One of the most asked questions about flying with children is, “What is the best car seat for an 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 a car seat for general aviation. Down below you will find a checklist for shopping, and my personal recommendations for car seat and accompanying accessories. I’ll also touch on installation and booster questions. 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 reading specs, browsing in-store demos, and installing seats in the airplane. I know what it takes to be the “best” car seat for airplane travel, and am here to help! 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. A lightweight car seat is a must for airplane travel! You don’t need the car seat of all things weighing you or the airplane down. Every pound counts when you are full! It should also be light enough to transfer around 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 unique 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 really tough on longer flights, so comfort is a must! You don’t need bonus features for a travel car seat, but look for adequate padding and adjustable straps or headrests.
- Longevity. You probably already own car seats for your vehicles. When investing in an additional travel car seat, choose one that won’t 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 50-65 lbs.
- Slim. You don’t want the seat to spill over into the aisle, or the seat next to it. The best car seat for an airplane will be 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 specs. Car seats that advertise fitting three across a vehicle backseat are a good indicator that they are more narrow than the standard seat.
Focusing on those four characteristics should help you narrow down a great car seat for small aircraft. With any selection be sure that there is an FAA approved use sticker. If you are flying with an infant you can simply use their bucket seat. Do remember that the majority of bases are not approved for aircraft use. In this case, you will need to be sure you can secure the bucket seat using only the aircraft seat belt.
What I use on our Airplane
You may be overwhelmed with the many car seats manufactured today. The seat that has been great for us is the Cosco Mighty Fit 65 car seat, also named the Safety 1st Guide 65. These two car seats are exactly the same from Dorel parent company, under these two brands. (click on either seat to view more.) The seat has an adjustable headrest and is quite padded for comfort. There are 5 shoulder strap heights and 3 buckle slots to accommodate a growing child. The seat fits children from 5 lbs to 65 lbs, a great range at this product weight and price point. Upright, the seat is 23.5 inches high, and 17 inches wide. 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. Click here to view more seat details from Amazon.
Update for 2022: This car seat is sometimes hard to find in stock under the Cosco name, however the Safety 1st version is typically available.
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.
OTHER TOP CONTENDERS
If you our top pick isn’t for you then these car seats also fulfill the above checklist. Based on that set of criteria, these are excellent car seats for personal aircraft use. (please keep in mind the weight listed on Amazon is the shipping weight with box etc, actual weights listed below)
The Baby Trend Trooper 3 in 1 weighs in at 12.4 pounds, and is the most narrow car seat on the list at 16.75 inches wide. This includes a cup holder that doesn’t need to be removed! There ares 5 positions for shoulder height, and 3 position buckle slots. The seat has a weight range of 4 to 65 pounds, and has a flip bar for suitable infant recline angles. It’s slightly higher than the previous seats, at 26.5 inches. Click here to view seat details and price.
The Safety 1st Jive 2 in 1 weighs 14 pounds and is also adjustable with 5 shoulder heights, and 3 buckle locations. In it for the long haul as well, the seat will fit children from 5 to 65 pounds. This is a narrow profile seat at 17.5 inches wide with the cup holders removed, and is 25 inches in height. Click here for details!
No aircraft, to date, has an anchor installed to attach the top tether of a forward facing car seat. You may use and secure a car seat without a top tether on an aircraft. What you do NOT want to do, is create your own anchor or tie the tether elsewhere. The best way to ensure that the seat is as secure as possible is to install it with the belt, and make sure that it does not move more than 1 inch side to side or forward to back. I can get my car seat installed on the airplane (or the car) with zero movement. The trick? When you think you have the belt as tight and secure as it will go, kneel into the car seat and put all your weight on it. This will loosen the seat belt further and allow you to pull more slack, and tighten further. This way when you child sits in it, it will not loosen from their weight.
Also, if you missed it above, infant car seat bases are typically not approved for aircraft use. The exception would be the few infant car seats that require the use of the base when the upper does not have belt paths. In most cases, secure infant bucket seats directly to the seat using the belt guides.
There is a lot of confusion regarding booster seat use on personal aircraft. We know boosters do not have an FAA approved use on them, but we have to consider why. First, the sole purpose of a booster seat is to elevate the child to a position where the shoulder belt fits properly across the chest. Second, a booster seat is intended for children who have outgrown forward facing car seat limits, typically around 4 feet 9 inches. Boosters do not get the FAA sticker on them because commercial airlines only have lap belts, and boosters must be used with a shoulder belt. For general aviation booster seats are safe, and should be used if the aircraft has shoulder belts, if the booster is being used to position your child correctly on that shoulder belt, and if your child has outgrown the forward facing car seat.
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 use the Munchkin Auto Seat Protector for both children. Click here to view the Munchkin protector on Amazon. It fits nicely on both the single seat and bench seat. It does have a stabilizing wedge that you slip into the crease at the base of the seat to 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, or are very basic shoulder strap pads. Since I prioritize a comfy ride, I purchased my own to add to the car seat. These highly rated straps come in floral, dinosaur print, and others. In addition to being light and soft, they helps identify who the car seat belongs to when uninstalled.
Be sure to read our best products to pack list for more useful items, including the best travel stroller on the market!
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. Do you have a question about car seats in small aircraft? Leave a comment down below!
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