If you travel with young kids, I don’t have to tell you that dealing with car seats in airports and on airplanes can be a total pain in the neck. Since I started this blog nearly a decade ago, I’ve been on a mission to simplify the process of air travel with car seats for myself and my kids. Thankfully a lot of products have come onto the market during that time to make life easier. One of our family’s favorites in the travel car seat space has turned out to be the Cosco Scenera NEXT convertible car seat.
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For several years with our older child, 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 when my son was a baby, I knew I had to put it to the test. This seat, the Cosco Scenera NEXT, is about as good as it gets for an inexpensive and lightweight car seat for travelers. And it’s still going strong many years later!
So, is this the car seat for your next trip? I used the Cosco Scenera NEXT on dozens of trips, trying it in nearly every situation that traveling families will experience. And I’m confident I’ve put it through the paces and then some. I’ve used it for a long road trip, checking it on the plane ride to and from our ultimate destination when 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. I’ve used it for nap times and redeye flights. I’ve taken it on both domestic flights and on a few international jaunts. I have carried it in a backpack carrier and on a rolling car seat cart.
After all of these experiences, I truly think it is a must-buy for traveling families, even in spite of a few flaws. Here’s the scoop the Cosco Scenera NEXT for traveling families.
Cosco Scenera NEXT Pros: What Works
At 10.4 pounds, suffice it to say that the Cosco Scenera NEXT car seat is really, really light. I can easily carry it with one hand for an extended period of time when traveling. I 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 Britax car seat travel cart), it is 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 have been able to fit it easily on every flight we took it on with the armrest fully down.
One Trips With Tykes reader reported that she was even able to fit the Cosco Scenera NEXT in a bulkhead seat – seats that are often narrower 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 no car seat will.
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.
Rear facing up to 40 pounds
Car seat experts are now recommending that kids stay rear facing as long as possible. We kept my son rear facing well past his 2nd birthday, and it is nice to find a lightweight seat that accommodates that position for older toddlers – both on planes and at your final destination in the car.
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 hadn’t yet been rated when I purchased it, but Consumer Reports now lists it as a “Best Buy” and has ranked it highly on its list of best convertible car seats, with a “Better” ranking for its safety features in independent tests.
My family needs a lot of gear for traveling with our little ones, so the cheaper the better for me. At just $48-49 at Walmart (and note that this seat is exclusively sold at Walmart), this is a total no brainer. There really aren’t car seats that come any cheaper.
If you plan to check your car seat, it’s important to realize that the airlines may sometimes damage it. Often that damage will not be covered and you will be replacing a car seat yourself. It hurts your wallet a lot less to replace a car seat that is under $50 than some of the $300+ fancier models out there now.
Cosco Scenera NEXT Cons: 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 those fancier car seat models 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 the seat while pulling the LATCH straps tight.
Potentially Uncomfortable Airplane Seat Belt Positioning
Speaking of installation, installing this seat is thankfully much easier on airplanes. Just slide the lap belt through the back slots, click to close, and pull tight. But, depending on the aircraft you are in, you may find that the buckle ends up falling right behind the lower part of your child’s back when seated.
Since there isn’t a lot of padding on the car seat, a few children have complained that they can feel the belt buckle through the fabric in this uncomfortable spot. This has never bothered my child who has even slept in this car seat on several plane flights, but I know a few other parents have reported to me that their child was bothered.
Wears & tears quickly
If you are looking for durability, the Cosco Scenera NEXT is only middling in that department. The cosmetics features 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 under $50, 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. And be sure not to miss my 3 part guide to all your questions answered about car seats on planes.