Review: Cares Harness vs Car Seat inflight

While I have previously raved about taking car seats on board long haul flights, I have to admit that what I hate about them is the schlepping. 

Car Seats are HEAVY. 

They are awkward to carry, must be put through the x-ray machines, and I get all sweaty every time I bring one as I try to wrangle it up the narrow airline aisle to our seats. Once fitted into the seat, they are amazing and I’m always glad I made the effort. Especially when I am sitting on a plane for 24 hours from Zurich to Sydney.

But what to do if your car seat is too wide for your airline seat (you can check seat guru here to be sure!)? Or what if you just can’t manage the weight and the lugging of it through the terminal with everything else you are lugging? Please Kristin, you scream!  Tell me there is an alternative!

Yes, dear readers.  There is actually a pretty good alternative. 

CARES HARNESS

It’s called the CARES Airplane Safety Harness.

As you can imagine, the CARES harness is approved only for airline travel.  It slips over the seat and is fixed in place with the aircraft seat belt. It is meant to be used with kids from 10kgs and up.  I was excited to try it as an alternative to the car seat schlepping and so I purchased it.  It cost just under CHF 100 and the first time I used it was on our flight to Singapore when little Z was not yet 2. Our carseat was too wide for the Swiss Economy seats so I was glad to have the CARES harness as an alternative.  

 Z trying out the CARES harness for the first time at 20 months.

Z trying out the CARES harness for the first time at 20 months.

So how did it go? 

Considering a car seat was out of the question for our flight to Singapore, the CARES harness was a fabulous alternative. Z sat happily in her seat and even slept. For me it felt great not having to lug a heavy car seat through the terminal and into the aircraft. 

So which option is right for you? Here I offer you the pros and cons of using the CARES Harness compared to a car seat in-flight. 

 

PROS

1. Weight

The Cares harness is a fraction of the weight of a car seat, weighing in at next to nothing, you will barely notice the extra weight in your carry on.  It isn’t bulky either; it’s just about the size of a rolled up t-shirt. I didn’t have to worry about whether the car seat will fit in the airline seat and my back thanked me for not having to lug a heavy car seat through the terminal. 

2. Easy to install

The Cares Harness is relatively easy to install, especially compared to a carseat.

The Cares Harness fits most standard airline seats. Just slip the harness over the top of the seat, and slip the back strap behind the tray of the passenger behind you and tighten.  (Don't worry the person behind you can still use their tray!). Once your little traveler is seated, guide the straps over their shoulders, thread the seat belt through the harness, and close the clasp across the chest. It literally takes only 2 minutes. 

I did find it tricky at first to get it tight enough, but with enough fiddling and pulling I got it to work just fine.  I would recommend practicing at home on a dining chair to be sure you know how to do it before flying. 

 Practise with the harness on your dining room chair before flying to make sure you know how it works! 

Practise with the harness on your dining room chair before flying to make sure you know how it works! 

Practice before you fly with your CARES harness by trying it out on your dining room chair!

3. Keeps them safe and secure

I felt pretty confident that Z couldn’t get out of her belt and was safe in case of unexpected turbulence. I actually think the harness for toddlers aged 2 - 4 must be a lot safer than just a lap belt or being held in the parent’s arms with just a lap belt. I was able to rest my eyes for for part of the flight confidently knowing she would stay put. 

4. Still use the tray

The positive of the harness is that you can still use the tray. I was able to pop it down to stand the iPad on and rest her meals on. The car seat doesn’t allow this, and I sometimes miss having that extra space at meal times. 

 

CONS

1. It doesn’t recline

Unlike the car seat that will recline a little bit, the CARES Harness of course doesn’t have this feature, you can only recline your airline seat. So this might make sleeping less comfortable. Z however, still slept in it and I propped her up with a small pillow. 

2. They sit low

What I love about the car seat is that they sit high enough to be able to see the inflight screen. The CARES harness doesn’t have this advantage, so when strapped in, younger kids wont be able to to see the screen well. 

I also noticed that the first time we used it (Z was just 10kg and a little on the small side) she was a bit short for the fit to be just right. We sat her on the pillow so she could see the inflight screen as well fit better into the harness. The chest belt would sometimes ride up underneath her neck. By the time she used it a second time at 2 years of age she fit much better. 

 She even slept! 

She even slept! 

3. No belt between the legs

If you have a kid whose nickname is Houdini and they don’t like car seats to begin with, then if they really really really tried they probably could escape the CARES harness, or at least slide down into an uncomfortable position. The harness does not have a strap for between the legs like a stroller or car seat does. 

This is where knowing your kid comes into play. Our Z has never tried to escape, and her natural temperament is quite calm. She happily used the harness and actually asked me to close it the moment we got back from the bathrooms. She considered it just like her car seat in the car, a non-negotiable.

 

The Verdict: 

 Here you can see how the chest strap kept getting under her neck, but on her next flight at 2 years old, it was a lot better. 

Here you can see how the chest strap kept getting under her neck, but on her next flight at 2 years old, it was a lot better. 

Z was more than comfortable using the CARES harness and I loved how light it was and easy to install. The positives definitely outweighed the negatives. But I still LOVE using a car seat in flight, especially during that awkward 10 months to 24 month age range when, let’s face it, you will do anything to keep them happy during a long flight, including schlepping a heavy car seat through a terminal. That age range is *for sure* the hardest to travel with. 

My personal recommendation would be: 

  • Use a car seat between 10 months and 24 months and only on long haul flights.
  • Use the CARES Harness between 2 and 4 years on long haul flights and perhaps on shorter haul flights at younger ages. 

My dream? I would LOVE for airlines to supply car seats for use in flight. This would be a toddler mum’s dream! And it would make for a more pleasant flight for EVERYONE!

So what do you think? Are you a fan of the CARES Harness? Or maybe you’re on Team Car Seat? Or do you use nothing at all? What would you recommend to first time parents?