Flying With a Car Seat: Airline Car Seat Regulations

Whether you use it on the plane or in the car once you arrive at your destination, flying with small children usually means that you are traveling with car seats. Different airlines have different regulations and policies regarding bringing a car seat along for the flight, so knowing how your airline handles them can give you a leg up.

what are the rules for bringing a car seat on a plane?

The bulky item that does not have wheels for easy transport is the car seat. No matter what airline you choose, we recommend investing in a car seat travel bag to protect your seat from wear and tear.  Weight and size restrictions apply here as they do with all other luggage, and airline rules can be quite lengthy and differ greatly from one carrier to the next.

  1. American Airlines – Most safety seats that are approved for use in motor vehicles are acceptable for use in aircraft. The seat must have a solid back and seat, restraint straps installed to securely hold the child and a label indicating approval for use on an aircraft. The label may include these notes: “This child restraint system conforms to all Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards” and “this restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircrafts” or “this restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft.” Approval of a foreign government or a label showing that the seat was manufactured under the standards of the United Nations.The safety seat can’t be used in an exit row or in the rows on either side of an exit row. Install the seat in the direction appropriate for the size of the child and according to the instructions on the label. The child must remain in the safety seat with the harness fastened during taxi, takeoff, landing and whenever the “fasten seatbelt” sign is on. To carry on a safety seat, you must have bought a seat for the child, or a seat must be available next to you. If an unoccupied, adjoining seat is not available, the gate agent will check the safety seat to your final destination.
  2. Delta Airlines – “Seat restraints are not counted as part of the standard baggage and therefore can easily be checked for free. For your convenience these items may be checked at curbside, the ticket counter, or at the gate. Child restraint seats may be brought on board the plane in certain circumstances. For instance, if there is an open passenger seat in your row, you may place your child in an FAA-approved child restraint in that seat during take-off and landing. If an empty passenger seat is not available for your child restraint, the item must be checked at the gate by a Delta representative.”
  3. Southwest Airlines – “Customers traveling with children will be allowed to check one Child Restraint System (CRS) or car seat per child without charge. This is in addition to the regular free baggage allowance. The CRS or car seat allowance applies to any type of CRS or car seat. The Customer may check the stroller and CRS or car seat at the curb, ticket counter, or gate. Southwest Airlines will not assume liability for damage to CRSs or car seats. (An optional Southwest-branded reusable car seat/stroller bag is available for purchase at any Southwest Airlines ticket counter for a $15 one time fee.)”
  4. United Airlines – “The seat must conform to all applicable Federal Motor Vehicle standards. If manufactured after February 2, 1985, the seat must be certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft. The accompanying adult is responsible for ensuring that the seat functions correctly, that the child does not exceed the seat’s limitations, that the child is properly secured in the seat and that the child seat is secured to the aircraft seat. United does not reserve space for government-approved child seats, unless a ticket has been purchased for that seat. If space is available after boarding is completed, customers may use adjacent unused seats to secure the government-approved child seat. If space is not available after boarding is completed, the item must be stowed in an approved storage space. AmSafe’s CARES (Child Aviation Restraint System) may be used on board United Airlines aircraft. Other booster seats, restraint vests and restraint harnesses may not be used on board. Note: The FAA label must be attached to the AmSafe device. It is the customer’s responsibility to ensure that it is correctly used on board the aircraft.”
  5. Air Canada – “Air Canada is bound by Transport Canada regulations with regards to acceptable child restraint devices (with the exception of the CARES™ child restraint device). Some child restraint devices are a combination of a child restraint system and a booster seat.  To be acceptable for use in the aircraft, the internal harness system must be installed and all child restraint device-labelling requirements must be met.  When used as a booster seat, the internal harness system is removed and is not approved for use on board the aircraft.”
  6. JetBlue – “Car seats and child restraint systems (CRS) are considered a special item (along with overcoats, jackets or umbrellas). The special item is in addition to the one carry-on item (to go in the overhead compartment) and one personal item (to go under the seat in front of the customer) a customer is permitted to bring onboard the aircraft.”
