Jen recently flew with her 6.5yo and 9yo, the first time without any harnessed seats, and here are some words of wisdom from a seasoned traveler.
Decide if a booster seat is a good choice for your child(ren) at your destination. Some factors to consider:
- Is your child a practiced booster rider? A vacation is probably not the best time to start teaching your mature (usually 5.5-6+) 40+lb child how to sit properly at all times. Not when your not-so-wee one is tired, perhaps in a different time zone, or excited about the trip and unable to sit still. If a booster is on your radar for future travels start teaching your child well in advance so you have plenty of time to assess.
- Will your destination involve long drives? Is your child likely to fall asleep in the car? If so then a booster might not be a good choice, especially if your child is still new to boosters.
- How confident and practiced are you at assessing seat belt fit, and/or installing car seats? Is your vehicle at your destination a known entity, or is it a rental car? How flexible will you (and any traveling companions) be if the first rental car you are offered isn’t a good fit with your seats, and you need to unload everyone and start over?
I flew in December and chose to take a harnessed seat on the plane for my 6yo, and a booster for my 9yo. Although the 6yo is in a booster most of the time at home I knew that we’d have some long days of driving at our destination, and combined with the lack of sleep that goes with holiday traveling, she would not do well in a booster. My prediction was proven correct after a wicked meltdown and then a car nap on the first day, both very unlike her. Had she been in a booster seat we wouldn’t have been able to keep driving safely. Everything is hard when you’re tired.
This more recent trip didn’t involve nearly as much driving at our destination, and the flight was shorter and only through one time zone. I decided a high back booster would be suitable, and my partner is very used to me being rather picky with rental cars, so I knew my decision would be supported if I needed to switch to a different car at the airport.
For this trip I chose to bring a Harmony Youth Booster for the 9yo, and a Harmony Dreamtime Elite for the 6yo. These seats are both excellent choices for travel and everyday use because they provide consistently excellent seat belt fit, are lightweight, fit well in most cars, and are easy for my kids to use. Extra bonus, they are inexpensive. The regular price of the backless is about $20, and the high back is $55.
Unlike harnessed seats that can be installed on an aircraft seat, booster seats aren’t used on the aircraft. So bringing them takes a bit of planning.
There are two stages to my planning here:
- How will I get the seats to my destination undamaged?
- How will I make sure that my seats will wind up at the same place I’m going to?
The back of the Dreamtime Elite detaches from the base and fits easily into a large suitcase. I packed my clothes under, around, and on top of it. I’ll spare you the sight of my knickers and delicates, but you get the idea. It adds very little weight to the suitcase, and I was confident that any damage at our destination would be visible. It is always possible that my suitcase could go missing though, which is why part 2 is important.
Booster seats can’t be used in flight, but that doesn’t mean they can’t come into the cabin with us. I popped the boosters into cloth bags with handles that my kids could carry themselves…or let’s be honest, that I could carry after they got tired. Even laden down with other things I could still slide the bag’s handle onto my arm.
Once through security and on board the aircraft they fit easily into the overhead bins. Single seats also fit easily under the seat in front of me. I didn’t put them in the sizer but they aren’t big. Here are two stacked together with room to spare. My kids are big enough to fit comfortably into the airplane seats, and the seat belt can be properly tightened on them, which is also a factor when deciding on harness vs booster.
Ordinarily I wouldn’t want my 6yo in a backless booster. Since it’s impractical to carry the booster back onto the airplane (if it would even be permitted, which I doubt), I was comfortable packing it well into my suitcase and hoping it showed up. I had the booster bottom with me, so if needed, could have used that until the suitcase showed up.
And that’s it! We had a successful trip, and hope your future travels are smooth…bon voyage!
Some folks like to buy seats that are well-suited for travel. If you are considering a travel-specific/back-up seat purchase there are a few great options in all categories. This is not an exhaustive list and chances are good that the seat you own will work with some planning. The ones here are listed because they are narrow, lightweight, and inexpensive.
Rear-facing only (infant) seats – most install fairly easily without the base, and fit well on many airplane seats. Check your manual for instructions about aircraft installation.
Convertible seats – go to options include the Evenflo Titan 65/SureRide or Evenflo Sonus (for use rear facing and forward facing), and the Cosco Scenera NEXT rear facing. Both are lightweight, and compatible with the vast majority of vehicles. The Sonus sits low enough that the tray table can come down and be used by a forward-facing child.
Combination seats – Harmony Defender, Evenflo Maestro, and Graco Tranzitions are great options to start with.
Dedicated booster seats – remember that these can’t be used on the plane! But great options that are easy to swap between vehicles, and are lightweight and easy to transport include the Graco Turbobooster, Graco TakeAlong, Graco RightGuide, Graco Affix, Harmony Dreamtime, Harmony Youth Booster, Evenflo Amp, and Diono backless boosters.
Jen is a mom of two, about to move across the country (again), and a Child Passenger Safety Technician – Instructor Trainer who recently attended a course in Charlotte, NC all about Safe Travel for All Children: Transporting Children with Special Healthcare Needs.