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Using Car Seats on Planes: What's FAA-Approved & What's Not

by Vannessa Rhoades 26 Feb 2024
Using Car Seats on Planes: What's FAA-Approved & What's Not

Flying with your little one? Traveling with your child can be both exciting and stressful, especially when it comes to ensuring their safety in the air. As parents, you want the best for your little one, and that includes making the right choices when it comes to using car seats on airplanes. The skies are a playground for exploration, but understanding the rules and regulations set by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is crucial to ensure a secure and comfortable flight for your precious travel companion. Let’s explore the specifics of using car seats on planes, specifically, what's FAA-approved and what's not. Let's empower you with the knowledge to make your family's airborne adventures not just enjoyable but also safe.

Understanding FAA Regulations: Can Car Seats Be Used on Planes?

Feeling confused about which car seats you can use on a plane and how to use them? You're not alone! Even airline employees and crew members can be a bit unsure. That's why we're clearing things up here with a closer look at the Federal Aviation Administration’s Advisory Circular regarding Use of Child Restraint Systems on Aircraft. We've broken down the essentials below (and we brought receipts), so you know what's allowed and how to do it right. 

Tip: We recommend you print both the FAA Advisory Circular above and the helpful FAA Information for Operators (InFO) flyer. It's like having your travel manual to show airline staff if they have questions. 

Using Car Seats on Planes: What's FAA-Approved & What's Not

Are most car seats FAA-approved?

Many (but not all) car seats or child restraint systems (CRSs) can be used on airplanes, provided they have a label explicitly stating they are "certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft." This applies to a range of car seat types, including infant seats, convertibles, forward-facing seats, and combination seats with harnesses, often referred to as "harnessed boosters." Foreign-purchased seats are acceptable if labeled as meeting the standards of a foreign government or the United Nations. Interestingly, there is no restriction on using a car seat in rear-facing mode, and it can be placed in various locations on the plane, ensuring it doesn't impede passenger evacuation during emergencies.

What accommodations do airplanes have to make for car seats?

If you purchased a ticket for your child, you are entitled to use your child's car seat.

"Under the provisions in parts 121, 125, and 135, no certificate holder may prohibit a child from using an approved CRS when the parent/guardian purchases a ticket for the child."

– Section 10D, Page 8, Federal Aviation Administration’s Advisory Circular regarding Use of Child Restraint Systems on Aircraft

In the event that the car seats doesn't fit in an assigned seat, the airline is obligated to make an effort to find a suitable seat that accommodates the car seat. It's crucial to note that these regulations apply specifically to flights within the US on any carrier and flights outside the US on a US-based carrier, excluding flights outside the US on foreign airlines.

"No aircraft operator may prohibit a child from using an approved CRS when the parent/guardian purchases a seat for the child. If an approved CRS, for which a ticket has been purchased, does not fit in a particular seat on the aircraft, the aircraft operator has the responsibility to accommodate the CRS in another seat in the same class of service. The regulations also permit an aircraft operator to use its discretion in identifying the most appropriate forward-facing passenger seat location, considering safe operating practices.

For example:

(1) A CRS with a base that is too wide to fit properly in a seat with rigid armrests can be moved to a seat with moveable armrests that can be raised to accommodate the CRS in the same class of service.

(2) An aft-facing CRS that cannot be installed properly, because of minimal pitch (distance between seats) between rows, can be moved to a bulkhead seat or a seat in a row with additional pitch in the same class of service."

– Section 10F, Page 8, Federal Aviation Administration’s Advisory Circular regarding Use of Child Restraint Systems on Aircraft

Which car seats are not permitted on planes?

  • Booster Seats: Certain car seats are not allowed during take-off and landing due to differences between aircraft seats and seat belts and motor vehicle seats and seat belts. Belt-positioning booster seats, especially those using a lap and shoulder belt in a car, cannot be used on airplanes as there is no shoulder belt for upper-body restraint. Combination car seats, occasionally referred to as boosters, are permitted if used in 5-point harness mode, distinguishing them from belt-positioning booster seats.
  • Travel Vests: Despite some travel vests being labeled as suitable for aircraft use, caution is advised against their use. Travel vests with a rigid plate behind the child allow excessive forward movement, potentially compromising safety during a flight.
  • Belly Belts: Products designed to secure a child on an adult's lap, known as belly belts, are not allowed in the US. Although permitted in some other countries, they lack the necessary protection for a child in the event of a plane crash.

Does a car seat need to be rear-facing on a plane?

