In the United States, Canada and Mexico, children under age two are allowed to fly for free on the lap of their parents. But it is strongly recommended that parents consider buying a separate seat for their child for safety reasons. But in the U.S., you can't just bring any car seat. it must be a seat that has been approved for travel by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Below are the car seat rules for the top 15 carriers in North America.
- Aeromexico: Parents traveling with children under age two with a purchased seat must have a car seat that is forward facing and designed and certified according to federal or local authorities. It must also be able to be fastened to the aircraft seat by a two-point harness. Parents must advise the airline when purchasing a ticket about carrying a car seat.
Air Canada: Car seats must have a label stating "This child restraint system conforms to all applicable Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standards", or have a National Safety Mark, which indicates the number of the standard(s) to which the restraint device conforms. The airline also accepts FAA-approved car seats.
- Alaska Airlines: Car seats must be certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft (in red lettering). They can't be used in aisle seats, emergency exit rows or rows immediately in front of or behind exit rows. The airline prefers that children be placed in the window seat, but allows it to be placed in the middle seat if the window seat is empty.
- Allegiant Air: Ticketed children can travel with an FAA-approved car seat.
- American Airlines: The Fort Worth, Texas-based carrier requires car seats to have a solid back and seat, restraint straps installed to securely hold the child and a label indicating approval for use on an aircraft. The seat can't be used in an exit row or in the rows on either side of an exit row. The child must remain in the safety seat with the harness fastened during taxi, takeoff, landing and whenever the fasten seatbelt sign is on.
- Delta Air Lines: The Atlanta-based carrier says the window seat is the preferred location for an approved child car seat. Other locations may be used as long as the seat isn’t installed between other passengers and the aisle. Child car seats cannot be used in aisle seats, emergency exit rows, any seat one row forward or one row back from an emergency exit row, bulkhead seats when the safety seat is a combination car seat and stroller and flatbed seats in the Delta One first class area of the following aircraft: Airbus A330-200 or A330-300; Boeing 777 or 747.
- Frontier Airlines: For parents who choose to buy a seat for babies or toddlers, the airline requires that they be put in an approved car seat. They can't be placed in emergency exit rows, in the rows directly in front or behind of emergency exit rows, or in the very first row. It suggests putting car seats in window seats so that other passengers are not blocked.
- Hawaiian Airlines: The carrier allows car seats for parents who buy a ticket for their children. But they cannot be placed in aisle seats, exit rows and rows immediately in front of or behind an exit row.
- InterJet: Children under the age of two with their own seat must be properly secured in an approved child restraint device based on U.S. and/or Canadian standards.
- JetBlue: The New York-based carrier requires car seats to be placed in window or middle seats. The seats may not obstruct a customer's pathway to the aisle, nor can they be placed between two passengers.
- Southwest Airlines: The Dallas-based carrier asks that car seats be used in window or middle seats. They cannot be used in aisle seats, emergency exit row seats and any seat in a row directly in front of or behind an emergency exit row.
- Spirit Airlines: The carrier allows FAA-approved car seat onboard as long as parents buy a separate seat for their child. Car seats may not be accommodated in any seat equipped with an inflatable seatbelt. Additionally, car seats cannot be used in an exit seat or the row before or after the exit seats.
- United Airlines: The Chicago-based carrier allows the use of an FAA-approved child restraint system or child safety seat in certain seats onboard its aircraft if you have purchased a seat for your child. United does not provide child restraint systems or child safety seats. Safety seats or restraint systems must be placed in window seats on single-aisle aircraft, and in window seats or in the middle seats of a center section on two-aisle aircraft. The use of child restraint systems is not permitted in rear-facing seats or seats in the exit row on any aircraft, or in United Global First on three-cabin 747-400, 767 or 777-200 aircraft.
- Volaris: For children under age two with a paid ticket, FAA-approved car seats can be used.
- WestJet: A car seat for paid children under age two may be used without a base as long as it is properly secured and used with the internal harness system installed. Seats must also conform to FAA and/or Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.
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."
- Check the width of the car seat. In the U.S., 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 percent less than an adult's airfare.
- If you do not purchase a seat for your child under two, the airline is not required to give you an empty seat. 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.