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Once you’ve decided to fly with your child’s car seat instead of checking the car seat on an airplane, it’s time to consider the logistics. First on that list? How to transport a car seat in the airport.
Getting your car seat through the airport is no small feat and can lead to plenty of huffing, puffing and swear words. Keep calm and read this article for our best ideas to make this process easier.
But first, a few things to keep in mind.
-In most cases, you’ll need to send the car seat through the X-ray machine at the airport security screening. If not, security agents will take the car seat from you for manual inspection. Honestly I prefer it that way despite the extra time because I’m always worried that the car seat will get stuck in the machine! However it’s inspected, you may need to separate it from extra apparatus to get through security. In my opinion, this is the worst part of the “airport car seat shuffle”.
-If you bring something extra to transport your car seat, you’ll need to keep it with you for your whole vacation. That’s not an issue if you plan to rent a car, but if you’re talking about a year of backpacking around the world with kids (and alllll their crap) you won’t want anything bulky in addition.
-How will your child get through the airport? Sometimes even walkers need an assist in huge airports. Make sure that whichever option below you choose, you have a plan in place to bring the kid along. We always traveled with this carrier to keep our hands and strollers empty!
1. Carry the car seat (the easier way)
Carrying your car seat through airport is the most straightforward (though least genius) approach and we do this pretty often now that we’re post-stroller and want to travel light. It’s much easier with a lightweight travel car seat than with a heavy beast!
Wondering how to carry a car seat through the airport? We just clip all of the harness straps together and carry it that way. If trying to figure out how to carry a car seat with the baby strapped in (typically only an infant car seat), I recommend carrying it in front of you using both hands. You can avoid injuring your back and hips that way by distributing the weight evenly and relying on your biceps. An infant car seat with a baby in it can easily weigh 20-40 pounds, so be gentle with your body!
If you have a lightweight car seat and there’s no child in it, you can probably carry it one-handed since it shouldn’t be more than about 10 pounds.
-Nothing extra to buy
-Nothing extra to bring
-Easy to prepare for security screening
-Doesn’t occupy a stroller seat (if you have one)
-Can get heavy, especially if you’re traveling solo with kids and their other gear
-Need to lift the car seat to carry it down some narrow airplane aisles
2. Attach it with a car seat luggage strap
If you’re bringing a wheeled carry-on suitcase, a car seat luggage strap can be a great choice! The straps use the car seat’s low anchors and top tether strap to attach the car seat to the front of the suitcase. You wheel it along like normal until you’re ready to use the car seat on board!
You can even use a bungee cord to accomplish the same thing. This great reader-contributed photo shows the travel-friendly Evenflo Sonus (fits newborn to age 5-6) MacGyver’ed to a carry-on bag.
-Compact to store during your trip
-Can usually wheel the car seat down the airplane aisle
-Works best with more compact car seats
-Can make your roller bag more tippy and difficult to maneuver
-Child can’t safely ride in the car seat
-Needs to be removed for security screening
-Won’t work if you use a backpack for your carry-on
3. Use your airport stroller as a trolley
One of the easiest ways to get your car seat through the airport is to push it on your travel stroller. Some combinations of strollers and car seats work better than others – a teeny tiny folding stroller won’t work well with one of these!
There are lots of ways you can push your car seat on a stroller.
1. Recline the stroller seat and put the car seat in it, with your carry-on backpack stacked inside
2. If your car seat is compact enough, rest it upside down on the stroller’s canopy
3. If your stroller has a big basket (like this one), slide a compact car seat inside (you can also remove the seat to put the car seat underneath)
4. If your stroller is heavy and your car seat is light, you can try hanging the car seat from the back with these (be careful that it doesn’t tip backward!)
5. If you’re traveling with an infant car seat, get a lightweight stroller frame that it snaps into like this one
The first option is what most people (including us) usually do. It works about 95% of the time and is pretty easy to unload at the security checkpoint. Just be prepared with a carrier for your little one since the stroller will be otherwise occupied.
When we were traveling overseas with two car seats, we actually did #1 and #3 at the same time (and each carried a kid at times). It worked, and we also managed to pile all of our backpacks in there as you can see in the photo above.
I also managed #2 when I traveled solo with our younger one as a baby. I wore her in the carrier and then loaded everything on to our Uppababy G-Luxe. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked!
If you’re still in the market for a lightweight travel car seat stroller, I recommend checking out the Mountain Buggy Nano. It includes a strap that can be used to attach almost any infant car seat and you can also use it for a compact lightweight convertible car seat like the Cosco Scenera Next or the Combi Coccoro. This is an extremely popular combination and will work well until at least age 3 (if not 4). Did I mention that you can fit the Mountain Buggy Nano in the overhead bin of most planes? Yeah, it’s pretty slick.
