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, AKA your car seat through the airport may be easier than you think. Here are the seven best ways to get your FAA-approved car seat through the airport. (Includes affiliate links–thanks for your support of this site!)
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 (see recommended infant car seats for travel here), your best option may be to simply bring your baby in his car seat that attaches to the 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. Ask for the necessary stroller tag at the counter there.
If you are unexpectedly offered an empty seat on the flight 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. Just remember, car seats generally must be placed in a window seat or center of center rows.
2. Use the handles of your travel stroller
If you have a travel stroller with two separate handles, 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 NEED 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 can try wearing 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 Brica Cover Guard 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 roller or trolley
Still wondering what to do with your child as you get your car seat through the airport? Several models of toddler car seats can be attached to the GoGo Kidz TravelMate Cart or Brica Roll ’n Go transporter.
These clever inventions make 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
A more economical solution, you can use a car seat strap that attaches your child’s FAA-approved car seat to your rolling carry-on. It enables you to roll your child strapped in her car seat through the airport along with one carry-on suitcase.
You can read more about the Traveling Toddler in Car Seat Travel Bags and Carriers. Other models have entered the arena, too, including the Volkgo car seat luggage strap.
7. Use car seat alternatives instead of a car seat
If you’d really like to travel light — but without compromising safety on the plane or on the road at your destination, consider this combination.
In motor vehicles, you can use the RideSafer travel vest instead of a traditional car seat for kids 3 years and older. You can read all about the RideSafer travel vest as a car seat alternative in my full review.
For children 1 year and older weighing at least 25 lbs., you can use the CARES flight safety harness on the airplane instead of a car seat. This 4-point safety harness is FAA-approved for all phases of flying (including taxiing and landing). See more photos and details in my CARES flight safety harness review.
If your child isn’t old/big enough to use the Ride Safer vest yet, but could use CARES on the airplane, you might consider renting a car seat at your destination. You can rent car seats from most car rental agencies, or from a baby gear rental agency (see directory of baby gear rentals here).
Get more tips for flying with babies and toddlers:
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.
More tips for flying with car seats:
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Shelly Rivoli, author of the award-winning Travels with Baby guidebooks
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