What to do with Your Carseat and Stroller When Flying with a Baby

Traveling (and especially flying) with a baby is without a doubt stressful, and there are a lot of opinions out there about how to do it best. The truth is, you need to decide what’s best for you based on your family, your baby, and the details surrounding your trip. Gemma is almost 6 months, and we’re fast approaching her 3rd vacation by of airplane! One time I flew with Gemma alone. Once my husband and I were traveling alone together. And this weekend we’re taking off for a long weekend to visit my in-laws in Florida.

I’ve shared what I pack when traveling with a baby, what I bring in our carry on when traveling with a baby, and I even shared thoughts that I hope help another new mom stay calm in anticipation of traveling with a baby.

But this post is all about one of my biggest anxieties I had before my first flight with Gemma. So let’s get into it.

We’ve not yet purchased a seat for Gemma, which means each time we’ve flown she’s been an “infant in arms.” That’s left us with the question of what to do with her carseat and stroller when flying? Truthfully this seems to be a doozy of a debate in the mom blog world, but to each their own, right? Assuming you have not purchased a seat for your baby (in which case you need your carseat), some people prefer to check both their carseat and stroller along with any other checked baggage, while others like to bring both the carseat and stroller through security and gate check both items at the very last minute.

Below are the pros and cons I thought through before deciding on what to do with our car seat and stroller when flying with our baby.

If you check your car seat and stroller:

  • Pro: Most US airlines will allow you to check these items for free.
  • Pro: If you purchase a padded car seat travel bag, you don’t have to worry about the item getting tossed around and potentially damaged like it may in the red ‘gate check’ bags.
  • Pro: If you use the padded car seat travel bag to protect your car seat and stroller before you check the items, you can also store a few other items in there! Free checked bag, extra room for extra stuff. Win win.
  • Pro: Less things to carry/push/fold/unfold/cart around in the airport.
  • Con: You have to wear/hold your baby the entire time you’re traveling!
  • Con: You lose the handy under stroller storage space for stashing your carry on or purse while walking around the airport.
  • Con: You lose the built in baby sleeper that all new moms know is the infant bucket seat. If you’re baby is going to nap in between flights, she’ll be napping on you.

If you gate check your car seat and stroller:

  • Pro: Hands free moments in the airport are glorious. A place to keep baby while you load your items onto the security belt. A place to put baby when you have to pee. A place to put baby when it’s nap time. A place to put baby when you just want to sit and rest for a minute. A place to put baby as you’re prepping a bottle and mixing formula and wiping down your Wubbanub with a disinfectant wipe and putting dirty bibs into your plastic bag. A place to put baby when you’re trying to order Chick-fil-A because you’re connecting through ATL… (Anybody? No? Just me?) Okay, I’ll stop here.
  • Pro: This hasn’t happened to me, but multiple friends have said that often if your flight is not full, kind airline employees will move you next to an empty seat and allow you to bring your car seat onboard so your baby can have a seat. If you’ve already checked your carseat, you can’t take advantage of this possible perk.
  • Con: It’s more “stuff” to deal with at security.
  • Con: It can be a bit of a commotion to reach the end of the jet bridge and have to unclick carseat from stroller, take baby out of carseat, fold stroller, place car seat and stroller out of the way, and get yourself and baby and diaper bag and purse onto the plane without seriously holding up the kind folks behind you. This is especially hard if you’re traveling solo with baby.
  • Con: You run the risk of your items being damaged. Often you see people leave car seats and strollers without a bag. Even if you use the red ‘gate check’ bag, it’s not going to protect anything from a hard bang. But arguably you run the same risk checking your items.

At this point I’m sure you’re wondering whether I checked our carseat and stroller or gate checked our carseat and stroller. You’re just dying to know, right?

How Our Family has Flown with a Baby, Carseat, and Stroller

For each of the flights we’ve taken with a baby so far, I decided to gate check our infant carseat and stroller.

For me, the upside of having a familiar, safe, and secure space for Gemma while we maneuvered through security, through airports, and during layovers far outweighed any potential con. Especially because (1) I was traveling alone with a baby the first flight, and (2) at that age Gemma was not a fan of being in a wrap or a carrier. It was so important for me while traveling alone to be able to be hands free if needed to dig into my bag, go to the bathroom, get IDs and boarding passes, hang out during layovers etc. that having a stroller and infant carseat with me in the airport was a very easy decision.

We used our infant carseat (the bucket seat) and instead of traveling through the airport with our large jogging stroller + carseat attachment, we used our incredibly handy “frame” stroller. Since we have the Chicco Keyfit carseat, we also have the corresponding Chicco Keyfit Caddy Stroller Frame but there’s also a similar version by Graco, and a Baby Trend version that is supposedly “universal” for many infant carseats.

I will confess two things here to make sure I do not give anyone the idea that I thought this would be a breeze:

  1. I was absolutely terrified of going through security alone with an infant, a car seat, a stroller, a diaper bag, and a purse.
  2. I was even more terrified of what a shitshow I’d be at the end of the jetbridge. I was basically banking on a kind stranger offering to help me, but the idea none the less terrified me. I had anxiety about both of these things for weeks leading up to the trip.

In hindsight, having successfully flown with Gemma twice (and once alone…) I do actually think these specific moments are actually a breeze, but if you’re a new mom or an seasoned mom who is about to travel by plane for the first time with a baby, I feel your nerves. And I talk about the exact steps that I take to get through security with a baby, carseat and stroller, and also how I make getting onto the plane a breeze when traveling with a baby.

 


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