The Ultimate Guide on Checking a Car Seat – Best Guide 2024

Welcome to the Ultimate Guide on Checking a Car Seat!

After going on countless plane trips with the kids and having to bring their car seats along, I’ve decided to share my experience to help fellow parents with the checking process.


Traveling with infants and kids can be a handful at times. It’s a constant balancing act between diaper changes, feeding schedules, nap times, and the occasional crying fit.

Knowing how to check your car seat can significantly decrease your worries before and during the flight. You can choose to check your seat at the gate or the ticket counter—but what’s the difference between the two?

By scrolling down, you’ll get to know the process of checking your car seat at the airport. You’ll also gain some clever tips and helpful hacks on packing your seat and inspecting it for damage upon arrival.

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How to Check a Car Seat at Airport

If you opt to check your car seat at the airport, it’s best to familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations of your specific airline. You can call them to clarify any questions about their car seat policies.

Fortunately, most U.S. airlines allow you to check your car seat for free. Generally, the airline permits you to bring only one car seat per child. Taking multiple seats may entail additional costs. Note that airlines consider these seats fragile and don’t accept liability for damages.

Carefully decide which parts of the car seat you’re going to take. You might want to remove all unnecessary toys and attachments from the seat. Doing this will make packing the seat much easier and will also mitigate the loss or damage of items.

Place your car seat in a sturdy box or car seat travel bag. Once you’re at the airport, the check-in process will depend on whether you’ve chosen to luggage check or gate check your seat.

Checking Your Car Seat at the Ticket Counter

Many parents opt to check their car seats at the luggage or ticket counter to save time and effort. If you decide on the same, don’t forget to label the seat with your contact information. Using fragile stickers is also a good idea. The process is similar to checking regular luggage.

This option is especially convenient because you won’t need to carry the car seat through the airport and have it go through security. Upon arrival, you can claim the seat and the rest of your bags at the baggage claim carousel.

Checking Your Car Seat at the Gate

Alternatively, you can choose to take your car seat with you until you reach the gate. You’ll have to pass through security, which can be a hassle for some parents. You can check in the seat by informing the gate agent and securing a baggage claim label.

Typically, you’ll need to drop off the car seat at a designated area near the bottom of the jetway at the end of the ramp before boarding the aircraft. When you reach your destination, you’ll be able to claim your item at the same place you deposited it.

Should You Check Car Seat at Gate or Counter?

If your car seat is attached to the stroller your child uses at the airport, checking the car seat at the gate is the more convenient option. This method also reduces the likelihood of damaging the seats because of less handling.

Another benefit is that you’ll usually get the car seat back at the gate at the end of your flight. This allows you to immediately strap it into your child’s stroller. Additionally, there’s a chance that a gate agent will permit you to use your item onboard for free if there’s an extra vacant seat.

Meanwhile, checking your car seat at the luggage or ticket counter has its pros, too. You won’t have to carry the seat through security on the way to the gate. Plus, your hands will be free to assist your children and carry other essential items.

Can You Check a Car Seat Without a Child?

Generally, airlines offer complimentary checking of car seats and strollers to customers who are traveling with children.

You can still check a car seat at the gate or counter without a child, which may entail additional luggage charges.

Baggage allowance policies can vary depending on your airline, so it’s best to clarify the matter with an airline representative or review their regulations before checking in your car seat.

Checking a Car Seat American Airlines

American Airlines’ policies on traveling with children allow one car seat and one stroller to be checked per ticketed customer for free. Note that if you bring both a stroller and a seat, only one may be checked at the gate.

Safety seats should have a sturdy back and seat area, secure restraint straps, and a label stating that the seat is acceptable for aircraft use.

Seats with no approval label, belt extensions attached to the parent, or devices that position the child on an adult’s chest or lap aren’t approved for use.

Checking a Car Seat Southwest Airlines

Meanwhile, Southwest Airlines’ boarding policies allow travelers with kids to check one car seat and one stroller for free. This option is an addition to the airline’s standard baggage allowance. It applies to most types of strollers and child restraint systems.

Additionally, Southwest offers reusable car seats and stroller bags. You can avail of them at any ticket counter for $17.

What’s more, you can choose to check your stroller or seat at the gate, ticket counter, or curb. Don’t forget to secure tags with the airline agent if you prefer checking your item at the gate.

Checking Car Seat Base at Airport

Most car seats come with a detachable base that gets strapped into the car. The actual car seat then clicks in and out of the base during everyday use. This eliminates the hassle of having to buckle and unbuckle the car seat for every trip.

That said, checking the car seat base at the airport, either at the gate or luggage counter, is acceptable. You can also take it on the plane with you and stow it in the overhead bin.

Just make sure that the car seat you’re using is airline approved. Look for the special sticker that says the seat is Federal Airline Association (FAA) approved for travel.

Can You Check a Car Seat Base for Free?

Yes! Car seats, including their bases, aren’t considered standard baggage. Thus, you can check them at most airlines for free. Child safety seats and strollers fall under the category of “baby items” or “children items,” which aren’t part of your usual checked bag allowance.

