Here’s an unpopular opinion – not all FAA-approved car seats are good for flying. Bear with me, and I’ll make an unbeatable case for the outlandish statement.
Some are too heavy; some are too wide; some don’t fit well on an airplane seat…the market is a mess.
And the fact that the FAA doesn’t have a concise list doesn’t help.
|Best FAA Approved Car Seat
|Safety 1st Guide 65 Convertible Car Seat
|CLICK FOR PRICE
|Baby Trend Flex-Loc car seat
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|Evenflo tribute FAA approved car seat
|CLICK FOR PRICE
|Graco 4Ever 4-in-1 convertible car seat
|CLICK FOR PRICE
|Graco 4Ever DLX convertible car seat
|CLICK FOR PRICE
The main problem
By the time you understand what the FAA requirements are, there’s no energy left in you to do any actual research on the quality of the baby seats that do make the FAA-approved list.
That’s the pattern I keep seeing in my inbox every time I get asked about this.
Making the choice as simple as possible
So, I decided to cut through the clutter, separate the wheat from the chaff and make it all concise and simple by making a list of recommendations. I update the picks every two months, so they’re relevant at all times.
Below are the seats that tick three boxes:
- High quality
- High value for your money
Faa approved car seat – Top 5
There are FAA-approved car seats as good, safe, and versatile as the Guide 65 from Safety 1st, but they cost more. Much more.
That’s the simple value proposition of this seat.
Based on everything I’ve heard from owners I interviewed for this guide, the unique sales proposal works, and then some.
Features at a glance
- The five-point harness adjusts from the front of the seat
- Side impact protection is built-in
- Extra body pillow (removable)
- Removable cup holder
- 1-year warranty
- Weight/age range (lbs/months): 5-65 / 18 months
- Size & weight (in inches and lbs): 27.25 x 18.5 x 20.25 / 14 lbs
It’s only natural that a company called Safety 1st would make a seat that not only meets but exceeds the federal, JPMS, and ASTM safety regulations.
More importantly, for our purposes today, the instruction manual explicitly says that this is an FAA-approved car seat. The Aircraft Section of the manual also details the installation instructions.
Based on my research, it also meets any additional requirements for the vast majority of the airlines. Naturally, making the phone call to the airline to confirm that it’s actually the case is a must – but that’s not specific to this car seat. It’s simply good practice.
Ticks all the boxes
If you wanted a list of essential features to tick off in your pursuit for a good seat for flying, it would definitely include the following:
- It’s both front and rear-facing
- Multiple point harness
- Smaller and lighter than your average car seat
- Adjustable cushioning – this gives you the safety you want without adding bulk
- Typically features some form of shock-absorbing foam (you can read more on car seat foam here)
Why I love it
I love the combo between size (very compact), portability (very light for this kind of seat, 14 lbs), comfort, and the low price point.
If I know anything, I know baby gear, and if you showed me this seat and asked me how much it costs, I’d get it oh-so-wrong. I’d guess at least double.
The one thing that I did notice is that the price varies depending on the supplier. If you ask me, if you find this eye candy at under 100 bucks, you found your FAA-approved car seat.
Finally, it’s compact enough (18.5 inches wide, without the cup holder) that you won’t have to worry about reserving extra seats or being uncomfortable, even if you’re traveling with a low-cost company like Southwest.
(best for low-cost flying)
The runner-up is one of the lesser-known seats. There’s a good chance that you’ve never heard of the “Baby Trend.”
That’s OK. I have.
In fact, I couldn’t stop the owners I talked to singing praise to this small, budget-friendly car seat. Read more about my favorite car seats for small cars.
Features at a glance
- 5-point harness, one-hand front adjustable
- Shock-absorbing foam for head protection
- Proprietary Flex-Lock system for easy latching
- Adjustable height with a level indicator
- Weight/age range: 5-30 lbs
- Size & weight (in inches and lbs): 26 x 16.5 x 25 / 18.7 lbs
This infant car seat is both FAA and CAA (Civil Aviation Authority in the UK), meets all the standards set forth by the Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, and is approved for in Motor Vehicles and Aircraft.
Hew, that’s a mouthful.
But, more importantly, how does it perform in real life?
This is the narrowest travel car seat on this list and, in my opinion, one of the few best FAA-approved seats for frequent fliers.
On top of that, it’s portable and easy to handle – in the long run, it can be the game-changer you’re looking for.
Finally, it’s one of the most budget-friendly options out there.
What I like about it
It’s light and small without being unsafe.
I’m labeling it as the top pick for low-cost flying because it’s one of the very few car seats that’s actually narrower than the seats at the low-cost companies (typically around 17 inches).
At the third spot, we have one of my favorite car/airplane seats. The Evenflo Tribute 5 is small, extremely light, and the price is bargain basement.
