27 answers

Air Travel with a Toddler - Checking a Carseat

I will be flying with my 2 year old daughter next week. It's a 3 hour, non-stop flight and I've read all the previous posts about air travel (entertainment, ear popping, etc), so I feel pretty well prepared. I've rented a CARES to keep her safe in her seat, but I still need to bring her car seat along for use at our destination. I'd like to check it with our luggage so I don't have to carry it through the airport, but I was wondering if it would be better to check it at the gate instead. My concern is that it is a large awkward item - would it be better handled by the gate staff along with strollers and other odd items that are checked at the gate or will it be fine to check with the luggage? Should I try to find a large duffle bag to put it in to protect it? It's a Britax Marathon, if that makes any difference. Thank you in advance for your help.

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i'm shocked at how many people check their car seats! Ridiculous! Do you know that those car seats suffer the same damage being checked onto a flight as they do in an accident? The baggage handlers show no regards for it being a car seat, they throw it right into general baggage area, throw other bags on top of it, and it shifts around during flight. Imagine throwing a 50lb weight onto your car seat.... thats what happens when its checked, only its multiple 50lb weights (bags) thrown onto it, let alone the shifting during flight. Just because you can't SEE the damage doesn't mean its not there. Checking a car seat is never wise, it will suffer damage and guess what, that damage will be what breaks first in a crash, with your precious child in the seat who is DEPENDING on the seat 100% to save his/her life.

BRING the seat on the flight and strap her in. We've traveled with our Marathon many many times and never had a problem. Traveling with kids is lots of work anyway, might as well make your flight an easy one by having your child in her familiar seat. I think renting the CARES was waste... you have to have your car seat at your destination anyway, so bring it on the flight, strap her in, and save your car seat the damage it WILL sustain if you check it. Why check a $300 car seat only to get it damaged?

A duffel bag, or those travel bags for car seats, they won't PROTECT the seat from damage! Sure, damage to the cover or harness maybe, but it won't do a darn thing to protect the plastic, the integral part of the car seat, when its thrown around by careless baggage handlers and shifted around with heavy bags during flight.

Edited to add- When you gate check your car seat it gets put in with general baggage. it doesn't go to some special padded location where it will not get damaged, it just gets tossed in with the general baggage just like if you checked it with your baggage, but its brought out first and put on the tarmac for you to grab on your way off the plane.

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Have you seen the GoGo Babyz product? It's basically wheels to attach to your carseat. We also have the Marathon by the way. You could wheel your carseat to the gate with your child in it, or with another bag in/on it - so no lugging it about. Here is the product:

1 mom found this helpful

we've checked our britax at the beginning and didnt even have a bag to put it in!! The sky cap told us he didnt have any plastic bags and if he did there was a charge, so we took a chance and it turned out fine!

dont lug it through the airport if you arent going to use it on the plane, you have enough to keep track of with your daughter!

car seats and strollers are free to check by the way

We just traveled to London (nonstop from LA) with our 7 month old and checked the car seat and stroller at the gate. It was so easy and nice to have it the minute we got off the plan. That said, you will have your hands full with carry-ons and not to mention your little one. I know my sister in law checked her Britax on a nonstop to NYC (no duffle) and it survived. Consider how light/heavy you travel and if you'll have help. If you have the extra hands, I say check it at the gate. Renting at your destination is also a great idea. Good luck!

We travel a lot with our children and we have always gate checked the car seat. We found a travel bags with wheels at Toys R Us that works great. I think Target.com also sells one now that is really good as well. You just roll the seat through the airport. It also has straps to carry it on your back if you need to for some reason.

Have fun travelling!

It sucks to lug that thing around, but I highly recommend gate checking. Every airline charges $25-40 to check an item like that versus no fee for a gate checked item. Plus, it happened to me! Returning to Newark airport after flying halfway across the country with my 3 month old and 2 year old and after charging me $25 to check the d*** thing, the airline lost my infant carseat!!!!!!!!!!!! They finally found it. But i was none too happy to use their cheap excuse for a loaner carseat until they were able to return it 3 days later.
Meanwhile I went back to work full time the next day. What a nightmare.
Gate Check all the way!

Check it with your luggage for sure. But my advice is to wrap it in a garbage bag or something. The first time I travelled with my daughter and checked her car seat it was all dirty when we picked it up (from rolling around on the luggage racks and being handled).

We checked our car seat and it got pretty beat up. They just throw it in a plastic bag and send it through the airport. If you are not able to check it for free- it will most likely be $50 to check it both ways. If you carry it to the gate it is free. IT is large and awkward though.

Not knowing any details about your destination- if there is a chance to just buy one where you are going(ie visiting family) or rent one through the car rental place? Might be worth looking into it!

I was always more comfortable gate-checking the car seat than checking it as luggage. I don't know that it will be handled any differently by staff, but I do feel it is less likely to get lost.

