Seeking Practical Advice for Loading and Unloading Car Seats on a Plane

Updated on April 30, 2010
R.J. asks from Centreville, VA
21 answers

We are flying cross-country with our two sons (2 & 3). Since the flight doesn't land until the middle of the night back home we are opting to bring the car seats onto the plane so that the boys can sleep. Does anyone have any suggestions as to how we get two boys, the diaper bag and two car seats onto the plane? I am sure we cannot wheel them down the aisle. Or any other tips would be most helpful! Thanks!

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answers from Raleigh on

I suggest that one of you stay off of the plane with your boys, while the other has a flight attendant help you situate the car seats during small child pre-boarding. They always call this first (and you may want to tell them at the gate that you are going to need some help), and it is a great way to get everything onto the plane without causing a back-up. I suggest keeping your kids off for as long as possible as well. We never let my son on the plane early because he will have to sit long enough. I go on first, situate everything (get the carseat in, toys/lovies organized, and snacks/drinks at the ready), then my husband brings my son on when they call for last boarders. It has always worked well for us, and I'm sure if you asked for the initial help, they would be more than willing to help you! Good luck!

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answers from Chicago on

We just had a similar experience with our 3 yo and 10 month old. I had envisioned us having blissfully sleeping children on the plane, since we took a red eye arrival. Instead, they were both alert and wired when we landed at midnite, and stayed that way until we got home around 2 am.

You are right, there will not be room to wheel them down the aisle. Tried it--miserably failed and managed to cause a boarding delay in the process. The only thing I would suggest is that you call your airlines ahead of time and explain to them that you will be having 2 adults, 2 toddlers, 2 carseats, and a diaper bag and don't know how to get everyone/thing on. Maybe they can offer you pre-boarding, as they would do with someone with a physical disability. Otherwise, maybe fake a foot injury? ;)

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answers from Houston on

Honestly, when we have travelled with carseats we have put each carseat in a plastic garbage bag with a drawsting closure and just slung it over our shoulder. It's always worked and it's easy to slip them in and out of the bag as you get on and off the plane. If you have a stroller that both boys fit in you can keep them in it in the airport and then just check the stroller at the gate.

Good luck,

1 mom found this helpful


answers from New York on

We traveled with a 6 month old (with an apnea monitor) and a 3 year old last year. Just the baby was in a stroller so we checked it at the gate. But my son was big enough for a booster seat when we travel (we have a car seat for our car at home that has a harness for his size/weight). The booster (under $20) was much smaller and lighter than a full size car seat. We checked it (free) and he just sat in his seat on the plane. The baby was in a baby carrier type seat so it was easy. This year we will need a bigger seat for her so it will be a bit harder. I think preboarding is worth the extra few minutes waiting but we did not have a long flight (2 one hour segments). We did have a ton of carry ons and it was a bit of a hassle but with 2 adults it was doable. I saw in a catalog a luggage carrier type thing that allows you to wheel the car seat like a stroller in the airport if you want to spend the money on it. I also saw someone with the car seat on a plain old luggage carrier and the kid in it. My husband made fun of it but I made the whole family wear very visible matching tie dye t-shirts to travel. I could locate everyone in seconds that way. I let my older son walk most of the time but he was threatened that if he did not stay with us and follow directions he would be on the toddler leash that he hated (I had it in the diaper bag but didn't use it and haven't used it since he was 2.5. It was used a lot when he was between 1 and 2). You know your own kids--my son was hard to manage at 2.5 but much better at 3.5.

You might want to see about car service arrangement as well if no one can pick you up. We had so much luggage and baby gear we couldn't fit in a standard sedan taxi to get home so we had a long wait late at night with 2 cranky kids and a pile of luggage in the airport taxi line at the end of the trip. Definitely avoid that if you can!



answers from Washington DC on

We checked our carseats and used a CARES harnesses. So much easier. The carseats were find, no damage, but I was a little nervous since they were both britaxes.



answers from Washington DC on

Ask for help! :-) Bring your stroller to the airport and pile the car seats and whatever else you can onto the stroller to get through security and to your gate. When you board the plane you can check the stroller and I am sure an airline steward/ess will help you carry the seats down the aisle. Board the plane with the first group they allow on so you aren't trying to fit down an aisle clunking people's heads on either side. Sit both boys down in one seat while you install the car seats and then strap them in. When leaving the plane wait until everyone else gets off first. We flew with my 16 month old daughter on a 12 hour international flight and brough everything with us including her car seat on the plane. It took some juggling so I can only imagine what it would be like x2. But it was worth bringing the seat as she slept almost the entire flight leaving us free to get up as we needed without disturbing her. Have a great trip!



answers from Washington DC on

how many adults are there? i used to do this with my one child by myself and that is definitely possible. it looks like you have a plan for getting to the door of plane. beyond that pre-board and allow people to help, trust me they will ask. put bags above you and place kids in row behind you while you strap in seats. talk to the airline people at the gate ahead of time, ask nicely, and they will help. bon voyage.



