How To Fly With A Stroller In The United States

Just as the United dragging incident sparked a lot of interest regarding the finer points of how airlines overbook flights, the American strollergate altercation involving the mother of twins has led to a lot of discussion about the finer points of flying with strollers, prams, baby buggies, or the like.

It turns out I’ve had quite a bit of experience traveling with a stroller given that my wife and I have taken our kids — now aged 5, 4, and 1 — on multiple international trips each year since they were born. In fact, I would say that our BOB Revolution stroller is probably our most coveted piece of travel gear, and the one thing most responsible for allowing my wife and I to maintain much of our pre-kid jetset lifestyle.

So I thought it might be useful to go over the basics of what it’s like to fly with a stroller. I’m going to focus on domestic travel within the United States, and then make a few comments about the variations you might see around the world. But at least within the US, I’ve found that stroller policies and procedures are pretty consistent across airlines and airports.

Where should you check your stroller?

You generally cannot bring your stroller onto the plane, so you’re going to need to check it. (With the possible exception of some collapsible strollers, which I’m not familiar with so won’t be covering.) The decision then is whether to check it at the front counter with your other bags — the stroller is free, by the way —  or take it to the gate and check it there.

I recommend bringing your stroller all the way to the gate.

Delta-Gate
I recommend taking the stroller to the gate

There’s just really no good reason not to in my opinion. Sprawling airports can make for tired little feet at best, or tired shoulders for Dad when the little one doesn’t want to keep walking.

You can also use your stroller as a luggage cart, which comes in handy when you realize that you need to schlep the kids carry-on bags in addition to your own.

strollerwithluggage
Stroller or luggage cart?

So my advice is take the stroller to the gate, with the possible exception of a few international airports that provide loaner strollers once you are past security.

How to gate check your stroller

Once you arrive at the gate, you need to get a gate check tag for the stroller. You might as well do this as soon as you arrive because the longer you wait, the busier the gate agents get. You can also get one as you start the boarding process, but then the line will slow and it will seem like everyone is impatiently staring at you.

Either way, the agent will need to ask you a couple of questions. If it’s not obvious, they’ll ask how many pieces your stroller is because they need to tag each item separately. So if there is a car seat on it, and you are not taking the seat on the plane, then you have two pieces. If it’s just the stroller, then you have one.

They’ll also want to know your final destination. Don’t worry, they aren’t going to check your stroller all the way there — they just want to put both flights on the tag so you don’t have to go through this process again prior to your connecting flight. Sometimes they only bother to list one flight, and that’s fine too. Just remember to take off the old tag and get a new one at your connecting airport.

Sometimes, depending on the gate agent, they might also make you sign the tag indicating that you release them from liability if anything gets broken. Then they’ll affix the tag to your stroller and give you the claim stub. Supposedly you shouldn’t lose this, so I always give it to my wife for safe keeping.

At that point, you should be ready to herd your clan down the jet bridge.

strolleratunitedgate
Stroller tagged and ready to go

Preparing your stroller for checking

When you get to the end of the jet bridge, you’ll need to get your stroller ready to go into the cargo hold. If there’s a line, I actually suggest starting this process while you’re slowly moving forward so that you’re close to ready by the time you get to the end. That means packing up the loose items in the stroller, gathering up coats and jackets that are stored underneath, and frantically searching for someone’s pacifier. Then all you’ll have to do when you get to the end of the jet bridge is unload the kids, collapse, secure, and go.

I’ve done this so many times that I can basically unload the stroller, fold it up, and strap it down, all while I’m rolling down the jet bridge. Then when I get to the end, I’m ready to drop it off and board the plane. It’s not only efficient, but it also provides entertainment to everyone in the jet bridge. I like to tell them that in a past life I worked on a race car pit crew….

Anyway, we have a BOB Revolution, so to get it ready we fold it in half and then secure it in that position with a strap.

collapsedstroller
BOB Revolution collapsed for transport

I’ve also seen some folks put their strollers in a protective bag, but that seems unnecessary to me.

It’s also worth noting that you’re not supposed to leave anything in the stroller. I’m not sure why this is a rule, but supposedly it is. That said, I’ve been known to stuff a few extra diapers into one of the interior pouches and it’s never been a problem.

Where do I leave my stroller?

