When airline horror stories go viral with family travelers involved, I tend to hear about them pretty quickly. The stories are varied and usually pretty egregious – from families having milk and formula confiscated by TSA to an airline assigning a parent a seat 20 rows away from their baby or toddler. And let’s not forget the multiple times that parents have been prohibited from using perfectly good and FAA-approved car seats on takeoff and landing due to crew’s misinterpretation of the rules.
Flying with kids is hard enough. But the airlines and the TSA certainly make it harder.
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Flying AA? An Important Stroller Word of Warning
Today’s viral story is about one mom’s experience aboard American Airlines traveling solo with her infant and toddler. Like many parents traveling solo, she was justifiably worried about the logistics of getting through the airport with two very young children. There’s a reason there is a 4.5 year age gap between my kids – air travel with two little ones so close in age is hard!
Naturally, she brought along a double stroller to best wrangle her infant and toddler to the gate with the one pair of hands she had. When she got to the TSA line, however, she was told she could not go through with the stroller. Why? Because American Airlines has a rule that strollers over 20 pounds must be checked at the ticket counter and cannot be taken to the gate. Pretty much every double stroller as well as larger single jog style strollers exceed this weight limit.
If you are a frequent traveler like me, you probably know this weird AA rule. I don’t think American does a very good job of publicizing it at all. It’s buried halfway down their “Traveling with children” page. It’s not in any of the confirmation emails I’ve received from AA when I’ve booked a flight with my young children, even though American knows their ages when I’ve booked their tickets because their dates of birth are in their AAdvantage profiles.
In short, infrequent travelers would have to do a LOT of research to stumble upon this rule. And even in the experience of this poor mom, it seems she had flown American before with this same stroller and never had an issue at the TSA checkpoint. Her problem this time may have been only that she was at a checkpoint that was specific to AA flights only where the TSA may have been more attuned to the rule.
I thought it was important to share her story to get the word out there about American Airlines’ unique 20 pound stroller rule! If American isn’t going to do it, I feel like family travel writers like me should help educate potential passengers — any maybe even encourage (“shame?”) American into changing this family unfriendly rule along the way. While I do see some logistical reasons for the rule on crowded jetways, the fact that no other U.S. airline has this rule indicates that it isn’t an essential one.
Her full story is going viral on Facebook in several mom groups I’m in. Sounds like she didn’t get a lot of compassion or help which added insult to injury – the TSA isn’t exactly known for that. Here’s her report on Facebook:
Tips Flying with Strollers
What can traveling families do to avoid the similar fate of this unlucky mom? I always try to turn air travel horror stories into lessons that hopefully educate other families and keep them from recreating the same horror story over and over again.
1. Always Research Airline Specific Rules
I never want to blame the victim, but this story is an important reminder to parents to always meticulously research policies for traveling with kids with any airline you fly. The rules do vary among different airlines for issues that matter to family travelers. For example, Southwest requires a birth certificate for every lap baby even if they are obviously no where close to the age of 2. Another example? Some airlines allow pre-boarding with young children while others don’t (or have different age cutoffs for pre-boarding). Do the research to avoid the unwanted day-of-travel surprise, especially if you are an infrequent traveler.
2. Don’t Fly American if You Need a Large Stroller
If you really need a double stroller or larger stroller for your travels, I’d recommend just flying another airline. American Airlines is the only domestic airline that restricts gate checked strollers to ones under 20 pounds. So it’s easy to avoid the problem for most travelers, unless perhaps you are a unlucky family who calls an AA exclusive hub home. Voting with our pocketbooks may be the best way to effect a change.
3. Bring a Smaller Stroller
If you have to fly American, bring as small of a stroller as you can to avoid this problem. My favorite travel stroller and the only one we fly with now is the gb Pockit ($189 on Amazon). Not only is it small enough to avoid a situation like this with ease, but it is small enough to take on the plane and put under the seat in front of you or in the overhead bin (see my full gb Pockit review). No gate check worries at all.
There are a few double strollers that are under 20 pounds that can work for some families on American too. Obviously these don’t work for those who have small infants too young for an umbrella style stroller, but consider them with twins or older siblings.
- J is for Jeep Brand Scout Double Stroller ($87, 18.3 pounds)
- Delta Children City Street Side by Side Stroller ($59, 18.3 pounds)
4. Bring a Baby Carrier
No matter what, always travel with a very compact baby carrier when flying with a baby or toddler. You’ll never know when it will come in handy for an emergency. I swear by the Bitybean (my full Bitybean review here) which is about the size of a water bottle. It saved me when my car seat roller cart broke when I was traveling solo with both kids to Panama. I was able to carry my toddler hands free thanks to having it, which was essential while I attempted to drag the broken car seat cart along. A carrier will work well if your stroller is taken from you or damaged (that can happen too!). And it also works for carrying an infant while putting your toddler or older child in a single umbrella stroller.
Have you had issues with American Airlines gate check stroller weight limit? Did you even know about this rule? Share your stories in the comments!