One of the top questions I get from Marcie in Mommyland readers is about flying with kids on an airplane. Should they bring a car seat? I’ve been traveling with my kids on airplanes for the past 4 years. Some flights I’ve used a car seat. Others I’ve primarily worn a baby in my Tula baby carrier. And on other flights, I’ve simply had a child using the lap belt on the airplane. Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of questions about the CARES Safety Harness. So, Kids Fly Safe sent me 2 harnesses to review on my latest flight to Hawaii. See what I think below: Post contains affiliate links.
Oh and as I was writing this post, I realized that my kids are eating in every single photo courtesy of my mother-in-law. And yes, my baby is gnawing on a piece of beef jerky. He worked on it up until take-off!
What is the CARES Safety Harness?
The CARES Safety Harness is the only non-car seat FAA-approved Child Restraint System for flying with small children. It weighs less than a pound and can easily fit inside a diaper bag, purse or carry on luggage. The CARES Safety Harness is geared for kids sitting in their own seat who weigh between 22 and 44 pounds and are 40 inches or smaller.
Since they are FAA-approved, you don’t run the risk of a U.S. airline telling you that you can’t use it on board the airplane. This is what sets them apart from a car seat, which aren’t all FAA-approved for flying. And even if they are, you still might not be able to use them. I’ve personally been told by two different airlines that we weren’t allowed to use our car seat for take-off or landing and they had to stow them for us.
My Experience with the CARES Safety Harness
I love that I was able to try out the CARES Safety Harness on both my kids because they are at opposite ends of the range of use. My 17-month-old is 24 pounds and in the 90th percentile for height. My 4-year-old is 34 pounds and 40 inches tall (the maximum height limit for the CARES Safety Harness.)
We sat in the middle row of our airplane from Seattle to Honolulu. I sat on one end, my mother-in-law sat on the other and the kids were in the middle. Had we been in a window row, I would have buckled the kids in the window seats, just like with a car seat.
I had read the instructions of this Child Restraint System prior to boarding the airplane. They were pretty straightforward. We boarded when they announced families with small children could board the plane. I’m glad I did because it took me a couple of tries to tighten the red belt at the right height. It wraps around behind the tray table on the back of the seat, so I wanted it to be done before the other passengers sat down. After I installed one, the other one was a breeze.
My son is very used to sitting in his car seat. He’s in the car a lot as we drop my oldest off at preschool, swim classes, play dates, etc. So, when I buckled him in, I think it felt very familiar to him. His car seat has a 5-point-harness, so he’s used to having the chest strap and being buckled in.
I loved being able to clip him in first and know that he was contained so I could assist with my 4-year-old and stow our carry on bags. It freed up my hands. And he stayed buckled like that for about half of the time on both flights.
However, I found that as my baby became restless during the flight, he’d scoot himself out through the lap belt. That meant I kept propping him back up and tightening his lap belt. That part frustrated me. Note: I went on the Kids Fly Safe website after my trip and learned I could have used a rolled up towel/shirt under his knees to keep him from slipping. Or put a rubberized mat on the seat. The FAA wouldn’t let them put a crotch strap in.
My 4-year-old stayed buckled in the CARES Safety Harness the entire way to Honolulu, minus a couple of potty breaks. It fit him really well! We had a couple messy incidents, and we easily wiped down the harness. So much easier than cleaning a car seat mid-flight!
The only thing I wish I would have packed is my 1st Class Kid Travel Pillow so my preschooler wouldn’t kick the seat in front of him. To be fair, he wasn’t exactly kicking, but resting his feet on the seat in front. Either way, I like when he can rest it on the travel pillow, instead.
CARES Safety Harness Review
I brought two harnesses in my carry on backpack. They took up less room that my Ziploc of snacks for the kids. And they weighed less. This kind of blew my mind. Plus, they were so easy and quick to install and pack back up.
My mother-in-law was also impressed with the CARES Safety Harness. She told me I should never travel without this Child Restraint System. She was able to help my preschooler buckle and unbuckle. I know she’s going to recommend them to her friends with grandkids.
A father in the row in front of me did a double-take when he saw my boys in the CARES Safety Harness. He asked me how I got those “special seats” on the airplane! I told him it was a CARES Safety Harness that I brought on board. He was so bummed that his 4-year-old and 6-year-old were too big for it and he didn’t know about them before.
You know how you can get a special seat belt extender when you have a lap baby? I wish they would also have these harnesses available for families traveling with small children. It would be an immense help to families flying with a baby, toddler or preschooler.
After a few bad experiences with hauling car seats on board airplanes, I vowed never to do it again. While I thought my kids were find with just the lap belt, I did feel like they were more secure with the CARES Safety Harness during turbulence. I will definitely travel with one in my carry on bag for my youngest son for the next few years.
This is what the whole set-up looks like: