Traveling with toddlers and young children can be an adventure in itself, but when it comes to ensuring their safety during air travel, finding the right convertible/3-in-1 car seat can make all the difference. Lightweight and FAA-approved convertible car seats are the go-to choice for parents who want to make their journeys hassle-free while keeping their little ones secure and comfortable. In this blog post, we’ll explore some of the best options for convertible car seats that are perfect for airplane travel.
Let’s answer some common questions first:
1. What is a “Travel Car Seat?” Can I just use my regular car seat for my next trip?
A travel car seat, often referred to as a travel-friendly or portable car seat, is a specially designed child safety seat that is built to be lightweight, compact, and easy to transport, making it well-suited for families who frequently travel by car or, more importantly, by air. These car seats are intended to ensure the safety and comfort of infants, toddlers, and young children during travel while meeting the safety standards and regulations required for car seats used in vehicles.
Once Briggs outgrew his infant car seat (around his first birthday), I opted to purchase two convertible car seats. The first one was the Baby Jogger City Turn. I love this rotating car seat but it is very heavy and not ideal to carry through an airport. This is why I bought a second, lighter option which was the Cosco Scenera. The car seat has been amazing to travel with but as he hit his third birthday, he outgrew it. Because we travel a lot and the fact that the Cosco Scenera was so lightweight, it was the perfect solution for our family!
2. What makes a car seat a good “travel car seat”
These are the top features that I consider when choosing and recommending a travel car seat:
- Portability: Travel car seats are designed to be lightweight and easily portable. They are often made from materials that are durable yet lighter than standard car seats.
- Compact Design: Travel car seats typically have a compact design, making them suitable for use in smaller spaces like airplane seats. Some models may even fold down or collapse to save space.
- FAA-Approved: For air travel, many travel car seats are FAA-approved, meaning they meet the safety standards required by the Federal Aviation Administration. This allows parents to use them on airplanes, securing their child during takeoff, landing, and turbulence.
- Easy Installation: Travel car seats are generally designed for easy and quick installation, which is particularly important when moving between different modes of transportation. They often come with clear instructions and may not require the use of specialized tools for installation.
- Compatibility: Travel car seats are designed to fit in various types of vehicles, ensuring that they can be used not only on planes but also in rental cars, taxis, and other forms of transportation.
Module 1: Car Seats + Flying
In this module, you’re going to learn everything there is to know about car seats and flying! (Psst- This module is included in the full Flying With A Baby Course!)
Module 2: International Travel With A Car Seat
This module is specifically for those who will be traveling with a US car seat to an international destination.
Now, let’s get into my list of recommended travel car seats after they outgrow the infant car seat! Psst… I made a Google Sheets document with some of the key features of each car seat! I hope this helps keep everything organized as you try and decide what is going to be the best option for your family.
1. Cosco Scenera Next Convertible Car Seat:
The Cosco Scenera Next (or the Cosco Scenera Next Deluxe) is a budget-friendly option that’s a favorite among frequent travelers (this is the one we used for two years). Weighing just around 7 pounds, it’s incredibly lightweight and easy to carry through busy airports. This car seat is FAA-approved and accommodates children from 5 to 40 pounds rear-facing and 22 to 40 pounds forward-facing. If you’re looking for an inexpensive option that’s extremely lightweight, this is a great choice. I love that the fabric is machine washable and can even be thrown into the dryer (totally have had to clean it after blowouts while we were traveling). Note-I actually don’t recommend throwing it in the dyer though after hearing about potential shrinking issues if the dyer heat is too high. I’ve always just air-dried it and it works great.
After two years of using this car seat (and I would do it again), the cons I’ve found are that it’s not extremely padded like the car seat in my home vehicle and it may be tricky at first to learn how to install it. But after you’ve practiced removing the cover (partially) so you have better leverage to tighten the seatbelt, you’ll feel much more comfortable with it! The last con is that this seat is not as long-lasting as others can be as many will grow out of it by their third or fourth birthdays. But for the cost of the seat and how much we’ve used it for the two years, to us, it’s been absolutely worth it.
