02 March 2007

CARES airplane harness: worth the price? Talk amongst yourselves

Amazon: CARES Child Aviation Restraint System

Marjorie asks:

Has anyone tried the CARES child restraint seat-belt thingie for airplanes? it's crazy expensive if it turns out it's not the bee's knees, and we usually travel with a sit-n-stroll. but i wondered whether this would be a good thing when we have a carseat waiting for us at our destination. i'm hoping that someone in the parenthacks community has tried it so i don't spring for it if it sucks! it looks complicated, and the only testimonials i can find online seem to be, hmm, on their web site. :)

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It looks like something that they should test for the airlines to actually have on board for children without car seats, you know?? I always travel with a car seat, I take the lightweight one from Grandma (the new Cosco convertible one) that weighs maybe 2 lbs, so it is super easy to haul around airports. I can't imagine my little guy putting up with that because it isn't his familiar seat, you know??

I'm the editor of WeJustGotBack.com, a family travel web site. A reader recommended the Baby B'Air Flight Vest, which serves the same purpose but costs less than half. We have a link from our Tip Sheet on Flying With Kids (see "Babies & Toddlers" heading). (http://www.wejustgotback.com/default.aspx?mod=tips_flykids)

Good luck,
Suzanne Rowan Kelleher

My wife and I used it with our 3-year-old a few weeks ago. It was awesome. She was completely comfortable and it worked perfectly. It was also nice not having to use a car seat. Another plus was that it kept her seated further back which in turn made it less likely that she would kick the seat in front of her. The only downside to it was the cost. It will set you back around $75, but we still think it was worth it.

The Baby B'Air Flight Vest is for small children (0-2) and I would never recommend having a child that young fly in the lap of their parent, even if they're strapped in with that device. It does nothing for safety, other than to keep them from flying all over the cabin in extreme turbulence.

CARES on the other hand is for older, bigger children, and provides the same kind of safety (if not better) that adults get.

I have a question for Jon Henshaw. When you say that the Baby B'Air Flight Vest does nothing for safety, other than in extreme turbulence, I'm curious about what are the safety issues on a plane, other than extreme turbulence? I don't mean that in a snarky way, I'm very serious. I know what the safety issues are in a car, but is there anything that could happen on a plane in which a flight vest won't be enough? Is there something to be concerned about other than turbulence or non-ideal landings and take-offs? It seems to me that a restraing vest would prevent injury in all those cases.

The point of a car seat is the same as in a plane. I know it sounds silly to keep young children in car seat the entire flight. I used to think the same thing until my wife convinced me otherwise (after much research).

One of the best things that car seats do is offer protection upon impact or extreme shaking/jerkiness. It not only protects their body, but more importantly protects their head and neck.

Certainly, major accidents and extreme turbulence are rare in airplanes. In fact, I think it's safer to travel in an airplane than on the road. But as everyone knows, anything can happen to anyone at anytime. That's why we wear seatbelts and that's why we have insurance.

A plane can experience extreme turbulence at any time. It can also crash land at anytime. So the question is, is it better to have your child tethered to your front or in their own seat inside of a protective car seat? The obvious answer is the car seat. There's a very good chance that you could hurt, crush or kill your child in extreme circumstances -- in particular a crash landing.

Ultimately, it's just a preference. We aren't extreme parents, but there are certain things that we don't like to take chances on, and this happens to be one of them. We believe it's safer for our children, which is why we always get them their own seat on a plane and use either a car seat or the CARES belt.

In addition to what Jon said, you are NOT allowed to have a child attached to you during landing and takeoff. Therefore, an infant in the Baby B'Air has only the safety of a person's arms during those portions--not terribly safe at all!

I love the idea of the CARES. I had heard about it before, but at that time, it was being made available only to airlines (or so I thought). I just traveled with my 27-month old. Since we were traveling alone and had some long layovers plus a carseat available at the other end, we didn't use on one the planes. It made me nervous as she wasn't all that protected by the seatbelt, and it was really easy for her to slouch and have it slide up her belly.