Sometimes, flight attendants can get a bit mixed up about this. They might think it means your kid's car seat has to face forward. Nope, not the case! What it actually means is that the airplane seat itself has to face forward – towards the front of the plane. So, if you end up with a seat that's facing the back of the plane, sorry, you can't use it for your child's car seat. Now, the direction your child's car seat faces, whether forward or backward (aft), depends on things like their age, weight, and height. It's all about fitting into the rear-facing or forward-facing criteria for that specific car seat. 

"CRSs must be installed in a forward-facing aircraft seat, in accordance with instructions on the label. This includes placing the CRS in the appropriate forward or aft-facing direction as indicated on the label for the size of the child."

– Section 19, Page 14, Federal Aviation Administration’s Advisory Circular regarding Use of Child Restraint Systems on Aircraft

Where do you put your car seat on a plane?

Install your little one’s car seat next to a window seat if you can, but don't worry, other spots work too! Just make sure the car seat doesn't block anyone, like the parent or guardian, from getting to the aisle during an emergency exit. Airlines can decide where it's safest to place car seats, and they typically avoid putting them in aisle seats to keep things speedy during an evacuation. Imagine a parent trying to get their child out or flight attendants needing to move quickly – that's why aisle seats are a no-go. Also, consider the rows near emergency exits – they need to be clear for fast evacuation. So, follow the airline's specific rules for where to put your car seat, and you'll all be flying smoothly! 

"A CRS must be installed in a forward-facing aircraft seat, in accordance with instructions on the label. This includes placing the CRS in the appropriate forward- or aft-facing direction as indicated on the label for the size of the child. A window seat is the preferred location; however, other locations may be acceptable, provided the CRS does not block the egress of any passenger, including the child’s parent or guardian, to the aisle used to evacuate the aircraft. The regulations contained in §§ 91.107, 121.311, 125.211, and 135.128 allow aircraft operators to determine the most appropriate passenger seat location for a CRS based on safe operating practices. In making this determination, an aircraft operator should consider the following:

    1. Aisle Seats. CRSs should not be placed in an aisle seat because this placement has the highest risk of slowing down the passenger flow rate during an evacuation. For example, a parent or guardian traveling with the child in a CRS may step out into the aisle to release the child from the CRS, or the CRS may impede F/As who may need to climb over the top of aisle seats to get past passengers in the aisle to reach an emergency exit.
    2. Rows Forward and Aft of Emergency Exit Rows. Each aircraft operator’s specific evacuation procedures should be considered during the development of procedures regarding the placement of a CRS on aircraft."

– Section 19, Page 15-16, Federal Aviation Administration’s Advisory Circular regarding Use of Child Restraint Systems on Aircraft

Can I bring a backless booster on a plane?

No, but you can bring it along as a carry-on item and stow it in the overhead bin. Check with your airline to see if it counts toward your total baggage allowance.

Regular boosters aren’t allowed and won’t work on planes because they need a shoulder belt. Planes only have lap belts. That said, if you’ve got an aircraft-certified booster car seat marketed that features a 5-point harness mode, you're good to go on the plane! 

"Some manufacturers choose to market and label their approved CRSs with backs as 'booster seats.'... these 'booster seats' fall into two categories, those with and without internal restraints....With internal restraints, solid backs, and the proper labeling, these CRSs marketed as 'booster seats' will be labeled as certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft and may be used for all phases of flight."

– Section 17A, Page 13, Federal Aviation Administration’s Advisory Circular regarding Use of Child Restraint Systems on Aircraft

How do I know if my car seat is airline-approved?

If your car seat has "certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft" on the label, you're good to fly! In case the label is missing or hard to read, don't worry. Bring along your car seat owner's manual – it says the same thing. Lost the manual? No problem! Check the manufacturer's website for a download. And if all else fails, a letter from the manufacturer works too.

"When an approved CRS is labeled or marked by the manufacturer, it certifies the CRS meets a set of safety standards....When a parent/guardian presents an approved CRS for use on aircraft with a worn off or unreadable label, the CRS must be furnished with a letter or document from the manufacturer that specifically ties the CRS (through a detailed description or specific make and model number) to approval for use on aircraft. An owner’s manual is also acceptable as proof of safety standards."

– Section 12, Page 10, Federal Aviation Administration’s Advisory Circular regarding Use of Child Restraint Systems on Aircraft

Using Car Seats on Planes: What's FAA-Approved & What's Not

FAA-Approved Car Seats List: Your Ultimate Guide

To make your journey smoother, we've compiled a comprehensive list of FAA-approved car seats. Whether you have an infant or a child in a convertible car seat, understanding which ones meet the Federal Aviation Administration's standards is key. Buckle up, and let's explore the world of FAA-approved car seats that guarantee safe and enjoyable flights for your precious travel companions! 

