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Flying with an infant or toddler can be stressful. Not only do you need to pack for yourself — but you also need to pack all of the necessary items for your baby, too.
After you pack diapers, wipes, snacks, and baby distraction items, it’s easy to just say “forget about it” when it comes to packing anything extra for yourself.
I recently flew solo with my 14-month-old son on his first airplane ride.
One of the great things about flying with infants is most airlines will let you check baby items — such as strollers and car seats — for FREE. (This definitely helps when you’re trying to eliminate baggage fees and stay within airlines’ luggage weight limits.)
A Portable Car Seat For Travel
When I was preparing to fly with my baby for the first time, I knew for sure that I would need a car seat once I arrived at my destination.
I certainly wouldn’t be comfortable renting one without knowing its history. Plus, car seat rentals run the risk of being out-of-date, and they’re often installed incorrectly without the manual.
Since my baby was not quite 2 years of age, he qualified to fly for free as a lap baby. The best part: most airlines will accommodate parents flying with lap infants and sit them next to an extra seat when possible (obviously, only if the plane isn’t full).
My baby likes his car seat most of the time when we’re traveling — so it made sense to have the car seat readily available in the airports with us as a familiar means of travel for him, instead of checking it as baggage. (Plus, if I should score an extra seat on the plane, I could use the carseat to keep him safely seated next to me.)
I Used A Luggage Cart To Make A Car Seat Dolly!
I had to bring the car seat regardless, so I decided to make the car seat multi-functional and have it serve as a makeshift stroller as well — keeping baby contained to watch the busy airport world as we strolled through it.
First, I researched ways to convert your own car seat and carry-on luggage into an airport car seat on wheels — like a stroller and car seat in one!
I also found car seat dollies on the Internet (the best ones cost $30 and up).
Because of the low price, I figured I’d have nothing to lose if I brought it home to see if my son’s car seat would be compatible.
Most luggage carts are simply a compact luggage cart/dolly with attached bungee straps to secure practically anything — so it can be pulled along just like other rolling luggage.
My luggage cart also has a telescopic and folding handle, which folds up flat and compact for storage or travel. There are several different luggage carts like this to choose from online and I’m sure almost any of them would work just as well.
How To Make A Portable Car Seat Dolly
I placed our FAA-approved car seat (the Cosco Scenera Next convertible car seat) onto my newly acquired luggage cart — and it was just our luck that they fit perfectly!
I simply used the luggage cart’s bungee straps to secure the car seat, and I instantly had a custom car seat dolly to stroll my baby easily from the car to the airplane — and everywhere inside the airport.
The car seat was already equipped with a removable cup holder to hold my son’s Nuby Flex straw drink cup. I put the drink cup inside a koozie — so it would fit more securely. Then I tethered the Munchkin snack cup with a Nuby plush pacifinder clip to the car seat — to avoid accidentally losing them.
This video shows another way to make a portable car seat dolly, using your own carry-on luggage with wheels:
Take A Car Seat Gate Check Bag… Just In Case!
In the event of a full plane — in which case baby would be on my lap for the entire flight — I packed a car seat gate check bag purchased from my local Target store.
The big bright red bag fits most car seats with the simple close of a drawstring (to keep any loose items contained).
The bag was big enough to fit our portable car seat even with the luggage cart attached — which made gate checking the car seat super easy when necessary!
I could even stow my carry-on suitcase on top — within the car seat itself — inside the bag to consolidate my gate checked items.
When I booked the flight, I also pre-paid to choose an aisle seat. I figured it would be the best position to be in on a full flight with an infant in my lap (…and I was right).
Before You Take A Car Seat On A Plane…
Here are 5 important things to consider when using a car seat on an airplane:
#1 – Know the width of your car seat.
The average economy airline seats are approximately 16 inches wide.
Make sure you measure your existing car seat or use an FAA-approved car seat to stay within (or as close as possible to) that width.
Although not one flight attendant checked to see if my car seat was FAA-approved, width could still be a concern — due to the confined nature of an airplane.
