A review of CARES, the Child Aviation Restraint System

I decided to look into the CARES harness, from the Kids fly safe company after doing some research on car seat size requirements for European airlines (specifically, Air France). After realizing that many of the car seats sold and used in the US far exceed the airline’s listed maximum sizes, I started looking for alternatives. And thus I came across the CARES harness. It seemed almost too good to be true! CARES is the only harness type child aviation safety restraint ever certified for airplane travel by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

After reading up as much as I could on it, I decided to purchase it and try it out for myself. I tested it out during a trip from Boston to Atlanta, with my two boys, then 5 mos and 20 mos (29 lbs). As I was traveling alone with the boys, I had the baby strapped to me and held the hand of the older one. I simply stashed the CARES harness in my purse (it weighs about 1lb).

Upon boarding the plane and reaching our seats I realized that we were seated in the row before the exit row, which would mean the harness could not be used as there was no row directly behind us, and therefore no trays on the back of our seats. I immediately let an attendant know my dilemma and she promptly helped us to change rows. Tip #1: Verify the seating chart or check with an agent prior to boarding the plane to make sure you are not seated in an inappropriate location for use of the harness.

Now came the fun part….attempt to attach the CARES harness (for the very first time since I did’t practice at home like the instructions suggest) on my 20 month old. The concept itself is actually quite simple. Slide the harness over the top of the back of the seat and down until it is slightly above your child’s shoulders (while seated). This will require that you either reach back and lower the tray table behind the seat for the harness to slide down, or ask the passenger sitting in that seat to temporarily lower the table for you. It is best to have the child seated as soon as you begin to attach the harness. Next, attach the shoulder straps over your child’s shoulders and buckle the chest clip, and use the airlines seat belt in conjunction with the harness to go across your child’s lap. Be sure to adjust all buckles/straps as necessary before putting the seat tray back up.

Easy enough, right? Admittedly, not so much with a baby strapped to your chest, but still… So how THE CARES harness perform? Well, except for one flaw, it was great! My son was mostly comfortable, and the harness restricted him enough that I felt he was properly secured in the case of turbulence, though he could still move his arms and legs. So what’s the flaw, you ask? Well, because there is no padding on the upper straps, once a child falls asleep, his/her head will lean to the side (or forward) with what is little support. In all honesty however, this tends to happen even car seats, depending on how the child sleeps and the recline of the seat, and it can be remedied. Tip #2: Use the CARES harness in conjunction with some type of neck cradler or strap covers (like Summer Infant’s Cradler or CushyStraps).

Overall the harness has pros and cons, but I feel the pros definitely outweigh the cons, especially if you travel often with young children. I have since flown several time with the CARES harness and have been relieved each time I avoided having to lug that extra car seat onto the plane.

PROS

  • You don’t have to lug a car seat around the airport, install it upon boarding, and un-install after landing. (Even if you need a car seat at your destination, you can always check your car seat for free direct to your destination with luggage)
  • You don’t have to worry about whether said car seat will even fit in the plane seats.
  • The Cares harness does not allow enough leeway for most younger children to be able to kick the seat in front of them…Yay!

CONS

  • If your on a very long flight, you might want to opt for the car seat anyways for the sake of your child’s comfort.
  • The Cares harness does not allow enough leeway for most younger children to be able reach their seat trays