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Choosing the right type of car seat for your child is dependent on their age/weight/height. There are many different car seats to consider for travel. The different types of car seats include rear-facing infant carrier, forward-facing convertible car seat, high back booster, and backless booster seat. A booster seat is intended to raise the child’s height so the seat belt fits properly. But, what is the best travel booster seat for car rides? And what type of booster seat is allowed on an airplane?
In this article, we will cover everything you need to know about choosing a travel booster seat for car rides or flying. We will discuss the different types of car seats, and when a child can travel in a booster seat. Plus, travel booster seat safety, how to travel with a booster seat including the booster seat variations when flying or driving.
Other articles you will find helpful include: What to Consider Before you Travel with a Car Seat and our review of the 10 Best Travel Booster Seats.
What are the different types of car seats?
There are different types of car seats which include:
- Rear-facing infant carrier (some can be used with a stroller travel system).
- Forward-facing convertible car seat with a restraint (harness) and tether.
- High back booster with a 5 point restraint (harness).
- Backless booster seat which is used with the vehicles seat belt.
What is the difference between a car seat and a booster seat?
A car seat is designed to protect your child during travel by attaching to the vehicle. A booster seat elevates your child so that the seat belt fits properly without causing damage to vital organs if there is an accident.
While some travel car seats serve as both a car seat and travel booster. It’s important that you pick out the right type of travel booster for your child. This will depend on their age/weight/height.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website has a very helpful Car Seat Finder. This will assist you with choosing the right car seat for your child.
What are the 4 different types of Booster Seats?
There are 4 Booster Seat Types:
Booster Seat With High Back
This type of booster seat is designed to raise the child’s height so the seat belt fits safely and securely. In addition, it provides neck and head support, so is ideal for vehicles that don’t have high seat backs or headrests.
Backless Booster Seat
A backless booster seat is intended to boost the child’s height so the seat belt fits properly. It is best for vehicles that have headrests because it does not provide head and neck support.
As your child grows, this seat transitions from a forward-facing seat with a harness into a booster.
This seat will change from a rear-facing seat to a forward-facing seat (with a harness and tether). Then it will transition to a booster seat as the child grows.
When can a child travel in a booster seat?
Car seat guidelines indicate that a child’s size (height and weight) should be considered over their age when transitioning to the next type of car seat or booster seat.
Infants should ride rear-facing for as long as possible. Then, keep your child in a forward-facing car seat with a harness and tether until they reach the maximum height limit or weight limit allowed by your car seat’s manufacturer.
Typically, between the age of 4-7 years, your child will outgrow the forward-facing car seat with a harness. Then it’s time to transition into a travel booster seat for car rides. This should still be in the back seat.
Children who are at least 40 pounds can travel safely using a travel booster seat. But this varies between children so be sure to check with the manufacturer or with your local laws regarding safe travel requirements.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children who outgrow their car seats should use a booster seat to position the seatbelt until the vehicle’s lap and shoulder seat belt fit the child properly.
How long should a child use a booster seat?
There’s no simple answer here! Children aged 4 – 7 years must start out in a high-back booster seat that offers neck and head support. As your child grows they can transition into a backless booster seat. Typically between the ages of 8 and 12 years, or when kids reach 4 feet 9 inches in height, they are tall enough to ride without a booster seat because they are big enough for the seat belt to fit properly.
Keep your child in a booster seat until she or he is large enough to fit in a seat belt correctly. For a seat belt to fit correctly the lap belt must lie snugly across their upper thighs, but not the stomach. The shoulder seatbelt should lie snugly across the shoulder and chest and not cross the neck or face.
Your child should be able to sit with their back up against the vehicle seat and also with their knees bent at the edge of the seat cushion (without slouching). And ideally have their feet touch the floor.
Remember that your child should still ride in the back seat because it’s safer there.
Are travel booster seats safe?
Even though they are smaller, a travel booster seat for car rides still provides superior protection compared to using the vehicle’s standard lap belt. In fact, high-back travel booster seats provide excellent side-impact crash protection and have great head support. They also come with tether straps for added stability. A travel high-back booster even has a headrest that provides excellent neck support in the event of an accident – just like a full-size high-back booster!
Does my child need a booster seat on an airplane?
No, but it’s a good idea. The FAA does not require booster seats or harnesses on planes. However, many travel-safety experts do recommend keeping your child in an FAA-approved child restraint device during the flight. That would be either an approved travel car seat or the CARES harness.