  7. Alaska Airlines -“We strongly recommend that children, as well as infants traveling on a regular fare, be secured in an appropriate child-restraint system, such as a car seat. Lap infants sharing a seat with a parent may still sit next to their parent in a car seat if there’s an empty seat available. To be used onboard, your child-restraint system must bear both of the following labels: This restraint system conforms to all applicable federal motor vehicle safety conditions; This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft (in red lettering). Labels that indicate US or foreign government approval or show the seat was manufactured under the standards of the United Nations are also valid. Child-restraint systems are not permitted in: Any aisle seat, emergency exit rows, rows immediately in front of or behind the exit rows, any bulkhead row seat (rows 1 and 6) on Alaska Airlines flights 001-999, “A” seats in rows 1-4 on Alaska Airlines flights 3300-3499. The window seat is the best location for a child restraint system, although it may be placed in the middle seat if the window seat is vacant, or if the restraint system does not block access to the aisle.”
  8. WestJet – “WestJet accepts Transport Canada or Federal Aviation Administration approved child/infant restraint systems, more commonly referred to as car seats, for use in the cabin providing they meet restraint system standards and WestJet’s carry-on baggage acceptance guidelines. WestJet does not supply car seats or other restraint systems. WestJet allows child and infant equipment, including car seats, to be checked in addition to a guest’s checked baggage allowance at no charge. All infants/children secured in a car seat must be seated beside a guest 12 years of age or older, and are restricted from some seats on the aircraft (for example over-wing exit row or bulkhead seats).”
  9. AeroMexico – “One baby carrier up to 44 pounds (20 kg) or 45 inches (1.14 m) is permitted at no extra charge.”
  10. Spirit Airlines – “You’re welcome to bring an FAA-approved child restraint system (car seat) onboard as long as a separate seat has been purchased for the child. We will do our best to reseat you to an open seat (not including our Big Front Seats) if the car seat is too large for a regular seat. Some FAA approved car seats may not always fit in certain Spirit Airlines aircraft seats. Car seats may not be accommodated in any seat equipped with an inflatable seat belt. Additionally, car seats may not be secured in an exit seat or the row before or after the exit seats. Keep in mind that our Big Front Seats are a premium product and are available for an additional charge.”
  11. Frontier – “A car seat may be checked free of charge when traveling with a child.”
  12. Volaris – “If you want your infant to travel in a baby seat, you must buy an adult ticket. Only baby seats approved by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) for use in an aircraft carrier (check information behind the chair) are permitted in the cabin.”
  13. Hawaiian Airlines – “A seat must be purchased for infants traveling in a child restraint seat. Infants traveling as a lap child (sharing seat with an adult) may bring a child restraint seat on board if: 1) there is an empty seat available for the infant and 2) the car seat bears the following two required labels: this restraint system conforms to all applicable federal motor vehicle safety conditions. This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft. (in red lettering) (NOTE: Labels that indicate U.S. or Foreign Government approval or show the seat was manufactured under the standards of the United Nations are also valid.) Any other child booster seats and other types of child restraints may not be used during take-off, landing, and surface movements regardless of what stamp/seal of approval these booster or harness devices carry. If the flight is full, the car seat will be checked at the gate using a claim-at-gate tag. The car seat will be returned to the passenger at the gate upon arrival.”
  14. Allegiant Air – “Approved car seat style child restraint systems will have one or more of the following labels: the FMVSS.213 insignia, language indicating that they are certified or approved for use in motor vehicles and on aircraft, language indicating they conform to all applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards. Although the width of aircraft seats varies, a car seat style child restraint system wider than 17.88 inches is unlikely to fit and provide maximum protection for your child. Backless booster seats, safety belt extensions (commonly referred to as “belly belts”) and vest or harness devices that attach to an adult are banned for use on aircraft by the FAA. The only harness-type device approved by the FAA is the AmSafe Aviation CARES. It is designed for children weighing between 22 and 44 pounds and must include a label that says ‘FAA Approved in Accordance with 14CFR 21.305(d), Approved for Aircraft Use Only.'”
  15. Virgin America – “Virgin America allows the use of FAA-approved infant safety seats secured to standard Guest seats. An infant safety seat cannot take up an aisle or exit row seat. It may not be located in the rows forward and behind emergency exit rows. Guests must ensure that infant safety seats used during flight remain secured at all times, even when unoccupied. A window seat is the preferred location; however, other locations are acceptable provided that only persons responsible for the child occupy seats next to the child/infant.”

The Federal Aviation Administration(FAA) has many guidelines for choosing, purchasing and using an approved child seat for the flight. If the child is less than 20 pounds, they should be in a rear-facing seat. If between 20-44 pounds, a forward-facing seat. If they are above this weight then they can use the seat as anyone else would. Be sure to check with a gate agent if you have any concerns regarding the use of a child seat.

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