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Travelling with Children: The Car Seat Dilemma

To bring or not to bring a car seat on a plane? That is the question!

For most of us, summer means travelling back to our home countries or on exotic vacations. While you probably have a million things on your mind and a million and one things to do, it is prudent that parents with young children take the time to consider the car seat dilemma.

I know, I know. With all that you have to lug around in the airport and on and off a plane (your carry-on, diaper bags, purse and ultimately your tired, jet-lagged kids), adding a bulky car seat to that list is not that appealing. And of course, you will reason, statistics show that you are more likely to get hurt in a car accident than during plane travel. So it’s more important to ensure the car seat is in your car, to and from the airport, right?

Ultimately, the choice is yours. But whatever you decide, it is important to know that there are a lot of options for air travel with children that can make your life easier and safer.

Travelling without purchased plane seats

For children without purchased seats, most airlines have the option of allowing children under two to sit in the lap of their parent. Should you choose this option, you will be provided with a seatbelt for your child that is looped into your own restraint. This can be used during landing and take-off. During the rest of the trip, many airlines offer a carrycot for babies who are unable to sit up, or a child seat for older babies who weigh up to 12.5kgs (27.5lbs) and can sit in a reclined position. If this is the option for you, make sure to request the bassinet seat upon booking your tickets as they are subject to availability.

Travelling with purchased plane seats

For young children with purchased seats, regardless of age, the Federal Aviation Administration (United States) strongly recommends that you use an FAA-approved child restraint device. That means either an approved car seat or the CARES harness.

Travelling with an approved car seat

For car seat users, if you already have a travelling stroller system, you’ve solved half the battle. Simply double check that you can use your stroller/car seat combo in the airport and then have the stroller checked at the gate before you board. During layovers, when your stroller is returned to you, you’ll have no problem strolling through the airport with your little one.

If you have a larger car seat for toddlers, it may be wise to invest in something like the Roll ‘n Go Car Seat Transporter or the Britax Car Seat Travel Cart. Both are super lightweight contraptions that attach to most car seat models through their existing latches to give your car seat wheels so that you may easily roll it through the airport, even with your child buckled safely inside. Prices do vary by model and you have to make sure that the model you choose is compatible with your car seat.

Travelling with a CARES harness

A CARES harness can be used for children from 10 to 20 kg (22 to 44 lb) and up to 102 cm (40 in) tall. This is the only FAA-approved restraint device to be used on planes. It is a harness that safely and comfortably secures your child in their individual seat during the entire plane ride. It works in conjunction with the plane’s seatbelts and provides your child with the same safety as a car seat. But unlike a car seat, it is super light—only 1 lb (450 g) and can easily fit into a six-inch stuff sack.

So as long as you’ve checked your car seat in with your luggage, the CARES harness is a great alternative to bringing a car seat on a plane.

Travelling light

With all that said, if you decide not to bring a car seat with you at all, either to use on the plane or in your destination country, it is imperative that you make arrangements for your children’s safety. Check if the car service to and from the airport can provide you with a car seat, or see if you can borrow one from a family member/fellow mum whose children have outgrown their seats. For four to 11 year olds you can always purchase a travel booster seat. The Bubble Bum booster seat is a great choice that deflates and folds flat making it easy to carry.

We all know that car seats and seat belts save lives, so wherever you are, be sure to buckle up!

Also, if you are looking to borrow one of these systems, or any other gear for your little ones, check out the Doha Mums Borrow Programme. It’s a great way to get things you may only need once for a fraction of the cost. 

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