Planning a trip with a small child and feeling the overwhelm of all the details? I’ve been there, friend, and I’m here to help. Figuring out car seats can be one of the most overwhelming parts of traveling with young children who already come with a lot of bulky stuff.
This site contains affiliate links, meaning that we earn a small commission for purchases made through our site. We only recommend products we personally use, love, or have thoroughly vetted.
- Why Trust Us:
- Why I Don’t Recommend Renting Car Seats with Rental Cars
- Can I Safely Rent Car Seats for Travel?
- How Does BabyQuip Work?
- Can I Just Bring My Car Seat On the Plane?
- Can I Check My Car Seat So It Arrives With Our Luggage?
- Safe Travels, Mama!
Why Trust Us:
I’m a safety-focused, type-A mama who’s really over people saying, “Turn that baby’s car seat around,” or, “It’s time to put that boy in a booster.” I follow all the safety advice, chat with the safety technicians, and am hypervigilant about my kids in cars–so you can trust I’ve done the research and testing here.
Why I Don’t Recommend Renting Car Seats with Rental Cars
If you’re hoping to avoid carrying your carseat on a plane, you do have rental options. That said, most certified car seat safety technicians recommend against renting a car seat from a traditional rental car company, and having tried that once–and only once–I can see why.
I landed in San Diego after a LONG trip with 18-month-old Jack only to discover the car seat I’d reserved from Hertz was made of a flimsier plastic than my day planner. It was scratched all over, impossible to tighten once in the car, and not really even the right size for my baby.
In addition to my own experience, I’ve been on other trips with other families where there were no car seats in stock, despite being requested ahead of time. I’ve seen kids have to ride in the wrong size seat. And I’ve seen tons of reviews and forums online where people have had similar experiences, so I know it’s not just my bad luck. Car seats you rent from rental car companies tend to be:
- Dirty (think car-sick toddlers without a good clean-up)
- Visibly worn on the straps
- The wrong size for your kid
- Old (and possibly expired)
- Flimsy (not up to your brand standard)
- Tossed around recklessly (no care from the people behind the counter)
Also, and this is huge–you don’t know the car seat’s history! Did you know that manufacturers say to replace car seats after they’ve been in an accident? With seats from rental car companies (or any rental company without very clear policies), the seat your child is in could’ve been in a crash and never replaced–there’s no real way to know.
A huge thanks to BabyQuip for sponsoring this article, allowing us to dig into the research on car seat and travel safety. I’ve used BabyQuip for 6 years and sing their praises over how much easier they make it to adventure with my kiddos while keeping them safe, happy, and entertained!
Can I Safely Rent Car Seats for Travel?
Renting car seats upon arrival is a significantly easier way to travel by plane with kids, but if you can’t trust the rental car company’s seats, what are you supposed to do?
Most cities offer baby gear rental companies, and I’ve tried a number of them over the years for everything from cribs, toys, and you guessed it . . . car seats. And there’s one I always come back to time and again: BabyQuip.
Here’s the thing. There are quite a few things about rental car seats that can be scary.
- You don’t know if the right size is guaranteed
- You can’t control the kind of seat you get
- You don’t know the seat’s history
- Brands are often flimsy and cheap
But with BabyQuip, all those worries float away. When you rent a car seat through BabyQuip, you get to choose the exact seat you want from your personal independent provider, and usually, she’s a mama too.
What is BabyQuip?
BabyQuip is a baby gear rental service across North America and beyond. They use independent contractors (Quality Providers, or QPs) to get the best gear into parents’ hands wherever they’re going. You simply enter your travel dates and destination, plus a delivery and pickup window.
From there, you can select a provider who has the gear you need (including car seats, travel cribs, play mats, baby gates, and more!). They’ll coordinate with you to have your car seat ready for you when you get to the airport.
Here are just a few things I love about them!
- Variety of Brands to Choose From: You can choose from a variety of car seat brands, which makes it easier to find a seat you know how to properly install. Personally, I’m super picky about my car seat brand, and I want to know that I’ll be able to put my babies in the same brand we use at home.
- Car Seats for a Range of Ages: Even in small towns, BabyQuip providers have multiple car seats that fit newborns up to toddlers. There are bucket seats in case you want to carry your little one around, or larger seats that are designed to stay in the car. They also provide booster seats for older kids! I love this because I have two children with an age gap and different ages and car seat needs.
- Ease of Use: The QP will meet you at the airport with the seat, so it’s easy to get in and out of your rental car (NOTE: QPs cannot help you install the car seat for liability reasons; that’s still on you. But they will provide a manual with the car seat in case you need pointers, and they’re the only company that’s ever given me a manual.)
- Car Seat History: Here’s the great thing about working with BabyQuip providers instead of a car rental company: They know exactly what the seat has been through. I’ve always gotten amazing quality from BabyQuip, which is why I go back to them trip after trip.
- QPs Are Trained to Clean Properly: That’s right. Each QP is trained through how to correctly clean and sanitize baby gear after each use. So you’re getting a clean car seat that you know is in good shape.
- BabyQuip trust and safety standards make me feel good about all the products I use from them, most especially their rental car seats!
Given that BabyQuip’s rental fees are often cheaper than a car rental place, it’s a win-win!
How Does BabyQuip Work?
Each BabyQuip Quality Provider is a local (real!) person with their own business. They own the rental car seats themselves, so it matters to them what condition they’re in. And most of them are moms earning an income for their families, so I always feel like they have my kids’ best interests at heart.
To use it, just visit their website or app, input your dates of travel, and choose a provider or start selecting the gear you need! (I tend to choose the gear first and pick a provider based on their availability!)
