Currently, you do have the choice between carrying a child under two years old as a lap baby on almost every airline, but if you choose to purchase a seat, or chance it and try for an unoccupied seat for your child, the question then becomes can you bring the car seat you already own on board.
Car seats are often referred to as child restraint systems (CRS) by government agencies. For a CRS to be used on a flight it has to pass the regulations set by the country where the airline originates. Most industrialized nations have similar requirements regarding the specifics for child restraint systems when used during a flight.
Tips for using a car seat during a flight
- To be able to use your car seat you will be looking for a label that states: "This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft." Similar labels will be found on car seats in Canada, the U.K., etc..
- Check the width of the car seat. The FAA mentions 16 inches as the maximum width so that it will fit most airline seats.
- Some airlines offer discounted airfares for infants occupying a seat, but not all. For airlines that do offer discounted airfares for infants, discounts tend to range from 10-50% less than an adult's airfare.
- If you do not purchase a seat for your child under 2, the airline is not required to give you an empty seat. It may not always be easy to pick a flight that isn't full. However, mid-week and late morning or early afternoon flights often give you a better chance at extra empty seats on an aircraft. And you can always ask at the gate. When I see that an infant is traveling, as a gate agent I try to check the flight loads and seat chart for a row with extra empty seats.
- A CRS should be placed in a window seat, but on an aircraft with three banks of seats per row, there is the possibility of using a middle seat in the middle bank. It is basically about leaving the aisles clear.
- The FAA, as well as many of its international counterparts advise that children under 20 pounds be placed in a rear-facing CRS, and from 20 to 40 pounds use a forward-facing child restraint.