Airport security screening can be confusing, but when you’re gate checking a car seat it’s downright crazy. Get this important strategy for a smoother trip. (Check out my previous article if you’re checking a car seat at the ticket counter.)
The airport security line is a really awkward place to get into an argument with your spouse.
Like, the actual part of the line where you dump your stuff and walk through the scanner.
Ya, it’s great.
Both people are doing things the wrong way (according to the other), no one is listening (well except for the 30 nearby travelers trying not to stare), and the stuff keeps rolling off the conveyor belt like kids on a slip-n-slide.
I was standing there with a baby, unable to help do anything while the x-ray machine spewed our bins into a traffic jam (we were gate checking a car seat plus everything else we owned).
Hubby was working as fast as he could, but I needed the car seat asap so I could put the baby down and help.
We were not on the same page.
I got irritated.
He got irritated.
Confusion reigned as we both tried to grab stuff out of bins and get away from the congestion as fast as possible.
We were hot. We were self-conscious of holding up everyone around us. We barked at our oldest to move here, stand there, hold your Frozen backpack that’s larger than you are.
A Phrase To Remember
In our brief pre-marital counseling, the most helpful thing we learned was the saying: “Unmet expectation equals frustration.”
And it’s true.
At the security line when checking our infant seat, stroller, and bags, hubby and I had completely different expectations of what each of us would be doing.
We learned that it’s really important to talk through who’s doing what so you can avoid these kinds of misunderstandings. Plus you want to keep the day on a positive note and not have annoyances lingering for the rest of travel.
Skate Through With Ease
Today I’m going to give you everything you need to know about gate checking a car seat so you can make a plan.
And be sure to discuss the plan with your travel partner ahead of time so you can glide through security like two ice skaters doing a triple toe loop (and landing it!).
(You can get my super-helpful planning worksheet below– work through the steps and you’ll be golden!)
Gate Checking A Car Seat
1- At the ticket counter
Start by checking your luggage at the ticket counter (if you desire)– just don’t check the car seat and stroller. You can gate-check the stroller as well, which is why this plan is so genius!
2- Before going through security (or while waiting in line)
TSA requires the car seat to be turned upside-down on the security conveyor belt.
So, before passing through security, take off any toys or pacifier clips and place them in your purse or backpack.
We always have something clipped onto the car seat strap to entertain baby. Since watching a pacifier slide along the belt as we helplessly waited beyond the barrier, we remove toys so they don’t get dirty.
Side note: our 9-month-old doesn’t take a pacifier anymore, but we still use the clips to secure toys and teethers to the seat.
These clips are the best because they are both a clip and a teether. My little one goes to town gumming the silicone nubs and flowers. LOVE them!
3- While going through security screening
I’ll tell you in a bit what happened the last time we went through security. But for now, here’s my strategy:
- I put all my own stuff and the diaper bag in the bins and slide them forward as fast as I can.
- Take shoes off and put them in a bin.
- As per TSA regulations, put liquids in the bins such as baby food, lotions, and that full-size tube of toothpaste you thought was in your luggage… (true story!)
After getting that stuff set, I lift the infant carrier off the stroller and set it on the floor next to me, with baby still inside.
- Fold up the stroller
- Place it on the belt (yes it DOES have to go through the x-ray unless it won’t fit. Otherwise, they will screen it separately but it takes longer)
- Make sure your stuff is ready to go through the x-ray machine.
Last step- I get the baby out of the car seat and hold her.
- Turn the car seat over and place it on the belt.
- Be sure your stuff is on the belt and moving forward before walking through the human screen.
- Walk through the human screen. Often they will let you go through the regular x-ray gate screen instead of the Millimeter Wave Scanner (the one where you have to hold your hands up and it moves around you)
A note about my methods
In my experience, TSA has waved me through when carrying a baby in my arms.
When I was wearing a baby in an Ergo carrier, they made me stop for an extra security check with the wand. It doesn’t take too much longer but I prefer to avoid the hassle.
I know of a couple people who typically get waved through with baby in a carrier.
It really depends on your airport and even your particular TSA agent, plus your personal preference. You’ll have to decide what works for you.
Btw here are TSA’s official policies for travel with children, according to their website.
4- At the gate
Once you arrive at the gate, head up to the counter and tell the agent that you need to gate-check your things.
They will need to place a rubberbanded tag on each separate item, usually just the car seat and stroller. We have a stroller that detaches into multiple pieces so we had to get a couple extra tags.
Be aware that if you’re early to the gate, you may not be able to gate check it right away. Agents don’t typically arrive until 1 hour before the flight.
Here are your steps to prepare for boarding:
- Remove items from the seat (if you put them back after security). This also includes any seat pads that could fall out.
- I don’t use a car seat bag at this point as it’s not convenient to stuff it in a bag at the bottom of the jetway.
- Organize your stroller so everything is bagged up and easy to lift out.
- Place baby in the carrier (in a clean diaper) and now you’re ready!
Most airlines have early boarding for those traveling with young children, so take advantage of that so you aren’t boarding with the masses.
At the bottom of jetway, take apart the stroller and set it by the back door (Be sure it has a gate check tag!) This is where you’ll pick it up when you get off the plane in most cases.
6- Layovers and your final destination
Grab your stroller and car seat on jetway after flight at the same place you dropped it, just off the plane in most cases. I’ve had to pick it up at the top of the jetway on a rack.
Whether you have connections or are at your final destination, always grab your stroller and car seat once you deplane.
You’ll need it to carry the kiddo and your stuff around the airport and to baggage claim and/or your vehicle.
Does it work?
Ok so the most recent time our family went through security… it was a breeze.
Hubby knew I needed the car seat right away so I could put the baby down and help with two hands.
We got the stroller put together in record time, with diaper bags, backpacks and kid all accounted for. Our oldest even held the middle’s hand so she didn’t run off down the concourse. (That was unplanned but such a huge help during the process!)
All went well, and oh yeah, and this time we had three kids with us!
The next time the x-ray machine is spewing your bins into a traffic jam, you’ll be able to stay calm because you know exactly what to do! Happy travels!
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Grab these trip talking points for you and your travel partner to discuss pre-trip!