When flying with car seats–whether you plan to use your child’s car seat on the airplane or not–it’s far better to check the car seat at the gate than subject it to the rigors of the airport baggage system and 50 lb. suitcases traveling through it. (Remember, any car seat that’s been in even a low-speed accident should be replaced.) Fortunately, getting that one extra–and often cumbersome–item through the airport may be easier than you think. Here are seven ways to simplify your car seat’s journey through the airport.
1. Use a stroller or stroller frame
Infant carrier car seats that “ride” on strollers as a “travel system” or on simple stroller frames are fantastic for travel. While your child still fits in his infant car seat, your best option may be to simply bring your infant-in-car-seat and stroller or stroller frame all to the gate. If you will be using the car seat on an airplane, just check the stroller or stroller frame at the gate, getting the necessary tag from the counter there. If you are unexpectedly offered a free seat for your infant flying as a lap child (doesn’t happen as often as it used to, but it’s not entirely unheard of), you’ll have the car seat with you to use during your flight.
2. Use the handles of your travel stroller
If you have a stroller with two separate handles (umbrella-style or similar), you may be able to put the carrying handle of your infant car seat in the farthest back position and “hang” it over your stroller handle. If traveling with a convertible or toddler car seat, you may be able to lengthen the straps of your car seat and loop them over the handles with the car seat facing your stroller. Just remember, if your travel stroller is very lightweight, you’ll want to remove the car seat before removing your child to avoid a tip over (the same goes for when you hang that heavy diaper bag or daypack on it). See recommended strollers in the Best Lightweight Strollers for Travel.
3. Carry the car seat on your back
You may be able to wear the car seat over your shoulders by lengthening the straps, which keeps your hands free for rolling the suitcase or pushing your stroller, though if your car seat isn’t a good fit for you, you may change your mind about this plan somewhere around Gate 47. A better solution is a purpose-built car seat backpack carrier like the Pac Back or any of the various car seat carrying cases that include backpack or shoulder carrying straps (especially if you’ll be traveling alone with your child or with more than one child).
4. Use a protective car seat travel bag with wheels
JL Childress and Brica both offer protective car seat travel bags that fit a wide variety of toddler car seats and come with backpack carrying straps or inline skate wheels (Brica’s model offers both). See more about their current models and advantages of each here.
5. Use a car seat transporter or trolley
Still wondering what to do with your child? Several models of toddler car seats can be attached to the GoGo Kidz TravelMate Cart or Brica Roll ’n Go transporter, which makes it possible to wheel your child right to the gate in his own car seat, and possibly right down the aisle of larger aircraft (no promises here, however). You can read more about the GoGo Kidz TravelMate in Car Seat Travel Bags and Carriers.
6. Wheel your child, car seat, and carry-on suitcase in one
Or for a more economical solution, the Traveling Toddler car seat strap can be used to attach your child’s car seat to your rolling carry-on, enabling you to roll your child strapped in her car seat along with one carry-on suitcase at the same time. You can read more about the Traveling Toddler in Car Seat Travel Bags and Carriers.
7. Consider the Sit ’n’ Stroll car seat
If you’ll be traveling much by airplane and/or taxi with your baby or young toddler, you might also consider the Sit ’n’ Stroll convertible car seat that converts to a stroller (can be used from 5 lbs to 40 lbs, rear- and forward-facing; more in my feature review of the Sit N Stroll at TravelswithBaby.com).
Want more help preparing to fly with a baby or toddler? You’ll find more than 80 pages of helpful advice on planning, preparing for, and perfecting air travel with children under 5 in the award-winning Travels with Baby: The Ultimate Guide for Planning Travel with Your Baby, Toddler, and Preschooler. And be sure to stop by the Flying with Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers Tips page at TravelswithBaby.com.
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More tips and advice are on the way! For help for planning travel of every kind–with babies and children of every temperament–in Travels with Baby: The Ultimate Guide for Planning Travel with Your Baby, Toddler, and Preschooler.
Shelly Rivoli, author of the award-winning Travels with Baby guidebooks
What?! Your kids aren’t babies anymore? Head over to Family Travel 411