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Recently I read a story on Flyertalk that I have heard many times before. The premise is that a family checks a car seat with an airline so that they have it to use for their little one when they land, only to find that it is broken or damaged when they pick it up from baggage claim. The next part that can be a surprise is that the airlines usually have some clause written somewhere that they aren’t responsible for damage to car seats (and strollers for that matter). Didn’t you read the Contract of Carriage, page 44, Rule 28, section 3, article dd that says United “shall not be liable for the loss of, damage to or delay in delivery of strollers, bassinets, and infant carrying seats”?
The rules aren’t specific to car seats, there is really a very long list of items that they aren’t responsible for on paper, but that doesn’t mean they always will leave you totally up a creek without a car seat. Here are some tips for preventing and dealing with damage that can happen to car seats from airlines.
Don’t check a car seat if you don’t really have to.
The best spot for the car seat on the plane is under your baby’s bottom. If you can, just bring the car seat on-board the flight and strap your little one into it for the duration of the flight. The car seat will be safer, your baby will be safer, and you little one will also probably be more comfortable… We flew this way frequently from the time my daughter was one until around age four or so, and it worked out very well for everyone, including the car seat.
If you don’t have a seat for your child, then this strategy won’t really work, however you can still really think about whether you need to bring your own car seat. If you are going to visit relatives it might be worth having an inexpensive car seat you leave at their house for such visits. You can also rent car seats when you land (free with Hertz and AAA code), though the quality of those seats can be pretty bad, so I don’t necessary recommend that approach unless you just don’t have the manpower to transport your own seat.
Get a protective cover for your car seat.
If you are going to check the car seat, you need to get a cover for it in order to keep it clean, dry, and a bit more protected. There are lots of options for Car Seat Covers, but we have the JL Childress Ultimate Travel Bag as it is padded, has straps you can put on your back, and has served us well. I see there is also a wheeled version that might work better for some who don’t want to turn into human pack mules.
Use an inexpensive car seat for travel.
If you are worried about your expensive, heavy, car seat making the trip, you may want to do what we did and get a lighter, less expensive, travel car seat to use when needed. We bought a Cosco Scenera car seat for travel when the bigger Britax type car seat isn’t the best choice. You can get often Cosco Sceneras for $35 – $50, which is much better than putting your $200 – $300 car seat through the airline baggage wringer.
Gate check when possible.
If you are going to have to check the car seat, you can minimize the time the airline has to damage it by gate checking. This works best if you are also using the car seat as a stroller of sorts to get through the airport using one of these type of contraptions. You still need to have the car seat cover to put over the seat before gate checking to keep it as safe (and clean) as possible.
If it is damaged, let the airline know.
Even though they usually aren’t technically liable for the damage, that doesn’t mean they won’t potentially try to help make it right. I have heard of the airline baggage office in the baggage claim area handing out replacement car seats (yes, the quality may be different than what you had). If you aren’t satisfied with the outcome from the baggage claim office in the airport, I would also write a letter to the airline and let them know what happened. Don’t hold your breath, but you may at least get a voucher toward a future flight for the inconvenience.
Traveling with gear is a reality of traveling with small children, but by using a variety of these tips we have successfully made it through the car seat stage so far without any issues with damaged seats. What do you do about car seats when flying?