Car Seats and Strollers

Arranging the Flight


Seating Issues

Car Seats and Strollers


Food for the Flight

Favorite Travel Toys

Equipment at Your Destination

At the Airport

In the Air

At Your Destination

Jet Lag


Find out whether the airline counts car seats and strollers as extra baggage.

Before you go, find out whether your airline counts checked car seats and strollers as extra baggage. This is especially important if you have a number of checked bags besides the kid stuff. Allow extra time at the airport to deal with this in case you were misinformed-- we once missed a flight because the person checking us in didn't know car seats didn't count, and had to wait for a supervisor.

The airlines we've flown with (TWA, SouthWest, American, America West, maybe some others not sure) DO NOT count checked carseats against your checked bags total number, but you'll want to have a FIRM assurance from United that this is the case because extra baggage charges are STEEP! On a recent business trip I had a number of boxes of data to bring back which put me over the limit, in spite of the fact that the flight wasn't even full I was charged $25 per extra piece of luggage! Note that gate checks do not count against your checked bag limit!

On American Airlines, they don't. We had no problem checking our car seats, in addition to 4 other bags. We brought the original car seat boxes (that they came in new) with us to the airport and boxed up (and sealed) the car seats to prevent damage in transit. Then when we got to our destination, we opened them up, folded the boxes flat and went on our merry way!

Car seats and strollers can generally be gate checked.

Most airlines allow you to "gate check" strollers and car seats. This is a good option if you did not buy seats for the children. Just be sure to double check; one twins list member writes: "Air Canada refused to let us gate the car seats."

We have taken carseats to the gate with us to wait for information on whether the flight is empty enough to take them on and use them in an empty seat. If there winds up being no room on the plane, you will have to "gate check" the seats because there is no room in the passenger cabin to store the seats during the flight. This is not a big deal - the gate agent gives you a baggage tag which you place on the seats and leave at the jetway door that goes down to the tarmac. The baggage handling folks stow it just before takeoff and then when you land they bring it up and place it at the same spot on the new jetway for you to pick up when you exit the plane. It's very handy and we ALWAYS do this with our stroller.

Regarding strollers: I doubt that you can carry on a Graco DuoRider (side-by-side). There is not much chance that it is going to fit in the overhead compartment. You can gate check it though, and that option has always worked really well for us (3 round trip flights with layovers each leg). We have a Kolcraft side-by-side umbrella stroller that does fit in the overhead for most kinds of planes, but it was easier to just gate check it. You can't wheel it down the aisle after all, and it was just one more thing to carry.

I would note that it's hard to cart the stroller and the car seats through the airport to the gate (although it can be done), so you may consider checking one or the other.

On the other hand:

We used an umbrella twin stroller that was able to fit in the overhead cabin storage, so we didn't have to gate check and risk losing it in baggage (two of our 8 bags were lost on the trip out).

Find out where the airline returns gate-checked items.

Be aware that some airlines will bring gate checked items directly to the door of the plane, others leave them in baggage claim. This is especially important if you're depending on having a stroller to make a connecting flight:

We gate-checked stroller and car seats on El Al, United, Continental and USAir. Continental was the only one that brought our things to the jetway.

Consider the advantages of backpack carriers, single strollers, or a combination.

Depending on your needs, you might find that single strollers or backpack carriers are more useful than a double stroller-- especially if you have a limo stroller which doesn't collapse without removing the seats....

My husband had business for a few days once we arrived in France. I traveled around with one baby in a front pack that could face forwards or towards me. The other baby and our toddler were in our Kolcraft double umbrella stroller. We bought the stroller specifically for the trip and it held up well. I do have to say that things would be easier with single strollers if you have two adults to push them. We are spoiled in the US to have everything wheelchair accessible-- it is not so in France.

We had some problems relying on our Graco side by side stroller for transportation. While this stroller fits through every door and elevator I have ever tried in the US, this was *not* the case in the UK. We were often stuck having to take the twins out of the stroller, fold it up, go through the door, unfold stroller, etc. In the future when travelling outside the US (we are planning to go to Chile in January) we plan to use a baby backpack and an umbrella style single stroller. Definitely not as convenient in many ways, but at least we'll be able to get through any door!

I found my side-by-side Graco to be more hassle that it was worth in crowds and airports. It's always in the way; I was afraid of the boys getting hit by bulky luggage, or running into some one. Most big attractions have strollers you can rent. Two separate strollers worked better for us at those venues, anyway. Really cut down on the in-stroller fighting (which had started at about 12 months for us!!) We found backpacks to be more useful at the airport. Mom wore one and dad wore one. That way, you have your hands free, always know where the kid is (especially the ones that like to pull hair and play with your glasses ;) ), and don't have to maneuver the stroller around. And if the little ones do want to walk around, all you have is an empty backpack. The stroller still takes up a lot of room.

