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Once you’ve decided to use 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 manage your 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.
-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!
-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!)
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!
-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!
4. Add wheels with a car seat travel cart
If you’re planning to travel with a full-sized car seat 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 it 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!
The most beloved car seat cart has been inexplicably discontinued, but there are still some great options to consider:
–Munchkin Brica Smart Move car seat travel cart
*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!
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!
5. Haul it in a car seat backpack
The last option to consider is carrying your car seat in a padded car seat backpack. 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 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.
-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
What are your hacks for getting your car seat through the airport?