10

Some car seats require their top tether to be attached in order to meet the safety standard they were built under (recent AU/NZ seats are an example of this). It is also true that it is safer to place one's child in a car seat belted to the aircraft seat than to carry them on your lap when you are flying.

However, aircraft, as far as I know, provide no place on their seats which can be used to anchor a top tether. So, if you have such a tether-required seat, are you stuck buying a different seat for use on the plane? Is there some hidden place on an airline (economy class) seat that a child seat's top tether can be attached to?

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    I wouldn't think you'd bring a car seat in the airplane for the security of the child, but just to get it to the destination, to have it when you arrive. When the airplane crashes, no child seat will do much good. – Aganju Dec 25 '15 at 21:28
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    @Aganju -- see NTSB recommendation A-90-078 and superseding NTSB recommendation A-95-051. Also, do you really want to have your kid turning into a projectile if you hit severe turbulence? – UnrecognizedFallingObject Dec 25 '15 at 21:51
  • I stand corrected. – Aganju Dec 25 '15 at 21:53
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+50

In Australia and New Zealand, AS/NZS 1754 compliant child seats can generally be used without a tether on airplanes. See slide 19 in this presentation from the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority, which has an example compliance sticker with this note at the end:

enter image description here

The upper anchorage strap is not required to be used onboard aircraft.

All child seats sold in Australia and New Zealand are AS/NZS 1754 compliant, but the fly in the ointment is that the new rules were only published in 2013, and aircraft certification is optional. This means that:

  • No pre-2013 seat will have the sticker, even though "some" of them passed CASA's tests.
  • Post-2013 seats with the sticker are definitely OK.
  • Not all post-2013 seats will have the sticker.

At time of writing, Qantas's policy is (intentionally?) somewhat vague, but implies that they'll allow any AU/NZ-certified child seat on the plane.

And for what it's worth, top tethers on child seats seem to be a very Aussie/Kiwi thing. In Europe, child seats almost universally use the lower ISOFIX attachments and don't require a tether at all.

6

Consider British Airways as an example. Their website provides a list of car seats requirements and one of them is:

must be designed to be secured by means of a normal aircraft single lap strap ...

Therefore, it looks like you need to buy a car seat which meets the requirements or to check rules of your airline (if it is not British Airways).

Please note, that it is allowed to have an infant on person's lap and some airlines (e.g. EU) provide special belts in this case, however, it is not clear whether such belts or seating on lap are safe.

According to "Study on Child Restraint Systems" (2008) page 36 (43 in pdf) such belts are banned in the US (at least in 2008):

The supplementary loop belt (belly belt) is not permitted.

but seating on someone's lap is allowed (the information is from 2008):

The child is seated on the lap of an adult without using any restraint device (lap-held).

However, the same study provides examples of incidents (page 29 or 33 in pdf) caused by turbulence, one of which is:

An unfastened infant of seven weeks suffered most serious head injuries since its mother had not been able to hold it.

Finally, according to the Federal Aviation Administration (the national aviation authority of the United States):

... the safest place for your child on an airplane is in a government-approved child safety restraint system (CRS) or device, not on your lap ...

Thus, it looks like it is safer to buy a special seat and (according to FFA):

make sure your CRS is government approved and has "This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft" printed on it.

  • Do restraints in other major markets (EU, AU/NZ, ...) have an equivalent labeling to the North American "This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft"? – UnrecognizedFallingObject Apr 8 '16 at 22:12
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The top tether is there to make the seat more safe. That is, "in a car seat restrained only by the lap belt" is not as safe as "in a car seat restrained by both the lap belt and tether." That said, it's still safer than "not in a car seat, just using the seatbelt or held by a parent."

You can buy a seat that doesn't have a top tether, to be sure - but such a seat isn't magically safer than one with an unattached top tether. Generally it will be a rear facing bucket seat for a tiny baby. (In North America, all forward-facing seats manufactured in the 21st century have tethers.) If you have an older child, I would still think an untethered size-appropriate seat, restrained with the lap belt, would be your best choice. If your issue is that you think the airline will reject your seat, look for a sticker that asserts it is approved for use on airplanes, and be prepared to show the sticker to the crew.

  • Just because a seat is made with a tether does not mean it cannot be legally used without the ability to use the tether as FMVSS/CMVSS seats are still deployable in applications where the tether cannot be fitted. I'm referring to places like Australia where the car seats in that market are not approved for tetherless usage. – UnrecognizedFallingObject Apr 8 '16 at 22:11
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    @UnrecognizedFallingObject The regulations for planes are not the same as for cars: a seat that can't be legally used in a car without a tether can be legally used in a plane without it. See casa.gov.au/sites/g/files/net351/f/_assets/main/lib100210/… and search for "tether". – jpatokal Apr 10 '16 at 23:01
  • @jpatokal -- excellent find! (It also answers my question re: the other answer, at least as far as AU/NZS seats go -- still want to know if EU restraints have a "suitable for airplanes" type of label on them, though) (Perhaps you could write it up into an answer?) – UnrecognizedFallingObject Apr 11 '16 at 4:26

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