Once you’ve got it all packed up, you leave it in the sort of circular vestibule-like space at the end of the jet bridge. On my flight yesterday, somebody had left wheeled-walker there to be gate-checked.

strollerjetbridge5
Leave stroller here

Or on the right side of the jet bridge along the wall.

jetbridgestroller1
Or here

If it’s a small regional jet, there will likely be a bunch of rollaboards already there, or if it’s a flight to Orlando, you can just add your stroller to the flotilla.

Sometimes you’ll see a ramp worker waiting just inside the exterior door that leads to the stairs to the tarmac — he’s the one that is going to handle your stroller, so be nice to him (or her). Seriously, in many cases these guys are awesome, so if they help you out, tell them how much you appreciate it.

Finally, if you’re flying in business or first on a widebody plane, you might want to ask where to leave the stroller. That’s because these planes often board through two jet bridges, one of them for premium cabin customers and one for economy. Since it’s more common for families to be flying in the back, the second jet bridge is likely to have most of the strollers so it can be helpful to put your stroller there as well.

Where do I pick up my stroller?

You collect your stroller at the same spot you dropped it off. If you are seated toward the back of the plane, there’s a decent chance that your stroller will be waiting for you by the time you get off. Otherwise you might have to wait a bit. And if you are flying into Newark, you might have to wait a loooong bit. Seriously, strollers seem to take forever to come up at Newark. Don’t know why.

The jet bridge can often be a congested place following the flight. There are often a bunch of wheelchair pushers queuing to meet passengers needing assistance. The cleaners might be milling about waiting to get on the plane. And of course there’s a steady stream of passengers coming off the plane.

stroller jetbridge 7

The point is, there’s a lot going on in a small space. We usually take a divide and conquer strategy where my wife takes the three kids into the terminal, where they can run around, go to the potty, and generally not be in the way. I then wait for the stroller, usually at the front of the line so that I can greet the ramp worker as soon as he unlocks the door. That way he only needs to hand it to me, rather than find a place to put it down. Of course, it also lets me thank him.

Again, there can be some variations. If you are flying on a widebody in a premium cabin, you might want to ask where the strollers will be returned just like you asked where to put it prior to departure.

And if you are arriving somewhere outside the US, all bets are off. Each country tends to do things differently, and it doesn’t matter whether you are arriving on a US carrier or not. In Germany, for example, strollers are usually delivered into the terminal, after you exit the jet bridge. In Norway, they are sent to baggage claim. We pretty much always ask if we are landing in a foreign country just to be sure.

Finally, I’ll mention the obvious — don’t forget your stroller. Once you leave the jet bridge, you generally can’t go back in. That’s not a catastrophic mistake, it just means that you have to wait for an agent to go back and retrieve your stroller, which is sort of a pain. So if in doubt, ask before you go up to the gate.

Once you have it, you can pack up and be on your way.

IMG_2224

Bottom line

Traveling with kids can be stressful, but bringing along a stroller should not be. At least within the US, the process of gate checking and then reclaiming a stroller is pretty consistent across airlines and airports so once you get the process down, you’ll feel like a pro.

Of course, once you land in a foreign country, you’ll have to figure out how the locals do it. So when in doubt, just ask. Most folks — airline staff and fellow passengers alike — are often more than willing to help.

Do you have any tips for traveling with strollers?

Comments

  1. Do not take a regular stroller to the airport. Make your life easier and get a portable travel stroller

    Uppa Baby Light, G Luxe, Quinny Yezz whatever, just get one.

    I moved to the uk with my 2 year old. We fly all the time. Its so much better than her giant stroller

  2. Corey — Right, 3 children 5 and under. (It used to be 3 under 5.) But we do it all the time, so it’s just our life.

    And now maybe you’ll realize why an umbrella stroller is not the answer for us (or lots of people.) We need to be able to put 3 kids on the stroller, plus bags, and then be able to roll it over cobblestones, uneven sidewalks, or whatever.

  3. We have a Babyzen Yoyo. We have taken it on 20+ US domestic and international flights. Every single time we just put it in the overhead bin. No gate checking since it is the size of a carry on suitcase. Very comfortable and durable too.

  4. The best option is the YoYo stroller – it folds up to be very compact and fits in any overhead (other than regional aircraft); downside is that it doesn’t fit much if you plan to use as a schlepping tool.

    On another note, reading about this issue from multiple sources, while the AA attendant was out of line, it seems this woman was at fault and not following rules that are pretty clear and not an issue for 99.9% of travelers.

