Last week, Little AG and I were lucky enough to travel with hubby to Washington DC on business. Hubby and I were frequent travelers before Little AG was born, and once she came along she was quickly introduced to the world of traveling with us. The first time she flew was when she was barely 3 months old, and since then she has been on over 15 flights — with no sign of slowing down (hubby and I are both aspiring pilots and we hope to be flying the friendly skies ourselves soon).
When Little AG was an infant, it was easy to bring her infant car seat on the plane with me and install it in a seat for her. When she graduated to her bigger car seat, a Britax Boulevard, we discovered after a one day trip down to Miami that itwasnotthatsimple. While we are happy with our choice of car seat for her, and our Britax is approved for air travel when installed correctly, IT IS HUGE. Even with two of us carrying all of the “stuff” that goes along with a baby, the car seat got to be a little much, and hubby all but broke his arms carrying it all through the (seemingly endless) trek through the terminal in Miami. We ended up carrying Little AG through the airport and letting the Britax ride in her stroller. It was the only sane option.
Louise Stoll, a grandmother of nine, watched a similar situation to the one that I described above happen with her pregnant daughter who was struggling to carry a toddler, diaper bag, and car seat off of a plane. She felt that there had to be a safe way for children to fly without lugging that ridiculously heavy car seat around the airport. With the help of her family and friends, she invented CARES — a FAA approved harness designed specifically for aviation use for children ages 1-4 (who meet the weight and height requirements). It is made for children who are old enough to be in their own seat, but are too small to rely on the seat belt alone to protect them. CARES is a harness that works in conjunction with the airplane seat belt and provides children the same level of safety as a car seat.
So, now that you know a little about what CARES is, let me tell you about our experience using it. First of all, the CARES harness came with a DVD that explained more about how it works and shows parents how to correctly install the harness on the plane. I watched the DVD twice the night before we left to make sure that I would be able to install CARES quickly but efficiently once on the plane. The next day, we boarded our plane to Baltimore on Continental Airlines (more on our not very kid friendly experience with this airline later — suffice it to say that I will avoid flying them again at most any cost) and I installed CARES in the middle seat between hubby and myself for Little AG. She was sitting there, tucked in with her Tigger (so cute!) rather proud of herself that she was sitting in a big girl seat. I was happy too — because CARES was easy to install and I was still marveling at how it took up minimal room in my bag and saved us from lugging that car seat on the plane. (I should add that Little AG is 16 months old but weighs 25 lbs, so she is within the correct weight range)
Right before we took off, a flight attendant walked by, doing seatbelt checks, observed Little AG in her harness and said to my husband, “Just to let you know, it’s safer for you to hold her in your lap during take-off and landing then to have her sit there.” To this statement, I reply that the harness is FAA approved and that she meets the weight requirements to be in her own seat with this harness. She just said “Oh it is? Ok.” and walked to the front of the plane. A minute later she’s back, and she’s brought company — apparently she “told on us” to the senior flight attendant. The second flight attendant tells us (in no uncertain terms) that Little AG MAY NOT sit in that seat, with that harness, and that they do not allow harnesses to be used whatsoever on their airline. Since she was under 2 years old, we had to hold her, they said. I again told her that it was FAA approved that that we were allowed to use it, with her telling me that there was no such thing as an FAA approved harness (WRONG!) and that we were not allowed to use it. She wouldn’t give me the chance to show her the documentation or take it any further, so it finally ended like this — we were told that since we hadn’t purchased a seat for her we had to hold her during takeoff and landing, even thought the plane was empty. (“She’s a lap child since you don’t have a seat for her, so she needs to be on your lap.”) Honestly, it was a very dumb excuse, and we all knew it, but we weren’t going to create a scene and continue to argue. Our words fell on deaf ears.
Towards the end of the flight, two flight attendants (the first flight attendant that we met and now a new girl) come bursting down the aisle together, excitedly asking if this was the CARES harness. I showed them the packaging (as well as the card that came with it, declaring that I have the right to carry it on and use this harness according to the FAA) feeling a mix of irritation and satisfaction all at the same time. They had gone and looked it up in their manual, and it said that the CARES harness is the only one approved by the FAA, therefore the only one that can be used. However, neither of these girls had ever seen one, so they didn’t know any better. I honestly don’t feel that being uneducated is an excuse for not allowing us to use it, but I did appreciate the fact that they admitted it. I was happy to be allowed to use it for Little AG for the rest of the flight and for landing.
We were advised later to let our flight attendants know ahead of time that we would be using the CARES harness and that it is the only one approved for aviation, and that would make life easier for all involved. (I can’t resist adding that I feel like we tried to do that, but maybe we just weren’t clear enough.) I highly recommend purchasing a CARES harness for your child, but you should be prepared to show documentation that it is FAA approved and fight for your right to use it should it be necessary. Your child is safer in a proper seat belt restraint than in your lap, and it is obvious that some airlines are not providing their flight attendants with the proper education to know that.
Overall, our experience using CARES was great. I felt safer having it for her, and we are planning on using it for our trip to Europe in a week
— it will be a lifesaver for the 9 hour flight. I encourage you to spread the word to all of your flying friends with young tots — this is a really awesome product that provides great peace of mind and a lot more ease than using a car seat. You can purchase it directly from the CARES website for $74.95.
PS — It is also approved for use in private aircraft!