Car seats. Airplanes. Boy, is that combination a controversial and confusing topic. So much so that I had to write a three part series about it earlier this year.
If you travel with young kids, I don’t have to tell you that dealing with airplanes and airports and car seats can be a total pain in the neck. For the past 6 1/2 years, I’ve been on a mission to simplify the air travel and car seat process for myself and my kids. A huge part of that is having the right car seat.
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For several years, our family’s go-to travel car seat was the Cosco Scenera. When I heard that the company had released a next-generation model of the same seat earlier this year, I knew I had to put it to the test. This next-generation seat, the Cosco Scenera NEXT, is about as good as it gets for an inexpensive and lightweight car seat for travelers.
So, is this the car seat for your next trip? I’ve now used it on two trips and have tried nearly every iteration that traveling families will experience. I’ve used it for a long road trip, checking it on the plane ride to and from our ultimate destination, as our toddler son was flying as a lap child. I’ve also used it on a different trip on the plane flight itself as a seat for my now 2 year old son.
After both of these experiences, I truly think it is a must-buy for traveling families, even in spite of a few flaws. My family will be taking the Cosco Scenera NEXT to Panama and Cancun next month because it passed the test on our domestic travels with flying colors.
Here’s the scoop the Cosco Scenera NEXT for traveling families.
Cosco Scenera NEXT: What Works
I have not been able to find an official weight on the seat itself (Walmart lists its shipping weight as 10 pounds), but suffice it to say that the seat is really, really light. I can easily carry it with one hand and even found myself able to balance it on top of a rolling suitcase and easily pull both at the same time. If you put it in a backpack carrier or a car seat roller like the Go-Go Babyz Travelmate, it would be a breeze to maneuver.
If there is any car seat that is going to fit in the narrow seats of an airplane, this is the one. We were able to easily fit it on our last Southwest flight with the armrest fully down. One Trips With Tykes reader recently reported that she was even able to fit the Cosco Scenera NEXT in a bulkhead seat, seats that are often narrower seats because the tray tables are stored in the arm rests. I can’t promise this seat will work on every plane everywhere but if the Cosco Scenera NEXT doesn’t fit, probably nothing will.
Rear facing up to 40 pounds
Car seat experts are recommending that kids stay rear facing as long as possible. We still have my 2 year old rear facing and it is nice to find a lightweight seat that accommodates that position for older toddlers.
Lots of fun color options
While style is never the first thing I look for when I’m trying to find an inexpensive and functional piece of gear for travel, it is always a bonus when a product has color and pattern choices.
Excellent safety ratings
The reason I bought the Cosco Scenera originally is because of the excellent ratings it and other seats by Cosco received from Consumer Reports. The Cosco Scenera NEXT hasn’t yet been tested by the magazine, but the early reports from a variety of sources give it high marks.
My family needs a lot of gear for traveling with our little ones, so the cheaper the better for me. At just $44 at Walmart, this is a total no brainer. There really aren’t car seats that come any cheaper.
Cosco Scenera NEXT: What Doesn’t Work
Tougher than usual installation
Because this is a no frills seat, it lacks a lot of the special features you might find on your fancy $300+ car seat that will help the install process. I personally found it a bit hard to get a tight fit on installation, particularly when forward-facing. Be prepared to use some elbow grease. I had to really get my knee in the seat to push down on it while pulling the LATCH straps tight.
Wears & tears quickly
The cosmetics of the seat seem to wear and tear a bit more than some of the fancier models. The cloth cover is somewhat weakly banded around the outside of the seat and pops off a bit when moving the seat around (the flip side is that the cover is easy to remove for washing!).
In addition, one issue arose with my seat when I checked it on my last flight (it was in a protective bag): the LATCH strap actually popped off. The straps on most seats are just connected with a simple tether and a little pressure apparently popped the connection on mine. While I can still use the strap, it is a little annoying to no longer have it permanently tethered to the seat for convenience.
Only works up to 40 lbs
For those of you looking for a travel car seat for older kids, this isn’t the seat for you. Unlike many of the fancier convertibles that will work up to 60 and 70 pounds, the maximum weight limit for the Cosco Scenera NEXT is 40 pounds.
Of course, at 40 pounds and 4 years old, your kids can begin to use a booster which opens up additional conveniences for travel (my family, for example, uses the Bubble Bum booster for travel with our older child). But many parents and car safety experts prefer and recommend using a car seat as long as possible.
The Bottom Line: Highly Recommended
At $44, frequent travelers with babies, toddlers, and preschoolers really can’t afford NOT to have the Cosco Scenera NEXT in their air travel arsenal. It’s not perfect, but it’s perfect for the price and the weight. It’s also a great extra seat to have for grandma’s car or as a backup for transporting a friend’s child.
Need more product recommendations for every age and stage? Check out my guide to the best car seats and boosters for airplanes.