Be sure your car seat is approved for air travel.

In order to bring a car seat onto the plane, you must be sure it has a sticker saying "FAA approved".

... even if there is an FAA label, still check with the airline first. When we travelled to Florida in the summer of 1997, we brought along a Gerry Double Guard booster seat for our son. No problem on the flight down, but on the way back the head flight attendant refused to allow us to use the seat. I showed her the FAA label and she still said that it was not allowed and refused to explain why. After many unpleasant words were exchanged, they took the seat and gate checked it.

When we got back, I did some research and found that the rules were changed in early 1995 to NOT allow backless booster seats on airplanes. Our seat had been manufactured in late 1994 - therefore, even though it had the sticker and was correct at the time of production, the airline was correct in not allowing us to use the seat and incorrect in allowing us to use the seat on the way down.

Older twins may feel more comfortable in their car seats.

Parents of preschoolers, who are still small and/or young enough to need car seats in the car, often wonder whether they should use the car seats on the plane instead of checking them through. Many twins list members have done just fine without the seats:

I had the Fisher Price and with the seats getting smaller and smaller in air crafts - it did not fit on one leg on our flight. Since they were 3 we fly without seats. This past July -- they were to be 4 in August-- we flew Dominican Republic - New York with a connect in Miami. We were delayed over 8 hours in Miami and the total travel time took over 14 hours. The twins were excellent-- they are really old enough to understand that they have to stay seated and that's that. They got in the seats, buckled themselves in and stayed put until the plane landed. They slept on and off etc. The headphones in the plane kept them very entertained -- an unexpected gift. I brought some toys like that are interlocking wheels, pipe cleaners etc. You will be surprised at how good they will be -- I would recommend no car seat -- they can move around and yet are secure (I think).

But the majority of parents who weighed in on the issue found that the car seats, in spite of being a hassle in the airport, made life much easier:

I started traveling with my oldest son when he was 8 months old. We had a four hour flight, and I'd bought one seat for the two of us. I didn't know that he was about to pop through his first teeth and get a whopping ear infection. Naturally, the plane was packed and he was absolutely miserable. It was a horrible experience. I got off the plane, handed him to my dad, and proclaimed, "Thank God I won't have to see any of those people again." Funny, but I think most of the passengers felt that way about me!

From then on, I bought him a seat. Yes, it's expensive, but it was well worth it. Until he outgrew it, there was only one time that I didn't use his car seat on the plane (they don't let you use boosters, or not at least the kind that I had). He knew that he had to stay in his car seat, and we never had problems again.

The seats were handy for napping, because their heads didn't loll about. I felt the seats were safer because they were contained, and they are used to sitting relatively still in their seats, so I had a psychological tool, too.

.... On the trip home, we thought we would just check the car seats and let the girls sit in the seats with the seat belts. It didn't work well for us. I think they felt more "secure"? or contained? in their car seats and slept fine and didn't even think about moving around the plane much on the way to FL. On the way back, given the freedom of no car seat restraining them, they were so fidgety, constantly wanting up and down, switching seats, fastening/unfastening seat belts, never napping, etc. We were all totally exhausted (read: CRANKY!) by the time we got home. So even at age 4, I think there might be a time and place for using car seats on planes for some.

Car seats can be rented with your rental car...

Most rental car companies have car seats available. But beware of the expense, and be sure to check the availability:

We did rent a car and carseats for part of our trip. The carseats were expensive but we figured their safety was worth it. Be sure to reserve seats ahead of time since availability is sometimes limited.

...but you can also consider bringing your own or borrowing at your destination.

Although you can rent car seats, you may want to consider the option of bringing your own. You'll need them on the ride to the airport anyway; why not bring them, and save the extra expense? You can check them through without any special packaging (I've never had a problem), or you can use some of these options:

I went to an Army-Navy surplus store and bought a giant duffle bag that both carseats fit into. It cost $30 and has already paid for itself by allowing us to take carseats along and avoid renting them. We pack the carseats and check them as another piece of luggage.

We brought the original car seat boxes (that they came in new) with us to the airport and boxed up (and sealed) the car seats to prevent damage in transit. Then when we got to our destination, we opened them up, folded the boxes flat and went on our merry way! [These did not count against the luggage limit.]

We have purchased two carseat tote bags with detachable shoulder straps for our vacation next month. We ordered them from One Step Ahead, but the Right Start has them also. They were $29.95 plus shipping & handling. [US dollars]. Our Evenflo Ultra I car seats fit nicely in them.

Other parents prefer to borrow seats at their destination:

Mom knew a couple of people with children who still had their old carseats, and she borrowed them so that I had one less thing to worry about putting on the airplane. Of course, she asked about the seats (if they'd been in an accident, etc.) Then when she got them home, she wiped them down with a disinfectant ( just in case!). It worked out great! And that might save some money, too!

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