2. Cosco Finale 2-in-1 Combination Booster Car Seat:
The Cosco Finale 2-in-1 Combination Booster Car Seat is a versatile and budget-friendly choice for families who want an option that can transition with their growing child and is FAA-approved for air travel. This is a common next step after a child grows out of the Cosco Scenera. Weighing approximately 11 pounds, it’s lightweight and easy to maneuver through airports. Remember, it can only be used with its 5-point harness while on the plane, not in booster mode. Its compact size and straightforward installation make it a practical option for parents looking for a cost-effective and travel-friendly solution, ensuring a smooth and secure journey with young children.
The most popular complaint of this car seat is the lack of extra cushioning (just like the Scenera). But for the price point and the fact that it’s not their main car seat, just their travel one, this definitely makes my list!
3. Safety First Guide 65 Convertible Car Seat:
The Safety First Guide 65 is a popular choice among parents for its lightweight design, ease of installation, and affordability. This car seat is FAA-approved and is suitable for children from 5 to 65 pounds. The cleaning pad is machine washable (one of my favorite features to look for in a travel car seat). The largest complaint when it comes to this car seat from parents is that it can be difficult to install in rear-facing mode while trying to get the proper angle.
4. Safety 1st Jive Convertible Car Seat:
The Safety 1st Jive is a dependable choice for families looking for a budget-friendly, lightweight convertible car seat that’s also FAA-approved for air travel. Weighing in at approximately 10 pounds, the Safety 1st Jive offers a versatile seating solution for children from 5 to 65 pounds. Its compact design and easy installation make it an excellent option for parents on the move. The Safety 1st Jive ensures your child’s safety and comfort while navigating airports and airplane cabins, making it a practical choice for frequent travelers. This seat is about $30 more dollars than the Cosco Scenera Next but you could get another 1-2 years use with this seat.
Like the Cosco Scenera car seat (and many others) installing can be a little tricky unless you know this “hack”. When installing (with lower anchors of the seatbelt) gently take off the car seat cover from one of the sides and tighten from inside the belt path. It takes a couple of times to get used to installing like this but it’s definitely a helpful tip that can help you feel more comfortable and get a very secure install!
5. Wayb Pico Travel Car Seat:
The Wayb Pico is a standout choice for frequent jet-setting parents seeking a lightweight and FAA-approved car seat designed explicitly for travel convenience. It’s honestly one of the most unique travel car seats that I’ve seen on the market! Weighing in at just 8 pounds, this compact car seat folds into a small backpack for easy transport and storage. The Wayb Pico is FAA-approved, suitable for children between 22 and 50 pounds, and equipped with a five-point harness system for maximum safety. It has a slim width (14.75 inches making it a very easy fit for airplane seats. Its sleek design and travel-friendly features make it a fantastic option for jet-setting families, ensuring that you can navigate airports and aircraft with ease while keeping your child secure and comfortable. For me, it’s much easier to install with the lower anchors than the vehicle seatbelt.
The two downsides of this car seat are that it is forward-facing only. So for those looking to keep their kids rear-facing long past their second birthdays, this may not be your first choice. Additionally, if you’re hoping that your little one falls asleep while flying, this may not be the most comfortable option. The last common complaint is that some parents complain about the shorter crotch strap. At Briggs’ current age, we have not yet run into that problem but I’ll be sure to update this post if/when that does happen.
6. Graco SlimFit 3-in-1 Convertible Car Seat:
The Graco SlimFit 3-in-1 is a versatile car seat suitable for a wide age range, from infancy to toddlerhood. While it’s not as feather-light as some options, it makes up for it with its 3-in-1 functionality, allowing it to grow with your child from rear to forward to booster mode. Like all the car seats on this list, it is FAA-approved.