For the posters that recommended renting one from the car rental agency, I would speak to someone at that specific rental location first. A lot of rentals are done by website through a nation-wide company, that does NOT mean that EVERY franchise offers these services. You can select whatever options you want on a website, and then arrive and have NOTHING, or the most pathetic car seat you have ever seen.

I know you said you read a lot about ears and pressure changes, but I just wanted to rave about "earplanes". I highly recommend you buy a pair of these for your daughter from the drug store or supermarket. They are little rubber ear plugs that help with pressure changes, there's a child's size for kids over one year. My daughter just flew with a cold and these helped her immensely (she's 6 years old, so I got good feedback from her that they were working). You put them in during takeoff, and as the pressure changes before landing (they recommend about an hour before landing - sometimes you'll hear the pilot announce that you will be changing altitude in preparation for landing).

Have a great trip

We've always checked it at check-in rather than at the gate and had no problem. We, too, have a Britax Marathon. That is one heavy car seat that you don't want to lug around the airports yourself!!!

As a travel agent I cannot stress strongly enough that you contact the airline and find out what they recommend. Size and weight have alot to do with whether or not they will allow you to check it at the gate. Some will not allow you to check it at the gate they willtyellyou it has to be checked at the chek in counter. Some airlines are now charging for each piece of luggage checked at check in. not per ticket it is per segment. Which means if you have to change planes one time, you have two segments and will be charge 2 fees. Oh and then you have to pay the fee for your return flight. So it could end up costing you quite a bit to take that car seat with you.

Check it in when you check in your luggage, why carry it thru the terminal. It would be more to struggle with and to get thru the xray machines. Most airlines place them in large bags to protect them during travel. And they shouldnt charge you to check it in either.


CARES is awesome to use - Ive used it a few times for travel... with that said check in the car seat.

I would absolutely check it with the luggage. I decided when I flew with a 1 year old and a 2 year old, to take both carseats on the plane with us, and BOY WHAT A MISTAKE!!!! It was absolutely completely stressful getting around the airport! We had 2 carseats, 4 carry ons, and 1 double stroller. My husband and I could barely carry all of it. Then, we went to luggage claim and had to get all of our suitcases AND the crate our dog was in! I will never forget that day, it's like one of those nightmares you wake up from and are glad it wasn't really happening. So, if you can avoid carrying them by renting the cares (which is brilliant and why on earth hadn't I heard of this???) then save yourself the stress by just checking them in right along with your luggage.

Check it at the curb with your luggage! You can get a bag to put over it, but if you duct tape the loose straps down, it will be fine.


Check it at the curb with your luggage! You can get a bag to put over it, but if you duct tape the loose straps down, it will be fine.

We've flown many times with my son (3 1/2) and we always check the car seat at the ticket counter. It's one less thing you have to deal with at security. The airline usually have a plastic bag to put the seats in, but it might be a good idea to buy one before you go. A few times, our seat wasn't bagged but it came off the plane in great condition, without any stains or tears, unlike our stroller that we gate checked. We have the CARES system, too. It works well unless, your child can't sit still; otherwise, the top buckle might push into their neck. We had this problem with my son from 18 months to 3 years...He's finally able to sit comfortably in it. Just a heads up on that...good luck with your travels!

I am going to travel with my son very soon too, and I found out from one of the moms that if you call a car rental company, they may be able to rent you a car seat (so if you are renting a car, you can include it) --- if you are staying with a friend/relative, the rental co can even deliver the car seat to their house before you get there --- so they can install it before they pick you up. I think it is a great idea and am going to check it out myself. That way, no more carrying bulky carseats, whether hand carried or checked in ...

I was pretty experienced traveling with a 2 year old (by the time he was three he had 20,000 miles under his belt.) I always checked the car seat and it almost always was one of the first things off the plane and it was great not having to lug it through the whole airport when you have a curious (and fast) kid with you. They gave me a big plastic bag to put it in.

I agree with BeckyW. Not worth risking the damage. If it gets handled badly and tossed around, there is no way the foam won't be compressed, and once that happens your expensive carseat is worthless. If I didn't want to carry it on, (which I probably wouldn't, it's a pain) I would buy a cheap one on the other end of the trip, and donate it or something when we left. The cheapest carseat is better than a damaged Britax.

my daughter is only 18 mo and I have taken her on several flights. In the begining I had her in her infant seat, but on the last flight she was in a forward facing car seat. I checked it with my luggage, and had no problem. The airline wrapped it in plastic to prevent it from getting wet, and I was glad I didnt have to lug it through the airport as I had a lay over, and I would have had to take it with me in my second airport as well as my destination airport while I had to retrieve the luggage. So my suggestion would be to check it with the luggage. Good luck and have a great flight.
To comment on the other answer that said the airlines charge to check items, When I got to the luggage counter, there was no charge for the carseat... when I asked if it was just that airline, they told me that because it is a safety item and required at the destination that most airlines DO NOT charge for checking the carseat. So it would be highly UNLIKELY that you would be charged for checking the carseat... it is like medical equipment that doesnt count as a carryon... It's needed so there is no charge

A bit of an off shoot to your question, but I didn't want to take my Marathon with me so I went out and bought a Cosco Scenera for travel. It was only about $35 (I got a discontinued pattern so it was cheaper but I think it usually runs about $45).