This is because airplane seats are big and bulky and can be uncomfortable if your child falls asleep. A travel car seat also provides excellent head support so that your child can rest comfortably while you travel. Many travel car seats are FAA approved for use on an airplane, but it’s best to check with the airline before your trip.
Can my child sit in a booster seat on an airplane?
The purpose of a booster seat is to elevate your child so that the lap and shoulder seat belt fits properly across your child’s body. Since airplane seatbelts only have a lap portion, you can not use a booster seat without restraints on an airplane.
Booster seats fall into two categories – those with and without internal restraint. The FAA prohibits the use of backless booster seats and highback booster seats without restraints during ground movement, take-off, and landing because they do not provide the best protection.
However, booster seats with internal restraints (harness mode), solid backs, and proper labeling, may be used for all phases of a flight. These booster seats in harness mode must be labeled as certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft.
It is important to remember that a child large enough for a booster seat can also be properly restrained in the normal passenger seat lap belts on an airplane. Typically kids who ride in a booster seat are over 40lbs, the weight at which the FAA says airplane seatbelts fit children well enough.
To learn more about FAA guidance on flying with children click here.
How do you travel with a booster seat?
Now that you’ve determined that your child is the right size to use a booster seat, you will be wondering how to travel with a booster seat? The good news is that booster seats are MUCH easier to travel with than convertible car seats. A travel booster seat is about half the size of a regular car seat and can easily fit into a travel bag. A portable booster car seat for travel is lightweight and easy to carry.
To learn more about traveling with a car seat read our article about What to Consider Before you Travel with a Car Seat.
To travel with a travel booster seat, follow these 3 easy steps:
- (1) travel bag – ensure your travel booster seat fits in the travel bag. If you’re not sure how it will fit, be sure to measure beforehand.
- (2) plan ahead – when packing for your trip, make sure to include the travel booster seat in your travel plans.
- (3) while traveling, use the travel booster seat (with harness) on airplanes and when renting cars periodically.
Which travel booster seat should I get?
There are a variety of travel booster seats on the market from backless to high-back boosters. There are travel booster seats that can be folded flat for easier transport.
Before purchasing a travel booster seat for your child, consider what travel situations you will encounter and select a travel booster seat that is ideal for those travel situations.
For example, if you plan to take long road trips in a car with your family, get a travel high-back booster with internal harnesses rather than a backless booster seat. Or if you travel frequently by airplane and rent cars occasionally, purchase a lightweight travel car seat with an FAA approval label. Not all travel booster seats have this label.
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Choosing the Best Travel Booster Seat for Car Rides or Flying
When choosing a travel booster seat there are a few things you should consider. Including the type of car seat, your travel needs, and the size of your child.
Travel booster seats come in a variety of styles – high back/no back, no harness/harnessed. Consider your travel needs and select a travel car seat accordingly.
In general, travel booster seats with an internal harness work best for traveling by plane or road trip that requires moving from vehicle to vehicle. A travel booster seat is a good choice for children age 4+ years old, who weigh over 40 lbs and are over 40 inches tall.
Keep in mind, that a child who rides in a backless booster seat is typically over 40 lbs. Therefore, this child is big enough to be properly restrained by the regular seat lap belt on an airplane. If your journey requires flying and driving, you have the flexibility to use an inflatable or backless travel booster seat for car travel. And you can decide not to use a booster seat on the airplane.
Travel Booster Seats Wrap-up
A travel booster seat is an excellent option for parents who want to travel with their children. Some options of travel booster seats can be deflated or folded down so that it takes up less room than a regular car seat. Making them ideal for traveling by plane or road trip where you might need to move from vehicle to vehicle.
When choosing your child’s travel booster seat, consider what kind of travel situations they will encounter and select one accordingly. If they plan on taking long trips in cars with family members then get a high back/no back travel booster. If they fly occasionally but mostly take short drives, purchase an inflatable travel booster seat. Or choose a foldable travel booster seat that is lighter in weight while still providing safety in the car.
Click here to find the Best Travel Booster Seat for Your Child, and read this article about What to Consider Before you Travel with a Car Seat.
And remember, let’s BE Family so you can enjoy the journey.
Until next time,
For more about family travel check out these posts:
Simplify a Road Trip with Kids
What Is The Best Age To Travel With Kids?
What to Consider Before you Travel with a Car Seat
10 Best Travel Booster Seats Review