Features at a glance
- Can be rear-facing or front-facing
- Tested for side impacts – exceeds the federal safety standards
- Adjustable shoulder positions of the harness (for prolonged use)
- The body cushion is integrated, and the head pillow is removable
- Weight/age range: 5-40 lbs
- Size & weight (in inches and lbs): 18.5 x 22 x 25.5 / 9.25 lbs
This car seat is light enough to swing over your shoulder when you’re carrying other baby gear. It’s probably the only seat on this list that I can say that about.
Because it weighs just over 9 pounds, which makes it the lightest FAA-approved car seat I know.
What I like about it
It’s THE SEAT for mothers that often travel alone with their baby. I don’t want to offend anybody here, but if your hands are already full of bags and gear, you can’t really handle a 30-pounder with a baby in it.
What you can handle is this lightweight looker.
(best seat for airplane travel with two parents)
I know that the category of “top seat for plane travel with two parents” sounds odd, but the logic behind it isn’t.
Here’s the logic:
First of all, all Graco seats carry the FAA-approved seal. That doesn’t mean all of them are great for travel.
This seat is.
It ticks all the boxes of great FAA-approved car seats except for one – the width. It’s wider than I typically go for, but that’s not a deal-breaker if there’s two of you with the baby.
Does Graco 4ever fit on airplanes?
It does -all models from the Graco 4Ever series will fit on a plane.
Because the width math works.
Let’s say that you’re on a Delta flight, and the seat width is 18.5. The total width of the three seats is 55.5 inches, meaning that the ‘hefty’ 20 inches width leaves 17.75 inches per parent, which is almost an inch more than you get with low-cost companies.
So, Graco 4-in-1 car/airplane seat is approved by both the FAA and Wumblers.
Features at a glance
- Can be used both as rear and forward-facing
- The harness is easy-to-use 5-point
- Features an industry-leading 1-second latching
- Passed one of the most rigorous crash testing programs in the industry with flying colors
- Weight/age range (lbs/months): 4-120 / 18 months
- Size & weight (in inches and lbs): 20 x 21.5 x 24 / 22.8 lbs
The ‘4-in-1’ explained
The four in one in the name means that it does a great job all of the following:
- Rear-facing harness (4-40 lbs)
- Forward-facing harness (22-65 lbs)
- Highback booster (40-100 lbs)
- Backless booster (40-120 lbs)
What I like about it
This seat has the highest user satisfaction rating, not only in this guide, but it’s tied at the very top with a few other products.
Based on my data, 97% of owners gave it either 4 or 5 stars.
Bear in mind that this Graco is not cheap by any stretch of the imagination (currently the most expensive in the top 5).
For a product to boast that kind of numbers, it would have to be dangerously close to perfect.
That’s what this Graco is.
It’s not for you if…
If you’re a frequent traveler and often fly with only one companion, this Graco might not be for you. It’s not small or light.
For occasional flights, it’s as comfy and safe as you can get.
If you’re taking the time to read the reviews, you’ll remember what I said above – that the other version of the Graco 4Ever has one of the highest user satisfaction rates in the industry.
Why “one of?”
Because currently, the Graco 4Ever DLX has the highest number in that category of all the products on the site.
A whopping 99% of all owners gave this seat either 4 or 5 stars, and only 1% gave it 3 stars. Among the dozen of thousands of user reviews that I combed over (and I looked at all sources that sell the seat), I COULD NOT FIND a single one or 2-star review.
Features at a glance:
- Can be front or rear-facing harness and high-back or backless booster
- Adjustable harness system (‘grows’ with your baby)
- Outstanding protection against all types of crashes
- Can be reclined to 6 positions
- Features the Graco’s proprietary easy latch system
- Fabric parts are machine washable
Is it all legit?
When I stumble upon numbers like this, I get suspicious and, if the data volume isn’t high enough, I skip the product.
The data is absolutely there with the Graco 4Ever DLX – it has more reviews than 7 out of my top 10 combined, so there’s nothing fake about those mind-boggling numbers.
Is Graco 4ever FAA approved?
Yes, both the ‘basic’ 4-in-1 by Graco and the Graco 4ever DLX are airplane approved and on the FAA list.
Bottom line – both convertible car seats from the Graco 4Ever line that we looked at here are great, FAA-approved infant car seats for an average traveler. If you’re in the frequent flier club, you’re probably better off with something lighter and smaller.
Honorary mention – BRITAX seats
One of the most common questions I get is:
Is Britax car seat faa approved?
Yes, all Britax car seats are FAA approved.
Their belt-positioning booster seats, however, are not.
My favorite among their seats is the Britax One4Life ClickTight – it was very close to the Top 5 in this update and just missed it by a hair.
Choosing an FAA-approved car seat
In the unlikely case that you’re a cautious buyer who wants to understand the logic behind their choices fully, the following section is for you.
