This is Part 3/3 in our series of posts on Travel Carseats. We’re sharing all our best tips for how to check a car seat with an airline to make the process as smooth as possible.
I wrote this post all about when we take along carseats for travel, why we bring our own, and which seats we take. And then I wrote another about the logistics of traveling with a carseat, especially when flying.
So perhaps now you’ve decided you would like to bring along your own travel carseat when traveling by air, but have chosen to not use it on board. Here’s how to check a car seat, either at the ticketing counter or at the gate.
This post on how to check a car seat contains affiliate links, but all opinions are 100% my own. That means I earn a small commission if you purchase through my link, but doesn’t increase your price. Thank you for supporting this blog!
Check a Car Seat at Ticketing
There are a few different options for how to handle your car seat if you’re not planning to take it on board the aircraft. The first option is to check it in at the ticketing counter.
US-based airlines are required to allow you to check a carseat free of charge. This is true whether you check your travel carseat at ticketing or at the gate. Most will also allow you to check a stroller free of charge, and some will allow you to check a baby bed instead of one of the above two items (such as a Peapod or portable crib).
Not all foreign airlines allow you to check a car seat free of charge, although most do. Be sure to check with your carrier in advance.
How to Check a Car Seat at Ticketing
Once you’ve arrived at the airport, go straight to the ticketing counter (where you would check in). Check to see if families can go to the front of the line. Once you get to the front, the ticketing agent will ask if you have any luggage to check. Tell him or her that you have a baby item and would like to check a car seat. They’ll tag it to go with the checked luggage, free of charge.
Airlines will often check a car seat right there and send it back with the the suitcases on the moving belt. In that case, you’re done! Continue on to the security checkpoint and to your gate.
Sometimes, when checking in a car seat at the ticketing counter, the ticketing agent will ask you to carry your travel carseat to an area for oversized baggage. This area is typically at one end or another of the ticketing counters; the agent can point you in the right direction. If you need to take it there, walk over with your travel carseat and show them your boarding pass. They’ll scan it, take the travel carseat, and you can head over to security.
How to Retrieve a Checked Car Seat
Most often, your travel carseat will reappear at baggage claim at your destination. If you have a layover, you will NOT need to retrieve your carseat.
The exception to this is when you are first arriving in a country. For instance, say you are flying from Amsterdam to San Francisco, but your first point of entry into the United States is in Philadelphia. When you land in Philadelphia, you will be required collect all your luggage, including your travel carseat, to clear customs. Your luggage will be scanned/inspected, and then you will drop it back off immediately after going through the check. You will not need new tags for your travel carseat or any other luggage.
If this happens, simply clear customs, board your connecting flight, and your travel carseat will appear at baggage claim at your destination along with any luggage.
Pros of Checking In Your Travel Carseat
It certainly makes travel easier to check a car seat at the ticketing counter with other luggage. When you do this, the airline takes care of it. They put it in the luggage hold, and it comes out to baggage claim with the rest of the luggage. The only time you need to carry it in the airport is when getting to and from your ground transportation.
Plus, you won’t have to take your carseat for travel through security or finagle it into a too-small airport bathroom. Then, when you deplane, you can walk straight out to baggage claim to retrieve your travel carseat along with any other luggage.
Cons of Checking In Your Travel Carseat
However, there are a few drawbacks to checking your travel carseat at the ticketing counter. First and most importantly, it has a higher risk of damage when the airline is responsible for it from the time of ticketing. Baggage handlers are not exactly renowned for their ability to treat luggage gently. This means your carseat might not be in pristine condition when you get it back. Your carseat may get dirty, damaged or lost. If it is damaged, you risk both external and internal damage. The rough handling may compromise the carseat materials, making it less safe in the event of an accident.
Many airlines offer a giant plastic bag in which to place your carseat to keep it from getting dirty. This is helpful, but it doesn’t have any padding to protect the actual seat.
Secondly, your carseat has a higher risk of getting lost when you check it in at ticketing. Just like luggage, sometimes it can get rerouted, misplaced, or just plain lost. The longer you’re separated from your travel carseat, the longer the airline has to lose it.
Finally, if you only have carryon luggage and have a mobile boarding pass, checking your travel carseat at ticketing will require you to still wait in the ticketing line. Sometimes it’s nice to just breeze on by and go straight to security without needing to stop by the ticketing counter!
