FLYING WITH CHILDREN
Travelling with children is no easy feat.
Adding heavy car seats and boosters to the mix really complicates matters for parents and adds extra luggage and difficulty during boarding.
Whether or not it is a legal requirement for your child to be in a car seat/booster at your destination, children under 4 years should still be in toddler car seats and children under 1.5m should still be in boosters, for their own safety.
In this article, we will discuss the 3 options, and how to do them as safely as possible:
- Renting a car seat
- Installing your car seat on the plane
- Checking your car seat in
RENTING A CAR SEAT
We have had countless parents posting on Car Seat Support South Africa that they had hired a car seat, only to find that it was in poor condition, not suitable for their child’s age/weight/height and/or that there was no manual so they had no idea how to install it.
We investigated a few car seat hire options ourselves, and were shocked at what we saw.
CAR SEATS WERE UNSAFE FOR USE
Some of the car seats were found to be old, in poor and unsafe condition, had parts missing and/or no manual available. The staff were not trained and did not know which car seat model to issue.
CAR SEAT WERE INCORRECTLY MAINTAINED
A cleaning company was often hired to clean the car seats. They apparently washed all parts including the harness and hosed down the shells. Using solvents or harsh cleaners on car seat straps can weaken the fibres of the car seat harness. In an accident, weakened straps can break. It can also remove the fire retardant.
Washing the shell could degrade or crack the EPS, which acts as a shock absorber in a crash. It is always advised that car seats be washed exactly as stipulated by the manufacturer in the manual. In most cases, the harness should not be submerged in water and the shell should only be wiped down with a damp cloth.
NO POLICY TO REPLACE CAR SEATS AFTER AN ACCIDENT
It is not always possible to determine if a car seat has been involved in a crash and should been replaced, as damage can be invisible. The car rental companies we visited did not have a policy to replace car seats after the car it was installed in was involved in a crash, if there was no visible damage. Some rental agencies stated that they do write off car seats if they are visibly damaged.
CAR SEATS ARE OFTEN NOT INDEPENDENTLY CRASH TESTED
Understandably, cheaper models are usually hired out, which have not been independently crash tested or do not have high safety ratings. Most did not offer extended rear facing car seats for toddlers, although some private baby hire companies do now offer extended rear facing seats. Rear facing has been proven to be safest for children under 4 years.
CAR SEAT HIRE CHECKLIST
If you are going to rent a car seat for your trip, we have put together this safety checklist to ensure your rental seat is as safe as possible:
Before you rent a car seat, call the rental company and try to find out the following information:
- Which makes and models the offer?
- Are they ECE approved?
- What are the weight and height limits? Is it suitable for your child's age, weight and height?
- How they are installed (isofix, seatbelt, top tether and/ lower tethers) and does your rental car have the required attachments?
- How are the seats cleaned?
- Do they inspect the seats for damage, including under the covers to check the EPS?
- How old are their seats and what is their replacement policy?
- Have the seats been independently crash tested, and if so, do they score well?
INSTALLING YOUR CAR SEAT ON THE PLANE
For your child’s safety during turbulence or a runway crash, children should ideally be strapped into their car seat installed on the airplane seat. Runway crashes and turbulence are far more common causes of injuries and deaths in airplanes than crashes.
Having your baby on your lap during severe turbulence or in a runway crash could cause your baby to be projected or your body slamming into your baby and causing injury. Baby-wearing is not a safe substitute for using a car seat on board. Baby-wearing is not permitted during landing or takeoff. The baby will likely be thrown from the carrier or be crushed by the weight of your body, just as if he/she were sitting on your lap.
It is common practice in America to install the car seat on the airplane seat, and most American car seats are airline (FAA) approved. However, this is much less commonly allowed in South Africa and Europe, and very few car seats available here are airline (TUV) approved.
As far as I know, no toddler seats here are airline approved. We have heard of airlines often refusing to allow a car seat to be installed on the plane seat, even if their website states that they do allow it. In order to install the car seat on the plane seat:
- You must book your baby his/her own seat
- The car seat must be TUV approved
- It must be able to be secured to the passenger seat by the aircraft seatbelt.
CAR SEAT MUST BE TUV APPROVED
TÜV-approved means that the seat has been tested and approved by TUV Rheinland to be suitable for use on an aircraft.
The following car seats are TUV approved and most are available in South Africa through Precious Cargo:
Checking your car seat in
If you decide to take your own car seat with you, but are unable to install it on the airplane seat, you can check it in. Many airlines permit a pram and car seat as part of your baby’s luggage allowance, free of charge.
It is advised that you confirm this with your airline ahead of time, preferably in writing. Some airlines allow you to use your pram until you reach the aircraft door, after which it will be checked into the hold. However, the car seat will then not be packaged to protect it from damage if it is accidentally dropped or thrown around like in the video below.
Plastic wrapping your car seat beforehand will protect the upholstery from minor tears and dirt, but it will do nothing to protect the shell and EPS from damage if it is dropped.
Damage to a car seat can be invisible, but the integrity of the seat may be compromised after being dropped if it is not adequately packaged. A car seat that has been checked as baggage should be inspected very carefully, including under the covers, for any damage at all.
If there is any concern about the seat at all it should not be used again. If you do load your car seat onto the plane, here is how to protect it:
- Insure your car seat in case it gets damaged, lost or stolen
- Bubble wrap it in 2-3 layers
- Box it, preferably in its original packaging
- Packing peanuts and/or towels help to reduce movement within the box
- Place fragile stickers all over the box