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One of the most asked questions about flying with children is, “What car seat should I use for the airplane?” There are certainly no shortage of options out there when you are flying with babies or toddlers. Compared to vehicle use, there’s just a different set of criteria to consider for personal aircraft travel. Down below you will find a checklist for shopping, and my personal recommendations for car seat and accompanying accessories. I do want to point out that the safest place for a child on the aircraft is, in fact, in a car seat. I know how much fun it is flying with children, but when possible they should be seated in the aft cabin and in a child restraint.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time researching, reading specs, browsing in-store demos, and installing seats in the airplane. Here are the most important things to consider when purchasing a seat for personal aircraft. You can also use these recommendations for airline travel.
Airplane Car Seat Checklist
- Lightweight. You don’t need the car seat of all things reducing the useful load of the airplane much, especially for times when you are full with passengers, fuel and bags. It should also be light enough to transfer in and out easily if you plan on using a car wherever you land. Ideally, the car seat will be under 15 lbs.
- Comfort. Be careful not to sacrifice comfort for portability. There are many models that are light, but aren’t soft at all. You want your child to enjoy flying and be content for the length of the flight. It can be tough on longer flights just in general, even more so when they can’t get comfortable. You don’t need every feature for a travel car seat, but look for adequate padding or contour, as well as adjustable straps or headrests.
- Longevity. From infant bucket seats to convertible car seats purchased for both our cars plus grandparents, I knew I didn’t want to purchase a seat for the airplane that would need upgrading any time soon. There are some tempting extra lightweight models that fit children up to 40 lbs, but I would recommend thinking ahead and getting a model that fits children from 5 lbs. to around 50-65 lbs.
- Slim. No matter the aircraft you are flying you don’t want the seat to spill over into either the aisle, or the seat next to it. I recommend looking for a narrow model, and with removable or no side cup holders. Measure the width of your aircraft seat both at the base and upper seat back to compare to specs before you purchase. There are car seats that advertise fitting three across a vehicle backseat, and those are a good indicator that they are more narrow than the standard seat.
Focusing on those four characteristics should help you narrow down a car seat that is appropriate for your small aircraft. With any selection be sure that there is an FAA approved use sticker. If you are flying with an infant you can use their bucket seat, just remember that the base is typically not approved for aircraft use. You will need to be sure you can secure the bucket seat using only the aircraft seat belt.
What I use on our Airplane
If you are overwhelmed with choices don’t worry, I do have a recommendation for you! One of the top options is the Cosco Mighty Fit 65 car seat. I ultimately chose the DX version for our aircraft. It has an adjustable headrest bar and is quite padded. There are 5 shoulder strap heights and 3 base buckle slots to accommodate a growing child. The seat also fits children from 5 lbs to 65 lbs, which is a huge range at this product weight and price point. The cover is removable and machine washable, which I have done with ease. I can tell you that the weight of this car seat is exactly 10.6 pounds (though I sometimes see the weight listed incorrectly at different retailers). Click here to view more seat details from Amazon.
To see the seat reviewed on board the airplane, check out my 90 second video below! It shows the Mighty Fit 65 DX inside our six-seat Piper M600. I made it short and to the point, as lightweight travel seats are pretty basic in function.
OTHER TOP CONTENDERS
If you don’t love our top pick, these car seats also fulfill many of the above checklist qualities, and are suitable for personal aircraft travel.
The Safety 1st Jive 2-in-1 convertible car seat is going to give you a lot of features from the checklist. It has the comfort, the longevity, and the slim profile. It has great padding, five adjustable harness positions, and an adjustable head pad for younger kids. This seat accommodates children 5 to 65 lbs, and has an overall narrow width for great fit in an airplane seat. The Jive does weigh in at 14 pounds, not the lightest on this list, but certainly a lower weight than standard. The cover can be removed and is machine washable. The cup holders can be removed as well, but since they are on the front of the seat they may not interfere with the seat next to them. Click here to view more seat details on Amazon.
I have to include the WAYB Pico Travel car seat because so many aviation parents love this seat. I too love this seat because of what it provides for parents on the go. This portable car seat weights just 8 pounds, and folds into a carrying backpack. This car seat provides an even bigger benefit if you plan on an Uber or taxi at your destination because of it’s compact set up. The manufacturer sells an Amazon bundle with the travel bag. From my research, this allows you to get the bag a little bit cheaper (at the time of this article). There is going to be a little more of a size restriction on this seat as it’s designed for children over 2 years, and between 22 and 50 pounds. You are going to pay a pretty penny for this unique car seat, however. At the time of this article the bundle was around $380. Click here to view more seat details on Amazon.
Car Seat Protector
I do recommend the use of a car seat protector in the aircraft. Whether fabric or leather, those are seats that you do not want to damage or leave with permanent indentations. I opt for a lower half protector since the seats are shaped different than a vehicle. I know the full size protectors from my vehicle wouldn’t attach the best way in our airplane. I use the Munchkin Auto Seat Protector for both children. Click here to view the Munchkin protector on Amazon. It fits nicely on the single seat and on the bench seat. It does have a stabilizing wedge that you slip into the crease at the base of the seat to help keep it in place. The picture below shows the seat protector installed on our airplane. As you can see it has extra reinforcement protection in the corners where car seats would typically “dig in” a bit more. We have had great success with using these.
Some of the more basic car seats do not come with shoulder strap pads, or the ones that do aren’t that great. Since I prioritize a comfy ride, I purchased my own to add to the car seat. The brand we bought is called Goldbug, and they make really cute plush animal ones like this panda bear strap cover. This makes it really fun for the kids, and they are really light and soft. I let the kids pick out their own, so they are able to contribute and therefore are more excited about using the seat.
I hope this has helped you find a great car seat and accessories for family aircraft travel. Remember it’s important to ensure a safe and comfortable experience in the air, so they want to return again and again! Do you have a question about car seats in small aircraft? Leave a comment down below.