Navigating the Skies with Car Seats and Strollers: Luggage Check vs. Gate Check

In the realm of family air travel, efficiency and convenience are paramount. One crucial aspect of this is managing your luggage effectively, especially as traveling with a baby often includes lugging along ALL of their gear. In this blog, we’ll discuss specifically bringing along a car seat/booster seat and a stroller as luggage. Two common methods for handling luggage—Luggage Check and Gate Check—offer distinct advantages and considerations for family travelers. Let’s dive into each choice to help you make the best decision for your next family adventure.

Luggage Check: The Traditional Route

Luggage check, often referred to as checked baggage, involves entrusting your belongings to the airline's care before proceeding through security. Once checked, your luggage embarks on its own journey, navigating conveyor belts and being loaded onto the aircraft by baggage handlers.


  1. Convenience: This is KEY! By checking your luggage, you free yourself from the burden of lugging it around the airport. This can be particularly advantageous for traveling families, as it frees up hands to carry baby and/or wrangle a toddler. Car seats and strollers are bulky and awkward to carry, so it’s really nice to get rid of them as soon as possible. For a child under 2 years old who doesn’t need their own seat on the flight, this is a great option.
  2. It’s (Usually) FREE! Most airlines allow you to check your car seat for free, and some your stroller as well. Make sure to check your specific airlines policies far in advance of your trip so you can plan accordingly.
  3. Security Screening: Checked baggage undergoes thorough security screening, providing peace of mind for both passengers and authorities.
  4. Space Management: With checked luggage, you can optimize your cabin space, ensuring a more comfortable journey onboard and more room for snacks and other entertainment necessities during your flight.


  1. For Toddlers…Their Car Seat is the Safest Seat: The Federal Aviation Administration has communicated that for a child 2 years old+, the safest place for them is strapped into their car seat while in flight. If you choose to check your car seat as luggage, your toddler will be without the safest option (though the Cares Safety Harness is a GREAT second option that we highly recommend!).
  2. Lots of Walking: Without a stroller, you will need to carry your little one through the airport, or if traveling with a toddler your toddler will need to walk, sometimes for quite a long ways depending on where your terminal is.
  3. Risk of Mishandling: While rare, there's always a slight risk of luggage mishandling, such as misplacement or damage, when it's out of your immediate control. Keep in mind that if something happens to your car seat, you won’t be able to drive anywhere at your destination without a replacement car seat (airlines will work with you on this, but it can be an unpleasant experience). To help mitigate the risk of mishandling, we recommend a durable and often padded travel bag, such as the J.L. Childress Ultimate Car Seat Travel Bag or Deluxe Spinner Wheelie Car Seat Travel Bag for car seats, and the Standard & Dual Stroller Travel Bag for strollers. If your stroller is too large for this bag, J.L. Childress offers custom bags, unpadded and padded, to perfectly fit your stroller.
  4. It’s (Sometimes Not) Free: Most airlines charge fees for checked baggage, however they also allow you to check your car seat for free. Some airlines will check your stroller for free as well, but it’s important to check your specific airlines policies far in advance of your trip so you can plan accordingly. If checking a stroller or car seat is not free, you may want to consider other options to help reduce the overall costs of travel.

Gate Check: The On-the-Go Option

Gate Check provides a more controlled, hands-on approach to managing your luggage. Instead of parting ways with your car seat or stroller at check-in, you retain possession of them until you reach the boarding gate. At that point, airline staff tag your luggage with a 'gate check' label, and you hand it over before boarding the aircraft. We strongly recommend our Gate Check Travel Bags to additionally identify your gear and protect it from dirt, wet weather, germs and other unwanted handling.


  1. Immediate Access: Since gate-checked items are typically returned to passengers upon deplaning, you can retrieve your car seat or stroller swiftly upon arrival. This is incredibly helpful with strollers, as you can easily transport your child through the airport while happily strapped into their stroller 😉 ensuring they don’t run off anywhere as you gather other luggage, assess how to navigate your destination, etc.
  2. Peace of Mind: Some traveling parents prefer the reassurance of personally overseeing their car seat and stroller until the last possible moment, reducing concerns about loss or damage of their valuable baby gear.
  3. Flexibility: If there are extra seats available on the flight and you have NOT previously purchased one for your child under 2 years old, some airlines will offer the extra seat to traveling families. If you have brought your car seat all the way to the boarding gate, you then have the option to use it on the flight in the extra seat. A big win!


  1. Limited Space: Gate-checked items are stowed in the aircraft's cargo hold, which may have limited capacity. However, car seats and/or strollers are typically given priority so this isn’t much of a realistic concern.
  2. Carrying A Car Seat: Car seats are not the easiest items to carry, especially as you navigate security and a potentially large and unfamiliar airport with a baby and/or toddler in tow. Make sure you have an easy-carry solution that works for how your family travels. One option is the J.L. Childress Ultimate Car Seat Travel Bag that let’s you carry the car seat on your back as a backpack, freeing your hands for other luggage, your stroller, baby or toddler. You can use this bag to gate check your car seat. Want to wheel your car seat through the airport? Use this bag or this one (both can be used to gate check). Another option is this Car Seat Luggage Strap, that nicely attaches your car seat to your roll-on luggage to transport throughout the airport.
  3. Handling Concerns: While gate-checked luggage is generally handled with care, there's still a chance of rough treatment during loading and unloading, especially for fragile items like strollers. Gear is hand-carried on and off the airplane, exposing it to wet weather conditions as well. We strongly recommend a J.L. Childress Gate Check Travel Bag to keep your gear dry, protected from dirt, grease, germs and everything else it could potentially come into contact with. J.L. Childress has multiple options for car seats and strollers.
  4. International Flights: Typically, when any luggage is gate checked on International flights, the luggage ends up at the baggage carousel even if it’s a car seat or stroller. This is important to know, as it should effect which travel bag(s) you choose to purchase so that your gear is properly protected at every stage of its journey.

Making the Right Choice

The decision between luggage check and gate check for your car seat and stroller ultimately depends on your specific travel needs and preferences. Consider factors such as the age of your child(ren), duration of your flight, what other luggage you’re bringing and how you need to travel with it, your airlines policies, and your personal comfort level with each method. Sometimes it makes sense to luggage check some items and gate check others; any combination that works for you and your family is a good one!

You also have the option to rent your gear at your destination and not travel with your car seat or stroller at all…but we’ll save that for a separate Blog 😉

Regardless of which option you choose, remember to pack in advance, prioritize essential items in your carry-on, and stay informed about your airline's policies and procedures regarding baggage handling of car seats and strollers.

In the (potentially) chaotic world of family travel, patience, knowledge and preparation are key. By understanding the differences between luggage check and gate check, especially when it comes to car seats and strollers, you can navigate the skies with confidence, ensuring a smooth and stress-free journey for you and your family. Travel Happy!