinds6 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bMUdXJPUwm8
runway accidents7 http://www.cbsnews.com/news/plane-skids-off-runway-at-new-yorks-laguardia-airport/
survivable crashes8 http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/plane-crash-near-resolute-bay-kills-12-1.1021035
more detailed information on why a FAA approved child restraint device should be used on an aircraft10 http://csftl.org/leaving-on-a-jet-plane-the-csftl-guide-to-safe-air-travel-with-children/
recommend car seats that often meet the needs for traveling11 http://csftl.org/on-the-road-again/
locking clip13 http://www.cpsafety.com/articles/lockincss.aspx
a tether connector strap (also known as a d-ring)14
Clek Fllo15 http://amzn.to/2jsTX6Z http://clekinc.com/fllo/
Go-Go Babyz Travelmate16 http://amzn.to/2k7M2Qf https://www.gogobabyz.com/product-i14550-c26-gogo_Kidz_Travelmate_.aspx
Diono Radian17 http://us.diono.com/convertible-boosters
carry straps18 http://amzn.to/2hWw1II http://us.diono.com/accessories/radian-carry-strap
Car Seat Travel Bag19 http://amzn.to/2hVDvM5 http://us.diono.com/accessories/radian-travel-bag150521115326
angle adjuster20 http://us.diono.com/accessories/angle-adjuster
Cosco Scenera NEXT21 http://www.coscokids.com/car-seats/convertible-car-seats
Safety 1st Guide 6522 http://safety1st.djgusa.com/en/djgusa/search/convertible-car-seats
Evenflo SureRide DLX 6523 http://www.evenflo.com/Products/Evenflo/Car_Seats/SureRide_DLX/
Super Car Seat Geek24 https://www.facebook.com/SuperCarSeatGeek