- LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren) are anchor points in cars that make installing carseats much safer since roughly 2003 when they became standard in all passenger cars. Manufacturers of car seats have made them bigger as a result. The seat needs to accommodate a strap between LATCH points as well as routing for old-fashioned seat-belts. The tether for the top of the seat, which goes over the back of the car's seat back and fastens there, has caused the manufacturers to make the back of the carseat taller and have a little more room for hardware above the kid's head.
- Around the same time as LATCH, the US has seen more stringent regulations for when car seats must be forward facing or rear facing. To save parents from buying multiple seats, there are convertible seats that can be turned around somewhere between infancy and toddler/preschool age, and still be used up to 60 pounds in some cases if the kid is not too tall. Of course, seats that can be converted from rear-facing and reclined positions to front-facing and upright positions have bulkier bases to accommodate the different LATCH points, seat belt slots and tilt options.
- New requirements and recommendations for booster seats for kids up to 6 years old and 60 pounds (or even 8 years old and 80 pounds) have been enacted in many states in the last three or four years. A pure booster seat, to raise the kid and position the belt safely, is currently thought to be best for school-age kids once they're too big to sit in a full carseat. However, in order to provide an option that parents can buy to last from pre-school through school age, many forward-facing car seats are now convertible to pure booster seats.
I'm going on five more trips with my kid in the rest of 2008. I usually need a car seat when I get to my destination. I also need something to keep my kid in the airplane seat more securely. Even if you believe airplane crashes are so low probability that it's not worth worrying about, I can vouch for the sanity that comes from a wriggly kid well-secured in an airplane seat. I held somebody else's baby during turbulence on a recent flight (while the other mom vomited repeatedly) and I was glad my own kid was asleep and strapped into a car seat with a five-point harness. He didn't even wake up during the turbulence, because I didn't have to wake him up to hold him down during the stomach-inverting drops of altitude.
Using the car seat in the airplane has become a real problem at his current height, however. It's so bulky (thick back, thick seat) that in coach he runs out of leg room and can already powerfully kick the seat in front of him. Time to start investigating alternatives, and as I found out, the alternatives do not reasonably include lightweight, narrow, FAA-approved seats that are also legal in cars in most states.
Here's how airplanes are different from cars, as far as child restraints are concerned:
- No LATCH points. I don't know if airplane seats will ever have LATCH points.
- Airplane seats are designed to recline/fold. I think this is why booster seats are forbidden by the FAA. So are seats that can convert to booster seats.
- Not as much room, obviously. It can even be hard to bring a toddler-size car seat down the aisle, let alone fit into the width and depth limitations of coach seating.
Since I still need* a car seat at my destination, I'll probably start putting the Britax Roundabout into checked luggage. *Big sigh* -- it will be years before I'm likely to travel without checked luggage again. If it weren't for carseats, I can pack my own clothing and my kid's for 3-6 days into one carry-on.
* As a final note, let me define "need" in the last paragraph. It turns out the law in BC, for example, is different for residents and visitors. Residents must use car seats for kids up to 40 pounds, but visitors can omit car seats with children over 20 pounds. On average that weight is reached at nine months! A slightly heavy baby might reach 20 pounds at an earlier age and still not be able to sit up on his own. So although the law doesn't require me to have a car seat on my upcoming trip to Vancouver, I have decided I need one.