When Airlines Damage Car Seats

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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.

Car seat cover

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.

Car seat frame


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?



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  1. We always hoofed our Britax through the airport and our daughters sat in them buckled up until well past age three. A bit stressful for hubby at the time of boarding as it was his job to get it strapped into the seat, but so worth it as our daughters were “contained” during the flight and almost always napped. If we had ever checked one of our seats, it would have bummed me out big time to have them show up on the carousel broken. I’m sure it happens a lot with seats and strollers, so you are doing a good job to highlight this issue. We have been fortunate, and I am glad those days are behind us! Remember me mentioning hubby??? It must have made a big impact on him because now he doesn’t even want to travel with carry ons. Like, ever! He wants to check every single bag so that he/we don’t have to carry a thing on board LOL!!

    • Carrie, ha ha! I know – my husband is quite the pack mule for our family, and sounds like we had similar routines. My husband is pretty instant on us keeping carry-ons to a minimum and in bags that roll well!

  2. We’ve used car seats that fit into large (i.e. 33″-36″) rolling duffel bags. Before our kids were booster age, we used a Diono Radian because it folds to a compact shape. These seats have a steel frame, which is great for protection, but also has the downside of being heavy. And with 2 kids, we had to have 2 bags, so dealing with that plus normal luggage, stroller, etc. was sometimes challenging. After our kids reached booster age, we bought the Bubble Bums inflatable booster seat. Which seemed like the perfect solution because you can pack it with your clothes in a suitcase. However, check the laws for your destination because a backless booster may not be legal. Example: Australia requires a high-back booster, so before our trip we bought the Harmony Folding Travel Booster seats which were around $50. We actually like them better because 1) the kids have somewhere to rest their heads, 2) they are lightweight/easy to maneuver, and 3) they fold into a compact square and we were able to pack two of these seats into a large rolling duffel. We will probably use these on all future trips.

  3. We’ve been hauling our Diono Radian on board also, using the gogobabyz travelmate to get it through the airport and down the aisle. Now the dilemma is deciding what seat to get for kid#2.
    With your Britax, I’m assuming little C was not able to use the tray table? How did she eat, use the ipad, etc?

  4. We purchased the above mentioned Cosco seat and it has paid for itself many times over. Besides being inexpensive, it is so much easier to travel with than our Recaro seats.
    My son is almost 3 now and we’re taking our first trip with the CARES harness in March (thanks for the recommendation). I hope it will give him some more mobility and ability to look out the window. He’ll enjoy the extra legroom and I’ll enjoy removing the temptation to kick the seat in front of him!

    • Good to know! Delta lost our carseat and 2 bases on our last flight a couple days ago. The carseat supposedly is on its way to us now but our plastic wrapping and packaging tape are all gone and they say there is no base. We are hoping for a full reimbursement of a new seats and bases since the bases cannot be purchased separately in Japan. They told us that it is not their responsibility if the items are separated so long as they deliver part of the item, but we asked if we should pack separately and we had multiple plastic bags ready at check-in. The check-in agent said that taping together and putting in the same plastic bag would be safer – oh well.

      When they told us it is not their responsibility today, we told them that we will discuss it again when the carseat arrives. At this point they are not even sure that they are sending us our carseat (failed to check the make or model before forwarding to our home address). Not super happy about the (lack of) attention to detail so far. I hope we get good support like you did.

  5. We are big fans of the Traveling Toddler Accessory – http://www.amazon.com/Traveling-Toddler-Seat-Travel-Accessory/dp/B000JHN3AS You strap the car seat to a wheelie bag and it works double duty to easily transport the car seat (in our case, a Scenera that’s been to Kauai 3x and will head to Maui in two weeks!) as well as any little one whose legs can’t carry them all the way through the airport.

    I had the CARES harness but my then 3 yo hated it – there’s no crotch strap so he slid down and he didn’t like that he couldn’t see out the window.

    We used the Go Go Travelmate (the one shown in your last photo with the orange wheels, not the fancier one currently on Amazon) and it was not easy to use at all. If we hadn’t borrowed it from a friend I think DH would have left it at the airport.

    Our 6 yo is now in a high-back booster, but you can’t use those on the plane so we check the high back part only and keep the booster part for when we get to elevation. My kids are both super skinny and the airline belts just don’t fasten securely over them.

  6. OH – super ridiculous story. Flying Frontier DEN-MCI alone with two boys I booked the bulkhead seats. The gate agent stopped me and said I couldn’t bring on my youngest’s car seat because the seat belts in the bulk head row have AIR BAGS in them. What the what? I had to gate check his seat and couldn’t get the seatbelt tightened over him for love or money. Thanks, Frontier, for keeping my child SO SAFE (no, they didn’t offer to find us seats in a different row).

  7. I actually encountered the same dilemma, then I read about the same concern in this blog “To Bring or Not to Bring. That is the question!” https://bit.ly/2H4sR3M good read actually. So when we went to Japan last month we simply opted to buy this gate check bag that they are selling (not even $30) for our son’s car seat and this gate check bag that works well with strollers too. Guess what? I got my car seat and stroller faster and with no damage whatsoever. The bag made it easy for us to carry because it’s like a backpack. Worth every penny.

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