  5. For sure Travis. Meant for people like me with 1 kid. Still great to have with multiple kids. 3+ though…Eh not really

    Don’t know how you manage. Well done

  6. We have been traveling with our Britax for 3 years now. I was shocked to hear you say you don’t think a protective bag is necessary!

    We made one out of some beige canvas we had laying around, you would be amazed at how dirty it has become – obviously the color helps show the dirt.

    If it were not for the cover, all of that grime would be on the stroller instead, ew!

  7. anon — Not every kid needs / wants to ride in the stroller all the time. So sometimes we’ll have one in the stroller, sometimes two, and on very rare occasions, three. It’s all about the flexibility.

  8. As a ramper, if you don’t want it get damaged, bag and check the stroller. If not, getting damages is a likelihood.

  9. OMG dude you travel like an amateur first time parent. A full size stroller and a full size car seat? Who does that?

    Buy a sit n stroll, the best thing ever it goes from stroller to car seat without having to take the infant out. Ours lasted through 2 kids, it will make your life so much easier when traveling.

  10. We’ve only flown with it once and we’ve only got one kid, but my wife and I had good luck with a Mountain Buggy Nano stroller. Folds up easily to a small size, and comes with a cover that works well for flying. Can’t hold much more than the baby and her diaper bag, though. In the Amazon reviews, some folks claim success in bringing it onto the plane and keeping it under their seat rather than gate checking.

  11. Our kids are now 6 and 8 and its amazing how easy it is when we can fly with just carry ons and 2 booster seats which are carry on as well. Stress level has decreased by 99% at the airport.
    We had bags for our strollers and car seats before and would always fill those bags with Diapers, clothes, etc so we never had to pay for checked baggage.

  12. I will by flying with an 8-month old in June. We have a car seat stroller which we plan to bring on the trip. We also want to travel with the car seat base, which is a large bulky item. Can we gate check that as well? Can I just put it inside the stroller bag?

  13. Travis, you forgot to mention that some airlines (AA at least) have weight limits on strollers that can be gate checked. I believe AA’s limit is 20 lbs. (this came over from USAir with the merger). So, if you have a BOB (which is amazing), you will have to check it at the ticketing counter.

    For those of you talking about smaller portable strollers, they are certainly nicer at the airport, but the BOB goes everywhere, and is especially nice if you are a runner and want to run while on your trip.

  14. Will the Bob stroller make it through the metal detector – or does it have to be manually inspected by TSA?

  15. When my kids were small, we typically just used cheap umbrella strollers and gate checked them. While the child car seats were checked with the regular luggage. However when my oldest was a baby and if I was traveling alone with her. I had this https://www.kohls.com/product/prd-1818004/baby-trend-snap-n-go-single-universal-car-seat-stroller.jsp?ci_mcc=ci&utm_campaign=EC%20BABY%20NON-APPAREL&utm_medium=CSE&utm_source=google&utm_product=95543302&CID=shopping15&gclid=Cj0KEQjwrYbIBRCgnY-OluOk89EBEiQAZER58rXjWpd4ulNEYwr25k2BuPr6M6LYEUYV6m5-aurQZaoaAuTY8P8HAQ&gclsrc=aw.ds&dclid=CL2nk837xNMCFYccPwodLXgHpQ. which I would check at the gate, and remove the car seat to use on the plane.

    On another note, The ‘mom’ on the AA flight was absolutely ridiculous, the male passenger who threatened the FA should have been removed from the flight and should be charged. The FA definitely lost his cool and should have shown more professionalism. He shouldn’t have engaged with either of them, instead of tussling with the mom over the stroller, he should have told her the options, check check it or disembark the air craft.

  16. Check the width of the stroller. Our B-Agile would not fit through the x-ray but luckily the TSA guy showed me how to remove the wheels and then it fit.

  17. Travis, I dont have any kids myself, but I really enjoy reading about this. You really balance out this website with your posts. Keep it up.

  18. Our favorite travel stroller for children under 35lb is the Doona by simple parenting. It’s both a car seat and a stroller in one. It’s not the best for piling 3 kids on, but we don’t have three kids yet.

    Where it shines is in it’s ability to be wheeled down the aisle of the plane (if you have a seat to put it in) and totally eliminates the need to gate check it. For some reason it often has issues making it past the first 3 rows of economy on A320s and 737s but will fit the rest of the way.

