July 13th, 2009

CARES Aviation Restraint System

When my kids were smaller and we traveled, I schlepped them through airports with a massive backpack and car seats in tow. And, the car seats? They were the worst. Even more difficult to maneuver, it turned out, than two toddlers with full diapers and fingers up their noses. At first, I used a bag purchased especially for the awkward job of moving monstrous seats from point A to point B. It had wheels and worked pretty well. But was still cumbersome.

After we inadvertently left it in the Honolulu airport, my husband built a small wooden dolly on which we bungeed the seats. His dolly was great, and I’m still convinced that if he’d worked hard on a prototype, he could’ve sold the idea for big bucks.

But, in the form that it existed, I couldn’t get it over large bumps throughout the airport without the seats falling off and a long string of expletives spewing out my mouth.

Enter CARES (Child Aviation Restraint System), which is a four-point harness made of the same industrial-strength webbing as regular seat belts. It weighs 1 pound and fits into a small stuff sack.

When we first got it, I was in love. We could check our car seats as luggage, which meant no ferrying the plastic beasts through SeaTac, O’Hare and La Guardia. Instead, I walked on board, confidently slid the CARES belt into place and buckled in Milo and Belle.

Though CARES is FAA approved, however, many flight attendants don’t know this. Or don’t care much. I got flack from more than one well-intentioned airline employee claiming we weren’t allowed to use it. Each time I argued until I won my case, but it wasn’t an auspicious way to begin a cross-country flight.

My main gripe about this product is its four-pointedness. It connects above the shoulders, and at each hip, but there is no strap that comes up through the crotch. For older children who can sit upright for any length of time, this might be fine (though the belt is approved only for children up to 44 pounds), but for my younger (large) kids, not so much.

As two- and three-year-olds, they inevitably ended up sliding down until the chest clip was at their throat and the lap belt under their armpits. Looking at them in this position, I thought, There’s no freaking way this is as safe as a car seat.

I dig the portability of CARES. The tiny stuff sack makes me swoon. But they need to think of some way to construct it so it has a five-point harness and smaller children stay put.

Then, and only then, will I unabashedly sing the praises of CARES.

Manufacturer’s Recommended Age: (Kids 22 to 44 pounds)

My Recommended Age: (Kids who are able to sit upright without sliding out of the restraint like hot lava)

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