Friday, June 27, 2008

Flying the safer skies!

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!


Jo said...

We have been flying with our daughter since she was a few months old as well and have decided that the most kid-friendly airline is Delta. On our recent trip to Europe, the flight on Delta was the most enjoyable flight I have ever had. The attendants were very attentive to my daughter and brought her water, cookies, whatever whenever she wanted. We only fly Delta now for this reason.

Chic Shopper Chick said...

Well that is great news, because we are flying Delta to and from Europe! However, we have had great experiences with Delta, American, Jet Blue, and we hear Southwest is great too. But that is great to know about Delta -- I'm relieved!

happyathome said...

No surprise on how you were treated. Thanks for pointing out thsi product as I had traveled with my daughter to HI this past March from the East Coast. On leg in a car seat and the next on my lap. The harness would have been great to use and I will definitley purchase this for our next trip. It really is so much easier just to gate check the car seat and not carry it through airports.

Kristin said...

I can't wait to use mine on Tuesday, I'll have to give my thoughts although it looks fabulous I think Kai will love it!

Helen E.M. Wright said...

We too are regular fliers. We live in Georgia but are from the east coast of Canada. That equals at least two flights one way.
When we were pregnant and traveling a flight attendant told us to NEVER check our seat because the risk of them getting lost was way too high (specifically for flights with connections). So we found this...

and it's great. I usually end up being by myself with our son (now 4) and it works out perfect! We have a Britax Marathon. We have learned that once on the plane ask for a belt extension and everything runs smoothly.

This does look cute but I just checked and it is only accepted with US registered airlines.

Helen E.M. Wright said...

sorry, link didn't take...

just look up the Pac Back at;

Helen E.M. Wright said...

Sorry, when I checked out the website I didn't go past the first question about where it is accepted and says only 'is certified by the FAA for use on all U.S. registered airlines'.

Yeah, we've had the airline tell us that we can check the seat and if, by chance, our luggage gets lost they will get us a new one. My problems with that is...the past 12 times we've flown, our luggage has only arrived with us 3 times. As for getting the seat that they will buy; I have just been traveling with a child for 8 hours I do not want to have to deal with that at the end of it.

That's just our 'freaky thing'. You know how it seems like every parent has one. We've found that this way works for us.

I do think that CARES is a great idea and if I only had one flight (with a seat already at the other end)I might be inclined to use it. ;)