Inflatable booster seat packs safety into trips

Larry Edsall
Special to The Detroit News

Grainne Kelly owned a travel agency in Derry, Ireland, and often traveled with her own young children. She’d call to reserve a rental car and a pair of proper booster seats. Upon arrival, the car would be ready, along with excuses for why the requested booster seats were not available.

Lugging a couple of bulky booster seats from home was a hassle. The solution, she figured, was some sort of inflatable booster that would be easy to pack. She searched, but could find no such seat. So she created one and the BubbleBum is available in 24 countries, including the United States.

“I believed that every child deserved to be protected, safe, and comfortable in the car, and that parents should be able to do just that with convenience and ease,” she said as she launched the seat.

But launching her seat was much more than a matter of doing some sketches and having it produced. One of the first things Grainne Kelly did was to contact automotive crash-testing labs in Europe to see what standards had to be met.

“In the European Union,” she learned, “there’s a crash test where they (child booster seats) have to be in the worst-case scenario.” For an inflated seat, that would mean the seat would be deflated and the child not properly positioned to be protected by the car’s restraining belts.

The solution was to incorporate a memory foam base into the inflatable seat, she said. Instead of fixed arm rests, buckle-style clips on either side of the seat make sure seat belts are properly placed.

Prototypes were created, and crash tested, and worked, and soon the seats were on sale in Ireland, and then in England through a BubbleBum website.

But to be a successful business, BubbleBums needed more widespread distribution, including sales in the United States. So Grainne Kelly packed up her family and moved across the ocean for a year so she could train as an official child passenger safety technician and work with SafeKids and crash-test labs to learn how U.S. U.S. standards differed from those in Europe.

U.S. sales of BubbleBum started, at first online and, since March, in Wal-Mart, Target and other retail stores. Suggested retail price is $29.95.

The seats are designed for children aged 4 or older weighing between 40 and 100 pounds, and are available purple, black, neon pink and neon orange colors. When deflated, they can slip into a backpack. One of Kelly’s concerns was children dropped off at school by a parent, but then picked up by a grandparent or even another parent who didn’t have an extra booster seat in the car.

BubbleBum booster seats don’t have their own cupholders, but Kelly said they aren’t needed because seemingly every car has cupholders for the back seat and those in non-inflatable booster seats tend to become reservoirs for sticky sucker wrappers and other debris.

Since BubbleBums went on sale in the U.S., she’s had feedback from four traffic accidents in which BubbleBum seats were in use. None, she said, involved injuries to the children riding on BubbleBum seats.

She said she has had positive feedback because the BubbleBum seats take up less room and from the parents of special needs children, who find the seats work well for their needs.

In addition to the BubbleBum inflatable booster seat, Kelly soon will launch additional “innovative travel solutions for parents” into the marketplace.

For information, visit the website.

Larry Edsall is a Phoenix-based freelance writer. You can reach him at