Tips for Checking Car Seats on an Airplane

Checking car seats on an airplane can be done, but there are some things you should know before doing so. Here are some tips:

  1. Please don’t assume your baby or toddler is safe on the plane while in your lap. As an advocate for child safety, I feel very strongly about not using the “lap child” option on aircraft. It’s unsafe.

Remember, this is coming from a former flight attendant who has had beverage carts slammed down on her during clear-air turbulence. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does happen it’s scary as heck.

Think of it like this, you don’t drive without your little one being in a car seat – you shouldn’t fly that way either. (Forget the rare plane crash. Again, it’s clear air turbulence that can hit anytime and does happen daily.) I’ve discussed this topic before, and a car seat used on the plane is absolutely the safest route for you little one.

Infant fares are hard to come by, but check with your airline–especially if flying internationally–to see if you can get a discounted price for your infant. Southwest offers infant fares, but you may need to call to book vs. booking your infant’s flight online.

2. If you do check your car seat on the airplane and your toddler is under 40 pounds, use a CARES (Child Aviation Restraint System) to ensure your child’s safety. Again, clear air turbulence does happen and CARES is the best way to protect your little one and the most convenient option since it fits easily in your carry-on bag.

3. With that said, it won’t cost you anything to check your car seat and other baby equipment, like a stroller. However, there are checked-baggage fees for your luggage on most airlines.

4. My favorite tip: Use a large plastic lawn bag (find them at Home Depot or any other home improvement store)  to contain the car seat. You can take it a step further and wrap the seat in bubble wrap for extra padding and reuse it on the return trip.

On our last trip to Florida a car seat, just like the one in this picture above, came out onto the luggage carousel pieces at a time. At first we thought it was ours, but fortunately, our daughter’s arrived safe and sound shortly after.

UPDATE: A new option is the reusable Gate Check bags (highly recommended!). I have one and will use always use it for our air travel now that my toddler is old enough to sit in a “big person” seat.

Happy and safe flying!

13 Comments on "Tips for Checking Car Seats on an Airplane"

  1. I concur. In my tips for flights I also recommend using a car seat for children of “lap age” and a CARES harness for those between ages 2 and 10. We actually have a car seat case (found at a garage sale for a couple dollars. Because it is bigger than the car seat we would put clothes in with the seat so we didn’t have an extra piece of luggage. Now that my girls are both in booster seats we can put both seats, disassembled, in the one bag.

    Spot on advice!

  2. Debbie Ferm | March 26, 2010 at 7:35 am |

    I agree! I always brought the car seat on board. Paying for the seat is well worth the price in terms of both safety and sanity. Babies are used to riding and more importantly, sleeping in them:) It worked like a charm almost every time.

  3. For some families, paying for one more seat will make the trip unaffordable. If the “lap child” option were unavailable (or if we guilt-trip parents that they are endangering their kids), some families will opt to take a car trip instead and that is definitely less safe, regardless of how good of a baby seat is being used. So, IMO there are two sides to that issue.

    • Good point. Even the most perfect set up in a car is exceedingly less safe than flying without a car seat.

    • This is us. We have three kids and one is able to fly as a “lap” child. There is no way we could afford to pay for 5 tickets at this point! And another thing that stresses me out is having to worry about three car seats, three kids, all our bags and everything while getting through security and getting to our flights. I don’t feel bad about flying without car seats in the cabin, but reading all these articles about “safety” and “the price of the extra seat being worth my child’s safety” are starting to get to me and make me feel guilty about my decisions and possibly make my vacation stressful instead of relaxing.

  4. Sean Perry | May 11, 2010 at 4:50 am |

    Sparco makes some of the best car seats in the market. I usually prefer leather car seats over cloth.,~*

  5. Gavin Wright | May 11, 2010 at 5:04 am |

    Car Safety is always on the top of my head that is my i always use modern gadgets that could enhance the safety of my brand new car.~:~

  6. Fooey – Another example of the nanny state the USA has become. It costs a lot of extra money to pay for a seat for an infant when they are perfectly safe on you lap with an airline provided extension belt – well as safe as you are anyway. The illusion of safety on an aircraft is what keeps most common folk flying – the truth is that if there’s a problem that requires the use of seat belts everyone is pretty much dead.

    The good news is that this rarely happens and certainly to a much smaller percentage than car wreaks or just simply falling over carrying your infant – when you pick up your child from the sofa to the bedroom do you strap them into a harness? Of course not – but more children die each year taking the Mommy train to bed.

  7. I love the bubble wrap tip. I’m going to be trying it on our next flight and included it in a hint today on why to check car seats when you fly rather than renting a car seat at your destination:
    http://hintmama.com/2013/12/30/todays-hint-instead-of-renting-a-car-seat-check-it-for-free-on-your-next-flight/

  8. Southwest does not offer infant fares. I looked into it months ago. The choices are an adult fare (ages 2+) and then … nothing else. Because they assume you are going to fly with an infant on your lap, or attempt to finagle an extra seat if the flight isn’t full. When we purchased our then-8-month-old daughter an adult-fare seat so that she could ride in her car seat, we got confused looks by the flight attendants on every leg of our trip. Additional important notes: the car seat barely fit, and our daughter was easily able to unlatch the flip-up seat belt latch, which was right within arm’s reach of her.

  9. Where do you buy the bags to cover the car seats when you check them on a flight?

  10. Thanks for including our bags in your tips, Beth! We offer a full line of car seat and stroller travel bags to keep your gear clean and safe when traveling. They’re also great for use as storage bags when not traveling. Happy Travels!

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