The easiest way to spot a traveling family in the airport (other than the actual presence of children) is the big car seat that is getting carried, wheeled, pushed, or kicked through the airport. I have done many trips both with and without the car seat, and yet am still conflicted on some trips whether to bring it or leave it at home.
I’ll share some of the pros/cons that help me decide whether to lug it or ditch it on any given trip, and then I would love to hear how other parents decide what to do for their trips.
Benefits of Bringing the Car Seat:
- It is safer. I know if the plane plummets to the ground from 36,000 feet that having a car seat or not isn’t going to make a heap of difference. However, a hard landing, nasty turbulence, etc. would be much safer to deal with in a car seat than without.
- My daughter sleeps much better in her car seat on planes that without. Recently she has started falling asleep in her car seat before the plane even gets off the ground. Once she is asleep she stays asleep much longer when she is in her car seat.
- I am familiar with my car seat and trust its quality over what I may get at car rental agencies when I land. That doesn’t mean it is always easy to install as some vehicles are easier than others, but at least I am familiar with and trust the seat.
- I don’t have to pay to rent a car seat at my final destination. There are some codes out there that help with this, but I am totally immune from any extra fees when I just bring my own.
Leaving the Car Seat at Home:
- The number one reason I sometimes leave the car seat at home is it is a royal pain to lug around, especially when it is just Little C and I on a trip. It is so much easier to just throw the CARES Harness in my purse than to deal with the car seat the whole time.
- It is much easier for toddlers to kick the seat in front of them when they are in a car seat on a flight. The car seat puts them so close to the seat in front of them that there is a tremendous temptation to just kick and kick and kick while on the flight. Of course, this problem is mitigated if you are in a seat with extra legroom or you know the person in front of you, but even then it is still an issue.
- The car seat may not comfortably fit or even be allowed on the flight. Some of the more advanced/fancy airplane seats (especially the ones with outer shells) don’t allow car seats to be used at all. Also, some car seats are so large that they don’t fit in some of the more narrow airplane seats, so be sure to check the dimensions of your airline seat and your car seat.
- If you are planning a trip such as “backpacking through Europe”, then having a car seat to lug around on public transportation for the whole journey would be quite cumbersome.
There are some gadgets that make bringing the car seat easier. One example is to get something like the Go Go Baby Kidz Travelmate. This allows you to place your kiddo in the car seat and push them around the airport, so it is solving two problems at once. You have a secured child, and you have an easy way to push the car seat around. Of course, if you are already managing lots of bags or a stroller this is of limited use. There are many different types of similar products available.
Another idea is a strap that connects the car seat to one of your carry-on roller bags and then you are potentially solving three problems at once. Those straps are typically much less expensive than the carts that connect to your car seat, but the process is only as good as the roller bag that you have.
You can also get a padded car seat bag that doubles as a backpack so you can be the stylish parent strolling down the terminal with a car seat on your back. All the cool dads are doing it!
For a while I was so obsessed with the convenience of the CARES Harness that we left the car seat behind quite a bit, however I quickly grew tired of the crummy car rental car seats, and I hated how my kiddo was hardly ever comfortably sleeping on flights. We have since gone back to bringing the “extra” car seat whenever we can.
We leave our big and fancy Britax at home and bring the less expensive, small, lightweight Cosco Scenera model with us. Bringing the car seat still does get tricky when it is just me, but I have managed by building a mountain of luggage and placing the car seat on top. It may not be the best plan, but it works. If you have several kids in car seats, then my Mt. CarSeat strategy would not really apply.
Considering that children have to be in car seats until they are about 18 years old now, this is not an issue we will escape in the immediate future. What plan does your family use? How do you manage multiple car seats? Which type of car seat and other gadgets do you use to make your travels easier?