    If we do have to gate check it, it collapses in seconds and doesn’t involve making a scene unpacking it.

    It’s not best for people with multiple kids, but if you carry the baby you can fit some things like diaper bags, coats, or small backpacks on it.

    This past trip last week we actually brought our full size stroller and checked it in with our bags just using the Doona to transverse the airport itself.

    Additionally, the Doona fits in the overhead bins on the A380 and 777-300, making it easy to stow away if you don’t like checking it in. We only had some issues internationally where we were told in DOH we’d have to check it in all the way to our final destination (on a DOH-AUH-JFK-LAX trip) but argued that the F cabin to AUH was empty besides us and ended up just sticking it on a empty seat.

    Another bonus: It shocks ticket agents and FAs alike, since most haven’t seen such a car seat/stroller before.

    I can’t recommend it enough!

  19. Adding my 2 cents (also have 3 kids under 5):
    – Add Madrid to airports with loaner strollers
    – After a fairly expensive stroller was damaged on a plane once, we now use a cheap(er) one for travel ($50), minimizing potential cost
    – We always carry a large, clear plastic bag and we put the stroller in it before leaving it on the ramp to avoid arriving to find a wet stroller (very common)
    – After waiting for a stroller on the ramp for a while at JFK I found out strollers are sometimes left in a corner near luggage carousels. You’ll find out that a number of people don’t get it by the number of strollers abandoned there… As Travis suggested: worth asking

  20. Travis,
    I purchased the Baby Jogger City Tour last month and I was able to bring the stroller on the plane and store on the overhead bin. It comes with a handy backpack. We fly every year to Brazil and to gate check is a problem because I can only puck the stroller on separate counter (oversize items counter) at luggage claim.
    The stroller is very sturdy comparing to regular umbrella stroller and my 4 year old even took a nap.
    Kudos to you and your wife for taking the kids on amazing trips.

  21. Great Job Travis!

    While I do not have a young one anymore I really enjoyed reading this post and I am sure this will benefit many parents. You covered it completely and answered all the unasked questions I ever had about traveling with a stroller and perhaps one day I will be able to help someone out with the knowledge I have gained here.

  22. Having travelled recently with a three month old from the east coast to Hawaii, my only recommendation would be paying a bit extra to check your bags. We had a stroller, carsear, diaper bag and four carry-on bags and it was a nightmare. I wish Canadian airlines had the same policy, car seats and larger strollers must be checked.

  23. Travis, thoughts on the doona for a first time parent? Convenience > cost? Three trips booked in the first four months

  24. First time parent — I never really feel comfortable giving advice on which stroller to get. It’s like asking which is the best vehicle — it totally depends on what you want to do with it, how much you have to spend, etc. And I’ve only ever really used one stroller — the BOB — which is perfect for us and our adventurous style of travel with 3 kids. I’ll try to explain why it works for us in another post, if that’s useful.

  25. For first-time people asking for advice on strollers, my advice is borrow one for a few weeks and buy after you have the baby. That way you’ll KNOW what you actually need. In terms of travel, many swear by having an umbrella, but I agree with Travis, they’re also less comfortable.

    Advice though, if you’re getting an expensive stroller, one that costs more than $500/€500 then DEFINITELY get an approved travel bag. This way if it gets bashed, the manufacturer AND the airline will both cover you. I’ve had strollers bashed and if you don’t have a protective case, many airlines will refuse to pay, or will fight you.

    So either get an umbrella stroller, or a bag. The good news is an umbrella stroller and a bag are about the same price. (actually a bag is more expensive)… But it means you have your ‘rolls royce’ wherever you go.

    If you’re gonna travel a lot with kids, for airports, you want something that’s super easy to fold one-handed (because you’ll be holding the child in one hand on a jet bridge with the contents of the stroller in the other and folding the thing with spare fingers!). We have the UppaBaby Vista (we used to have Quinny, Phil&Ted, and a few others borrowed on trips but we wouldn’t trade the vista for anything), but if you have a small car or small front door and narrow hallway, you’ll find the vista takes up too much space with its wide wheelbase, hence the advice to go to a dedicated baby store and try every display model WITH all your baby gear and your baby. Fold each model, unfold it, take car seat off and on, etc…

  26. Jay — We’ve flown American once or twice with the BOB. Didn’t have an issue.

    The way I see it is that in the world of airline, there are rules, and then there are rules that are enforced. 😉

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