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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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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