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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A little gotcha you might not know about some booster seats

We’re doing an incredible amount of traveling this summer. A whole bunch of these getaways are girls’ trips, which means I’m on my own with Ro and Ree, our luggage, transportation, etc. So I needed a travel car-seat solution that wouldn’t reduce me to tears (or worse) in the middle of the Salt Lake City airport. In buying, trying, and returning options, I discovered a booster-seat gotcha that you might not know, and this is one case where cutting corners turned out to be a good thing.

Ro and Ree, who weigh in at just over 40 pounds, are still in Britax car seats at home, and we’ve traveled with those car seats before. But if TubaDad’s not around, it’s just not doable for me to get those dang seats (or seats from the car rental company) transported and installed on my own. I’m not fragile, but holy moly my sanity sure is, especially when the kids are running around the airport parking lot all crazed and sleep-deprived after a long flight and I’m hanging upside down in the back of the car cursing and fumbling with straps. So before our last trip to Tahoe, I bought some new backless booster seats that were easy to carry and required no installation.

One gotcha though, and the main point of this post: if you have captain’s chairs in your car or van (like we do), not all booster seats will fit. Of course I didn’t find out our new ones didn’t fit until 9pm the night before we left on our trip, while TubaDad was away on business. Crap!!! Luckily good friend Maggie came over to watch our sleeping babes while I dashed to Target to exchange the first pair of seats.

I ended up buying the Graco booster seat, which I’ve now tested in Tahoe, Chicago, and will soon test in Utah. Why? Because the Graco booster has angled corners in the back, so it will actually fit in a captain’s chair.

Here’s the front view of the first seats I bought that didn’t work, the Evenflo Big Kid AMP No Back Booster Car Seat ($24.99 at Target), as compared to the seats that did work, the Graco No Back Booster Car Seat ($19.59 at Target). They both look great, huh? This front view is the only one you get to see if you order seats on the internet or just look on the packaging:DSC_6303LR

Now let’s check out the back view. See those angled corners on the Graco? That turned out to be critical:DSC_6305LR2

Here’s a close-up of the Graco sitting on top of the Evenflo. That tiny little angle that wasn’t visible on the web made all the difference:DSC_6316LR

Here’s a bottom view of those angled corners, just because I’m a picture nut:DSC_6336LR

Now, this is why I cared. Here’s the Evenflo booster in our van. Note the big, unsafe, uncomfortable gap between the booster and the back of the seat. I just couldn’t get it far enough back with the sides of our Honda Odyssey captain’s chair in the way:DSC_6323LR

And here’s how the angled Graco fits flush against the back of the captain’s chair. Ah hah!:DSC_6329LR

If you’ve got bench seats in your car, van, SUV, or rental car, then as far as I can tell you can go hog-wild and get anything you want. (I actually like the looks of the Evenflo better and it has sturdier seat padding.) But if you’ve got captain’s chairs like us, take a peek at the back of your booster seat before you buy it.

By the way, any booster seats can either be checked in free of charge when you check your luggage (fellow twinmom K2 saved the original boxes and tapes them shut and checks them in those – brilliant!!), or can be carried on the plane and easily stowed in the overhead compartments. They’re light enough that the kids can carry them if you’re short of hands, and there’s no installation – just plop your booster down, then use the normal car shoulder and lapbelt, making sure to put the belt underneath the armrests (or use the extra strap attachment) so it’s held in the correct position.

Happy traveling!

PS #1: I wasn’t compensated for this info in any way. I purchased all four of the seats and I’m just sharing facts that would have saved me an extra trip to the store. (An extra trip that cost me $32 more, by the way, because I *had* to walk through the little girls’ clothing section on the way to the car seats… Heh.)

PS #2: I’m not interested in debating the safety of backless seats versus full-back seats. I personally am not able to travel with two little girls and two full-size car seats on my own.


  1. Anonymous6/22/2010

    Thanks for the info!

  2. Good to know! I would never have thought about the angle on the seats. And I dn't want to lug around a carseat with one kid let alone two! Thanks to you we are using the CARES harness on our next flight and checking the carseat.

  3. That's extremely helpful info! I giggled a little bit picturing you hanging upside down in the back seat trying to install the full size seats. I can relate!

    Do you know if the kids can sit on the booster seats on the airplane? Sometimes they try to watch the inflight movie but can't see over the top of the seat in front of them.

    Our Blog: Double Happiness!