This way, I don't care if it gets a little beat up because it wasn't my expensive carseat.

Oh, and I (and my son) LOVE the CARES. He feels like a big boy and I know he's still safe. If he got a little squirrely on the flight I took the harness part off and just let him wear the lap belt.

a few weeks ago we flew to dominican republic. we brought our britax marathon on the plane for my son (now 2) to sit in (we went to europe this summer and he sat in it the whole time) this time he wanted nothing to do with the car seat on the way to DR. the plane was smaller so he did not have any room with the seat in front of him. on the way home we checked the seat at the gate- no problem. i would never check it with baggage (for fear of damage) we also have the go-go baby. IT'S AWESOME! you can buy it at onestepahead.com .it's a wheelie thing that attaches to your car seat and baby can be wheeled through the airport -let's you have your hands free for carrying bags etc. on the plane he didn't want to use CARES either- he had a terrible two's tantrum on the plane. we held him really tight on take off / landing. the rest of the flight we held him or he lay across our laps and slept.
we went to club med and they had a stroller for us- check to see if your destination has a stroller available- it's one less thing to lug to the airport.

we travel alot and we always ck it with the luggage. Theu put it in a plastic bag for us...we have never had a problem.

I am traveling tomorrow, in fact, with 2 Britax Marathons (twins!) What I do is a have a car seat bag that holds the Marathon. I bought it at Buy Buy Baby (well worth the investment... I've used it many times for traveling). It has wheels on it so if you want to wheel it on the plane, you can. What I do is put the car seat in that bag and then I check them. I would absolutely NOT schlep it to gate check it. BAD idea. Either bring it on the plane and have your child sit on it or check it. I have seen people just check the car seat without a bag, but it's nice to have the protective bag. I doubt it will fit in a large duffel. I usually put my older daughter's booster seat in a duffle, and that barely fits!
They will not charge you to check the car seat and it doesn't count to your allotment of luggage.

One last thing to consider... if your daughter is 2, you might actually want her to SIT in the car seat on the plane. They will definitely allow you to bring the marathon on the plane (I did it when my kids were little). Your daughter will be much more comfortable sitting in that than in the regular seat (not sure what the CARES is). If she falls asleep, her head won't bob around. You can get on the plane early (early boarding) and quickly install it with the lap belt and then your husband can bring her on after you have it all set up.

We traveled to Fl last year with a less then one year old and a three year old. We took one car seat on the flight and checked the other one. We borrowed from a friend a bag for carseats to be checked in. There's a lot of space in it so we packed it with other things that would have otherwise gone in the luggage. The car seat we took with us on our flight we got a strap that straps the car seat to one of our wheeled carryons and just wheeled it around the airport. Hope this helps and good luck!

I made a large cloth bag from extra fabric (or you can purchase some for much less than a duffle!). The bag was just a big rectangle that I put a drawstring thorught he top & wrote my last name w/ permenant marker on the side. I put my daughter's car seat in a trash bag, then inside the cloth bag & tied it shut. Her seat was clean & unharmed so we could enjoy our vacation! Oh yeah and I checked it at baggage check in. I don't know about the post claiming how they are just tossed in & can suffer damage - it was considered an odd shaped item & was put in last (my hubby & I watched from our seats because we were sitting right near where the stuff gets loaded into the plane & my daughter was fascinated) When we went to claim it we had to go to a special area of bagged claim for odd shaped items. Godd luck & happy travels!

Gate check it!!! Yes, it is easier to check it with your luggage, but have you ever seen how the baggage handlers just throw around luggage? I wouldn't want to risk any damage to the car seat. The Gogo Kidz Travelmate is really great. You can also put the car seat on a regular luggage rack and strap it in with bungee cords.


For those who recommend renting a car seat at your destination, the Today Show just did a story about germs and rental car seats are swimming in them. I've also heard that many of the car seats are expired. All that, plus the fact that you don't know the history of the car seat, is a huge turnoff for me.

have you considered using the carseat on the plane? I also have a CARES that I used for my older child (4 years), but for my 2 year old we take his seat on the plane still. He is much more comfortable in it and can sleep easily in it, whereas with the CARES he swims in the seat and cannot easily fall asleep. We use the GoGo Kidz Travelmate (LOVE IT!) Also allows us to wheel him through the airport without having to deal with a stroller. As for checking the carseat...if you are not using it on the plane, get a carseat bag and check it at the check-in. No point lugging it through the airport if not needed. The chances of anything happening to it are quite low as long as its in a bag. As far as fees go, every airline we've flown does NOT charge for carseats, strollers or carriers (they did not charge for our backpack carriers) as part of luggage fees; I would be careful about puting it in a regular duffle bag as they might then count it as luggage and charge you.

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