#2 – Prepare for seat belt issues.
Our car seat has a normal seatbelt channel directly behind the car seat fabric. Most car seat belts would not be a problem with this basic setup — because it is just the seatbelt strap resting in the channel. But an airplane seatbelt has the buckle clasp landing directly in the middle of baby’s back, once you get it looped through.
I was offered a seatbelt extender by the flight attendant — but realized quickly it would not solve the issue, as I would be unable to cinch it down securely.
I ended up moving the car seat as close to the window as possible to have the buckle part land more to baby’s side — but it was still cumbersome directly behind my baby’s kidney. I know I certainly wouldn’t want something hard digging into my seat. My son seemed fine, but I think I would try using an airplane seatbelt extender over the entire car seat the next time we fly with baby.
Obviously, having the belt over the seat could also be a nuisance in your baby’s space. However, since our car seat’s seatbelt channel was rigid with a hard casing, even trying to flip the buckle around was not an option.
So you will definitely want to consider how your car seat will be secured on the plane — keeping the airplane lap belt buckle in mind.
I would also consider bringing a small prefabricated portion of a pool wacky noodle to enclose the airplane seat belt and buckle to provide a little more uniform padding behind the entire car seat pad for the cumbersome buckle.
#3 – Commit to using the car seat on a plane.
If you’ve scored an extra seat or bought a seat for your infant on the plane, the car seat is the obvious choice for your baby to travel in — to keep them safe from unexpected turbulence or an improbable crash.
The car seat does take up room, and there is nowhere else to put it once the airplane doors are closed.
Using a car seat on a plane requires commitment since it takes up so much room in the tight airplane seats — especially when you take baby out of it during the flight for a break from the car seat.
I did take my baby out to nurse — because he started fussing due to the pressure in his ears during take off and landing.
As a parent, I tried my best to be courteous of other passengers to keep baby from pitching a fit.
#4 – Prepare for a kicking toddler.
Because the airplane seats are so crammed together, you run the risk of your toddler kicking the seat in front — if they can reach it with their feet.
My toddler could reach the seat in front of him with his feet, so I repeatedly had to keep him from kicking and disturbing the passenger ahead.
This is definitely something to be mindful of!
#5 – Remove the car seat from the dolly before getting on the plane.
On our first flight, we scored an extra seat.
I strolled my baby in the car seat dolly perfectly through the first class/premier aisle, but came to a screeching halt when we hit the narrow economy aisle!
Luckily we were pre-boarding — so the plane was relatively empty.
I had to carry the entire car seat with baby loaded in it and I wished I had removed the dolly prior to reaching my seat — because the space to work is really tight.
If you’re traveling solo and using the car seat onboard, then take advantage of the pre-boarding (and the empty plane!) to get to your seat.
If you have a travel partner, have them pre-board with the empty car seat — so you can board with baby at the last possible minute.
The Bottom Line…
My DIY portable car seat dolly worked great and I would definitely fly with it again!
I even had several people (especially mamas and grandparents) stop and ask me where I got my fancy car seat with wheels as we strolled about the various airports.
They were all surprised when I told them it was 2 separate pieces:
- A simple luggage dolly
- An FAA-approved car seat.
(Everyone thought it was built as one piece.)
I hope you found this article useful and have a happy flying and car seat strolling experience!
Tips For Taking A Car Seat On A Plane, In A Taxi, And More…
In addition to the links I’ve included above, here are some other resources to help you find the easiest way to take your car seat on a plane:
- How To Travel With Car Seats Without Losing Your Cool
- Tips For Traveling With Car Seats In The Airport
- How To Ride With A Car Seat In An Uber Or Lyft Car
Until my son was born a few years ago, I was a diehard motorcycle enthusiast who traveled the globe. As a Marketing Specialist and Brand Ambassador for Harley-Davidson for over a decade, I lived and worked all over North America. Now, grounded as a first-time mom, I share my love for outdoor adventure with my son and extended family in the Smoky Mountains… and beyond. I hope you find my travel tips and recommendations helpful!