Select the gear you want, check out, and your provider will touch base shortly!
In short, I’ve used BabyQuip for 6 years, traveling 2-3 times per year. Every item I’ve ever received has been clean, safe, and oh-so-helpful. And I’ve found that the moms delivering my baby gear rental items tend to have amazing local recommendations for things like parks, playgrounds, and kid-friendly restaurants. One even lent me her personal jogging stroller because I realized mid-trip that I needed one, but she was out of stock for rentals (thanks again, Morgan!)
Ultimately, I can’t say enough good things about this company! I’ve rented baby cribs, toys, and all sorts of things to make traveling with our little ones easier. The best thing by far, however, is the ability to NOT lug around their car seats and to know that they will be safe in car seat rentals while traveling.
Can I Just Bring My Car Seat On the Plane?
I actually rarely travel with car seats, so I’ll tell you about my tricks. But honestly, this is one of those places where it really comes down to a cost-benefit-analysis of safety and sanity, and each family gets to make that choice for themselves.
The Federal Aviation Administration recommends that kids under two years old fly in a car seat because that’s the safest way in case of major issues, like that scary turbulent Lufthansa flight in March 2023. That said, most families choose to have an infant in arms for the two years they’re allowed to. After all, have you seen what flights are going for these days?
It’s super common to fly with an infant in arms under two, and that’s where car seat rental comes in handy.
Flying With a Car Seat Is A Personal Decision (No Mom Shaming Here!)
Deciding if your child needs a car seat on an airplane is a personal choice. I’ve worn Jack in a Tula, sat Branham on a Tush Baby, lugged a bulky Britax through the airport strapped to a car seat trolley, and carried a Wayb Pico on my back that I strapped into the plane seat.
All that to say, I don’t make the same choice every time, and you get to make whatever choice is most comforting for you. Here’s a quick breakdown to help you decide.
Pros & Cons of Bringing A Car Seat on A Plane for Kids Under 2 Years Old
Pros: Safer in case of turbulence, ensures a reliable car seat on arrival, allows parents personal space on plane
Cons: Requires paying for an extra seat, more to carry through airport, requires an FAA approved car seat, requires extra time to install and uninstall seat upon arrival and departure, most children this age will insist on moving from their seats to their parents’ laps
Note on Safety & Comfort: Consider the space available between seats and the size of your child’s car seat. Many infant carriers can fit rear facing in economy seats on airplanes, but many convertible seats will only fit forward facing, which means the child isn’t reclined. We tried this with Branham at 18 months and it did NOT go over well.
Pros & Cons of Bringing A Car Seat on A Plane for Kids 2-4 Years Old
Pros: Safer in case of turbulence, child already has have their own seat
Cons: Bulky to carry through airport, requires FAA compliant car seat, may need to purchase extras like a car seat trolley
Pro Tip: If you don’t want to carry a carseat, but want to ensure your child is as safe as possible in case of turbulence, the CARES Child Aviation Restraint System was designed specifically for children 1 and older who weigh between 22 and 44lbs.
What About Older Children Still In Car Seats?
Once your little one is out of a convertible seat, carrying a car seat on a plane feels nearly impossible. I’ve never tried it, so I can’t say if it actually is impossible, but I cannot fathom carrying the large car seat for 51lb Jack on an airplane.
He’s also over the weight limit for CARES, but he still needs a car seat or booster seat in vehicles, which is one reason I LOVE car seat rental.
Can I Check My Car Seat So It Arrives With Our Luggage?
The answer is technically yes, but we really don’t recommend it. Hear us out.
While most airlines will allow you to check car seats free of charge, it’s typically not recommended for safety reasons. Most car seat safety technicians say that, if you want to check your car seat, you should put it back in its original box with plenty of padding around it. And let’s be real . . . that’s a lot of bulk (and space in the trunk once you arrive and need to fit your luggage!)
Why go to so much trouble? If you’ve ever seen how the hundreds of bags and suitcases are treated when they get loaded and unloaded from a plane, you know they get tossed around with little to no regard. Now imagine several 50 pound suitcases getting tossed onto your kid’s car seat. Once your child’s car seat is damaged, it no longer absorbs impact as it was designed to do. And while torn straps may be obvious, internal damage to the styrofoam in your car seat may not be.
Plus, if you check a car seat, there’s always a possibility that it won’t arrive when you do. Checked luggage gets left behind when travel delays occur.
If you’ve never experienced NOT having your luggage arrive when you do, I envy you! Now imagine that you’re stuck at an airport without your luggage and your car seat. Nightmare material.
Pro Tip: If you do bring your car seat with you at the airport and don’t plan to take it on the plane, have it gate checked instead. This makes sure it’s one of the last things loaded on the plane, which means that it might be handled more gently than luggage in cargo.
Safe Travels, Mama!
Now that you’ve got all the details about how to safely travel by plane with a baby or young child, I hope you feel equipped to make the choices that are best for you and your family! And no matter where you’re going, it’s amazing to know you can lighten your load by renting baby gear that’ll be waiting when you get there!
Katy Huie Harrison, PhD, is an author, mom, recurrent miscarriage survivor, & owner of Undefining Motherhood. She lives in Atlanta with her husband (affectionately known on the internet as “Husband,”) son (Jack), and daughter (Branham). She believes our society puts too many expectations on women that make womanhood and motherhood restrictive. Her goal is to shift the paradigm about what it means to be a woman and mother, giving all women a greater sense of agency over their own lives. You can find Katy and her work featured in places like CNN’s Headline News, Romper, Scary Mommy, Love What Matters, & more.