It’s important to know all your options while traveling with kids so you can make the informed decisions necessary to help your trip go smoothly. One way to utilize your resources is to review the wealth of information regarding flight rules on the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT), Federal Aviation Agency (FAA), and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) websites. But you’re a busy parent and already have a long to-do list that doesn’t include reading federal travel regulations so I decided to review the information on these websites and provide a summary for you of some important things that can help you on your next family adventure.
USDOT. One of the first things you do when preparing for a trip is book airline tickets. Before you book tickets for your lap infant and other children, the USDOT website offers some insight into where you can book a seat on the plane. Firstly, children under 15 can’t sit in an exit row. Also, I have personally had to change my seat option when booking a ticket online with a lap infant because of the oxygen mask availability, to ensure there are sufficient masks in the row to accommodate your little one in case of an emergency. Here is the policy for seating lap infants from Alaska Airlines, https://www.alaskaair.com/content/travel-info/policies/traveling-with-lap-infants, but please do a search for the policy from the airline you will be flying with as a different airline may have different travel guidelines. If you have problems booking seats for yourself and children, contact the airline’s customer service for help with reservations as soon as possible, the earlier, the better to take advantage of the most options available. Often, they are able to accommodate the needs of your family if contacted early enough. The USDOT has a list of major airlines and their family seating policies and practices here: https://www.transportation.gov/individuals/aviation-consumer-protection/family-seating
FAA. Another important thing to consider when planning your trip is to decide whether or not you will be checking in a car seat or stroller as checked baggage at the check-in desk or checking it in at the gate. Once again, check your airline’s policy about checking car seat and strollers but many airlines will allow you to check the car seat and stroller with no additional charges and you will be able to retrieve it when you arrive at your destination along with your other luggage at baggage claim. You are also able to check your stroller at the gate and use your car seat during the flight but there are some things to know and consider beforehand. The FAA website provides a lot of useful information regarding the use of car seats, in-flight. The FAA encourages the use of a “government-approved child safety restraint system” or CRS device instead of holding your child in your lap. For instance, in the case of heavy turbulence, a CRS device will provide more protection for your child. Some parents may not even know or be aware that using your car seat during a flight is an option. But before you carry your child, stroller, luggage, and heavy car seat through security then to the gate to board your flight, you should measure the car seat to ensure it’s no wider than 16 inches to fit on the airplane seat and make sure your car seat meets FAA standards for airplane use. There will be verbiage on one of the many car seat labels that says, “This restraint is Certified for Use in Motor Vehicles and Aircraft”. I’ve included photos of what the labels may look like on the car seat and where they are on my children’s car seats. We have a Chicco Fit4 4-in-1 Convertible All-In-One car seat and a Chicco Keyfit 30 car seat my son inherited from his big sister.
If your car seat doesn’t have this designation then you may not be able to use it in-flight. If you choose to use your approved CRS, there is a link below to a video on the FAA website, called Installing a CRS on an Airplane, you can use as a reference. https://www.faa.gov/travelers/fly_children/
If your car seat doesn’t qualify for in-flight use, there are other options such as booster seats or FAA-approved Child Harness Device (CARES) for children 22-44 lbs. or children with disabilities over 40lbs. but, once again, double check with the airline you’re flying with for their policies. There is also a FAA video called Installing a CARES Child Safety Device on an Airplane on their website. Car seats are also only permitted for seating in certain areas on the plane. Typically, car seats must be seated in a window seat and no car seats allowed in exit rows but double check with the airline.
If you decide to take your car seat on the flight, the FAA website offers a few tips. A couple of tips I felt were particularly useful were that you can ask for assistance from the airline for help with all your luggage, car seat, stroller, etc. to meet your connecting flights. And since you must buy an airplane ticket for your child under 2 that would have otherwise flown for free as a lap infant when using the car seat or CARES device in-flight, you can request a discount for the ticket. Here is the link to the FAA website for more information: https://www.faa.gov/travelers/fly_children/
TSA. If you’ve traveled by air at all, you are familiar with TSA but may not know about some of the policies specific to parents traveling with small children. One rule being the 3-1-1 liquids rule, meaning you are usually permitted only 3.4 oz. of a liquid through a security checkpoint but this rule does not apply if that liquid is formula, breast milk, or juice for infants and toddlers. But one thing to note that I’ve also mentioned in my previous blog post, Tips for Traveling with Small Children, do not over pack breast milk or baby food in your carry-on since “the final decision rests with the TSA officer on whether an item is allowed through the checkpoint”. Formula, breast milk, and baby food are allowed “in reasonable quantities” through security but are still subject to x-ray screening and may be opened for inspection. If you don’t want these food items x-rayed or opened, per TSA policy, you may have to undergo further security screening. Learn more here on their website: https://www.tsa.gov/travel/special-procedures/traveling-children. One more important thing to note for breastfeeding moms is you can travel with breast milk and pumping equipment even if you are not traveling with your baby.
Because I know you’re a busy parent who doesn’t even have time to read this blog post, here is the 1 minute 16 second video from TSA that reviews the screening procedures while traveling with little ones.
This video appears to have been made pre-COVID though so it’s worth mentioning to remember to wear your face mask while traveling! To keep up with everything you need to know, TSA has a blog where they cover all the things parents need to know to get through security screening. If there’s anything they missed or if you have questions, you can contact AskTSA Customer Care Team on Twitter or Facebook.
If you do encounter problems while flying, the USDOT wants to hear about it! You can file a formal complaint here: https://airconsumer.dot.gov/escomplaint/ConsumerForm.cfm. Hopefully you won’t have problems and feel fully informed and prepared before you and the kids board your next flight!
Good luck and be safe out there!