Flying with your car seat

Last updated July 2019.

Flying with your child?  Here’s how to deal with car seats, in order of preference:

1) Buy a ticket for your baby. A ticketed child, regardless of age, is allowed to use a car seat on board the air craft (nearly all seats for sale in Canada and bearing the National Safety Mark are certified for use on an air craft).  Safer for your child, safer for other passengers (your child won’t be a projectile), and safer for your car seat.  Use a rolling, folding luggage cart to roll through the airport.  Have more than one seat? Bungee them together! Click here to read the Child Passenger Safety Association of Canada‘s position statement on the need for all passengers to be safely seated on flights.

2) Arrange to have a seat at your destination, either borrowing from a trusted source or buying a new one (ordering online and shipping to your destination is a possibility).

***You still don’t want your child to be a projectile though. Consider using a CARES harness on board the aircraft, which restrains your child using the lap belt on the plane.  They’re for use with children between 22 lbs and 44 lbs, and up to 40″ tall, but please note there’s no crotch buckle so smaller kids can squirm out. After 40 lbs or so the plane’s lap belt is usually sufficient.  Click to see where to buy a CARES harness.  They cost around $100, and are lightweight and small, so can easily be stowed in a carry on bag for boarding.  Please, however, disregard CARES’ advice to ‘check your car seat and use a CARES harness instead.’

3) Box your car seat, in the original box if possible, and well-padded with pillows or clothes. Check it as special luggage.  It may be free if in the original box.


Much less desirable options from our perspective:

– Gate check your car seat.  Walk it down the jet way, leave it at the door to the plane, and hope it’s there at your destination. No guarantees it won’t get battered in the hold, or it won’t accidentally get loaded onto the conveyors with the rest of the luggage. It still has an unknown history although this option is probably better than checking it as luggage. Inspect it carefully at your destination, removing the cover and looking for damage in any foam, plastic, or webbing.

– Rent a car seat from a car rental place. You have NO IDEA how it’s been treated – dropped? – crashed? – harness washed or disinfected? – peed/pooped/vomited in? Is the manual there? Is it missing any parts?  Is it appropriate for your child (being given a booster for an infant, for example).

– Check your car seat as luggage. It’s free. Lot’s of people do it.  We consider it to now have an unknown history — if it even shows up.  You wouldn’t do that with a defibrillator…why would you do it with your child’s life saving equipment, and expect it to work when you need it? Inspect it carefully at your destination, removing the cover and looking for damage in any foam, plastic, or webbing.


Watch the video below to see how car seats are treated when checked. Notice he’s just tossing the car seats on the runway. Car seats aren’t meant to be dropped, let alone tossed onto pavement.


This video by the National Transportation Safety Board about the importance of having a seat for all passengers.

And an article that sums up more information on buying a seat for everyone. Note that the information is a few years old so the airline policies may have changed in the meantime.
Why you should never fly with a child in your lap

4 comments to Flying with your car seat

  • Tannis W

    I haven’t travelled by airplane with my kid yet, so I do t have any amazing tips for that. In general, I’d say pack snacks, toys, favorite blanket, a baby carrier, lots of patience and give yourself plenty of extra time.

  • So important in light of the recent hard landing in Halifax!

  • miranda

    I didn’t think a CARES harness was allowed on Canadian flights/planes. Has something changed to allow it now Or is it still only FAA approved and not CMVSS approved

    • jshapka

      CARES harnesses have been permitted on Canadian airlines for a few years now. If you look at the FAQs on WestJet or Air Canada’s sites you’ll see reference to it.