Home or away, moving around with your baby often necessitates a car seat or a stroller. If you are travelling by road, this is usually not a problem but if you are flying, the FAA has lots to say about what you can and cannot bring along.
In this article, we explore all the questions most of us parents struggle with before flying with our babies. Should you travel with your car seat and stroller? If you do, what are the processes and requirements of gate checking car seat and stroller? Do you need to invest in special international travel systems?
Let’s get to learning, shall we?
- Why Fly with a Car Seat and Stroller?
- How to Gate Check: A Step-by-Step Guide
- Insider Tips on Gate Checking Car Seats and Strollers
- Closing Thoughts
Just like in cars, car seats keep your baby safely and comfortably strapped in during flights. They are a much better option than holding your child on your lap. Keep in mind that as you hold them, you would be wearing a seatbelt, they are only secured by a loop belt connected to yours. 
In case of emergencies, like sudden turbulence, you may not be able to keep them safe. Holding your baby for the duration of a long-haul flight can also be super exhausting.
Strollers, on the other hand, make it easy for you to get around with your baby. This begins right at the airport where you have to mind your luggage and get through various stations. Of course, the convenience of a stroller will also come in handy throughout your trip.
It is, however, important to note that not all strollers and car seats are suitable for travel. Ideally, the recommended travel car seat is one that is lightweight, compact, and FAA-certified. In comparison, the best stroller would be a lightweight and compact model that is easily collapsible.
All things considered, even when you are well-prepared, flying with car seats and strollers is quite a hustle. So, it makes perfect sense that you may be considering getting rentals when you arrive at your destination.
The only problem is, that is not always a reliable solution either, and here is why:
- Your child will have to fly unprotected: If you plan to rent a car seat when you land, it means your child will have to fly without one. They would be fully vulnerable should any incidents occur.
- A lack of familiarity: Flying can be a triggering experience for babies. If they have grown to enjoy their car seat, it can help keep them calm while onboard. In contrast, introducing them to a different car seat or stroller after a long trip can make them fussy and cranky, and probably cause them to hate stroller rides or outings with baby car seats involved.
- Peace of mind: You have little control over the car seat or stroller options you might find at a rental service. Are they well-maintained and regularly cleaned? Does the rental service honestly adhere to the car seat expiry policy? Apart from getting down to the list of what to pack for your travel, these concerns can rob you of your peace of mind during your trip.
When it comes down to it, I would choose the hustle of checking in my car seat and stroller over rolling the dice with a rental. Granted, there is always a chance that the airline could misplace them. However, in my opinion, it is a smaller risk to take.
Not fully understanding how the gate check-in process works for strollers and car seats is one of the things that can make air travel rather frustrating for parents. More so because the terms and conditions of gate checking can vary from one airline to another.
In my opinion, airlines should make an effort on sensitizing the public on these policies as they do their legroom campaigns.
However, while we lobby and wait for that to happen, here is a step-by-step guide on how to gate-check a stroller and a car seat.
While the gate checking process is largely similar, every airline has its own stroller/car seat check-in policy.
For example, as a ticketed American Airlines customer, you are allowed to gate check one stroller or one car seat below 20lbs; not both.
Comparatively, Southwest Airlines allows you to gate-check both your stroller and car seat. It also does not matter whether it is a fully collapsible stroller or not.
Being aware of these policies beforehand can help you plan your gate checking process much better. It can also help you figure out if your infant travel stroller qualifies for gate checking or ticket desk checking. This information is often available on the airline’s website.
Most airlines offer pre-boarding for most parents flying with babies. The goal is to save you the headache of squeezing past other passengers with your baby and car seat or stroller. It usually happens about 40-45 minutes before everyone else starts to board so it is important that you are on time.
As you wait for the pre-boarding call, use the spare time to buckle any hanging straps on your stroller or car seat. Empty your stroller’s storage areas of all the stroller accessories such as diapers, snacks, toys, or cup holders too.
These items can prevent your stroller from folding as it should. If you will not be using a storage bag, they also run the risk of falling off the stroller during transit and even becoming hazardous.
Be sure to pay attention to the pre-boarding call. When it does come, here is what to do:
- Approach your assigned gate
- Inform the attendant that you will be gate checking your stroller
- They will hand you a tag/strip that you should attach/tie to your stroller
- Proceed to boarding
- Collapse your stroller, wrap it in a travel bag and leave it curb side near the plane
- If you have a foldable stroller for travel that can fit in the overhead airplane storage bin, then you can board the plane with it
This order of steps presumes that your airline offers curbside stroller drop-offs. If not, it would be best to collapse and pack your stroller a few minutes before the expected pre-boarding time.
