Can I take my baby stroller or child carrier through a TSA security checkpoint and on a plane? It’s a question that every new mom has to ask on her first flight with a child. We think it’s actually best to ask two questions: “Can I?” and “Should I?”
Let’s answer the “Can I” question first.
Yes, you can take a stroller or carriage through a TSA airport security checkpoint and onto an airplane. At the checkpoint, here’s what to expect:
The stroller will need to be screened. Most collapsing and folding strollers will be compact enough to go through the X-ray machine on the conveyor belt, and you’ll need to fold it so it fits. (And while it’s really quite difficult to fathom, the TSA did have to point out on its own site that babies cannot be left in the carrier while it passes through the X-ray machine. We’ll let you ponder the situations which led to the TSA explicitly stating that rule.)
If it will not fold up enough to fit through the entrance of the machine, the stroller must be manually inspected by security officers, and you should expect this to significantly slow down your screening process.
While the stroller is going through the X-ray machine (or manual screening), the child’s guardian will carry the child through a metal detector. Shoes can stay on if the child is 12 years old or under.
So now you’re through the checkpoint, but can the stroller go on a plane?
Here’s the good news: The answer again is "yes." Delta Airlines states on its website that “Children’s strollers and seat restraints are not counted as part of the standard baggage and therefore can easily be checked for free.” Delta, like many airlines, allows parents to check the stroller at the curb, at check-in and at the ticket counter.
Most U.S. airlines have a similar policy that is friendly to people traveling with younger children. However, it’s worth noting that some companies like American Airlines have created a policy that the larger, jogging-style strollers cannot be gate-checked and must be checked at the ticket counter, while smaller, lighter strollers can pass on through to the planes.
And that brings us to the topic of gate checking your stroller.
The reality is that with some of today’s monster-sized airports, the distance from check-in counter to your gate, or from one concourse to another, can sometimes be a half-mile or more, and having your stroller can make life easier, especially if you also have a long layover. (You will have to avoid airport escalators and find the elevators.)
Fortunately, most airlines allow strollers to be “gate-checked,” which is the process by which you drop off the stroller at the end of the loading ramp or jet bridge, sometimes placing the equipment on a special cart, and other times dropping it off beside the jet bridge’s access door. What happens is that the strollers are picked up from the jet bridge or cart and when the plane lands, the stroller will be returned in a similar place at the other destination. Most gate staff can advise you of the process and where to place your stroller. Sometimes the airline will require a tag be attached to the stroller.
Usually, the stroller will be available to you when you deplane, either at the jet bridge or near the bottom of the loading ramp. In some rare cases, the stroller might end up in baggage claim, which can be less than ideal if you’re trying to carry a child and your carry-on luggage through an airport. Again, ask the gate staff or the flight attendants about where you should retrieve your stroller.
A final tip when fully checking or gate-checking a stroller: Remove any stroller attachments like drink holders and securely strap the stroller in its folded position before allowing it to be checked. (Credit goes to Corinne McDermott at HaveBabyWillTravel.com for this good tip.)
Tips for Traveling with Baby Equipment
OK, here’s the second part of the story: Should you take your stroller on the plane? And while we’re asking, should you take all of the other baby gear on the plane with you?
In this case, the answer is a bit more complicated, because it’s really up to your preference.
But here are our tips:
Tip 1: The major U.S. airlines have made it quite easy to deal with strollers since they don’t charge you to check them, and since they allow gate-checking. So, our recommendation is yes, you should take your stroller. Yes, it’s bulky and a bit of a hassle to move through a congested environment, but especially if you’re planning an active, see-the-sights type of vacation, you’ll find bringing your stroller was worth it.
Tip 2: If you happen to be among the privileged who have multiple strollers, then by all means take the lightest, most compact stroller you have—keeping in mind, of course, the terrain you’ll need to cover when you arrive. Cobblestone streets in the Alps? Bring the stroller with the larger, inflatable tires.
Renting Baby Equipment When Traveling
Our final tip is that you can rent a hotel room, you can rent a car, you can rent a beach umbrella, and you can rent baby equipment.
So, even if you bring your own stroller, for all of the other equipment, you should consider renting at your destination, so you don’t have to lug it all through airports and pay for the checked bag fees.
In today’s age, you can now rent baby gear like bottle warmers, strollers, cribs, pack-n-plays, car seats, high chairs, baby monitors, even boxes of toys. Such rental businesses are now available in most large cities on all continents.
The prices are reasonable (yes, you will pay a premium for the convenience), and most companies will deliver the equipment to you. Most of these baby rental equipment companies are local businesses operating in a single destination, but there are a few like Baby's Away in the U.S. and Wee Travel in Canada that offer multiple destinations. Prices are typically tiered so that the more days you rent the equipment, the more affordable it becomes per day.