Why We Usually Check a Car Seat at Ticketing
We choose to check our travel carseat at ticketing 95% of the time. If we’re not bringing it on board, this is our preferred option. It’s a huge hassle to carry carseats through the airport (especially with multiple children!)! We do sometimes place our travel carseats in a protective bag (more on that in this post on the logistics of traveling with a carseat).
We also have carseats that we’ve purchased specifically for and exclusively use for travel. This minimizes risk to our everyday carseats, and also allows us to choose lightweight versions for travel. Read here for why we take our own car seats, why we have travel-specific carseats, and which travel carseats we take.
Gate Check Car Seat
Another option is to gate check a car seat. This is a good option for someone who wants to minimize the risk of damage or loss to the carseat, but doesn’t want to bring it on board. If this appeals to you, here’s the process to gate check a car seat:
How to Gate Check a Car Seat
- Bring your carseat to the gate with you. You’ll need to send it through the security check and carry it to the counter at the gate.
- There, they will give you a tag to put on your carseat. Loop the tag around and secure it to your seat. Don’t forget to tear off and keep the stub.
- During boarding, walk your travel carseat down to the end of the jetway. There’s a door that goes out to the runway at the end of the jetway. Leave your carseat near this door (but not blocking it).
- Enter the aircraft!
How to Retrieve a Gate Checked Car Seat
The baggage handlers will then pick up your travel carseat and put it in the luggage hold. Here’s how to retrieve it after gate checking a carseat:
- Deplane and go to that same door from the jetway to the runway (near the entrance to the aircraft).
- The baggage handlers may have already brought your travel carseat back to this spot. If not, wait to the side of the jetway until they bring it up.
- Transport your travel carseat back through the airport as you leave.
Pros of Gate Checking Car Seats
The biggest advantage of gate checking car seats is that it minimizes the opportunities for damage or loss. While the airline will still be handle your travel carseat, it’s for a limited period of time. Also, though it still goes in the luggage hold, it’s right near the front.
When you gate check a car seat, it’s almost certain to get on the correct aircraft. Occasionally, some items of checked luggage are delayed by extra security screening and miss the aircraft, or baggage handlers read a tag incorrectly. This isn’t a risk when gate checking car sets since you’re already at the correct aircraft along with your travel carseat. This also minimizes the risk of your carseat being lost or damaged.
Also, if you don’t have any other luggage to check and have a mobile boarding pass, you can head straight to your gate without stopping at the ticketing counter.
Cons of Gate Checking Car Seats
If you choose to gate check car seats for travel, you still need to transport them through the airport yourself. That means you’ll be responsible for taking them through security and managing them, along with anything else you’re carrying on board the aircraft.
Additionally, some airlines (such as American Airlines) will only allow you to check either a carseat for travel OR a stroller at the gate, not both. In this case, taking your travel carseat to the gate would preclude you from taking your stroller to the gate, which can be inconvenient.
Finally, occasionally, an airline will still send your carseat out to baggage claim even if you gate checked it. This usually only happens with international flights, but it does happen. Baggage handlers occasionally mistake a gate checked item for a hold item, and your anticipated carseat doesn’t arrive back at your arrival gate.
This can be frustrating and defeats the purpose of carrying it to the gate in the first place. We’ve had to send one parent out to retrieve a car seat from baggage claim during a layover, bring it back through security/passport control, and re-check the carseat. It was a pain in the neck.
In the end, figure out what makes most sense to your family from a safety, convenience, and comfort perspective and go with it. Here’s another post with info on gate checking a carseat or stroller!
What other questions do you have on how to check a car seat? I’d love to hear your preferred method!
More Posts: Check a Car Seat + Travel Tips
IF YOU LIKED THIS POST ABOUT HOW TO CHECK A CAR SEAT, YOU MIGHT LIKE THESE POSTS, TOO:
- Travel Carseats Part 1: Should I Take My Carseat For Travel?
- Travel Carseats Part 2: Logistics, Tips & Tricks for Traveling with a Carseat
- Ultimate Family Packing List
- 15 Best Travel Accessories for Kids
- 6 Tips for Preparing to Travel with a Baby
- How to Find Family Friendly Hotels and Accommodations
NOT READY TO CHECK A CAR SEAT QUITE YET? PIN THIS POST FOR LATER!