Last April, my husband and I had to take our then 10-month-old son to Colorado so we could attend my husband’s grandmother’s funeral. Up until this point we were too scared to travel with him because it all seemed so daunting. Flying is stressful enough, but add the extra stuff you need for a baby and it seemed almost impossible. We had so many questions, from how to gate check a stroller to how to check a car seat. Plus, do you have to gate check these items or can you check them at the ticket counter? And if you do check them at the ticket counter is there a fee? I was also super worried about getting through TSA security with my pumped breast milk. Turns out we had nothing to be worried about — including the breast milk — and it was smooth sailing.
Though the rules do vary slightly by airline, for the most part, we learned that gate checking a stroller is really very, very simple. Based on my experience, it goes like this: Bring the stroller to the gate agent when you get to the gate where your flight will be departing, and tell them you want to gate check your stroller; they'll give you a pink slip to put on your pram. When you board, wheel the stroller down the breezeway and leave it at the end of the tunnel before you board the plane. Then, when you get to your final destination, the baggage handlers will bring the stroller and put it back in the breezeway where you “left it” — but not really since you’re no longer in that state. (But it’s in the same spot.)
Naturally, there are always additional concerns and questions that pop up in the moment. On the official Airport Security & TSA Travel Tips website, the TSA attempts to clear up some of these issues in advance; for example: Yes, strollers that are being checked at the gate will need to be screened by the X-ray. Yes, you can carry your child through security (provided they're "young and small enough to need a stroller in the first place"). Another useful thing to know: "Necessary items in the stroller" such as formula or breast milk "are allowed to exceed the normal 3.4 ounce limit, but need to be declared."
I highly recommend gate checking a stroller so you can use the alternate TSA security line for wheelchairs and strollers at some airports. Also, this means you can use your stroller to wheel your child to the gate instead of lugging everything and everyone or having your toddler walk — you can just check your stroller and car seat at the ticket counter when you check your other luggage. According to the TSA website, American Airlines allows one stroller to be checked at the gate for free, Delta allows both strollers and seat restraints to be checked for free, Southwest allows strollers and carseats to be checked for free, United allows one stroller and one car seat to be checked for free, and Frontier allows a stroller to be checked for free.
Melinda Vernon, a flight attendant for Delta Airlines for the past 45 years, tells Romper when you gate check your stroller, the baggage handlers will put it in a special bin up at the very front of the cargo area under the plane (along with wheelchairs and car seats) so the baggage handlers at your final destination can grab those items first.
"They'll also bring it up if you have a connection and recheck it to your final destination," Vernon says.
“I think it’s a really important service to offer our customers for free," she adds. “Something to make traveling with a small child a little easier and potentially a little less stressful.”
So if you’re traveling with a small child, don’t fret. It’s really easy to check your stroller and other miscellaneous baby-related items that you need to take with you. Just listen to the advice on the TSA Travel Tips site: "If you’re concerned about anything your airline’s gate agent should be able to help with all questions.