How do you pack a stroller for air travel?

Avoid an airport nightmare with these essential tips

Silvercross Jet travel stroller
(Image credit: Silvercross)

Let’s be honest. Travelling abroad with babies and toddlers is rarely relaxing. Whether it’s the availability of snacks in duty free, an urgent need for the toilet in a ridiculously long customs queue or a meltdown on the world’s busiest escalator or concourse, it’s impossible to guarantee that your time in the airport will go smoothly. But there’s one thing you can plan and control: how you pack your pushchair.

We’re not talking about how you tether a teddy or stuff the changing bag, but how you pack this most cumbersome but critical bit of holiday kit. After all, you don’t want to find you can’t carry your stroller onto a plane at the last minute, or even worse, spot the mangled wreck of your buggy on the baggage carousel, leaving you to navigate the train/underground/buses sans wheels in an unfamiliar city. Quelle nightmare!

How do you pack a stroller for air travel: Important considerations

The first thing to do is check out our guide to the best strollers for travel, and then consider something that’s more important than how many swimsuits to pack, or which gelato flavour to plump for … whether your stroller will go in the hold or not.

There are pros and cons to both options. Sure, you’ll be able to keep hold of your child and stuff more easily if you take your stroller to your seat, but folding a buggy in the aisle while wrangling an over-excited or whining kid into a tight space is no mean feat. 

Some airlines only allow a single piece of hand luggage so you’ll have to keep your passport etc. somewhere else (which can be a pain) and if your buggy is heavy, you might want to avoid stuffing it into an overhead locker full stop. 

However, if you have a dinky stroller and feel confident travelling light and negotiating the overhead storage easily, you’ll be wheeling your kid past everyone waiting at the door of the aircraft or for baggage reclaim.

The first thing to do when considering whether to keep your buggy in the cabin or not, is whether your buggy will fit into the limited space, and the only way to know is to check with your airline. Lots of buggies are designed to squeeze in overhead lockers, but airlines can have unusual requirements and very strict weight limits, so it’s worth checking to avoid a panic at the gates. 

Hopefully, this is a decision you can make at home, so you can prepare, but there is always a chance that there might not be room to stow your stroller in the overhead lockers, so if you have a protective case, it might be worth packing, just in case your buggy has to be put in the hold.

How do you pack a stroller for air travel: Packing for the hold

If you think your buggy is too big, or simply choose to put it in the hold, you’ll need to check it in or hand it over when the board the plane. For example, British Airways lets you drop and pick up your pushchair at the aircraft door, which means less time without your child’s trusty steed in the airport.

This means it’s worth being super organised with what you pack (and need for the cabin) in advance. For example, lots of airlines only allow one carry-on bag, so it’s not very useful to have essentials scattered about the buggy, with only a handbag to put them in at the last minute. It’s worth planning ahead and having an ‘entertainment’ bag for kids to keep them busy on the flight (and in the event of any dreaded delays) as well as all your essentials like passports and money.

Once you’ve got yourself organised, you might want to spare thought for your buggy. Not all luggage is handled carefully and if you’ve invested in a swanky stroller you hope to keep for a while, or use for multiple kids, it’s worth protecting. Some buggies come with protective bags for air travel, and it’s also possible to buy them separately. 

Another big consideration is labelling your buggy. If you have a popular model that might end up with others on a luggage carousel or collection point, you’ll want a distinctive label. We suggest having a few in case one gets torn off, and bright colours will help you spot yours easily.

While people who carry their buggies on board might be able to skip baggage reclaim or waiting for staff to bring their stroller to them when they get off the plane (airports’ and airlines’ approaches differ!) most airlines offer early boarding to families with small children board earlier. This means you’ll have to get the gate earlier than you otherwise might, but allows you to skip the worst of the crowds, settle down before things get hectic and take things in and out of the overhead lockers five times before take-off and swap seats to settle arguments about who gets the window. No amount of planning can avoid this (probably).

How do you pack a stroller for air travel: Packing for hand luggage

We’ve said it before, but it’s worth saying again: Measure and weigh your stroller before you get to the airport! You don’t want that panic of having to change your plans last minute (possibly with an angry toddler in tow) if your pushchair is 10cm too big.

If your buggy came with a shoulder strap or protective bag, it’s worth digging them out so you can carry it on board easily, and protect it if there’s no room in the cabin and your stroller suddenly has to be put in the hold.

Strollers usually have to go through security and you and may need to be folded up. You’ll definitely need to lift them into an overhead locker or fold them into a small space on the plane, so we recommend giving yours a good clean before you go and get rid of any debris, which might slow you and other passengers down. Similarly, it’s best to pack really carefully so it’s easy to access your passport, tickets, toiletries bag, kid’s changing stuff or entertainment bag. You don’t need to tell us how much stuff you need to carry as a parent!

How do you pack a stroller for air travel: Bon voyage

Once you’re all packed and ready to go, it’s just a case of trying to avoid any nasty surprises. Planning ahead when it comes to packing up your stroller and bags will really help. It’s worth remembering that if it’s your first time travelling with a buggy and baby it might feel a bit daunting, but it’s a rite of passage a lot of parents go through and doing it gets easier.

So, take a deep breath, buckle up for a (possibly) wild ride if there’s a delay and try to enjoy the experience. Bon Voyage!

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Sarah Griffiths

A journalist with 10 years experience, Sarah specialises in Science and Technology, writing for the BBC, national papers and consumer magazines, including T3, of course. Sarah has reviewed a range of products for T3, from children’s electric toothbrushes to water bottles and photo printing services. There's nothing she can't become an expert in!