Before leaving on the trip, we bought the cheapest car seat that we could find. We considered it disposable for the trip. The one we got was pretty easy to lock into place with just a simple seatbelt pulled through its frame. This ease of installation was the critical success factor to its success.
Traveling with a car seat in Africa was an interesting experience, with auto and air travel being quite different. Executive Summary: Everyone thought we were crazy; I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
Major western carriers had no problem with a car seat. However, ASKY Airlines was a source of serious problems. ASKY is affiliated with Ethiopian Airlines. It provides direct flights between many major African cities, something which few western carriers offer. Without it, travelers often have to fly from one African capital all the way back to Europe, just to fly to another African capital a few hundred miles away.
It turns out that most ASKY crew have never seen a car seat before. They did not know what it was, how it is used, nor whether or not it was appropriate for use on a plane.
We flew a number of ASKY flights, and on some, the stewardesses were kind and open to the newness of it. On others, they bumped the question up to the pilots, who allowed it. In these cases, they came by repeatedly and checked the restraint system before take-off.
On a couple of flights, they were adamant that the car seat would not be used. The standard operating procedure on ASKY flights with an infant is a strap that goes around the infant’s waist and is attached to the mother’s belt. We’re not talking a 5-point harness, but just a loop of seatbelt material. The mother holds the infant.
We had paid for a separate seat for our child. The car seat got the seat, but the ASKY stewardess made my wife hold him the entire flight. It was, predictably, miserable for us and everyone around us.
Traffic accidents are much more common in Africa than in the West. Using a car seat was non-negotiable for us. Different drivers reacted differently.
The westerners who we rode with treated it as normal.
The car seat was a new experience for the high-end drivers that we rode with, but they were open to it and receptive. After I installed it, they would climb in and check it out from different angles, and explore its features. They were professionals who were learning a new trick.
The random taxi drivers that we used weren’t sure what to make of it. Most allowed us to put it in, while watching in amused puzzlement. None of them objected, since it would have meant losing a lucrative western fair, but some were skeptical. All of them clearly thought we were crazy.
Seatbelts were an issue. Taxis come in quite a few gradations of quality. For example, in Ouagadougou, there are expensive taxis that have western-style digital meters and relatively modern equipment in good condition. They frequent the major downtown destinations. But there are also street taxis that use negotiated (haggled) prices, and usually have much older vehicles. Many of these taxis have removed their seatbelts.
I was sure that one of the big vans which we had rented for a day was going to have seatbelts. Its seats were obviously straight out of a schoolbus. However, it too had its safety restraints removed.
Depending on the specific vehicle, in some cases we were able to use the attachments that came with the car seat to secure it. In a few, we just had to let it sit in the seat. That caused me serious heartburn, but at least he was in a car seat, and most of those vehicles were not going very fast.
The kid experienced a lot of changes, with new locations every couple of weeks. He developed an attachment to the car seat. It was his island of stability in all the chaos. He would drag it over to sit in it between us in the evenings.
We absolutely think lugging a car seat around Africa makes great sense if you have an infant or toddler! It is worth the inconvenience.