I must say the CARES doens't look all that easy to install, at least not alone with a 2-year old. I, at least, couldn't be next to her AND reach over and do things behind her seat. Of course, I don't believe in putting little kids in the aisle seat, as they show. She always had the window seat so that everything was contained!

thanks, you guys. i too worry that it looks hard to install -- jon, was it?

i'm not a fan of the baby b'air (tho to be fair, the baby b'air people say that 90% of injuries occur during flight, not during takeoff and landing) -- both my babies were really tall, and for that reason as well as safety i wanted them to have their own seat pretty quickly. you can only use the baby b'air on your lap; i.e., until the kid is 2. CARES is supposedly for kids up to age 4. for my 2-yr-old we currently use the sit-n-stroll; for my 5-yr-old we pack a backless booster for rental car use and on the plane she just uses the regular seat belt. but the 2-yr-old looks like she'll outgrow the sit-n-stroll pretty soon, so i'm hoping to hear that the CARES thing is easy to install. and if i thought i'd have additional kids, the hefty price would be easier to take!

The Baby B'Air can't be used for takeoff and landing because of the US FAA - when we flew to Europe with our 7 month old the European airline provided a baby belt that hooked to mine to ~use~ during takeoff and landing. (they also provided a cradle that hooked to the wall for him to nap in!) After that I got a Baby B'Air and just waited until the flight attendants were strapped in themselves and then would hook it up before takeoff. Sure, separate seats are safest but 1) they can't nurse for their ears and 2)not everyone can easily afford it. (yes yes yes, one shouldn't put a price tag on safety but a) the chances of something happening are really, ~really~ slim but b) if it did, well, I really don't think a separate seat would make that much difference)

We returned from a vacation (yesterday!) with our 3-year-old. We just used the seat-belts on the plane for her, since Grandma has a car seat and I hate schlepping big things through airports.

The standard seat belts were, of course, ridiculously easy for DD to undo. We spent a great deal of time getting her to sit back, don't kick the seat in front, leave her seatbelt on. While I can't vouch for the particular product, I'd love to have something highly stashable that would keep her in place!

WHY do airlines not have their own child seats for you to use? I would gladly pay an extra fee not to have to schlep one around...same for taxis, actually. It's not like traveling with kids is a new thing, people!

But why should families have to pay MORE to provide safety for their children. If everyone has a ticket, shouldn't the airlines be obligated to insure that travel is safe(r) for ALL passengers? If they offered reduce cost children's/youth tickets, I'd be willing to shell out $$ to insure my children's safety, but they don't offer such a thing. (And if they did, I suspect more families would fly!)

In many ways, this looks like a great alternative to hauling a carseat through the airport, and preventing seat-kicking. Although it is way too expensive, I'll be giving it some serious consideration before our next trip. As for ease of installation, strapping in a carseat is no easy trick. For anyone who has used one, is the strap that goes around the back of the seat likely to interfere with the tray table for the passenger behind? Will it work on narrower commuter jets?

I agree with emjaybee and SWN that airlines should ensure safety on their planes for children as well, especially if we have to pay full-fare for their seats.

marjorie - It was easy to install. You can put your child in the chair first, then you loop part of the belt over the back of the chair (it fits beneath the tray table on the back of the chair). Then you can proceed to adjust it to fit your child. Very easy and very quick.

SWN - Airlines used to give 50% off the ticket price for seats used by small children. I don't think they do that anymore. Also, safety is an issue of cost as it is with most other things, like vehicles. It's nice to own a super safe Volvo, but sometimes all you can afford is the cheaper, less safe car. In an ideal world, I would love to see discounted seat prices and CARE seat belts provided by the airlines. But most airlines aren't profitable right now, so I doubt it's something that will happen any time soon.

Nell - I agree, installing a car seat is a pain. CARES is super easy to install. I think the price is so high, because it took a lot to develop it, get it approved and then get them made. I can only assume that the price will go down in time. At the very least, we lend it to our friends all of the time (now that they know we have it). So, it feels good to provide our friends with an easy way to keep their children comfortable and safe -- and not kicking the person in front of them ;)

I used this on a flight last December and it was awesome. Very easy to install (although it doesn't affect the person behind and the airline is required to let you use it I could see someone getting upset that you're "messing" with their tray table). As someone else mentioned a huge bonus was keeping my daughter away from the seat in front of her so we had no kicking issues. And she didn't complain about it, since she is already used to the carseat harness. There was one woman on ebay offering to "rent" hers, but at a cost of $35 plus shipping I figured I'd get my money's worth over the years with the purchase of my own.

I just bought one. I'd been thinking about it for some time and found myself really regretting not having one the last time my little guy and I had to fly from Buffalo to San Francisco.

We'll be making enough trips this year that the $80 (is it really that much?) the seat costs will be simply and utterly dwarfed by the cost of airline tickets. Sold!

