Southwest - Gate check carseat, or carry-on and use if available seat?
My wife and I are traveling on Southwest with a 17-month-old lap-child on SWA. We did not buy a ticket for the child, but will be bring a carseat for him for the following international flight on Asiana. We will each be checking 2 bags, and we will have a small folding stroller we plan to carry on or gate-check. Can we gate-check the carseat too, or if there is an available empty seat can we take it onboard and use it? Or, do we just have to check the carseat as an extra bag for $25? Has anyone had any experience on Southwest with this?
Southwest is generous with the baby stuff. You are under the limit with gear.
I took a seat on board Southwest last summer and used it, no problem. I saw another woman, who had a lap baby (mine had a seat) and she gate-checked her car seat, again, no problem. Full flights both ways.
The FAA allows you to use an empty seat for your car seat. While airlines let you, they often wont move other passengers to accommadate you.
Whether the flight is full, be sure to check-in the night before on line. This will put you in the "A" group for boarding. Families are boarded between A and B so it's still in your interest to get on first. Yes, you can still do bags with on line check-in. I'm pondering whether you can do this with your continuing flight so maybe find this out beforehand...
Ask at check-in if the flight is full. If not, just board and install the seat. Take a gate-check tag anyway, just in case. If a F/A says anything, tell them you know the flight isn't full and that you wish to use your car seat. Be nice but firm. Tell them right away that if the flight fills up, you'll happily gate-check the seat but prefer to use it on board if you can at all manage it.
A common flying tip is for one parent to get on board with the car seat(s) and the other to stay outside with the toddler so that they are not cooped up for so long. Great idea but don't risk it with open seating. That might be useful on your long-haul legs but for a short flight like this, make sure you're all seated together and one of you isn't fighting off some large group of teenagers going on some trip (nearly happened to me flying alone with three small children).
Never check a car seat in as luggage. You can go into any lost luggage section of any airport and find car seats. Makes you wonder how many kids are leaving the airport illegally and more importantly, unsafely without a car seat. These are also easily damaged in transit. Gate checking is supposed to be gentler and it would go down with the strollers and wheelchairs. One would hope they treat the wheelchairs well!
Be sure to gate-check the stroller. Don't bring it on board. I "caught" so many parents trying to do this when I worked. There usually isn't enough room and never put even a small umbrella stroller in an overhead bin. By the way, you can bring any foldable stroller. Don't feel obligated to take something flimsy for your trip if she would be more comfortable in her bigger stroller.
I had to travel on family emergencies twice recently, and Southwest made it easy both times. On both trips my 15 month old baby girl came with us. On all four flights, we didn't buy a ticket but the ticketing and gate agents dutifully checked to see if there were available seats on the flight for us to install the car seat. And flight attendants didn't make us feel like thieves for installing the seat in a space we hadn't paid for.