Using child car seats and safety restraints when flying
There’s an increasing amount of research globally to suggest that children under four are much safer in an aircraft if they are using an approved child restraint – effectively an approved car seat – not just the fitted lap seatbelt. Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority has yet to make child restraints on aircraft compulsory but its website suggests it is under consideration. So watch this space.
If you do plan to use a car seat in an aircraft for a child under two, you will need to reserve and purchase a separate seat for them. You also need to speak to your airline to get pre-approval for your restraint at least 24 hours before departure, and show the device to airport staff on check-in. Confirm this at the time of booking. Virgin and Qantas each have slightly different regulations for which restraints are suitable, but in general they need to be narrow enough to fit in the seat and not so deep that they block the passage of fellow passengers to move in and out. (Given that the child’s legs will end up being closer to the seat in front, it may be worth getting the family seated so that it is one of your seats that the child is kicking when awake.)
According to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, most Approved Australian Safety Standard child restraint seats designed for use in motor vehicles are suitable for use in an aircraft, if used in accordance with the seat manufacturer’s instructions.
For travellers from overseas, Canadian, European and USA standard motor vehicle child seats are acceptable. Additionally, dedicated child aviation restraint systems (CARES) approved by Airworthiness Authorities in Canada, Europe and the USA are also acceptable in Australia. This includes a device from the USA marketed as the Kidsflysafe CARES, which is an H-shaped harness for children from two to four years (or up to about 20kg). It secures around the whole seat with vertical straps over the shoulders that attach to the aircraft seatbelt.
Beyond safety, there are other reasons you should consider travelling with a car seat on the aircraft. They can be a long-haul lifesaver in more ways than one: children are already used to them, they tend to sleep better and for longer than in the aircraft seat alone, and they don’t slip out of their seats as easily as they would otherwise. And if you are travelling by car when you land, you have a safe restraint for that purpose, too.