If you are flying with a child and need to have a car seat for them to use in your rental car when you arrive then you will either need to take one with you or rent one from the rental company. You never know how good the rental company’s car seat might be (or how clean) so to be safe it is worth taking yours with you.
It is important that you know how to pack a car seat for checked baggage as you will want to ensure that the child car seat arrives without getting damaged. Its journey through the checked baggage system, in the aircraft’s hold and to the baggage reclaim area at your destination will not be a gentle one. Just putting it through unprotected really isn’t a good idea.
Sadly, baggage handlers often don’t treat the stuff they handle very gently. I have seen many car seats on baggage carousels that were unprotected which looked very battered about, and some that were obviously broken.
Do airlines wrap car seats?
Absolutely not. It is your responsibility to ensure that your child’s car seat is protected properly when flying. The airlines will accept no responsibility if it is damaged, particularly if it isn’t in a car seat travel bag or protected in some other way.
Finding the best method of how to pack a car seat for checked baggage to prevent it getting damaged or dirty is important.
There are numerous ways to protect the car seat so you will find below some of the most popular.
How to best protect a car seat?
You basically have two options to protect your child’s car seat from from getting damaged when flying:
- You can wrap the car seat in strong plastic or cardboard and seal it with tape. This isn’t particularly convenient and could be a pain if security ask you to open it to show you what is in there.
- You can buy a purpose built child car seat bag for flying which will provide the most protection. It will often make it easier to carry too as the travel bag is likely to have straps to carry it on your shoulder or in your hand. One other potential benefit is that you may be able to use some of the space inside to carry other baby/child related items such as diapers.
The most popular child car seat travel bags:
This is one of the most popular car seat travel bags available online.
It has thick padding to give the maximum protection to the car seat while going through the baggage system.
The bag has shoulder straps to allow it to be carried as a backpack.
It fits all popular child car seats, including the very large ones.
This car seat travel bag fits most major brands of car seats.
It is heavy duty with dense padding and also waterproof to provide maximum protection for the car seat.
It has shoulder, hand and waist straps to make carrying it easier in any situation.
Do car seats have to go in the hold?
If you have paid for a separate seat for your baby/child then the car seat can be taken on-board and fitted to the aircraft seat. This would generally be a safer option for your child than just sitting in the seat with the normal lap strap and might allow them to sleep better on a long haul flight.
If your child is under two and will be sitting on your lap then you do not have the option of taking the car seat on board with you.
If the child is over two then you will have to pay for a separate seat for them, as they can no longer fly on your lap – at least not during take off and landing. So in this case you will have the option of taking it on board to use (assuming it is FAA approved)
Do you have to check the car seat in if you are traveling carry on only?
If you are not taking checked bags with you then you can normally take the child seat with you through airport security. When you get to the gate it can be given to the agent there and will be stowed in the hold (together with a stroller if you have one of those). When you get to the other end it should be there waiting for you when you get off the aircraft.
To protect the car seat you can buy “gate check car seat bags” which are not as large or padded as the ones above.
They will mainly help to keep the seat clean. Since the seat will only be put directly into the hold at the gate and taken out at the other end to be given to you it is not necessary.
It is generally the journey through the airport’s baggage handling system that causes the damage.
The KangoKids Car Seat Travel Bag is one of the most popular gate check bags.
What does it cost to put a child seat in the hold?
Fortunately almost all airlines will allow a child car seat to be checked in and carried free of charge. You might be wise to check with your airline before you go though.
So if you can take yours free of charge then there is little reason not to take it. That is apart from the inconvenience of having to carry it of course.
What if the car seat is lost or damaged?
If you get to your destination to discover that either the car seat arrives on the baggage carousel, or perhaps doesn’t arrive at all, then you will obviously be upset.
What you should do is find the appropriate airline counter in the baggage hold and inform the staff what has happened. They can make attempts to find the car seat if it hasn’t arrived. If it is damaged or they cannot locate it then they should complete a lost or damaged baggage claim.
You should be supplied with a tracking reference for the claim. If it was lost but is located then the airline should arrange for its delivery to your home or wherever you are staying if on vacation.
You will be offered compensation by the airline if they cannot locate it or it was damaged, although perhaps not straight away. You may be able to claim on your travel insurance if you have it or even your home owners insurance.
Either way, you will obviously need to purchase a replacement as soon as possible so your child can travel in a car safely.
Read our article on 20 things you need to know about flying with a baby or toddler