Our Tiny Globetrotters community member Laura shared this great photo to show how well the Mountain Buggy Nano works with the Scenera Next:
-No extra gear if you’re already bringing a stroller
-Several options for how to configure depending on your airplane stroller/travel car seat combination
-Walking through the airport with the car seat/stroller combination is fairly easy
-Some set ups don’t let a kid sit in the stroller
-You’ll have to separate the car seat carrier at airport security
-If you’ll gate check the travel stroller on the airplane, you’ll have to carry the car seat on the plane
Of course, if your baby is still in an infant car seat it’s easy to find a stroller that’s compatible to clip it in! Check out these lightweight infant car seats to find the right one for you.
3½. Get a car seat with wheels attached
If you’re thinking ahead for your epic travels with a baby, you might want to consider a car seat with wheels built in! There used to be a convertible carseat with wheels, the Lily Gold Sit n Stroll. To be honest… it wasn’t that great as a car seat and it’s been discontinued.
But today, you can choose an awesome baby car seat with wheels: the Doona.
Color me jealous of today’s new parents, you guys get the coolest stuff! I’ve played with this super rad infant car seat with wheels, and it really is super rad. The Doona is much heavier than your typical infant carrier, but you won’t need to carry it anywhere because it basically just takes the push of a button for those snazzy black and yellow wheels to pop out and turn it into a convenient little city stroller.
Here are a few important stats for the Doona baby seat with wheels: it’ll accommodate babies from birth until 32″ or 35 pounds, whichever comes first. Those size limits are becoming standard these days, and many parents are able to use it beyond their child’s first birthday. It comes with a base (that includes both seatbelt and LATCH options) but it’s very easy to install without the base as well. In the car, the handle is locked in place above your baby’s feet and acts as an anti-rebound bar – a really innovative way to add that safety feature!
Though the Doona doesn’t have a storage basket (because then it wouldn’t fold properly), you can grab the Doona Essentials Bag that safely attaches to the handle of the seat. There’s also the option to add the Doona Snap-On Storage to the back of the seat, but it has to be removed before installing in the car. The Doona includes a standard sunshade but if you’ll be walking outside a lot with your baby, the Doona Sunshade Extension may be a helpful accessory. See all the useful Doona accessories here.
A big questions many parents have is “Can you use the Doona on a plane?” Absolutely! One of our readers kindly shared this photo of her nugget happily snoozing in his Doona in an Economy class seat (when it was time to install, she flipped the handle toward the seatback and buckled the seatbelt through the belt guides). She was able to roll the Doona right down the airplane aisle. How’s that for a convenient travel car seat with wheels!
A note on Doona prices… The Doona is expensive. There’s really no way around that unless you catch it on a Black Friday or Cyber Monday special. If you see a Doona on Amazon or elsewhere that seems too cheap to be true, then it’s probably an unsafe knock-off. Do not buy it! Instead, report the listing to Amazon or whatever other site it’s on.
4. Bring a wagon
This option hails from our Tiny Globetrotters member Jordan, and it’s kind of genius. Her family absolutely loves their Veer Cruiser, which the manufacturer calls a “hybrid stroller wagon”.
What’s hybrid about it? It has the option to either pull it like a traditional wagon or push it like a stroller. The interior of the wagon has two bench seats facing each other and a footwell for comfortable seating.
What does any of this have to do with transporting car seats through the airport? Well, if you take out the snack tray in the middle it’s… a big empty wagon, perfect for hauling your car seats through the airport! This is an amazing solution for families dealing with two car seats at the airport. It’ll also work well if you’re pushing one child and one car seat.
Once you get to the gate, you can fold your Veer wagon and check it in this bag. The great thing is that the Veer can work as your double stroller once you get to your destination, so it won’t feel like yet another useless gadget along for the ride. You can even get lots of nifty accessories like car seat adapters, sun shades and cup holders to keep adapting your Veer wagon to use from birth through childhood.
-Haul kids, car seats and basically anything else
-Serves as your stroller when you’re traveling
-Nifty accessories to make your Veer extremely useful for many years – even after you’re done traveling with car seats
-It ain’t cheap
-Too heavy to gate check with American Airlines (should be ok for other airlines)
-Limitation as a stroller in that there’s no reclined position without this add-on (buuuuut that accessory does look kind of amazing)
If the Veer stroller wagon is out of your budget, consider these alternatives:
Mid-price stroller wagon: Keenz Stroller Wagon (includes many accessories; all-terrain wheels are an add-on)
5. Add car seat wheels with a car seat travel cart
If you’re planning to travel with bulky convertible car seats from home, a car seat travel cart is the best way to go. It adds wheels to your car seat so that you can easily pull the rolling car seat with your kid strapped in all the way through the airport, down the jetway, along the airplane aisle and right to your seat. We’ve heard of some kids falling asleep upon arrival at the airport and staying asleep until they are leaving the destination airport all thanks to the car seat airport roller!