answers from Norfolk on

Meaghan H offers a similar suggestion that my husband and I do. He boards the plane during small child pre-boarding with the car seat and anything else he can carry. He gets everything situated. I stay off of the plane with our son until they make the final call. He will have to sit long enough. Happy traveling.



answers from Las Vegas on

You should be able to pre-board with the small children. That is usually not a problem. Do the kids have to have a car seat to sleep? I drug the booster with me on the plane because I didn't want to pay for it and found that the airline checks car seats for free. So, I left with the car seat as a carry on and checked it for the return.



answers from Washington DC on

This is our life, unfortunately, so I have a couple of tips. First, check that the car seats have a sticker showing they are approved for aircraft. One of ours is not and, at least half the time, the airline makes us check it with the luggage. Usually hasn't been a problem in the U.S., but it's good to know ahead of time and be prepared if they don't let the seats on the plane.

Pack as lightly as you can, but bring an extra pair of clothes. For a while, our children, who never have accidents, would always do so on the plane. Either that, or they spill an entire airplane apple juice in their laps.

Both our car seats can roll down the aisle of most planes. So, what we do is load one on top of the other and strap them to a frame with wheels. We use bunji cords, so it isn't elegant, but it gets the job done. But, it sounds like your seats may be large and you know best whether they will fit. There are several companies that make bags and kits for turning your car seat into a backpack. They aren't too expensive. I'm considering it for our next trip.

The worst thing about landing in the middle of the night is waking the sleeping children, removing them from their cozy little nests, lugging them off the plane, walking what seems like miles of corridors, waiting for luggage, etc. You may need to carry both the children off the plane in addition to your seats and bags. Yours may be OK when woken in the middle of the night, but ours usually little wrecks. Be sure you have thought of how you will carry them off the plane and through the airport while they are flopping around screaming and crying to go back to sleep. (sorry, this is what happens to us anyway.)

If you are able to wait until the plane clears, the flight attendants will usually help you carry the car seats off the plane.

This sounds like overkill, but... It doesn't hurt to do a couple of practice runs in your house so that you know how all your stuff fits together and how you can best carry it.

Good luck!!



answers from Washington DC on

We've handled this by having one parent get on during the early boarding and install the seats or you can all get on and just keep the kids in an empty row for a bit. I preferred to let my boys run around until the last group was boarding and then we would get on - the seats would be ready for them. Getting off is harder because the kids may be sleeping or very tired and grumpy. I used a backpack until they were three. I also had an umbrella stroller that rolled down the aisle (sometimes the flight attendants took it at the gate but it did fit in the overhead). You can get off last.

I also think it is worth it if you have bags to check to drop them at the outside check in, along with a parent and the kids. You need to pay a tip but not dragging the kids and luggage might be worth it, especially if you would need to take a shuttle from a parking lot or rental car agency. Then the second parent can park the car and remove the seats and meet you at security carrying the two seats and anything else he/she can handle.

My kids still use their samsonite suitcases in the carryon size with four wheels - very easy to push - not weightbearing at all. I think they call them spinner wheels now. But they may not be into pushing suitcases in the middle of the night. I think the youngest was two when we bought them and he really could push it. It slowed him down and that was helpful too.

We also sent one parent with the car seats to pick up the rental car or meet Grandma and get the seats installed while the other parent waited for bags using a luggage cart or sky cap.

Have fun!



answers from Denver on

We had to check ours using gate check because they didn't fit in the airplane seats. You should be prepared to do that as well, depending on the type and size of your seats. Hopefully your sons will find other ways to get comfy with blankets and pillows if that happens!! If they're tired enough, they should... ours did at that age.



answers from Washington DC on

We have been flying with our daughter since she was 9 months old. When you board, they allow parents with car seats and strollers to board first. That way you can get everything in before everyone else gets on. As for getting off, we always wait until everyone else has gotten off before trying to get everything out. Hope this helps.


answers from Minneapolis on

One of you stay off the plane with the children, nad the other gets on the plane during 'small child preboarding', that way you can lug the car seats down the isle without disturbing anyone, because nobody will be on the plane. The first parent can get on and get the car seats strapped in and adjusted, then the parent with the kids can get on a bit later.

When leaving the plane at your destination, wait until everyone is off, then get up and start unloading. That way, again, you can lug the car seats down the isles without hitting or disturbing anyone or fighting the crowds.



answers from Washington DC on

Hi Mom,
If you can take a stroller with you that will help out. I would put my child in the stroller and then attached one of the car seats on the handle of the stroller. The airlines gives you priority to board the plane first with kids. you are able to take the stroller with you to the gate. they will take your stroller and board it on the plane for you. I then put the kids in the seats, then go back and then go back to get the car seats. you have to seat on the aisle seat and your children will occupy the window and aisle seat for emergency. Put them in the PJ's when you go to the airport and have a blanket it for them. You will do fine, once your in your seat. There will some passengers that will extend a hand. Good luck with your travel.



