So you’ve decided to take the step of flying with your baby – congrats! That is very exciting news, and you are bound to have a great adventure with your baby. Your first flight as a new parent may be stressful or nerve-wracking, but I promise your day of travel doesn’t need to be difficult.
We have flown our son all over the world, and his first flight was at just two months of age!
There are few things as cool as sitting in a window seat with your young children and watching them admire the clouds and the distant buildings below them. On our first flight with our son, we couldn’t wait for the cabin crew to finally shut the aircraft door so that we could hit the skies!
While window seats don’t provide easy access to the center aisle, we found that our son really started to enjoy the views through the window once he hit about 6 months of age, and for us they are always the best option.
If this is your first time reading my posts on traveling with a baby, be sure to check out the rest of this 6 part miniseries on traveling with a baby.
This post is going to dive into a question that a lot of new parents have that I haven’t really addressed in much detail in those other posts: how do you gate check a stroller at the airport? We were a little bit mind blown by the process the first time we flew with our little guy, and we want to do our best to keep that from happening to you.
Spoiler alert: you will not need to wait in line at the oversized luggage counter!
At the end of this post, I have detailed rules from each major airline in North America regarding gate checked strollers and car seats.
I am going to include a premium option and a more affordable option in each category, that way this list can be useful to everyone, regardless of their budget.
What Is Gate Checking a Stroller?
Gate checking is not the same as checking the stroller during check-in. Although most airlines would let you check your stroller for free at the time check-in at the ticketing counter before security, many parents don’t realize that checking a stroller is also free at the gate after you’ve gone through security.
We really love taking the stroller through security, because it gives us a place to put all of our things for the rest of the time that we’re in the airport. There is no need to carry backpacks or wheel carry-ons around if you have a stroller that fits them both underneath!
How Do You Gate Check a Stroller at the Airport?
Gate checking is simple: you simply walk up to the flight attendant working the counter at your departure gate and ask them if you can gate check your stroller. Depending on the airline, the gate agent might give you a claim tag to strap onto the stroller or not. Either way, this is all it takes!
You just ask them for whatever documentation that they want, attach it to the stroller, and you are good to go. Where do you put a stroller when gate checking it, you might be wondering? Just wheel it down the jetway and leave it right before you enter the plane.
There is usually a little door to the right at the end of the jetway, and you can just leave them right by that door. They will be waiting for you in the same spot at your final destination!
Gate checking requires parents to haul their equipment through the airport, but personally, I think that it is a particularly good option if you have valuable baby equipment.
Gate checking requires parents to haul their equipment through the airport, but personally, I think that it is a particularly good option if you have valuable baby equipment. Checked baggage is known to be tossed around haphazardly by baggage handlers, and there is much less risk of damage when you choose to gate check.
Your stroller will not be dropped down the baggage claim carousel, for example, which is something that even a nice stroller bag might not protect against!
What Kinds of Strollers Can You Gate Check?
Most Airlines specify that you can gate check any small or medium-sized strollers. This includes all umbrella strollers, small travel strollers, a typical collapsible stroller, and potentially even a travel system.
We have an Evenflo Pivot (which is quite large), and we have never had an issue checking it on a flight; not even on budget airlines.
Due to space limitations, some minor and major airlines might get picky when you try to gate check large heavy strollers, like double strollers. In all of our air travel with a stroller, we have not encountered this issue with the collapsible travel system that we have.
Can You Gate Check Anything Else?
Most airlines allow you to gate check a stroller and a car seat per child. This is usually all that you’re allowed to do, but that should be more than enough! These are two giant items that you’ve likely been dragging around the airport all day long and being able to drop them off at the gate before getting on the place is a huge gift.
Does It Cost Money to Gate Check a Stroller?
This is the one million dollar question. Is gate checking your stroller expensive? Is gate checking your stroller free? Drum roll, please…
Gate checking your stroller and car seat is free!
At least on most airlines. I have not yet read about or used an airline that does not allow free gate checking of a stroller and car seat. This even includes budget carriers like Allegiant, Frontier, and Spirit!
Airlines recognize how difficult it can be at times to travel with a baby, and they aim to take as much of that stress out of your hands as possible.
Regardless, you always want to double check before booking your flight or showing up to the airport, as each airline has their own rules and policies regarding baggage and baby baggage. The stroller and car seat never count towards your regular checked baggage allowance, either.
Can You Take a Stroller on an Airplane if Your Child is a Lap Infant?
If your child is under two years of age and you have proof of age, most airlines in the United States will allow them to fly as a lap child on domestic flights for no extra charge. In this case, you cannot bring your stroller onto the airplane to stow in the overhead locker, and you will need to check it with the staff member at the boarding gate.
While they fly for free, they usually are not given any kind of checked bag or carry-on baggage allowance other than a single personal item, which is usually required to be a diaper bag.
With that being said, airlines understand that mothers and babies have atypical needs and they make several concessions for them. Just like TSA agents at airport security, airlines allow you to bring a diaper bag in addition to your own baggage allowance.
You are allowed to bring necessary items like baby food, formula, cow’s milk, breast milk, and breast pumps in your diaper bag if you choose, but it is a good idea to bring ice packs in the bag if anything is perishable. Travel days are filled with many unforeseen delays, and even short trips and local flights can turn into longer trips than you initially expect.
You also cannot bring a car seat onto the plane with you if your child is traveling as a lap infant. In this case, the flight attendants will pass out a child restraint system that is to be used throughout the duration of the flight. These harness-type devices are meant to keep small children safely strapped to your lap throughout the duration of the flight, and the limitations that they cause make you ineligible to sit in emergency exit rows.
Can You Take a Stroller on an Airplane if Your Baby Has Their Own Seat?
While airlines do not give you an extra baggage allowance for a lap baby, they give a full baggage allowance to each ticketed customer. If you bought your baby their own seat and plan to bring an FAA-approved car seat onto the plane, you may also bring a stroller or carry-on bag to stow in the overhead compartment.
All ticketed flyers get their own baggage allowace.
On this topic, make sure that your car seat is approved for use in an airplane by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). For safety reasons, the cabin crew will only allow you to bring an FAA-approved car safety seat onto the plane.
If you plan to gate check a car seat, I highly recommend bringing a car seat travel bag to store it in during the flight. You never know what your car seat will come in contact with when it is placed in the hold, and a protective car seat bag makes sure it doesn’t get banged up or stained.
Which Airlines Allow You to Gate Check a Stroller?
All domestic airlines in the United States have their own policies surrounding baby strollers and other baby equipment, like child safety seats. Each major domestic airline’s stroller policy has been included below for your convenience, straight from their own websites. To be as comprehensive as possible, we have included every major airline in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
Thanks for reading my post on how to gate check a stroller. Hopefully these tips help to remove some stress from your flight day with your baby! If you have any questions, be sure to reach out by dropping a comment below.