Checking a car seat is a must when flying with an infant. But should you check it at the ticket counter or gate? Learn how to decide, plus more airport tips! (More info on gate checking a car seat here!)
Your plane boards in 49 minutes and you’re still parking.
Yes, it took 10 times longer to get out the door with your baby than you anticipated. She’s still crying.
You look at your watch as you get inside the terminal. Tick, tick, tick…
The line at the ticket counter is long, and you have a bag, a car seat and a stroller… should you check them all? Or gate check? Why didn’t you think this through earlier?
You take a deep breath and think. Oh ya, you were up twice last night with your child.
Now you’re holding the baby, a diaper bag, a purse and a backpack… and the weight is crushing you.
Let’s pause a minute. That’s making me feel stressed out just thinking about it!
Luckily, since you’re reading this, that’s not you right this second.
Hopefully, it never will be. And if it was, there’s still hope. You’ve come to the right place!
By the way, if this is your first flight with your baby (or your last trip was a disaster!) don’t miss my free list 14 Essential Tips For Flying With Baby On Lap… because it will make your upcoming trip soooooo much smoother.
But back to the big decision that will make your trip infinitely easier.
When do you check a car seat as luggage? And when do you gate-check it?
I recommend gate checking if it’s an infant carrier that can attach to a stroller. In Part 2 of this post, I’m going to give you the whole scoop about gate-checking.
But until then, here’s the basics.
Some people prefer to check their infant car seat at the ticket counter and wear the baby in an infant carrier such as an Ergo.
I don’t go that route personally because I get tired of carrying the baby, and the baby gets tired of being worn as well. I like to have more than one option for transporting the little one, so I take the stroller and car seat all the way to the gate.
For anything other than an infant car seat, I recommend checking it at the ticket counter.
Convertible seats are too heavy and bulky to carry.
Some people use transporters which add wheels to the bottom and then you can pull them. I never have because it would still require me to carry the diaper bag, my purse and backpack.
Instead, I drop my things in the stroller and walk the airport with nothing on my back or shoulders.
A note about boosters: They’re light enough to carry, but kids old enough for a booster are fine in a regular airplane seat. A booster’s purpose is to align the child properly with a shoulder belt, and planes only have lap belts.
Thus carrying a booster onboard isn’t necessary.
5 Steps For Checking A Car Seat At The Ticket Counter
Ok, so if you’ve decided to get rid of the car seat at the ticket counter, you might be wondering how to pack a car seat for checked baggage.
If you have the luxury of an extra car seat and a lot of trunk space, it’s easier to pre-pack the seat in the carry bag and place it with your luggage. That way, you don’t have to mess with unhooking it and covering it while standing in the airport parking garage.
And you are less likely to forget it (more on that later).
(See my Car Seat Prep printable below for a free list of important steps to prepare your seat for air travel.)
1-Label the seat before leaving
While packing, I slapped some duct tape on the back of the seat and wrote my info on it in permanent marker.
Later at the airport, I also grabbed a luggage tag from the kiosk and slipped it on the outside of the car seat cover. Never hurts to double up!
2- Don’t forget to grab the seat out of your car.
Sounds obvious, but we did that once. Oops.
In the craziness of getting kids and bags out of the car, we left a seat behind. It made for some stressful moments and a long wait in a rental line at our destination airport.
Save yourself the trouble and remember your own!
Here’s a tip: Lay your carry bag on top of your luggage so it’s the first thing you see when you start unloading your vehicle.
Want a free printable on preparing your car seat for travel? Grab this list of 4 important steps for prepping your car seat.
3- Plan for getting from car to terminal
Your biggest hurdle is getting the seat from your car to the ticket counter. It’s important to think through the logistics, especially if you’re the only adult traveling.
You don’t want to get stuck without enough hands to carry everything you need.
The long-term parking shuttle drivers are usually helpful (especially if you tip), but you still have to drag/lug/hoist it inside once they drop you off.
Sometimes you can rent a luggage cart in the parking area. Spending a few bucks for one can be worthwhile, but availability depends on the location, so check out your airport’s website for any clues.
Instead of relying on a cart rental, we load up our stroller.
The basket underneath the stroller holds so much stuff. You can also wear your baby in a carrier and load up the infant seat with even more bags, or place the car seat on top and pull your luggage.
It can be a challenge to push a stroller with one hand and pull a bag with the other, but it’s best to get the ticket counter in one trip. Heaven forbid you leave your car seat by itself while shuttling kids and luggage across the terminal.
You might return to people staring, officers swarming, and security dogs drooling over the cracker pieces under the seat pad.
4- Always use a car seat bag for airplane travel.
A car seat travel bag will save you a lot of headaches. It protects the seat and you can throw extra items inside such as pillows or coats. Some airlines offer free plastic bags, but one time our airline had stopped giving bags out so we were stuck without a cover.
Ever since then, we’ve used our own.
Another perk is leaving toys and pads attached to the seat– one less thing to deal with, right? (For more on car seat travel bags check out my article here.)
5- Check the seat for free.
I love free! You can check car seats (and strollers) for free on most if not all airlines, though some have a weight limit on strollers.
Drop it at the ticket counter with your other bags (here’s where you grab the free name label from the kiosk) and off you go to Hawaii (if you’re lucky!) or wherever.
Btw, this usually works if checking in online or a mobile device too.
If not, you can select “0” bags and then let them know you have baby items when you get to the counter.
You made it! Pick up after your flight.
Pick up your checked car seats and strollers at baggage claim just like any other checked baggage. If you have trouble locating them, some strollers might end up in the oversize baggage claim area.
The next time it takes you 10 times longer to get out the door to the airport than you anticipated, you’ll be able to not only remember your car seat 😉 but have a less stressful trip as well!
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