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!
Friday 11th of December 2020
We experienced this in our most recent flight with AA. I was very disappointed given that I had called in advance to ask about stroller and car seat policies on my previous flight with American and this was never stated. I think I find this policy most confusing because I was told the policy was in place to protect baggage staff, but it is inconsistent with other airline policies and I cannot find a weight limit on carry-on baggage (which seems more dangerous to staff than a stroller which rolls?). Anyway, this policy seems unsupportive and prohibitive to families flying with young children.
Thursday 16th of May 2019
I flew AA today by myself with a six-month old. I researched everything, called AA twice with questions ahead of time, checked in on the app, the day before, arrived at the airport two hours early. When I went to the get my gate check ticket for my stroller, the woman looked at my boarding pass and said I could preboard because I had an infant. Once it came time to board, I was already in line, ready to rock and roll. Then they told me I didn’t have a seat in the flight but LUCKILY for me, they had a volunteer, so they they could get me on the plane, it would just be a few minutes. I then stood there, carrying a heavy baby, while the ENTIRE plane boarded. What seems like an eon later, I asked them what happened and what I should have done differently and they said to check in earlier. I told them I’d checked in yesterday and had been there for two hours. Then they very rudely said, “As much as we’d like to explain the entire system to you, ma’am, you need to get in the plane,” pointing to my gate check bag, as if it were MY fault it hadn’t been loaded. Extremely disappointed and will do everything I can to avoid flying AA in the future.
Monday 10th of December 2018
I am flying American out of lax. I flew to la from phl no problem with my city select double tandem stroller. Was able to gate check. Now flying back with my two kids I checked everything and was turned away by tsa and was told that strollers >19lbs need gate check. After passing security I see other families with the same stroller! If this rule is going to be enforced then they need to do it consistently and do a better job publishing it.
Saturday 24th of November 2018
We had the same experience with AA yesterday when transferring through Miami International. The gate agents were so miserable and nasty and we barely made our connecting flight.
WILL NEVER FLY AA AGAIN. It’s a vicious policy and the fact that there was no warning in the booking (we bought seats for both toddler and infant) is a surprising flaw, even for AA already known for the worst service.
Thursday 21st of June 2018
The other stroller that will fit in the overhead is the Babyzen YoYo which we really love because it's super sturdy.