  4. Yes, you can use booster seats on the airplane :) I wonder if the Evenflo ones would work in my Jeep. I do not have captain chairs but the ones I bought at Target do not work in my Jeep at all due to a gap similar to what you showed. Hmmm...need to check that out! Thank you!

  5. I meant to say the Graco ones would work in my Jeep..the Evenflo did not! LOL

  6. Hi Donna, as far as I know you can't use boosters on the plane (they don't have the FAA-approved label), but you can use CARES harnesses (we traveled with them a LOT when the girls were small and actually have two if anyone local needs to borrow them), or full-size carseats that have the FAA-approved labels (not sure which brands are the approved ones).

  7. Oh here we go, I found a page on the FAA site that says no booster use in flight, hard-backed carseats with FAA approval or harnesses with FAA approval are ok for in-flight use.

    So the boosters are fine to check or stow as carry ons, but no in-flight use.

  8. That is good to know about the captain's chairs. Our oldest is in a booster, but she rides on the back bench seat so we can have easier access to the 2 little ones in the captain's chairs, since they can't fasten themselves in yet. That said, one of these days, we'll be putting boosters on those captain's chairs.

  9. M3-

    I cannot imagine traveling with two car seats without help. I was so relieved this year when we went to Florida since the 5 year old could use a backless boaster seat. I cannot wait until the three year old uses one.


  10. Anonymous6/22/2010

    If you aren't using the CARES restraints anymore, what do you use on the plane? My older daughter is 34 lbs but 42 inches so she exceeds the height req. We are traveling to Central America in August and I do not want to travel with car seats. Relatives have arranged for car seats in-country. My other daughter fits the height/weight req.


  11. Clek Olli is my pick for booster seats... I own 4. They are great with the integrated rigid latch system- these are the only boosters that do not move around... they are safely secured with no falling behind the seat! And... they weigh nothing... and come with a detachable strap so the kids can carry them on their own.

  12. Hi Elaine,
    Hm, that's a tough one! At 34 pounds our girls were still way below the max height for the CARES so it was easy. Not sure what I'd do at that weight and height... For us now, we just use the airplane seatbelts and Ro and Ree are finally big enough (and calm enough) to stay in their seats and always keep the belt "low and tight." (I laugh because they like to repeat that saying back to us now if we forget to put on *our* seatbelts) Anyhow, they're big enough that we don't have to worry about them slipping under the seatbelts any more.

  13. Very good to know! Caroline is still in her 5-point harness seat. It's a larger one than the standard for toddlers. But a 6 years old, she's still only 42 lbs so I can't let her just sit on the regular seat and use the seatbelt.

    Oh, and on my flight to Dallas, I saw a mom carrying the big heavy carseat for her son and showed her the website for CARES for next time. :-)

  14. Thanks for sharing what you have discovered!

    I also wanted to say that I am sorry that you feel the need to add disclaimers because of some of the negative comments you received on other posts. I personally think it is great that you are so open and share your family with everyone. Unfortunately I guess this also leaves you open to those who feel they are in a position to critcize others. Thank you for being so open and sharing your big and small adventures. I enjoy reading your blog and check daily for new posts! :)

  15. Good to know! We travel with our backless booster (and have done so in the past)... No clue if its angled or not, but we sat him in the back (bench seat) bc we had the baby and one of the grandparents in the captain's chairs in the middle. Will go check on this ASAP! Thanks!

  16. Anonymous6/22/2010

    So far when we've traveled, we've rented cars with carseats included, but later this summer, we're going to New York where we'll be cabbing it so I'll bring the booster. Here's my question though, if we're sightseeing and will be taking a few cabs during the day, are we just stuck carrying the booster around with us or am I missing something here?? I don't really want to lug that thing around with us all day... maybe I'll bring a stroller to put the booster in!lol


  17. Anonymous6/22/2010

    You weren't compensated for this post?

    that DOES IT!!!

    I now have to quit reading your blog.


  18. Great info to tuck away for later. For this trip to your place Hannah will still be in her bucket (just at height limit and waaaay under for weight) so I won't need to carry her big Britax with me. Phew!! Next time I'll do some pre-travel weight lifting to carry her Britax to your place! :o)

    My parents have a Honda Odyssey too and also use a Graco for my nieces and nephews.

  19. Hi Julie,
    Yep, if you want a booster in cabs you'd have to lug it around with you -- unless you request a cab with a carseat (you'd have to phone ahead and wait, not just hail a cab on the street). A whole lot of folks just use the cab seatbelts (depending on what state you're traveling in, cabs can be exempt from the "have to be in booster seats until xx age or xx pounds law), but it's totally up to each parent. Anywhere that we've rented a car and carseats, by the way, they've just handed us the carseats and we had to install them ourselves. I think they don't want to take any legal responsibility for the installation.

