Checking a Car Seat on an Airplane: Everything You Need to Know

Flying off to an exotic location sounds like the perfect plan to spend your time of leisure.

While packing, your luggage is bound to get heavier by the minute, especially if you are a parent. Packing spare diapers, bottles, clothing, and toys are essential, but have you considered what to do with that cumbersome car seat? Do you baggage claim it or gate check it? 

Which one is the best option?

We talked about the most efficient methods for car seat airport carrier in a previous post if you remember. In this detailed guide, we will list all the necessary information you should know about checking a car seat on an airplane before planning your vacation.

Further, you may want to know everything about flying with the car seat before looking at the details.


The Ups and Downs of Checking a Car Seat

can you check a car seat on an airplane

Checking a car seat may seem like a good idea at first, but you should also be aware of all the risks you are subjecting your car seat to.

According to the FAA recommendations, parents are strongly advised to provide a car seat for them during the flight. If you thought about holding your child in a lap throughout the trip, think again.

This is one of the safety-hazard options when flying with children. The safest options are a specified device or a government-approved child safety restraint system.

Under severe and unexpected turbulence, it is best to keep the child in a properly installed car seat. It is, for sure, one of the best decisions you will make for you and your family to arrive safely at the desired destination. 

If you even for a second thought of a belly belt for your toddler, stop right there. Belts have proved severely dangerous as the only means for toddler's safety while flying. They are illegal in Canada and the U.S.

Whether you are gate checking or baggage claiming a car seat, a bonus tip is always to arrive early. We are aware that traveling with children can sometimes leave us finishing tasks at the last minute, but this is a golden ticket to getting the best out of the flying experience.

Early arrivals let you speak to the staff about your requirements. If you fly for the first time, you may not be acquainted with all of the car seat laws and the best options for checking it.

Logically, the staff is unwilling to cooperate with your special requests if you are running late or are holding the gate just for your family. On that account, the next time you plan a trip with children, make sure you get everything on time and arrive early for helpful consultations with the staff. 

The Risks of Damaged Car Seat

checking a car seat on plane

Let's face it; many parents check the car seat plenty of times without a scratch. But then there are the ones with no luck. After checking their seat, they are faced with either minor damage or a significant one.

You may have traveled several times with a checked car seat, but is it still safe? When the seat is out of your sight, it may undergo some severe damage; in that case, you should consider a replacement seat as a precaution measure.

Even though car seats are designed to endure collisions, you should not take them for granted. Once you reach the destination, always check the seal for damage. Scrutinize it, making sure there aren't any damages that can affect its function.

You may ensure that the car seat is not affected by dirt and whatnot, but you cannot control what goes on when you leave it in someone else's care. After witnessing a couple of neglectful checked items, you can't trust the handlers to treat a car seat with care. 

Protecting The Car Seat

Now that we talked about the notorious luggage damages, let's see how you can protect the car seat the best way possible.

First and foremost, you need to cover the seat real good. Starting with a bubble wrap, cover the entire car seat and place it into a travel bag. What you want to do next is putting the car seat desirably in the original car seat box.

But what are the chances of that one lying around your house? For this purpose, a regular cardboard box will do the trick.

Lastly, try not to bring expensive car seats on your flight. There are various car seat models on the market that are secure and budget-friendly. Plus, if anything does happen to the seat, you won't fuss about it

Lost Baggage 

Unfortunately, it seems as though losing baggage has become a part of an airline. It's bound to happen once in a while, and there is nothing you can do to prevent it. Over last year, almost 25 million bags were misdirected or lost in airlines. This is a legitimate concern, considering that losing luggage is even higher when you take a connecting flight.

Sometimes, the airline will offer to replace the lost car seat, but they often do not provide the appropriate one for your child's height and weight.

When we mentioned the ups and downs of checking a car seat, this is the worst-case scenario.

An alternative way of getting a new car seat is searching for a rental car agency. They do not always have one, but you will come across some models available if you are lucky. 

What Can You Do If Your Baggage Is Lost Or Damaged?

is it safe to check a car seat on an airplane

Don't, under any circumstance, leave the baggage area.

Head straight over to the baggage desk stationary to file a claim. If your car seat is damaged, make sure you snap a pic before you do anything else. Take notes of the damaged areas and fill out the required form.

For damaged items, have in mind that the airline won't cover all damages. For example, don't expect a refund for a few scratches, torn wheels, or minor dents. Airlines usually compensate for the items that have been carefully packed with recommended shipping containers.

If the luggage is lost and the airline does not get back to you within a week, you can say goodbye. Airline defines "lost luggage" as everything between five to thirty days.

Generally, an airline pays around $3,500 per passenger in U.S. domestic flights. If you already paid the baggage check fee, then the airline is obliged to refund the payment to your account.

Always check the carrier's website for specific pieces of information regarding lost or damaged luggage.

Gate Checking a Car Seat

Some would say that gate checking a car seat is not as safe as checking a seat with baggage. However, we would beg to differ. 

By gate-checking the car seat, you minimize the staff's risk of damaging your car seat or losing it.

Also, there are a few advantages of gate checking.

1. You May Get a Free Pass

checking a car seat on american airlines

Surprisingly, asking the staff if there are any seats available for you to install the car seat for your child, sometimes works like a charm. It is their best interest for all the passengers to be safe and buckled-up, which goes for children.

Take your chance and feel free to ask the staff for assistance if you plan on gate-checking the seat.

If you are lucky not to travel with a big crowd, sometimes there will be seats available for you to travel in a car seat with no extra charges.

2. Packing Essentials With The Car Seat

If you get away with the gate checking a car seat, here is a little hack. You can always sneak in some extra diapers, clothing, toys, or formula.

Most airline staff don't mind if you pack a few other essentials with your car seat.

Plus, it is a great space-saving solution for some of the items that couldn't fit in your carry on.

3. Checking a Car Seat Along With Your Ticket

If you were not already familiar with this, most airlines would allow you to check the car seat-free and ticket.

However, as we previously mentioned, you risk getting the baggage lost.

Sure, you can last a day or two without some clothing or baby toys, but public transportation is out of the question without car seats.

How to Know if Your Car Seat is Suitable for Airplanes?

We mentioned the child-restraint system (CRS), but how should one know if the seat is suitable for the airplane? 

If you check the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website, you can notice that not all car seats are ideal for airlines. A CRS is a child safety seat with integrated hardback designed, suitable for motor vehicles and aircraft.

Before checking in the CRS, make sure that it is government approved. An instant way to do so is to check the label on the side of the seat, saying, "This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft.” If it has it, then you are good to go, but if not, then you have to check the seat as baggage.

checking a car seat on spirit airlines


Now that we have covered the general rules, tricks, and tips for checking the car seat on an airplane, you can plan out your vacation.

Consider these options and figure out what works best for you.

Traveling with a car seat by your side can be quite tricky but necessary for your baby's safety. 

Kathy Warner

Kathy is a busy mother of two and a CPS technician for more than eight years. Her mission is to awaken parents to the importance of child passenger safety and show them the right practice. You can read more about her here

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