It is on the pricer end of our list but it does come with more features (like nicer padding) that other car seats don’t come with. But because of that, you are seeing the weight of the car seat increase (it’s almost 20 lbs.) Not impossible at all to wheel through the airport but definitely heavier than other car seats on our list.
7. Graco Contender Slim:
The Graco Contender Slim is an excellent addition to our list of top convertible car seats designed for travel. As the name suggests, it offers a space-saving design that’s perfect for airline travel and families on the go. Weighing around 16 pounds, this car seat is FAA-approved and suitable for children from 5 to 40 pounds in rear-facing mode and 22 to 65 pounds in forward-facing mode.
One cool feature about this travel car seat is that the forward-facing belt path is enclosed. This basically means that the seat belt is threaded through a separate space from the child’s back, instead of having the belt just underneath the cover. Why is this important? When installing in cars, there’s really no difference (in fact, it can make it a bit more challenging)…but when it comes to airplanes, there is a big benefit! Depending on the lap belt on the plane, if you are forward facing using a car seat that does not have an enclosed belt path, there is a chance that the buckle can land right in the middle of their backs. While it doesn’t bother every kid, it can be an issue for some.
8. Evenflo Sonus 65 Convertible Car Seat:
The Evenflo Sonus 65 Convertible Car Seat is a versatile and relatively budget-friendly choice for families who are seeking a reliable and FAA-approved car seat for air travel. Weighing in at approximately 12 pounds, it strikes a balance between portability and comfort. The Evenflo Sonus 65 can accommodate children from 5 to 40 pounds in rear-facing mode and 22 to 65 pounds in forward-facing mode.
A potential drawback to this car seat is that it only has one allowed recline when rear-facing so some parents have complained about properly installing it on the airplane or even in the rental vehicles. It’s worth noting like many of the other car seats on this list, if you can learn how to install using the “pull the seat cover up and tighten from inside the belt path hack”, it makes it a lot easier.
9. Evenflo Tribute LX Convertible Car Seat:
The Evenflo Tribute LX is another affordable and lightweight option that is FAA-approved for air travel. It’s designed for children between 5 and 40 pounds and offers multiple harness slots to ensure a secure fit. The compact size of this car seat makes it easy to navigate through airport terminals and fit in airplane seats.
It is similar to the Cosco Scenera in many ways, one of which being the lesser padding which some parents have complained about.
10. Maxi-Cosi Romi Convertible Car Seat:
The Maxi-Cosi Romi is an excellent addition to our list of top convertible car seats for air travel. It’s designed with portability and convenience in mind, making it an ideal choice for jet-setting families. Weighing just 7.8 pounds, the Maxi-Cosi Romi is FAA-approved and built to accommodate children from 5 to 40 pounds in rear-facing mode and 22 to 40 pounds in forward-facing mode. This car seat is very similar to the Cosco Scenera car seat. I would say the two main differences are that the Maxi Cosi has more padding and a higher price tag.
11. Century Drive On 3-in-1 Car Seat:
The Century Drive On 3-in-1 Car Seat is an excellent choice for parents who are looking for versatility and convenience during air travel. This car seat offers a 3-in-1 design that allows it to grow with your child from infancy through toddlerhood. While not the lightest option on the list, its functionality more than makes up for it. Its durability and adaptability ensure that it’s a reliable travel companion for families who value long-term use and safety. Plus, the no re-thread harness comes in clutch when you need to get the harness to fit just right. The downsides include the fact that it’s on the pricier end of my car seat list along with it being quite wide.
Traveling with toddlers and young children doesn’t have to be a daunting task, especially when you have a reliable, lightweight, and FAA-approved convertible car seat at your side. The options mentioned in this blog post cater to a variety of needs and budgets, ensuring that your child’s safety and comfort are always a top priority during air travel. Choose the one that suits your family best, and embark on your next journey with confidence, knowing you’ve made an informed and secure choice for your little traveler. Safe travels!