Just Chain Crazy

Over the Labor Day weekend, we (me, husband, and two kids) traveled to Pennsylvania for my Grandpa’s services. On Saturday, we took a direct flight from Raleigh-Durham to Philadelphia and drove the remaining 50 or so miles to the Lehigh Valley (and repeated in reverse on Monday). I am so glad we went.

While it was emotional, my Grandpa, like my Grandma, chose to forego the typical funeral services in favor of a picnic to celebrate his life; this is something I find much easier, more natural from an emotional standpoint, and less depressing. Knowing it was going to be this type of memorial put me at ease in anticipation of the trip.

That left me fully open to get crazy over the logistics of getting through the airport with luggage, two kids and two car seats.

I’d already been eyeing up car seat paraphernalia on Amazon.com with a view to making our trip to visit our in-laws in the spring a bit easier. There are wheelie carts, backpack bags, and a variety of other devices intended to make the car seat easier to transport. I already discounted the wheelie cart idea since we’d borrowed one from a generous coworker at my husband’s company the last time we went to England and it ended up being a stress-inducing device (we spent 30 minutes after getting off the plane trying to strap it back onto the wheelie thing with no joy). The backpack style bags looked pretty good, but they were $30 a pop and that seemed a bit steep. Plus, they are intended to help with gate-checking the car seat and we decided we would use ours on the airplane. I really liked the simplicity of a t-strap device for use with wheeled luggage, but was inspired by one of the reviews which pointed out I might be able to get away with rigging up my own version.

Off to Lowes I went to purchase a steel ring. At home, I took one of the car seats from the car and one of our carry on wheeled suitcases and tried to hook the seat onto the bag. Fail! The latch straps on the car seat were not long enough to reach around the luggage and hook to the ring.

Back to Lowes to return the ring (which was about $1.50, so not exactly a big ticket item, but still) and to purchase some very standard metal chain (it ran $0.68 per foot) – I bought two one-foot lengths of chain. At home I tried again. Success! (I wish I’d snapped a picture, but I just didn’t have it together enough.)

But it is simple enough to explain in words.

Here’s what I did:

1. Lengthen both Latch Straps on the car seat so they were as long as they could go.
2. Set the car seat so that the back (that goes against the seat in the car when installed forward facing) rests against the front of the piece of luggage.
3. Extend the telescoping handle fully.
4. Feed the VersaTether (this is the top anchor strap, which might be called something on other car seats – we have Britax Marathons) through the middle of the telescoping handle (if you have a single bar handle, I suppose that would go between the V of the anchor straps)
5. Using the Latch, attach the chain on one side and then the other side around the piece of luggage, then hook the anchor strap/ VersaTether hook to the middle of the chain.
6. Adjust the straps so that all three are snug around the suit case (I had to tip my suitcase slightly to get a snug fit).

This allowed me to simply tip and pull along the suitcase and the car seat. It was pretty stable. I wouldn’t feel comfortable loading my kid into the seat to use it like a stroller, as the t-strap device advertises – several comments mentioned that doing so broke the wheels on their luggage. However, with my husband in charge of pushing the umbrella stroller (which we gate checked) and keeping our three-year-old from running off and me in charge of pulling along the two suitcases and with the two seats attached, we were able to navigate the airport pretty easily.

Thankfully, the TSA agents at RDU and PHL were very kind and patient, but really, the car seats took just a few seconds to pop off of the suitcases (just needed to undo one latch and the anchor hook). Attaching them again took a minute or so each (to loosen one strap slightly, reattach the hooks, and pull snug). The seats fit down the airplane aisle attached to the suitcases, too. Big help!

I felt like a supermama wheeling those contraptions through the airport! Look at my bad self with my car seats all chained up to my carry on for under $2 – oh yeah!

Now, we needed to bring those car seats with us to use in the rental car in Philly; we’ll also need to bring seats with us to England for the same reason. But I think, after this trip, we’ll be gate checking the car seats for the England flight. We found that it put our kids in just the right place to repeatedly kick the seats in front of them… and they were compulsive about it, no matter how many times they were reminded, told, or scolded not to do that. On a 58 minute flight, one can get away with that, but on an overnight, seven hour flight? Um, no thank you! Having their rears against the back of the plane seat itself will make kicking the seat in front much more challenging (I hope!). Still, the chains will work for getting the seats to the gates so they can be checked.

We’ve been eyeing up an FAA approved harness, but I’m tempted to just go with the standard seat belt. Have you flown with kids under 40 lbs, but too old to be a “lap child”? What did you do? Car seat? Harness? None of the above? Any advice?

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