We’ll go over some of the ‘boring’ parts – from the regulations to seat features. We have ground cover, so we’ll get right into it.
The basic question – do you HAVE to bring a car seat?
You are not legally required to use a car seat when traveling with a baby. It is, however, better if you do – for everybody involved – your baby, you, and the people on the flight.
Of course, there’s always a chance that your little one is not a fan of car seats – more on what you can do if your baby hates car seats here.
Since there is no official list of FAA-approved car seats, you have to take it on a case-per-case basis.
The easiest way to tell if a car seat is approved is by finding the sticker that explicitly says it is. It’ll read, “This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft.”
Finding it will not only give you the peace of mind that comes with being sure that it’s on the list of FAA-approved car seats, but it will also help if the flight attendant decides to check it.
If you got your seat from Europe, the sticker would be different and less apparent because it doesn’t explicitly mention flying – you’ll need to look for a stamp that says ECE R44-04, which is a UN standard.
Features to look at
If you remember the opening sentence, I made a claim the not all seats approved for flying make good travel companions. This means that the sticker alone doesn’t guarantee a pleasant trip.
It guarantees that you can bring the seat in and fit it on an airplane seat, and that’s it.
Ultimately, other factors will determine your experience – I’ll go over the crucial ones below.
If you read the reviews, you probably got bored with me pummeling the topic of seat width. There’s a good reason for it – for frequent flyers, the width of the seat is the make-or-break feature.
That’s especially true if one parent is flying with the baby.
There’s one main reason – most good car seats are too wide to be a good fit for an airplane. My rule of thumb is this – if you plan to fly with your baby more often than once a month, don’t go over 19 inches in width.
Some airlines will be specific about the maximum width allowed.
If at all possible, limit the weight of your airplane infant set of choice to 14 lbs.
If that seems too low, try carrying a seat heavier than that around a space with obstacles (like an airport). You’d be surprised at how fast your forearms will start burning.
It’s not just about the weight, but about the bulk and the proper handling.
Age and weight of your baby
This will rarely be a factor with babies since all the approved car seats will also meet the appropriate guidelines.
For toddlers, things can get complicated since different airlines have different limits. Your best bet is to give the company a call to make sure your toddler seat is within the company’s limits.
Related reading: How long should a newborn use a car seat
Convertible car seat
Most of the best FAA-approved seats in this category fit the description of a convertible car seat simply because these can be used as both rear and forward-facing.
They’re similar but not the same as classic infant car seats – you can read more on that here.
If you have an expensive seat you’re taking on the trip, it might be a good idea to get a protector for it – you can see my top protector picks here.
One final tip – always check with the airline
I did my best to choose the seats that meet all the guidelines but checking with your company beforehand is common sense, especially if this is your first time traveling with your baby on a specific airline.
Regulations vary, and each airline might have a specific rule that you can’t anticipate.
FAA Recommendation and Regulations for Child Car Seats
Let’s take a moment here to summarize what the FAA guidelines say.
- Ensure that your child restraint device (CRS) is approved for use in an airplane.
- The best car seat for flying is no wider than the FAA recommended 16 inches.
- You are permitted to use the child seat for a kid of any size or age as long as they are within the weight and age limits set out in the car seat manufacturer’s manual.
- You may use a child safety seat as long as you ensure that you use it in the five-point harness mode and that the seat has been approved for use in airplanes and motor vehicles.
- You have the right to install the airplane child seat on a seat in any of the airplane classes if you bought the ticket as long as the child safety seat does not interfere with safety procedures or with the movement of passengers during an emergency. Note that the best plane seats for installing the safety seat are the ones on the windows.
- Call ahead to arrange for a discounted price from the airline if you will be using an FAA car seat. You can only use the car seat if you purchase a ticket for your baby.
- When calling the airline, ensure that you book adjoining seats and a window seat so that the safety seat will not block the exit or be a source of discomfort to other passengers.
- If you do not want to purchase a ticket, ask the airline if they would be fine if you used an empty seat for your CRS (practically the best car seat for airplane travel). Nonetheless, if you plan to travel on busy days or seasons, it is doubtful you will find an empty seat.
- If you are connecting flights, ask the airline to assist you with protocols for lugging a child car seat and luggage through the airport.
Final thoughts and takeaways
You can do one of two things here – look at my top picks and go with one of those or take what we talked about here and apply it in your own search.
Whatever you do, search for your seat online because there’s plenty of experiences in the user reviews to learn from.
If you asked for advice on choosing the best FAA-approved car seat in a store, you’d get information on which of the seats carries the seal and, most likely, be urged to get the most expensive one.
Online, you can always read the experiences of parents who are using the seats for flying. You can’t beat the value of the first-hand experience.
Finally, regulations change, and you need fresh information to choose right. I make a point out of keeping my picks updated every two months – so, even if you didn’t find your seat today, bookmark this guide for future reference.
The Wumblers team