Here are the best car seat travel carts to consider:
- Holm Airport Car Seat Stroller
*Easiest option to find in 2021 and compatible with basically every car seat, but not as stable as some of the options that are harder to find
- Go-Go Babyz Mini Travelmate car seat cart
*The most popular car seat wheels, but getting harder to find. Works with a huge range of convertible and combination car seats and nice wheels for a smooth ride.
- Munchkin Brica Smart Move car seat roller
*Folds up small, fits up to 100lbs including child and car seat; not compatible with Britax ClickTight car seats
- Britax car seat travel cart
*Folds fairly long; accommodates Britax car seats and most others
-Your kid can ride in the car seat while it’s attached to the car seat trolley
-You can wheel the car seat transporter down the aisle of most planes
-Easy to take your full-size car seat from home (which takes away the financial sting a little)
-You may have to remove your car seat from the car seat cart at security
-Expensive considering the car seat dolly is for airport use only
-Bulkiest option to store and transport on vacation
-Wheels don’t pivot, so be careful on sharp turns!
-Some carts are only compatible with certain car seats (like the Britax car seat carrier)
If you don’t need your child to ride in the car seat, you could consider a compact luggage cart like this one. At least then you’ll have more versatility when the car seat days are over!
6. Haul it in a car seat backpack
The last option to consider is carrying your car seat in a padded car seat backpack. It’s a great hands-free option that lets you either hold hands with a toddler or push your baby in the stroller.
You’ll still need to remove it in the security line, but it’s pretty straight-forward to do so. There are a bunch of different car seat travel bag brands on Amazon, but they all seem to be rebranded generics coming out of the same factory so I don’t think it matters which one you buy (just being honest).
I personally wouldn’t bother with the really thin car seat gate check bag that has straps. It would be difficult to carry as a backpack since it lacks structure, offers zero protection to the car seat and is very likely to tear and fray quickly. “Ergonomic design” my ass. At that point you might as well use a heavy-duty garbage bag or even a laundry bag.
Be mindful that even the most best car seat bags for air travel may not offer enough protection if you decide to check your car seat.
-Keeps the stroller seat open for kids to ride
-(Sort of) easy to carry around in cities if need be – though personally I’d bring a foldable car seat for this purpose instead
-Padded options give a little protection for your car seat if you end up needing to gate check
-Space to stuff a few lightweight extras like diapers and coats
-Another “thing” to bring on your travels (though it folds down and clips to stay closed)
-Kids can’t ride in the car seat
-Car seat backpacks don’t have supportive hip belts to help with weight distribution (some have a webbing strap just to keep it from shifting, but not what you’d find on a quality backpack)
-Might be overwhelmingly large for petite travelers – they’re all 28″ tall
7. Bring in the pros
Sometimes you just need a little help from your friends, even if they’re friends you have to pay. The innovative folks at SkySquad are working with airports around the country to provide hands-on help from a team of assistants who have airport credentials.
What does that mean for you? A SkySquad assistant can meet you at your car door to help you and your brood (and all your stuff) navigate through check in, security, endless errands in the terminal and all the way to your gate. On your return leg, they can meet you at the gate (or after customs for an international flight) and help you jet out of the airport. SkySquad can even hang out with you during a long layover to grab food for you or watch your stuff while you take the kids to the restroom.
SkySquad’s departure service, The Globetrotter, costs $99 while The Welcome Crew (arrivals) and Half Time Help (layovers) cost $49. Use discount code TCSM20 to save 20% on your SkySquad booking!
As of this writing, SkySquad is available at the following airports:
-Dulles International (IAD)
-Reagan National (DCA)
-Baltimore-Washington International (BWI) – coming soon!
-Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky (CVG)
-Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood (FLL) – coming soon!
How To Travel With Car Seat FAQs
There’s no “best” option, since it depends on which car seat you’re bringing, whether or not you’ll bring a stroller and how old your child is. Read through this article to understand the pros and cons of each option.
If you’re bringing an infant car seat for travel, it’s a toss-up whether or not to bring the base and depends on the details of your trip. We brought our base when we knew we’d be renting a car and our kids were young enough to fall asleep on long drives. Ours fit in the basket of our Chicco Keyfit Caddy.
If you won’t be renting a car or your child is old enough not to fall asleep often on drives, bringing the base can be a nuisance for getting through the airport.
Also remember that you can’t install your base on the airplane. You can put it in the overhead bin if there’s space.
No! We do it all the time. Sometimes a low-tech solution is all it takes.
If you’re installing your child’s car seat for them to use in a seat you’ve purchased, then it does not count as a carry on. If you’re trying to put an infant car seat or booster seat in the overhead bin, in theory it could count as a carry on but we’ve never had that issue.
This article was produced in partnership with SkySquad. All opinions are my own.
What are your hacks for getting your car seat through the airport?