If your family trip is going to include a lot of time in a car, it might make sense to bring your own car seat along instead of struggling with a rental or buying one at your destination. Child safety is the most important factor when traveling with younger children, which means booster seats and infant seats are a must have. It doesn’t mean they can’t be a hassle, however.
Most U.S. airlines and international airlines will let you take a car seat with you for free, either as checked baggage or as a gate check item. Just like strollers, they may require you to turn it in before check-in, as you can’t take it into the cabin during air travel. Read below to understand how to take an infant car seat through the travel system of an airport.
Checking the Car Seat as Baggage
If you don't want to use your car safety seat on the plane or while you're in the airport, it makes sense to check it as baggage; that means one less thing you'll have to carry as you make your way to and from the flight. Cover your car seat with a dedicated car seat cover or a duffel bag to protect it from soil and superficial damage such as broken buckles or torn padding. Some companies even sell specially designed car seat travel bags for those that engage in frequent family travel.
If you find yourself at the airport without a car seat bag, most airlines will offer heavy-duty plastic bags to use as a makeshift cover. Just like any other piece of baggage, make sure your car seat is marked clearly with a sticker or tag that has your name and phone number or email address that can be used to reach you while you're traveling. In the case it doesn’t make it to your final destination with you, this could help someone return it to your possession.
It Can Be Extra Packing Space
For your car seat to travel free, you'll need to show the airline attendant what you have inside that cover or duffel bag that is carrying your child’s car seat. They generally don't mind if you use the extra space inside or around the car seat to pack a reasonable amount of lightweight child care items, like diapers or formula. The empty seat provides a decent amount of room for packing extra items, se you may as well use it.
Just take care not to include any prohibited items or to go overboard with the size or weight of the resulting bundle; it's still subject to airline regulations and healthy common sense.
Gate Checking Your Car Seat
It can be wonderfully liberating to leave your car seat behind at the checked baggage counter. it's one less thing in your hands as you make your way through the airport. But if you're traveling with a lap infant and want the use of your car seat after security but before the flight, you can also gate check it.
Your car seat will still travel in the luggage hold, but you'll be able to drop it off on the jetway as you board the plane; then pick it up on the jetway as you exit the plane. This is especially handy if the car seat would have been the only piece of luggage you'd check through. Just speak to the gate agent before boarding begins and ask for a gate check tag. This could help you avoid baggage claim after your flight, so while you won’t be hands free leading up to boarding, the whole process will be smoother.
Car Seats on the Plane
If your car seat is FAA-approved and your child is traveling in his or her own airline seat, you can generally carry your car seat onto the plane for use there. There have been anecdotal accounts of flight attendants not allowing travelers to use their FAA-approved car seats on the plane, so it's best to carry manufacturer documentation that shows your car seat's approved status, and show it to the gate agent before you board.
Here's another bonus of talking to the gate agent before you board: If you were planning to hold your infant in your lap and gate check your FAA-approved car seat, you might even get lucky and be allowed to carry it on if there's an extra seat available for your child. It is most likely that your child’s seat will not fit into the overhead bin however, so it could prove for some pretty cramped in-flight seating.
As with checked baggage, if your car seat is allowed on the plane, you can usually get away with using it to stash a few essentials like diapers or teething rings. However, just like any other piece of carry-on luggage, it's still subject to the same regulations about what you can and cannot bring onto a plane.