Car Seat on an Airplane VS. Lap Baby

Today I am marrying two of my blog series (traveling with a baby & versus)…whoa!  I am in the midst of laying out the tips and tricks that my husband and I have learned along the way when traveling with our infant son.  Yesterday I talked about how to keep your (and the passengers around you) sanity when on an airplane with a little one.  That leads me into a versus post about the pros and cons of taking a car seat on the plane with you instead of holding your child in your arms.  Ta-da!  Bloggy series goodness.

traveling with a baby

To catch up on the other posts in this series check them out below:

  1. Series Index
  2. Traveling by Car
  3. Traveling by Plane
  4. Car Seat VS. Lap on Plane
  5. Staying in a Hotel
  6. Pinterest-ing Busy Games
  7. Peek Into OUR Vacation

Car Seat on an Airplane VS. a Lap Baby

Airlines allow you to bring your car seat onto the plane to place in a seat to restrain your child.  As far as I can see these are the basic rules for traveling with children (see links below for more info):

  • a child may be in your lap if they are under the age of 2 (no seat ticket purchase necessary)
  • after age 2 they need to be in their own seat with a seat belt or Cares Restraint System
  • Cares Restraint System can be used for children over age 1 and between 22-44 pounds
  • if you choose to bring on a car seat you have to buy a seat ticket
  • your car seat must be approved for airline flight (usually is marked on the side of the car seat)
    • less than 20 pounds: rear facing
    • more than 20 pounds: forward facing
    • more than 40 pounds: seat belt
  • the car seat must also be a certain width to fit on the airplane seat (usually around 16-17 inches wide)
  • harness or child carriers strapped to an adult are not allowed as a safety restraint

-please be advised that I am stating info found from the FAA website…please make sure to look up the information for your self (as well as checking with your specific airline), as I am not held responsible.

Pros and Cons

Car Seat on the Airplane


  • the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) & the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) highly suggest that an infant be in a car seat
  • with the extra seat purchased you have more room in the row
  • your child might be less antsy if they comfortable in their car seat (depends on the child)
  • they will be safe in unexpected turbulance
  • your lap will be free!


  • more $ to purchase the extra ticket (some airlines provide a child discount)
  • more “luggage” to bring onto the airplane
  • depending on the child they may be uncomfortable being restrained
  • may have to purchase smaller car seat if your current one is too wide (seats are usually about 16-17 in wide)

Lap Baby


  • less expensive because a ticket is not required for ages 2 and under
  • child may be comfortable on your lap
  • car seat can be checked at the gate for ease of travel
  • less luggage to carry onto the plane


  • unsafe in extreme turbulance
  • if it is just 2 adults and 1 child flying you may be sitting in a row of 3 with another passenger close by
  • sleeping may be difficult for the child
  • child may get antsy and want “down”

My Take on bring a car seat on the plane VS. having a lap baby

Believe me, we went over and over this choice in our heads when preparing to take baby boy on his first plane trip.  We weighed the options, and opted to take a car seat on the plane with us.  Yes, we had to buy an extra ticket, but it was well worth it.  In order to take our car seat on the plane, though, we had to buy a new one because our existing one was too wide.  We decided to use a gift card and get an inexpensive, but safe, one that we could then use in the car at our destination.

The deciding factor for us, was the safety issue.  I know that turbulence so extreme to knock something (or someone) our of your hands is rare…but what if??  I knew I would feel guilty if I knew what was the safest, and it was do-able and within reach, and chose to go the other route.  By taking the car seat on, I knew I was making the right choice for myself.

One thing that stuck out at me was reading about the measures airline crews take to secure other things down for take off and landing, and yet a baby is free to be unattached in your lap?  My son also does not like to sit and sleep in someone’s lap, so he was able to take some good naps in his car seat.  Also, buying the extra ticket allowed us to take up a whole row, therefore not bothering other passengers as much (bonus!)

Helpful Websites

Helpful products

What is your take?  Did you go the car seat route or on your lap?

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