answers from Washington DC on

A lot of people are advising to "pre-board" or board early, but be aware that not all airlines allow families with small children to board early anymore. This is a wonderful perk and do take advantage of it if they allow it, but check with your airline and it's policies so you won't be frazzled at the gate when they tell you that you can't.
Also, when you are strapping your carseats in you may need a seatbelt extender so ask the flight attendant for one as soon as you step foot in the plane. When you buckle the seatbelt, often times once you tighten the seatbelt the buckle gets stuck in the back of the carseat and you can't unlatch it to get it out because there is plastic or metal or something in the way. This happened to me - so irritating. I learned the hard way.
Oh and if/when they start kicking the seat in front of them, let the person in front of them know you are sorry ahead of time and you are doing your best to stop it, and they will be asleep soon.
Good luck.



answers from Chicago on

If your kids can sleep without them I suggest doing that. My twin 2-year-olds slept just fine on the plane without their carseats. We carried their carseats around the whole airport and when we got to the gate to board they realized our seats were 2 aisle and 2 middle and would not let us put the carseats anywhere but the window so we ditched the seats and it was fine. If you are flying American, they were extremely rude to us about the whole thing. I will never fly them again. I would pay more to fly another airline. Make sure to take lots of snacks and stickers and things for them to do. Our flight was 3 1/2 hours and my kids slept for 1/2 of it and played and ate the other half. Have a safe trip.



answers from Washington DC on

When my children were 2 & 3 I also brought their carseats on a flight. In my case, flying as the only adult, an airline employee assisted me by taking the car seats on for me and placing them in the correct seats. All I had to do was make sure they were secure and strap the kids in. At that age, it was worth any hassle as they slept the entire flight.

If there are two adults flying maybe one of you can board first with just the seats and get them ready. One of you can stay behind and bring the kids on once all other passengers have boarded - I boarded with my kids last and that was also a good idea because it stopped them from getting too antsy.

Good luck!




answers from Richmond on

There are a couple of options. I've travelled extensively with my now 2 and 3 year olds and this is how we do it. If you want to take your car seats on board, get a backpack strap specifically meant for car seats (I think it's made by cheeky monkey). That way each parent can have a car seat on their back, have your own back and have each child have a small backpack for their own toys (my kids have ones with wheels and they LOVE them).

The other option is to get a CARES seat strap. That's what we use now and it's a life saver. It's straps right onto the seat and the kids feel like big kids because they are in the big seat like mom and dad (plus they can't reach the seat in front of them). It's only about a pound and they fit in the bag easily.

To streamline things I put everything in gallon size ziploc bags. Diapers, changes of clothes, snacks, medicines, surprise toys, etc. It makes things easy to find in your bag and allows for more stuff! My kids don't watch much TV, but they each have their own dvd player for plane rides. That and snacks keeps them happy, quiet and thrilled to be on a plane.

I'm taking both my kids by myself on three plane rides across the country this summer and I'll be able to get all the stuff on the plane myself.

Good luck. Put them in their PJs before you get on the plane if it's their normal bedtime.



answers from Los Angeles on

Check out Sit and Stroll (Sit 'n' Stroll) car seats they are great! A car seat that converts into a stroller makes traveling MUCH EASIER! They are advertised on the internet and in most airplane magazines. They are certified approved flight seats, this sticker can make a big difference to the flight attendants. It makes life easier because you don't have to carry so much through the airport. And they are made to be able to wheel down the aisle on wide planes, narrow ones it depends. We LOVED ours and were very sad when the kids outgrew them.



answers from Los Angeles on

IF you have 2 adults...ONE takes both carseats onto the plane during pre-boarding while the other waits out letting the kids have those last minutes of freedom and less time they are trapped on the plane. Also that way you don't have a family of people waiting in the isle of the plane (blocking the flow of boarding passengers) while you are trying to install carseats.

Also, beware that airline policies do NOT allow carseats to be installed in the isle seat "blocking" the other passenger in; if you are on the outside, the carseat will have to be in the window seat, if you are in the middle section the carseat will have to be the very middle seat; its important you consider this when selecting seats in advance as if you don't have appropriate seats the flight attendants will be required to move you and possibly split up your family (one adult with each child) to meet this requirement.

When boarding the plane if the flight attendants don't automatically offer when they see you with two carseats; ASK them to help you down the aisle with them. They are more than happy to help, they are required to confirm the seat is FAA approved anyway and helping you will speed things along, which they always want to do.

We LOVE the GogoKidz Travelmate which makes getting the carseat through the airport with kids sooo easy. You are right that it still doesn't fit down the aisle of the plane, but it greatly helps in all other areas.

Also, IF they fall asleep, it *is* possible to keep them sleeping if you have the gogokidz (I've done it 3 times with sleeping kids with success!) Carefully unstrap the carseat and turn it around to face the seat so you can attach the travelmate; then CARRY the seat with child still strapped in to the bulkhead where you can sit it down and then go back for your luggage with either the flight attendant watching the child(ren) or one of you OR asking the flight attendant to retrieve your carry-on luggage. Then wheel them off the plane and through the airport etc.

My last bit of advice is to just relax. It will all happen and it will all work out; even if you are the last to board with carseats in tow, it doesn't take that long to install them and you will be GLAD you have your kids in carseats so they can sleep, are more comfortable and most importantly: it's the SAFEST way for them to travel!

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