Friendlier skies for jet-setting toddlers

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Traveling with small children is a sherpa-like experience that tests not only strength, endurance and patience, but also creativity and negotiation skills. Nowadays, it has now also become expensive, thanks to the new baggage fees airlines are charging.

In the past, frazzled families checked luggage under the plane leaving "hands free" (haha) to tote diaper bags, backpacks of books and toys, 20-lb car seats, jackets, a purse, snacks -- and, oops, the kids! Amazing Race contestants have nothing on parents traveling with toddlers. But Thanks to ever increasing baggage fees, frugal families now have to carry on their luggage as well. It just adds to the hell of traveling with small children. What can you do?

Louise Stoll, a former Assistant Secretary within the Department of Transportation, and grandmother of nine, did something about it.

She remembers her "Aha moment" like this: "My daughter, Miriam, came to visit us and stepped off the plane carrying a 2-year-old toddler, a 20 pound car seat, a diaper bag, and she was 7-months pregnant! I thought there had to be a better way and I went home and started to draw pictures of what I though a child safety device designed for airplanes -- not cars -- ought to look like. My husband, an attorney, looked at the sketches and sent me to a patent attorney."


That was more than 10 years ago. After drawing up plans for what would become, CARES (Child Aviation Restraint System), it took two and a half years for Stolls to receive a patent.

While the idea was pending, the retired grandma from Vermont researched how the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) determines what equipment is allowed on planes. She learned she needed a partner who understood the business of aviation.

"Eventually, I found AmSafe Aviation," said Stolls, "the Phoenix-based company manufactures most of the airplane seatbelts in the world and had years of experience working with the FAA." When Stolls finally received her patent in 2002, she licensed it to AMSafe and it built the first prototype.

Next came four years of testing, regulatory reviews, crash tests with dummies and the required public notice. In September, 2006, the FAA announced it had certified CARES, the first and only alternative to a car seat permitted on a plane.

Designed for kids who can sit upright on their own, ages 1-4, and weighing in around one pound, the harness-like straps can be folded up and stored in a purse or diaper bag. In an interview with travelmamas.com Stolls said, "Parents have been lulled into thinking flying with lap children is safe because the FAA and airlines allow it. It's rather amazing that in this day and age we permit babies to hurtle through space at 600 mph in their mom's arms, which cannot, as a matter of physics, hang on to them in serious turbulence."

Stolls' company, Kids Fly Safe, has now sold more than 55,000 units and been honored with the 2008 Good Housekeeping Good Buy Award, three awards from Dr.Toy including 2008 Top 100 Best Children's Products, Best Vacation Product, and 10 Best Socially Responsible Products, The 2009 National Parenting Center Seal of Approval and several others.

Retailing around $69.99 online at Amazon.com and ThePortablebaby.com, CARES is one of those products that inspires the thought, "why didn't I think of that?" Stolls said she never considered herself an inventor.

"It was the only original idea I ever had in my life," she says, "but it was a good one."


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