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Child safety in planes, trains and automobiles

How to travel easily and safely with children

Published: December 13, 2013 10:00 AM

Flights, train travel, and road trips with kids can be daunting, but here are some tips to make your journey as safe and enjoyable as possible.

Planes: Although not required until your little one is 2 years old, we recommend purchasing an airplane seat for your child when traveling by plane. It’s possible, and we recommend, that you install your child’s infant or convertible car seat into their airplane seat, as long as it is approved by the Federal Aviation Administration—most are.

Check the manual or labels on the seat to make sure.  Booster seats cannot be used on planes as they require lap and shoulder belts for use, which are not available on airplanes.  Having your child in a child seat on the airplane helps to keep them safe during takeoffs, landings, and turbulence and may allow all of you to be more comfortable especially for longer flights. It is installed using the lap-belt-only instructions in your owner’s manual; remember to bring the manual with you. Child seats installed on airplanes must be situated in a window seat, so as not to block the exit of another passenger. 

According to the FAA, most airplane seats should accommodate a child restraint that is no wider than 16 inches. It can be possible to fit a child seat that is wider than 16 inches if you are able to raise the armrests of the seat, but not all can be raised.  If you bring your child’s seat on the plane and find out it doesn’t fit, you can usually check it. While it might feel like a hassle to bring your child’s car seat with you to the airport and through security, at least you’ll have a seat that you are familiar with installing, and using, during your trip.  Renting child seats from a car rental agency can be hit or miss, and we don’t recommend it.

Trains: Don’t expect to see safety belts or LATCH anchors on trains. But if you are going to be traveling by car once you reach your destination, it is a good idea to still bring along your car seat.

Automobiles: Make sure your child’s car seat is installed into your vehicle correctly by checking that your child’s shoulder harness is at the appropriate height (at or below shoulders for rear facing, and at or above the shoulders for forward facing), and that the harness is tight enough (cannot pinch any webbing between your thumb and forefinger).  Also be aware of the child safety laws in states outside of your own as they can be different. In particular, booster seat laws vary from state to state

Here are some other safety tips for road trips with kids.

When packing a car for a road trip, make sure that pieces of luggage or gifts are properly secured to avoid their becoming projectiles in the event of a crash. Most SUVs, minivans, and wagons have cargo covers or luggage tie-downs behind the rear passenger seats. If you are driving a sedan, it’s best to put all luggage in the trunk. Before departure make sure that your tires are in good condition and at the correct inflation pressure (pressure in tires drops in colder temperatures), the oil is not due for a change, washer fluid has been topped off, and if there is risk of snow, that you have an ice scraper with you.  Also be sure to have warm clothing for all if the route is in colder locations. It’s always important to be aware of possible distractions while driving and to take steps to minimize or eliminate them. 

Plan your departure around nap or bedtime to ensure you get a couple hours of quiet driving time.  When your children are awake, expect to stop more frequently, every few hours or so, for everyone to stretch their legs and for children to run around and burn off some energy. Before leaving, research public or school playgrounds en route for kids to get their ya-yas out.  In winter, it can be helpful to find where the large shopping malls are on your route, as many are off major highways, and are likely to have indoor play spaces.  And perhaps you can relax with a cup of coffee.

—Michelle Tsai Podlaha

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