(Incidentally, I don't remember that any of my boy's three car seats cost anything like $80.)

i own the CARES device and love it. i travel frequently with my son about 4-5 times a year. it's just the 2 of us, so when i heard about this device, i got it. i love being able to check the car seat [as one of my son's checked bags] and have this item stashed in my bag.

we've never had a problem with the tray table issue. i set up the CARES device after we pre-board. the strap goes under the tray table an doesn't impede its use at all.

my only complaint is that sometimes it's difficult to get the strap tight enough around narrow seats, such as those found on a commuter plane.

Absolutely wonderful compared to the agony of the car seat and the relative risk of going with the standard lap belt!

It is way easy to install -- if you've done it once or twice (practice at home on a straightbacked chair) it takes about a minute, and you can do it with your child sitting in the seat. It's far safer than simply using the lap belt (which is practically useless). It keeps your child from being able to kick the seat in front of him/her. It's basically a shoulder harness that connects to the lap belt, so it packs into a small bag and weighs nearly nothing.

I was so happy to leave the carseat at the check-in counter, and my little guy was actually excited that he had a new special seat belt that only he got to use. Not to mention that I used to spend 10 minutes trying to unlatch the carseat everytime we flew. Now it's 15 seconds to get out.

I cannot recommend this thing strongly enough. $75 is a bit steep for couple straps of seatbelt material, but it's absolutely worth it considering the alternatives.

I totally missed this, as we were flying when this was posted. It was our second trip with the CARES.

We love it. It's awesome. Little girl (now 18 months) has been on about 22 legs of air travel, all in an infant carrier or car seat.

She is as snug as a bug in it. She is comfortable enough that she has rountinely nodded off while strapped in.

It's super easy to install. Much easier than installing a car seat. It goes under the tray table behind the seat, unless the tray table is in a recessed shell. Then, it goes over it for take off and landing (when the tray table has to be up anyway.)

We printed out the FAR that states that this is approved for takeoff and landing (some flight attendants were, indeed, unsure of it, and they assume it is like the Baby B'air. The whole point is that I want her strapped in for takeoff and landing.

We give CARES an A++. It was lovely to be able to check the carseat!

I know I am posting a long time after this discussion, but I just wanted to add our experience. We purchased CARES after much discussion over the price, but it was worth every penny for our 3 year old on a transatlantic flight. He has some sensory issues, and it is difficult for him to sit still. He understands when he is in a car seat though that he has no choice. The CARES was easy to fit, and he was comfortable wearing it and slept great the whole night flight over.

We also have a one year old, but my parents only have one car seat so we needed to take our other one. We have a trifold combi stroller we took, and used a luggage strap to attach the car seat into that for pushing through the airport with our one year old in. The stroller folded up like an umbrella so they let us take it on the plane and we purchased a seat for him to sit in the car seat which all worked really well. So just to have to take a small bag of straps in addition for our other son was perfect.

My only comment is there is no strap that goes between the legs, so in his sleep, my son did manage to slide down out of the harness a bit. All in all though, I highly recommend this product. More countries have recently authorized it's use - but if you are not flying with a US Carrier you must check if you are allowed to use it before you fly.

I don't know about you but it actually looks easier to install than my carseat on a plane. Finding a seat for my little one to sit in while I tried to feed a seat belt through the carseat (in the window seat with no way to get my hands and arms into the buckle pass through, not to mention the buckles were too large for the space so I had to twist and turn to even get it in there) and then ended up with the buckle in the middle of her back because of the way my seat is... Plus her seat sat far enough forward that it was impossible not to kick the seat in front of her! It took at least 15 minutes to install the carseat for each flight. This looks much simpler, simply wrap it around the top of the seat and attach the bottom portion to the belt. I can do all of that with my daughter sitting in the seat right? Seems pretty expensive to me for a couple of buckles and a few straps though! They must be making a ton of money on each of those!!! However I agree with ALWAYS using a carseat on the plane and it would be nice to have a carseat that fits in your carry on if you have a seat at your destination already... I hope the airlines consider purchasing them to offer to those flying with small children, even if you reserve it when you book your tickets!

adding to this post 4 years after the original- Wanted to note that there is a person on Ebay who rents them for $15, plus shipping - I rented 2 for my 1 and 3 yo for a trip to Jamaica - I echo all the previous posts on ease - and the one negative, as previously stated, my 1yo managed to slide down a few times, since there is no belt between the legs. my 3yo did just fine with this,and it was well worth it for both of them!

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