Traveling with young children can feel like an adventure all on its own. From extra baggage and diaper bags, to strollers and car seats, hauling all of the gear you will need once you leave home is a big job. One way that you can make it a little easier to travel with all of the gear for your kiddo is to gate check essentials like car seats and strollers. It is not your only option, but it is recommended in some situations.
(Note: If you are flying with a Stroller be sure to check out our article on Gate Checking a Stroller, which includes all the latest gate check policies by airline for 2020!)
Why Should you Gate Check a Car Seat in 2020?
Can you imagine a worse situation to be in than to arrive at your destination only to find out that the airline has lost your child's car seat? While mistakes do happen and even gate checking a car seat cannot fully prevent the airline from losing your stuff, your odds are better. Last year in the United States, there were an estimated 1.8 million reports of lost luggage across all airlines. The fear of having your checked baggage (or car seat) lost is a very legitimate concern. The odds are even higher if you are taking a connecting flight.
Option One: Leave the Carseat at Home
Many car rental companies also offer car seats. If you are flying with a lap baby, it may not even be necessary to bring your car seat. This could be good because you would have less kid cargo to haul around on your trip and no worry about the airline damaging your super expensive car seat. The downside is that you cannot choose what model of car seat is provided by the car rental company so you could end up with a cheap, no-brand car seat with questionable safety testing. Or, because most car rental companies will not even allow reservations for car seats, you could end up with no safety seat or child restraint at all.
Option Two: Check Your Car Seat at the Ticket Counter
Most airlines will check a car seat for free so there is no need to worry about paying extra dollars to check a car seat. But it is not uncommon for airlines to misplace your baggage. While you might be able to go a day or two without your clothes and toiletries, a car seat is a little less replaceable. It would be very inconvenient if the airline did lose your car seat and you had to send someone out to buy another one before you could leave the airport.
Option Three: Fly with your Car Seat
For young children older than two years of age this may actually be required by the airline. You will have to purchase a ticket, but your child can ride in their own seat, safely strapped into their car seat or booster seat. Most airlines allow you to take advantage of family boarding so you can get on the airplane first and get the seat strapped in before the other passenger's board. For babies two years of age and under, most airlines allow them to fly for free as a lap baby. If you go this route, you can save on airfare, but it is arguably less safe and you still have to stash the car seat somewhere during the flight.
Option Four: Gate Check Car Seat
If you choose to travel with a lap baby, you will not need your car seat until you arrive at the destination terminal. The easiest and most convenient way to travel with an infant car seat without having to pay for another ticket is to gate check the car seat. By checking at the gate there is a much lower risk that anything will happen to your car seat. Less handling means both fewer opportunities for damage and less risk that it will go missing.
However, you're going to want a Car Seat Bag for its' many benefits when you do this. More about that later...
Four Reasons Why Gate Checking a Car Seat is the Best Option
If you are traveling with a child under two years of age, there are a few different options for how you handle traveling with all of the gear that you will need when you arrive at your destination. Out of all of the available options, a gate checked car seat makes the most sense for a few different reasons.
No. 1 - You May Get to Use the Car Seat on the Flight for Free
Some airlines are more accommodating than others, but it never hurts to arrive early and ask. If your flight is not full, there is a solid chance that a seat will be available for your lap baby. If you opt to gate check your car seat, it will still be available for you to use on the flight if an empty seat is available.
No. 2 - Pack Extra Essentials with your Free Checked Car Seat
The additional costs to check baggage make packing for a trip have most people trying to get by with as little as possible. One perk about being able to check your car seat for free is that you can use a car seat check bag and pack extra diapers, formulas and other essentials right inside along with your car seat. As long as you are not packing anything illegal, most airline staff don’t mind if you stuff a few extra diapers in there.
A good video of a real mom showing what it's really like to deal with a stroller, car seat, and children etc. on a plane:
No. 3 - Less Opportunity for Lost Car Seats
Airlines are a little bit notorious for lost baggage. It is one of the biggest complaints of air travelers and can be really inconvenient if you are missing essential items like a car seat, diapers, or formula. The good news is that gate checked items are rarely ever lost. You will personally escort your car seat right to the gate where it is taken directly to your airplane. There is no risk that it is sorted onto the wrong airplane by mistake and very unlikely that it is left behind at the airport.
No. 4 - Lower Risk for Damaged Car Seats
We don’t really think about it, but there is a risk that your car seat can be seriously damaged during the flight. From getting tossed around when loading, to having heavier luggage shift and fall on top of it, there is a pretty big risk for damage. Car seat manufacturers advise against the use of any car seat that has been involved in an automobile accident, even when there is no visible damage. But how would airline damage while travelling affect the safety performance of the same seat? Although there are no rules or recommendations, it is pretty safe to assume that the same applies to damage that occurs in cargo.
Hopefully, you will not have to be in a position to decide if the damage your car seat sustained in-flight renders it unsafe to use in a passenger vehicle. But if you are, you could find yourself in the same predicament trying to scramble to find a replacement once you arrive at your destination. Gate checking your car seat will not prevent damage, but it does lower the risk. There's many benefits to using a Car Seat Travel Bag if you decide to go this route besides the obvious of keeping your car seat clean and grime free.
How to Gate Check a Car Seat
Before you arrive at the airport, make a decision on how you will handle travel with your car seat. If your child is under the age of 2, flying for free as a lap-baby and gate checking a car seat is a good option.
1. Purchase a car seat travel bag prior to your travel.
A car seat bag is useful for protecting your car seat from dirt, debris, and scuffs. It also adds visibility in the baggage claim if you opt for a brightly colored bag. And the best designs, like our best car seat bag in the market the COMPONO Car Seat Bag, have shoulder straps that allow you to carry the car seat like a backpack as you make your way through the airport and to your gate.
2. Arrive early and speak to a flight attendant. Let them know that you have a car seat to the gate check. The flight attendant will provide you with a tag.
3. Fill out the tag and attach to your car seat bag.
4. The flight attendant will either take the tagged car seat from you prior to boarding or instruct you to drop it at the end of the ramp.
5. Once you arrive at the destination airport, gate-checked items are often the first luggage to come out. Your flight attendant can provide specific instructions. If your airline does not bring gate checked items out to you first, then go to baggage claim to pick up your car seat.
What you Need to Know About Flying with A Car Seat
The topic of whether or not to travel with a car seat for your child is a topic of great debate among parents and airline staff. The general consensus is that it is generally safest for your child to travel in their own seat, safely restrained in an FAA-approved car seat. In the United States, car seats from all major brands like Graco, Chicco, Safety 1st, and more are all FAA approved. If you are outside of the U.S. or if you plan to travel outside of the U.S. it becomes a little less clear on what is acceptable and what is not.
Whether you are gate checking or flying with your child’s car seat, it is always recommended to arrive early and let the flight attendants know what your needs are. You likely will not find much cooperation if you are running up to the gate as the flight is boarding and making demands about flying with your car seat. But arriving early and making your needs known to the flight staff never hurts.
One tip that is passed around between parents flying with young children is that it may be worth investing in an inexpensive car seat for travel purposes. If you go this route, just make sure that the seat you choose is still appropriate for your child's’ age and size and that it is still FAA approved. A second seat can be a good way to make sure that your primary seat is not damaged or lost during air travel, and again, we would always recommend travelling with a car seat travel bag.
Also, don't miss checking out our perfect compliment to the COMPONO Car Seat Bag, our best in class COMPONO Stroller Travel bag:
And lastly here's an article we wrote providing full 2020 gate check policies for each major airline: