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Car Seats on Airplanes: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know (Part 3: At Your Destination)

Car Seats on Planes: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know (Part 3: At your destination)We’re at the end of the three part Trips With Tykes series covering car seat use on airplanes. Thanks for following along! Today’s topic covers everything related to car seats after your plane arrives at your destination, from rental cars to car seat alternatives to missing or damaged checked seats.

Follow along with the full guide:

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Part 3: Car Seats At Your Destination

17. Do you recommend renting a car seat from your rental car company?

It depends. The answer (just as with the lap baby question) depends on your personal risk tolerance. I’ve personally been given car seats that look brand new and in great shape but have also occasionally gotten a dirty one or one with visible damage.

There is no way to know for sure if the car seat you are given has been in an accident or handled improperly. Often the car seats aren’t available with manuals, so you have to figure out how to install an unfamiliar seat on the fly. There is also a risk that a car rental company runs out of seats at busy times. The car seat gurus don’t recommend renting seats, but it is your decision to make.

That said, I have rented car seats many times and have predominantly positive experiences. The alternative for us is sometimes checking a car seat and not knowing whether the airline will damage it, so there is a risk either way. My personal strategy is to rent car seats in situations where the driving I will do with it is minimal. If I’m flying to a place and then embarking on a longer road trip where we’ll be in the car a lot, I bring my own. But you have to make that call for yourself.

Also, it stands to reason that if you rent from the most low-budget of car rental companies, your chances are greater that you will be rented a low-budget and perhaps old or damaged seat. We normally rent from Hertz and have found the car seats (at least visually) appear in much better shape than with some of the companies known to be a bit cheaper.

18. Which car seat type do I select from the rental car company?

Most car rental companies offer three selections for child safety seats on their websites when you make a reservation: (1) an infant seat, (2) a toddler seat, and (3) a booster seat. How do you know which one to select when you don’t know the models and the ages/weights for which they are approved? You can’t know with 100% certainty, but you can come close.

CoscoScenera

The inexpensive and safe Cosco Scenera is a favorite model of car rental companies.

Infant seats are usually the bucket style seats with a carry handle. Most kids outgrow these by their first birthday but height and weight recommendations do vary model by model.

The toddler seats are intended for kids up to 40 pounds. Many are convertible and can be used rear and forward facing, but there are no guarantees of rear-facing compatibility. This creates a bit of a conundrum if you have a 1-2 year old who you still want to rear-face in accordance with the current American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations. I’ve rented from a number of companies over the years and the most common seat I’ve seen offered by rental companies is the convertible Cosco Scenera NEXT (yes, the same lightweight one I recommend for use on board planes).

Booster seats are intended for kids who are both 4 years old and 40+ pounds. Products could be a high backed booster or simply a backless one.

If you have a child who is over forty pounds, be aware that many of the convertible car seats that rental car companies offer are not intended for use for larger kids over 40 pounds. So if it is important to you to use a car seat for your 4, 5, or 6 year old instead of a booster, you need to bring your own.

19. Rental car companies charge an arm and a leg for car seat rental (usually $8-12 per day).  Are there cheaper options for renting a car seat?

Yes! One of my favorite budget travel hacks for car seats is using my AAA membership to rent from Hertz. Why? Hertz gives a free car seat rental to AAA members. This doesn’t totally solve the price problem for families who need more than one car seat, but it helps.

20. If I don’t bring my car seat along and am not renting a car, what are my options for safe travel with my kids?

If you are headed to a destination where friends and family live, consider purchasing an extra inexpensive seat for use there. My family has always had an extra seat at my parents’ home so it is ready to use when they pick us up at the airport when we come to visit.

At all other destinations, your best option to do without a car seat is usually public transit. Just make sure you can actually get your kids and luggage on and off the transit options; some cities are more family-friendly than others.

There are a few car services like UberFamily/Uber Car Seat (currently NYC, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and Orlando) that are starting to offer car seats. Some taxi companies will also have car seats available, but the request usually leads to a much longer wait for a cab. A few baby gear rental companies will also meet you at the airport when you arrive at your destination with a car seat or other rental baby gear.

BubblebumFinally, you can rely on a few compact products for slightly older kids. As I mentioned in earlier parts of this guide, the BubbleBum inflatable booster seat is super-compact for kids 4 years and up who are at least 40 pounds. And kids even younger and smaller (3 years old and 30+ pounds) can use the pricey but convenient Ride Safer Travel Vest in lieu of a car seat.

I also highly recommend a brand new product that came out in mid-2019 that I’ve now tested — the Pico Car Seat from WAYB. It’s a super compact, foldable 5 point harness car seat intended for kids ages 2-5. It is small enough for an airplane overhead bin meaning no more risk of gate check damage or loss for travel with toddlers and preschoolers (and can be used like a regular 5 point harness seat on the plane too).

WAYB Pico Car Seat Review - Folded by Car

WAYB Pico size when folded.

21. What happens if the airline loses my car seat?

Car Seat Baby AsleepAirlines lose bags from time to time and this can include your much-needed car seat. And, yes, it has happened to me! Apparently the TSA has been screening car seats more carefully in 2015 and they are sometimes held back for additional screening and don’t make your flight.

If you find yourself in this situation, go immediately to the lost baggage desk of your airline. Many airlines in larger airports will have loaner seats available for just this situation. Just like rental car seats, you have no way of knowing the history of these car seats so there is some safety risk. But it’s better than nothing if the alternative is a car or taxi ride without a child restraint at all. Airlines will allow you to use this loaner seat and will exchange it with you when they deliver your lost one.

If the airline you are flying doesn’t have loaners, ask if they will check with other airlines or even the rental car companies that might have a spare. Worst case scenario? Send one parent in your rental car or a taxi to the closet Target or Walmart and buy one. Try to make the airline agree to reimburse you there and then (some airlines have language that they are not responsible for lost car seats in their contracts of carriage, but it never hurts to ask).

22. What happens if the airline damages my car seat?

Airlines are technically not responsible for damage to checked car seats (or strollers either) under their contracts of carriage. This is why it is so important not to fly with expensive baby gear! As with many things in air travel, employees do have some flexibility to address grievances, so you might have luck in obtaining some compensation if you complain. Just don’t count on it. As with lost car seats (see #21), check with the baggage desk to see if you can obtain a loaner to use in the short term while you work to replace your damaged seat.

Are there car seat questions I’ve left unanswered? Leave your thoughts in the comments and I’ll add to this guide so that no traveling parent ever has to curse the airplane car seat experience ever again! 😉

Great resources & further reading:


Don’t forget to read the full three part car seats on airplanes guide here:

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Heather Reid

Monday 30th of December 2019

Thank you so much for this three part post. It was SO helpful and really answered all of my questions!

Toya

Thursday 21st of February 2019

Thank you so much for posting this! I'm traveling with my 2yo son this summer and was rather nervous on the whole airport/flight experience! I appreciate all of the tips!

Laura

Wednesday 6th of February 2019

Hi there! Is there no longer a referral code (as described in the post) for the Pico car seat? Thanks!

MollyMcDolly

Sunday 3rd of February 2019

Do you have any more tips or links regarding international flights?

Sarah

Monday 7th of May 2018

The Doona was the greatest shower gift we could have been given. 8 flights later and lap holding my daughter we have had zero issues gate checking the combo infant seat and stroller. Has made traveling around airports alone so easy. I don’t see any mention of it here! It’s the greatest. No need to check or buy new equipment.