One of the traditional perks of air travel with children under 2 years old is saving on the price of an extra ticket by holding the child in your lap. (Granted, those of us who have ever travelled this way might argue it doesn't exactly feel like a perk at the time, but it does make travel more affordable for families.)
However, more and more parents are opting to purchase tickets for their littlest ones for safety's sake. And it is indeed the safer option. Strapping them into a secured car seat not only offers more protection in the event of a crash, it also keeps them secure during times of unexpected turbulence.
But before you go lugging that seat to the airport, there are a few things to keep in mind.
The car seat must be FAA-approved. Look for a label on your seat that says, "This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft." Without it, you may not be permitted to use the seat on the plane.
A window seat is your best bet. Otherwise, the seat will block the ability for passengers to exit the row in an emergency. Car seats are not permitted in aisle seats or exit rows. The seat should be installed according to the manufacturer's instructions.
It's important to measure. To fit into a typical coach seat, a car seat should be no more than 41cm wide. However, if an FAA-approved car seat does not fit in your child's assigned seat, the airline is responsible for accommodating it in another seat whenever possible.
Booster seats and harness vests are restricted. These are prohibited by the FAA during ground movement, take-off and landing, and their use is discouraged—although not legally prohibited—while in the air. However, airlines may have different policies regarding their use in the air, so check before you arrive at the airport.
An alternative: The CARES harness. This is the only FAA-approved harness restraint, intended for children who weigh between 22 and 20kg.
When in doubt, always check with your airline ahead of time for specific rules on travelling with children. Some airlines offer discounted infant fares if you are planning to use a car seat, and policies regarding car seats, carry-on items and checked items can vary.