Risks of Checking Car Seat on Plane

Whether you check your car seat at the gate or at the counter, the process exposes your valuable item to the risk of damage or even loss.

Improper handling can cause scratches and stress marks on the seat. Foam, straps, harnesses, and other parts can also detach or tear off.

Confusion at the counters or during layovers can result in your seat getting left behind as well. Dust and grease on the car seat due to transport and handling are additional things to consider.

How to Check a Car Seat for Damage

Upon arrival, it may be tempting to quickly claim your car seat and go. However, it’s in your best interests to thoroughly inspect if the seat is still safe for your child to use. You can then report any damage to the airline.

To ensure that your car seat is still fit for use, check for the following components:

  • Structural plastic with no cracks or white stress marks
  • Polystyrene components with no cracks
  • Fully functioning latching system with no bent parts
  • Clean fabric cover with no mold or pest damage
  • Webbing is correctly threaded and has no signs of severe wear
  • Essential parts, including the tether system and locking clip, are complete

Tips on How to Pack a Car Seat for Checked Baggage

Secure packaging for your car seat is a must to prevent it from getting damaged during transport. One good tip is to use a car seat travel bag or cart that’s sealed in order to avoid contamination from the surroundings.

Your car seat bag or cart must also be sturdy enough to prevent the car seat from dents and scratches due to improper handling. Most bags and carts have a handle and wheels that allow you to conveniently pull the item instead of having to carry it.

If you choose to pack your car seat in a box, make sure that the box is spotless and free from moisture. Choose an adequately sized package and use foam sheets and bubble wrap for extra padding.

Additionally, sealing and wrapping the box in plastic further protects your car seat from damage.

How to Pack a Car Seat for Checked Baggage American Airlines

American Airlines allows you to check a stroller and a car seat for free. Pack your car seat securely in a sturdy and protective box, bag, or cart.

Some car seat bags and carts are specially designed with thick padding, backpack straps, and wheels for maximum protection and convenience. Additionally, don’t forget to attach fragile stickers and a luggage tag to your item.

If your car seat comes with a stroller, note that strollers weighing more than 20 pounds should be checked at the American Airlines ticket counter. All other strollers must be checked at the gate.

Choosing a Car Seat Travel Bag

Selecting the right car seat travel bag is essential to protect your item from mishandling and rough transport. Padded car seat bags are best for air travel since it absorbs impact and prevents scratches.

What’s more, choose a bag with heavy-duty fabric that won’t tear easily.

Some car seat bags contain internal straps to secure the seat in place. Protective feet, built-in handles, dual zippers, and water-resistant fabric are other valuable features to consider. Lastly, decide if you want a bag that has backpack straps for carrying or wheels for strolling.

Conclusions on Checking a Car Seat

Congrats on making it to the end of this post! Hopefully, you’re now familiar with the risks, tips, and process of checking a car seat—whether it’s at the gate or ticket counter.

Regardless of your chosen method, don’t forget to read up on your airline’s baggage policies before the flight. Additionally, ensure that your car seat is packed correctly to prevent damage from handling.

If you liked this ultimate guide, please don’t hesitate to share it on social media. Thanks for reading, and enjoy your flight!

Roger and out!

Frequently Asked Questions:

Do car seats get damaged when checked?

Yes, car seats may get damaged or even lost when checked. Improper handling can cause your car seat to obtain dents or stress marks. While in transport, parts can get broken, lost, or torn apart.

Additionally, mistakes and confusion at the check-in counter can cause your item to get left behind during layovers.

How do you check a car seat for a flight?

You can check your car seat for a flight by depositing it at the ticket counter or directly at the gate. Remember to secure a luggage tag on your item and to pack the seat correctly to prevent damage. Most airlines allow passengers to check car seats and strollers for free.

Note that the seat must be Federal Airline Association (FAA) approved for travel.

How do you pack a car seat for checked baggage?

Use a protective bag, box, or cart when packing your car seat for checked baggage.

You can utilize the original box that your seat came in or another package that’s similar in size. Use bubble wrap to protect the seat, and seal the box using plastic sheets.

Another option is to invest in a durable car seat travel bag or cart that’s specially designed to protect your seat from damage during transport.

Is it better to gate-check a car seat?

Yes, it’s better to gate-check a car seat because this method involves less handling compared to checking it at the ticket counter. This reduces the risk of your car seat getting damaged or lost.

Additionally, if your car seat is attached to the stroller that your child will be using at the airport, gate checking may be more convenient.

Last Updated on April 7, 2024 by Brian Beasley

Written by Linda Reid

Hey there, I'm Linda, a mom of three cool kids. I've tried so many car seats, you could call me a "Car Seat Detective." Searching for the perfect car seat can feel like finding a needle in a haystack, but don't worry! I've committed to researching and reviewing car seats that are super safe, cozy, and great for growing kids. Together, we'll find the perfect car seat that keeps your child safe and cozy, and makes you feel like a super-parent!