  20. I'm going to ditto the no boosters on flights. Last time we flew, we were told no. Tucked fine in the overhead compartment. A small bungee cord can attach it nicely to your carry-on with wheels, so you just gotta pull it around.

  21. Sorry, I just had a moment of cognitive dissonance imagining cabs with *seat belts*. God bless the USA.

  22. Great info! I did the same thing with LiLi while traveling. I only take her booster seat. They are so light and much easier to travel with! I also LOVED your P.S. at the end. Very funny in a subtle way.

    I also want to add about the height and weight. In Ohio, the height and weight was just increased. Some of LiLi's friends had to go BACK to booster seats because they no longer meet the requirements. LiLi was slightly happy about a few that made fun of her before.

    "Children younger than 8 OR less than 57", must use a booster seat."

    This site might help-

    Hope that helps.


  23. Anonymous6/22/2010

    It constantly amazes me how well designed all the Graco stuff seems to be, given their penchant for using cheap materials to keep their prices down. We have a Phil&Ted stroller, which is supposed to be high end, but it's so much kludgier than our Graco.

  24. You know, I never realized that the Graco ones had the cut corners. A few years ago, a Target nearby clearanced the backless ones for something ridiculous like $4 each, so I bought one as a spare. Both kids were kind of small for it at the time, but just in case, I figured it would come in handy. We use it as F's spare now, if she goes with friends, etc. She's just not big enough for a seatbelt, even though she's almost 8 (only 44lbs). Ben, well, he's kind of wiggly for it, I keep him harnessed for my own sanity. ;o) I seriously covet the Clek's right now. Faith only fits her Regent or a booster, so my options are limited and the Clek impresses me.

  25. Anonymous6/23/2010

    Interesting! I had no idea!

  26. Wow, thanks for the info! Soon I will need one of these for Naomi (if she ever gets to 40 pounds (lol). She's 40 inches and 32 pounds.

  27. You inspired me to check the regulations for Canada (in case any one wants to know):

    "... When should I use a booster seat?
    Children under the age of eight, who weigh 18 kg or more but less than 36 kg (40-80 lbs.), and who stand less than 145 cm (57 ins. or 4 ft. 9 ins.) must travel in a booster seat that meets the CMVSS..."

  28. Anonymous6/23/2010

    I'm so glad you shared that. We have the exact same van as you guys, so this info. will come in handy in about 6 more pounds.

  29. Anonymous6/23/2010

    I was THRILLED when my kids were old enough/big enough for a booster. The biggest drawback was that they had no "sides" to rest their heads on when they slept. This prompted many stops to adjust their head/neck & drove me crazy. My twins are now in regular seatbelts - thank goodness!!

  30. Anonymous6/23/2010

    Are you going to do a review from your McDonald's trip?

  31. Anonymous6/23/2010

    Really helpful info - thanks for saving me a trip!

  32. http://www.carters.com/carters/Doctor-Dress-Up-Pj%27s/V_342-167,default,pd.html?dwvar_V__342-167_color=Blue&start=1&cgid=carters-toddler-boy-clearance

    The girls NEED these pj's!!!

  33. Yep, the reviews (from all the bloggers) are scheduled to go live in July.

  34. Wow, thanks for the great info. I'm sure it will come in handy someday, especially since I own the same minivan. Alas, you have just made me realize that when we fly to Florida in August we will be carrying both the full-size Britax car seat and the Graco bucket as I'm pretty sure that the two year old is still a tad small for a backless booster, though I should double check.

  35. Wouldn't it be nice if they would tell you on the box what cars these seats will or won't work in?! We had MAJOR issues getting AJ a new seat since he was too tall for the one we had (and pretty mach all of them that had a 5 point harness) but not heavy enough for a booster. The first seat we bought couldn't go in our car at all. It took 3 car seat checks, consults with 6 different car seat experts, going to 8 different stores, buying 2 different seats and about 1/2 of my sanity to find a seat that was safe for my tall skinny 3 1/2 year old!

    2 Weeks later we realized our 9 month olds seat couldn't go in our truck rear-facing. We took 2 cars camping because it was just easier... I am still working up the courage to sort that one out!

    Thank you so much for the tip! I'll be sure to keep it in mind if we need to buy a booster.