As a flight attendant and a frequent passenger too, I have personally seen what can happen to bags and how travel strollers, pushchairs etc can be thrown around carelessly by some airport baggage handlers. My father used to see it all the time as an aircraft engineer too. When you are packing a car seat to go in the hold, it’s best to package it up well. Manufacturers recommend using the original box and packaging – but this isn’t always possible. We didn’t keep our old boxes either.
This guide will help with tips on how you can protect your car seat when flying and give you suggestions for the best car seat travel bag for flying which suits your needs.
We use our own experience with car seat bags AND our regular readers on the Travel With Babies and Toddlers Facebook group provide their feedback and reviews too; so you get real parents recommendations.
With many flights with kids, we have been very fortunate in not having any car seat damaged. Here is what we did to reduce that risk and answers to many of your questions about flying with car seats.
What is The Best Car Seat Travel Bag for Flying?
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Do you need a bag to check a car seat?
No, you don’t need a bag to check a car seat (and many car seats are transported from A to B quite safely), however, you may want one. As mentioned above some baggage handlers can be quite rough, even with items that have a ‘fragile’ or ‘handle with care’.
Whilst your car seat is likely covered by your travel insurance, it can take time organising a replacement which could restrict your movements and plans. (Tip: Take a photo of your car seat or stroller before your travel so you can show insurance companies the condition pre any damage.)
Using a car seat bag can mean you can store some extra items to help pad it out, like diapers/nappies, a cuddly toy etc. (This way, you get a little bit of extra baggage, but shhhh, keep that quiet!)
Important stuff to know before you pack your car seat
If you are flying with a baby or a toddler, and plan on using your car seat abroad, first please do check if it meets that countries rules and regulations. e.g UK and EU car seats are approved for use in the UK and Europe only. Read more about car seat laws around the world here.
Most UK car seats are NOT legally approved for use in the USA, Canada and Australia AND vice versa. More details about this are in the link above. Hiring or buying at your destination might be the best option.
(If you are intending on using your FAA or aviation approved car seat on the flight, then you will need to purchase a seat for your infant.)
However, if you are all set to go, and you have decided to take your own car seat with you and either check it in immediately or gate check, my best advice is DO invest in a car seat travel bag and a stroller travel bag.
Does a car seat count as a checked bag?
No, a car seat does not normally count as checked bag when you are flying with an infant.
A car seat can usually be brought on board in addition to your normal baggage along with a stroller or pushchair on the majority of airlines at no extra charge.
Many if not most airlines allow both of these items, whereas some budget airlines will only allow one- although this is rare.
For more details on what airlines allow infants for cabin and hold baggage see this useful infographic in this post on cabin sized strollers.
Can you gate check a car seat?
Absolutely, but if you are not using your car seat, you may as well check it in with the rest of your luggage to save lugging it around. Alternatively, a car seat gate check bag can be used to help protect it.
What does gate check mean?
Gate check means when an item is taken from you at the gate, rather the check-in counter and then put into the hold of the aircraft.
Gate checking is particularly useful for strollers being used at the airport, but if you are using a car seat as part of your travel system at the airport, you may want to gate check your car seat.
In terms of the meaning in relation to a bag, a gate check car seat bag is just another name for a car seat travel bag, and likely got the name due to people gate checking strollers in a bag.
Where do I collect my gate check items from?
This can vary, some airports will have all gate checked items on the same baggage belt as the rest of your suitcases. Others will put the items on the ‘Oversize Baggage’ labelled carousel.
Types of car seat bags
- Car Seat Travel Bag can be made with a light weight durable, water-resistant fabric with a drawstring, which mainly keep a car seat clean and all parts together rather than offer any protection.
- Padded car seat bags – these often come with large straps so you can cary them like a back pack.
- Car seat travel bags with wheels – these offer the option to pull along rather than carry.
- If you are using your airline approved car seat on the plane, then you may prefer a clip to attach it to your carryon luggage so you can easily wheel it through the airport.
Why padded infant car seat travel bags are better
If you can find one, I recommend padded car seat bags for air travel, over just a normal bag. Although you could pad a jumbo laundry or storage bag with nappies/diapers like mentioned above, it would be tricky to cover the entire car seat.
A non-padded car seat bag only really helps keep a car seat clean, but offers little protection.
A padded car seat travel bag will offer better protection from over zealous bag handlers. However, even if your car seat looks in great condition after the flight, please do look underneath the car seat cover to check if the polyesterine shock absorbing material is in tact, with no cracks before using.
It is always worth asking around friends if they have one you can borrow, as it is not an item you will use frequently.
Some airlines can provide you with a strong plastic bag which can be used as a car seat airline bag or for other items. However, again they don’t really protect items, but do help keep them clean.
If you are looking for the best infant car seat travel bags, here are a few to look out for to buy or to see if you can find secondhand.
|J.L. Childress Ultimate Backpack
Padded Car Seat Travel Bag
|20 x 20 x 30 inch
|Padded Shoulder and waist straps
|See here on Amazon or
|ZOHZO Car Seat Travel Bag
|45.7 x 71.1 x 45.7 cms
18 x 28 x 18 inches.
|Padded Shoulder and waist straps
|See here on Amazon
|Yorebec car seat padded bag
|28 x 18 x 18 inch
|Padded adjustable shoulder and waist
|See here on Amazon
|Hap Tim Padded Car Seat Bag
|H:28 x W:18 x D:18 inch
|BEST BUDGET BUY See here on Amazon
We found all of the above car seat bags to be fairly similar. They vary on size and price, but quality wise we think they are very similar. The J.L. Childress Ultimate Backpack seemed slightly better quality but comes at a higher price, so a lot may depend on how often you travel with your car seat.
Hello Jolie Padded Car Seat Bag with Wheels – currently out of stock
The Hello Jolie car seat bag is the only one I have found which is fully padded AND has 4 wheels to transport it easily. It is made of approximately 1cm thick padding with a strong nylon cover.
This car seat bag also comes with an internal strap to stop the car seat from moving around too much. It has a convenient and easy access opening plus plenty of room to fit other lightweight items in. A more detailed review is here. For more information and to check if back in stock see here.
Alternative ideas to help protect your car seat.
You could also ask the airline if they have a durable plastic bag that you could use, although this won’t really protect it from knocks and bumps but will help to keep it clean.
Most airports offer baggage wrapping for a charge, or you could purchase some bubble wrap and use this method instead – just make sure you have enough for the way back!
If you have found a good gate check bag for car seats please let me know in the comments to help other readers too.
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