If you are traveling with a baby or toddler this summer, it is inevitable you’ll need a car seat at your destination. This then poses the question– do you check the car seat on the plane with your other baggage, or do you buy your child a ticket and put the car seat on the plane? Or is there another option?

Before you make the decision on whether to check the car seat or bring it on-board, there are a few options to keep in mind:

  1. The obvious- bringing the car seat with you (either on the plane or checked). This is usually what most parents do since it’s the cheapest (if the car seat is checked), but it’s not always the easiest!
  2. Purchase a car seat for your destination (send it ahead of time). If you are visiting someone, you can send an inexpensive car seat directly to them. This way it will be all ready to go when they pick you up. They can store it for next time, sell it for you, or give it away to someone in need. If you are getting a rental car or a taxi, this is of no use to you, though.
  3. Rental options. Some rental car companies offer a car seat option. The main concern with this is that you have no idea the state of the car seat until you see it, and even then, damage to a car seat is not often visible. Not to mention the reliability of the rental car company to actually provide the seat– I’ve heard so many stories of there being no car seat as promised. 

Out of the above options, I always choose 1 or 2, as I just don’t trust the rental services. Option 2 is easy, but option 1 has even more to think about. If you are bringing your own car seat(s), you then have to decide if you are checking it with the baggage, or taking it on-board. Here are a few things to consider:

  1. Car Seat Damage is Often Undetectable. Car seat manufacturers state to replace car seats that have been involved in even a minor fender-bender. You might not notice ANY damage to the car seat, but they are considered to be one time use and are no longer safe. Now, we’ve all seen baggage claim and how the luggage gets tossed onto the belts haphazardly. Imagine that’s your car seat being thrown around. No more forceful than a tiny fender-bender, yet we don’t think twice about using it. Unless the car seat is packaged properly, this is a very unsafe option and you’d have no idea if the seat was damaged just by looking at it. It’s best to keep the car seat with you if at all possible.
  2. Not Enough Hands in the Airport. Now the flip side to this, is lugging the car seat through the airport is quite the task (unless you’ve purchased a lightweight seat that’s good for travel). Trying to carry your baby, your carry-on items and a car seat is not an easy undertaking, especially if you have more than one car seat and multiple children. There are car seat carts you can purchase, along with making good use of the luggage cart rentals at the airport, so there are ways around this. A great lightweight car seat option is the Cosco Scenera (it fits babies and toddlers from 5-40lbs), and I can easily carry it with one hand.
  3. Sleep for Baby. If/when your child falls asleep, they are much more likely to stay asleep when they have their own seat on the plane. They are used to sitting in their car seat (and we all know most love to fall asleep in the car). They’ll rest better and be less interrupted in their own seat.
  4. Hands Free on the Plane. Whether your child falls asleep on the plane or not, having them in their own seat is going to be much easier for you. You’ll have your hands free to get toys, food, etc. Just don’t take them out of the seat unless you absolutely have to, or you’ll have a heck of a time getting them back in!
  5. Cost. Obviously the cost of buying another seat for your child (if under 2) is an added expense that you’ll need to factor in. Buying a new seat and having it at your destination already can actually be more cost effective if that’s an option.

My choice when it’s all said and done:

I always send a seat to the destination ahead of time if possible. The Cosco Scenera is only about $50, which is much cheaper than buying a plane ticket. If that’s not a feasible option due to the circumstances, I always take the seat on-board the plane with me. I know the seat is protected, and I know my child and I are going to have a much more enjoyable flight.

Katrina Villegas

Katrina Villegas is a former process engineer and chemistry teacher turned stay at home mom. She is organizing her beautiful chaos one Babywise step at a time, and sharing her successes and trials along the way. When her daughter was just a few months old she started a blog: http://www.mamasorganizedchaos.com/. She's been recording her thoughts and stories, along with what she's learned, "how to" guides and more. You'll find everything from information on breastfeeding and cloth diapering, to using Babywise schedules, sleep training options, and discipline tips. She is also mom to a baby that earned her wings due to trisomy 13. You'll find raw, real emotions and how she's coping with her grief of losing a child.