You're not required to, but both the Federal Aviation Administration and the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommend that you use an FAA-approved child restraint device. That means either an approved car seat or the CARES harness (see below).Legally you may carry a child up to 24 months old on your lap, usually free of charge — but unexpected turbulence can send that lap-carried kid flying out of your arms. And in a crash, your child could be crushed against your body.Ironically, the law mandates that everything in an airplane cabin be battened down during takeoff, landing, and turbulence — except children young enough to ride on their parents' lap.Why isn't there a law requiring child safety restraints in airplanes? Because Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) analyses have found that if forced to buy an extra airline ticket, many families would drive instead. And statistically that's a far more dangerous way to travel.Whether you use a car seat or a harness, your child will need his own seat on the airplane. If your child is young enough to ride free, you may be able to find an empty seat for him, but there's no guarantee. Many airlines offer half-price tickets for small children. Call your airline to ask for a discount, or ask what the company's policy is for using empty seats.
What kind of car seat do I need?
Before you bring a car seat on board an airplane, make sure it's FAA-approved. The label should read, "This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft." Flight attendants are instructed to look for the label, and you may run into problems if it's missing.Be sure to measure the car seat you're planning to travel with, too. To fit into a typical coach seat, the car seat should be no wider than 16 inches (though you can lift the airplane seat's armrest to accommodate slightly wider car seats).
How do I position and use the seat?
You'll want to book a window seat. That's where you'll need to put the car seat, to make sure it won't block the escape path in an emergency. You may not put a car seat in an aisle seat or exit row.Here's what the FAA recommends for children riding on airplanes:Less than 20 pounds? Ride in a rear-facing car seat.20 to 40 pounds? Ride in a forward-facing car seat.Over 40 pounds? Use the airplane seat belt.As always, follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully when strapping your child into the seat.Is there a harness or belly belt I can use instead? Yes — but only one and it's not for babies under age 1. The only harness-type device approved by the FAA for takeoff, flight, and landing is the Child Aviation Restraint System, or CARES, suitable for children at least 1 year old who weigh between 22 and 44 pounds.CARES weighs 1 pound, fits into a 6-inch stuff sack, and can be attached to any airplane seat. It's sold online and in some retail stores.Supplemental lap restraints, also called belly belts, are not approved for use in airplanes (or any vehicle) in the United States
What about booster seats?
Backless booster seats used in cars are not allowed during taxi, takeoff, or landing because kids in these kinds of boosters can be crushed if their airline seat suddenly flops forward under pressure. But boosters with backs and harnesses that are labeled for use in cars and airplanes are allowed. Still, for convenience, you may want to check your child's booster seat as baggage since the FAA says that children big enough for a booster can be properly restrained with the aircraft's seat belt.