Friends I am just now returning from 20 days in beautiful southern California. My family had a grand (and long!) adventure in the desert for our winter break. We had great family time, great extended family time, and lots of new adventures (I’m looking at you, Joshua Tree National Park!).
Before our trip, one of my big questions was how to travel with a car seat. I asked for and received a lot of advice on the subject, and now I want to share with you what my family chose to do. I want to emphasize that it’s cool if you make a different choice, as it turns out that most anything related to car seats can get some folks feeling pretty passionate, and I’m certainly not writing this post to tell you that traveling with a car seat can only be done one way. But I hope sharing our experience is helpful to you as you determine what is right for your family.
Bring Your Own Car Seats or Rent/Buy On Location?
If you are planning on renting a car at your destination, you certainly can rent a car seat, as well. We weren’t renting a car, but if we had, based on what I have heard from MANY different people, it’s best to avoid those car seats, as they are often low quality and might even be outdated.
If you are flying into a larger city or one with very popular kid-friendly attractions (such as Orlando) there are actually companies that will rent quality baby/kid accessories to you on site, including car seats, strollers, cribs, etc. This is something I would personally consider doing, but was not able to try at our destination this time around.
A third option someone suggested to me was simply to leave my car seats at home and buy cheap ones at my destination, leaving them as a donation before returning home. For me, that option seemed like too steep of a price to pay for not having to take my own seats, and I also didn’t like the idea of having my kids in lower quality car seats if I could help it. Just my opinion, though!
How to Travel with Car Seats by Plane
So we knew we would be taking our car seats with us. Now the question became how to get them transported. It’s important to note that you are legally allowed to bring your car seats onto the plane and install them in the seats. I think this option does provide the very best odds of your car seat being left in the most pristine condition because YOU will be the handler! Many people also feel that it is the safest ride for the kids. My personal opinion on that front is that when it comes safety in a plane, a car seat isn’t going to make much of a difference if something is seriously wrong. Totally cool if you disagree.
The other option is to check your car seat, and there are actually 2 different ways to do this, as well. First, you can check it along with your other luggage. We flew Southwest and on this particular airline, your car seats don’t count toward your checked baggage allotment, and there is no fee. I cannot vouch for other airlines, so always check with them first, but my overall understanding is that car seats and strollers are checked complimentary.
You can also take your car seat to the gate and then request a gate check. Some folks like to do this to cut down on the amount of handling the car seat endures. Again, I think this is a very smart option.
But we chose to check the car seats at the start of our journey along with our other bags, even knowing that it wasn’t the best possible option for our car seats. Why oh why did we choose this option, then?!
It’s simple, really. We were 2 parents with 2 small kids and 8 pieces of luggage. We were tired and couldn’t really fathom hauling 2 car seats (each weighing close to 30 pounds!) and our children through the airport.
Car Seat Storage Bags
If you are going to check your car seat, then you definitely need some type of car seat storage bag. We did not consider this until the night before our trip (oops). Our first thought was to go for garbage bags and packing tape. Let me spare you some time here: FAIL! Doesn’t work!!! Then we learned that Southwest Airlines offers bags on site for $15! We were delighted to discover that one bag was actually big enough to hold both of our car seats. They are reusable bags, but I can tell you after one round trip, our bag is straining, so I don’t think they are as high of a quality as what you might find online. But if you are down to the wire like we were, they certainly work. You’ll have to check with other airlines to see if they have similar offerings if you aren’t flying Southwest.
So why do you need a bag at all? Because your car seat has straps, first and foremost, that can easily get caught in conveyor belts during the trip it is going to take from baggage drop off to your plane and back. Additionally, those conveyor belts are FILTHY, so if you want your car seat to not get terribly dirty, you’ll want to keep it covered.
The Risk: Lost Luggage
Perhaps the biggest risk you take by checking your car seats is that they will get lost. And on our trip home, that very thing happened to us. Fortunately, they were quickly located (in Chicago…we were in Nashville), but unfortunately, we had no car seats for our drive back home. Southwest Airlines had loaner car seats that we were able to use. They were totally clean and had 5-point-harnesses, which was important to me. But they weighed less than half of what our car seats weigh, which was a key sign to me that they didn’t offer the degree of protection I would want. I felt really bad about this, but we took the loaners and made it home safely, and then had our beloved car seats back 24 hours later. In the future I will look into roll away carts that some people use to pull their car seats through the airport. And hopefully the next time we travel we won’t have quite as many bags, either, so the decision to gate check the car seats will likely be what I will pick next time.
I hope I’ve given you a clear picture of some of the pros and cons. Obviously, you’ve got to decide what’s right for your family and your particular circumstance. Maybe a trek through the airport with a car seat is totally not a big deal to you. Or maybe you need your travel to be as hassle-free as humanly possible.
The Most Important Decision
Ultimately, the choice of how to travel with your car seats isn’t as important as the question of which car seat to choose for your day-to-day life. Diono sent us the Radian RXT for Layah, and I can say without hesitation that I wish I had been using this convertible car seat with her since the day I brought her home from the hospital. It is designed to go from birth through the end of your need for any type of car seat (!!!!!!!). This short video highlights the amazing features that will wow any parent who is tired of having to purchase car seat after car seat for their growing kiddos.
Here’s a quick run-down of some of the most awesome features of the Diono Radian RXT:
- Full steel frame and aluminum reinforced sides for unmatched safety
- Comfortably seats rear-facing children from 5-45 lbs, forward-facing children from 20 – 80 lbs in a 5-point harness, then converts to a booster for children up to 120 lbs.
- Unique SuperLATCH system that makes installation easy
- It also fits 3 across in most mid-size vehicles, folds flat for travel and is FAA certified
- Booster mode from 50 – 120 lbs (40 to 57 inches)
- NCAP crash tested, the industry benchmark for verifying child seat performance in severe accident conditions
The Diono Radian RXT convertible car seat is a huge hit with our daughter. She’s comfortable with how it feels, and I’m very comfortable with how it performs.