How We Use Car Seats When Traveling – yes it is possible! [Guest Post]

Travelling with car seats

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Hi! I’m Elizabeth from Dutch Dutch Goose. I’m an ex-pat mom of two littles and I recently moved my family from Colorado to the Netherlands. In addition to moving abroad, we do a lot of travelling! Ever since we added our first little, we’ve been travelling with the car seat in tow.
Keeping kids safe when you travel is just as important as keeping them safe at home. We’ve had the seats on planes, trains, buses, cabs and even boats.
I’m going to give you some tips and tricks for travelling with your car seat!

Our Gear.

On The Plane.

Boys in the Car Seat on the Plane

In the U.S. children under two are allowed to sit on an adult’s lap free-of-charge. It is safest for your child to be in a car seat on a plane. According to the FAA the most common air-plane accidents are actually runway incursions. (Learn more about runway incursions from the FAA .) There is a financial tradeoff to be made between the risk and the cost of an extra ticket for your tiny. We’ve always taken advantage of the free infant in arms policy until our little has become too wiggly for me to hold safely. Our oldest, now three, moved into his own air-plane seat at one year old. Our one year old is still sitting on our lap on flights. Most airlines will let you gate check your car seat, that way if a seat becomes available, which has actually happened to us on some non-popular routes, the airline will allow you to take your seat on the air-plane.

When travelling with both kiddos I use the Go Go Babyz Wheels with the Britax. The wheels allow me to use the car seat as a stroller through the airport. The Diono has a great feature where the seat folds up. This makes it ideal for placing inside a car seat carrier book bag. The Diono also has straps that attach so it can be used as a backpack, but we have never used this feature. Caution: The Diono is quite heavy. I like the added protection of the bag. I carry this one on my back if there is a chance we are getting an extra seat. If there is no chance then I check it at check-in.

Car seats that go on planes must be FAA certified. You can check the car seat label on the side and it should be in red letters. We’ve been asked on many flights to show that it says it is certified, so find this label before you travel to avoid the extra panic you don’t need while boarding.

Car seats are installed on airplanes using the lap belt. Seats must be installed in a window seat and cannot be installed directly behind or in front of an exit row. I always board early in case any of this is an issue.

Technically your child can be installed rear facing as long as they ride rear facing in the car, but with current airplane seat configurations many times the car seats will not fit this way. Even when they do fit they will completely block the seat in front of them from reclining. On one trip with a six month old, I installed the car seat rear facing. Every other trip I’ve installed the seat forward facing. I adjust the car seat recline to its most upward position to give the little as much leg room as possible.

On several occasions, where we have not needed a car seat at our destination, I’ve left the car seat at home and used the CARES flight harness, which is the only FAA approved flight harness. (Check out my review of the CARES harness.)

In the Rental Car/Taxi.

I carry my car seats with me so we can use them at our destination in our rental car or taxi. I just do not feel safe in a car without the kids in car seats. Most states do not require passengers in the back of hired cars to wear a seatbelt or use a car seat. I insist on installing them anyway.

When we have long distances to travel we will hire a car service. They often do not cost any more than a cab, but you will pay in advance or put down a deposit for a reservation. I always inform the car service that I am going to have car seats with me. The advantage of the car service is that I never feel rushed installing or un-installing the car seat, so I can take my time and get it right. Car service cars are also usually in great condition. That means the LATCH systems are in place if that is how you want to install the seats.

There is an option to rent car seats with your car service or a baby rental company. I’m always concerned about where those seats have been, who is monitoring their expiration dates and if they have been in a car accident. This has always been my backup plan though if my checked car seats were to become lost on a flight. Renting a car seat is better than nothing!

In New York City if you want to use a taxi, UBER Family sends a car that includes a car seat. They also have booster seats available. They are limited and you cannot get a car with two car seats in it, so it will not work for everyone.

In a Foreign Car.

Car Seats in a Taxi in London

Depending on where you are traveling this may be more difficult in some areas than in others. In our experience armed with the Internet and knowledge of your car seat you can make it work. Some foreign cars are not equipped with the LATCH system. England has a similar system that American car seats will snap into. We tend to use the seatbelt in foreign cars. So long as the seatbelt locks it will not be a problem to properly install. Check your rental car and ask for another if your seats do not work. Using a car service, instead of a cab gives you the ability to ask about installing a seat before the car arrives.

In England your cab or car hire probably already has rear facing seats. In this case install the kids forward facing (with the back of the car seat against the back of the seat) in the rear facing seats. You can sit in the forward facing seats and enjoy a wonderful ride looking at your kids!

On the Bus.

We use a lot of city buses when we travel. You do not need a car seat on a city bus. They move at slow speeds, sit high up (crash impact at feet level not chest level), are highly visible and most are not equipped with seat belts.

We have had the car seat on a bus quite a few times moving to or from the airport or around town. One kid will often sit in the car seat flat on the ground attached to the Go Go Babyz Wheels. We try to park this car seat in a handicap area. If both kids are sitting with us then the seats go in the luggage rack.

I have not taken a long haul bus on the highway with the kids. I would most likely attempt to install the car seat or call to find out my options.

On the Train.

Car Seats on a Train

There are no seat belts on the train so you should not use your car seat. We have taken our car seats as luggage on all types of trains. We recently had them on the Chunnel, the Underground, the NYC subway, and a whole host of European rail lines. Storing them can be a problem. They do not fit in the overhead luggage racks, so look for the seating on the train that allows you to sit with larger pieces of luggage. These spots are often marked with a bicycle or handicap placard. There is also storage space under the seats where the forward and backward seats meet.

In city trains we each take a car seat and just stand with it as luggage. It can get crowded but we have never had a problem.

On the Boat.

Your child obviously does not need to sit in the car seat on a boat! We did bring both our car seats over to Europe on the Queen Mary 2. I was very concerned about storing them while we were on the boat. The car seats fit easily into one of our closets on the boat. We did a Tetris move putting one on top of the other upside down.

On the Bicycle.

We are in the Netherlands so we actually have kiddo seats on our bikes! Recently we had to get our car seats to the train station from our house, 3 miles away. My husband loaded the seats into the bike trailer and biked them the three miles to the house. It went pretty well until he slowed down coming down a bridge and the bike trailer tipped over! We reloaded and were on our way in no time. You do what you have to do to get the car seats there!

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Therese has completed the ‘Advanced Child Car Seat Training Course’ at TRL (Transport Research Lab) and is a CPD accredited car seat expert. She blogs about in-car safety, car seats, tips, reviews, give-aways and advice. She’s a mum on a mission to change the law and raise awareness. She is also a breast feeding advocate and gentle parenting promoter who loves cloth nappies, baby-wearing, BLW and co-sleeping/bed-sharing.