This way all you will have to do is attach the tags and hand the stroller over before boarding. It may also be a good idea if you are traveling alone and are not sure if the airline staff will help you bag your stroller when you get to the curb side.
Further, remember to always attach the tags firmly but at a position where they will be visible at all times; even when you wrap the stroller in a protective bag. The tags help luggage handlers identify your stroller and pack it accordingly.
Most airlines pack strollers and car seats at the front of the luggage section. This way, when you arrive at your destination, they are unpacked and you can collect them curb side.
Unfortunately, this is not the same across all airlines. Some airlines require you to collect your stroller at the luggage section. You would need to carry your baby all the way there and wait as luggage is processed.
A baby carrier or a sling may come in handy for that transition between the plane and luggage collection.
It is also worth mentioning that the collection process can be a bit complicated with international flights that include layovers of connecting flights. You may not get your stroller or car seat back until you arrive at your final destination. It would, therefore, be wise to have your carrier or sling on hand here too so that you are able to move around airports with relative ease.
The process of gate checking a car seat on an airplane is the same as that of gate checking a stroller. The only difference is that if you had bought a ticket for your child, you can board the plane with the car seat and strap them in.
For clarity, let us run through how to check a car seat at the airport.
- Approach your assigned gate
- Inform the attendant that you will be gate checking a car seat
- They will hand you a tag/strip that you should attach/tie to the car seat
- Proceed to boarding
- If you booked a seat for your child, board the plane and strap your baby in
- If you prefer to hold your baby, leave the car seat curb side as you would a stroller
If you will have your car seat on board, follow your manufacturer’s instructions on how to install that particular seat.
Car seats are also unpacked and arranged curb side for passengers to collect. The only exception to this is if they were stowed away for a long-haul flight with layovers.
Between the airline luggage team and the storage section in the plane, strollers and car seats are likely to suffer some damage. The damage can vary from negligible scuffs to more serious problems like breakage and missing wheels.
Wrapping your car seat or infant travel stroller shields it from most forms of damage. You can use plastic wrapping, car seat covers, or stroller bags. Car seat covers and stroller bags are easier to use.
A padded double stroller gate check bag would be ideal if you would like extra protection.
When you know what to do, gate checking car seats and strollers should not be too difficult. Still, there are some tried and tested ways to ensure you have a stress-free experience with it all. Research and my travel experiences have taught me to:
The first time I had to fly with one of my babies, I read countless guides on how to choose the best strollers for airplane travel. The options were quite overwhelming but if I had to narrow it down to my top 3, I would recommend:
- The UPPABaby Minu Stroller – it takes a one-hand motion to fold this stroller into a small neat bundle. It is fit for babies as young as 3 months up until the 50lbs weight limit.
- The Bugaboo Ant Complete Stroller– at 15.8lbs it is slightly heavier than the UPPA but folds into an even more compact shape. You can use this designated travel stroller from birth until your child weighs 50lbs.
- The Summer 3D Lite Infant Stroller– this 13lbs stroller is exceptionally light and ideal for travel. It is recommended from 6 months onwards and also has a 50lbs weight limit.
Every airline has specific size and weight guidelines regarding car seats and strollers. The specified dimensions are often based on the dimensions of the seats in the airplane and the airline’s luggage policy.
Make an effort to find out if your car seat meets the airline boarding requirements and what type of check-in is recommended for your stroller based on its weight.
Flight safety regulations are very carefully researched and put in place for your safety.  In most cases, when members of the flight crew correct you, they mean well and have a good reason to do so.
If you reckon that what they are suggesting would not work for your child, try and express your concerns in a courteous way.
It is important that you know where you will be expected to collect your car seat and or stroller upon arrival. This will enable you to plan your movements and avoid having the items misplaced.
Your car seat and stroller can get damaged or lost during transit and you may need to make a damage claim.  Having a photograph to show to airline attendants works way better than an oral description.
It is always a brilliant and safe idea to have a plan B just in case your car seat or stroller gets lost or damaged. Scout for rental options that you can turn to at your destination and bookmark those that you approve of.
Like most aspects of parenting, flying with your babies is something that you will master over time. So, take the initial challenges in stride and use the lessons you learn to create a traveling organization system that works for you and yours.
In the meantime, the golden gate checking tips to keep in mind would be:
- Light compact strollers and car seats are convenient for travel
- Choose your airline carefully by looking into their gate checking policies
- Arrive early and take advantage of pre-boarding privileges
- The gate checking tags on your car seat and stroller should always be visible
I would be delighted to hear about your air travel experiences with your little ones in the comments including any insightful stroller or car seat gate checking lessons you would like to share.
As always, parenting is a learning curve and I am glad we get to navigate it together here.