FAA-approved infant car seats

These infant car seats are specially designed seats provide the utmost security for your little ones during air travel, ensuring a snug and protected journey. From cozy carriers to ergonomic designs, each seat listed here is not just approved for aircraft use but also tailored to make your infant's first flights as safe and comfortable as possible.

  • NUNA Pipa RX Infant Car Seat: The NUNA Pipa RX is a top-tier choice, offering superior safety features and a user-friendly design. With its aircraft approval, it ensures a secure and cozy journey for your infant.
  • UPPAbaby Mesa V2: Renowned for its intuitive installation and sleek design, the UPPAbaby Mesa V2 Infant Car Seat is an FAA-approved gem. This car seat prioritizes both safety and style, making it a favorite among parents for air travel.
  • Clek Liingo Infant Car Seat: The Clek Liingo Infant Car Seat is a hassle-free solution, known for its easy installation in various modes of transportation. Its FAA approval makes it a reliable choice for parents seeking a seamless travel experience.
  • Doona Infant Car Seat Stroller: Blurring the lines between car seat and stroller, the Doona Infant Car Seat Stroller is a game-changer. Its innovative design is FAA-approved, ensuring convenience and comfort during air travel.
  • Nuna Pipa Urbn (TRVL Stroller + Pipa Urbn Combo): The Nuna Pipa Urbn, available exclusively as part of a travel system, combines the TRVL stroller and Pipa Urbn car seat. This dynamic duo is FAA-approved, offering a complete and stylish solution for travel-savvy parents.
  • Cybex Aton G Infant Car Seat: The Cybex Aton G Infant Car Seat is a versatile and travel-friendly choice. With its FAA approval, this car seat provides a secure cocoon for your infant, ensuring a safe and enjoyable journey on any flight.
Shop Aircraft Certified Infant Car Seats


FAA-approved convertible car seats

For those with growing adventurers, FAA-approved convertible car seats offer the perfect blend of safety and adaptability. These convertible wonders are designed to accommodate both infants and toddlers, making them a fantastic choice for families seeking longevity and convenience. Each seat listed here meets the Federal Aviation Administration's standards, ensuring a seamless transition from road trips to air travel. Discover the flexibility and security these convertible car seats bring to your family's journeys, allowing your little ones to soar comfortably as they grow. 

  • Nuna Rava Convertible Car Seat (Flame Retardant Free): The Nuna Rava stands out for its flame-retardant-free design, offering a safe and comfortable ride for your child. With FAA approval, it's a reliable choice for air travel.
  • Diono Radian 3R All-in-One Convertible Car Seat (2020 Edition): The Diono Radian 3R is an all-in-one marvel, accommodating various stages of your child's growth. Its FAA approval ensures a secure and adaptable solution for both road trips and flights.
  • Clek Foonf Convertible Car Seat: Known for its sleek design and advanced safety features, the Clek Foonf is an FAA-approved convertible car seat that combines style with substance. It provides a secure and stylish option for families on the go.
  • Maxi-Cosi Romi Convertible Car Seat: The Maxi-Cosi Romi boasts a convertible design that grows with your child. With FAA approval, this car seat ensures a smooth and secure transition between car and airplane travel.
  • Peg Perego Primo Viaggio Convertible Car Seat: The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio is a versatile convertible car seat with FAA approval, offering a comfortable and safe journey for your child. Its adaptable design suits various travel needs.
  • Nuna Exec: The Nuna Exec is a convertible car seat designed for convenience and safety. With FAA approval, it provides a reliable solution for families seeking versatility and peace of mind during air travel.
  • Clek Fllo: The Clek Fllo stands out for its compact design and top-notch safety features. As an FAA-approved convertible car seat, it ensures a secure and comfortable ride for your child, whether on the road or up in the air.

Parents, be aware that while some of these seats, like the Nuna Exec, may offer a belt-positioning booster mode, you cannot use it that way on the plane. Their use is only permitted if the seat is used in 5-point harness mode.

Shop Aircraft Certified Convertible Car Seats


Smooth Landings and Safe Travels Using Car Seats on Airplanes

As we wrap up our journey through the ins and outs of using car seats on airplanes, we hope you feel more confident and informed about your next family adventure. Navigating the friendly skies with your little one should be a joyous experience, and with the right knowledge, you can ensure their safety and comfort throughout the flight. Remember, the FAA-approved car seats listed here have been designed with your child's safety in mind, providing you with peace of mind as you soar to new heights together. Here's to smooth landings, safe travels, and creating lasting memories with your precious travel companions!

Shop All Car Seats


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