We have always traveled with our own car seats. Car seats DO NOT count against your baggage limit should you decide to check your car seat at the check-in counter or at the gate. We use a light weight Southwest Car Seat bag to check ours at the gate and have yet to have problems with damage or mishandling. Some people prefer to check their car seats at the gate, which you are also allowed to do in addition to a stroller.
We typically do not use a car seat while flying despite the FAA guidelines, as I have found carrying anywhere from two to four car seats too much to manage through security. Also, know your 'car seat' rights, see The Car Seat Lady's Website for additional information. All airlines are required to allow you to use your car seat and YES! you can face your infant backwards just like you do in a car. For a while, we literally traveled with four car seats as we typically spend a lot of time in cars during our long summer travels. Having said that, we do not take car seats with us when we are not renting cars, i.e. New York, as we simply throw the kids in the cab and make do.
Currently, we travel with two car seats for our six-year-old twins, who are vastly different sizes. Our favorite 5-point harness travel seat is the ImmiGo car seat. It's light, it's adjustable it's super easy to install and it's safe. For a long time, both our twins used this seat when traveling. We also like the light weight booster made by Cosco due to its sleek, lightweight design.
Flying Tips and Tricks
Routine: Both my husband and I have TSA Pre-check, which is worth the appointment and fee, as you can take your kids with you through the express line. This advantage has more than once saved us from missing a flight. The kids line up duckling order and their boarding passes are organized in the same way. The TSA gate agent will typically ask who each kid is and the kid is suppose to answer. We have never needed birth certificates while flying both domestically and internationally, but I understand each country varies on this policy. Once we get through security, the kids use the restroom and fill water bottles to avoid any unexpected delay complications when getting off the ground.
Where to sit: I highly recommend the back of the bus. This is where other families tend to congregate, it's where the white noise is the loudest (muffling infant or grumpy toddler's screams) and the least likely place to get dirty looks. I never feel like I need to buy anyone a drink when I sit at the back of the bus.
Since we typically travel with six to seven people, we usually take two consecutive rows, placing the younger kids behind the older kids to ensure we only kick family members' seats. Please note, you must have an adult per row in case of an emergency for the oxygen mask situation. Also note, you cannot sit in an emergency row. I have found these rules to also hold during international travel.
What to bring: I always carry gum and kleenex on a flight. I also have the kids fill up their water bottles after passing through security to stay hydrated and avoid travel headaches. We like our kids to share iPads after they exhaust reading material, so we also carry a splitter so two pairs of headphones can attach to each iPad.
When to fly: We like to fly early morning flights. I have never had a pleasant flight with a baby a night.
Don't Get Lost
Team Tvartin Rules: Take care of yourself. Take care of each other. Take care of your things.
What to do when you get lost?: (call and response)
Me: What do you do if you get lost?
Children Find a mommy!
Me: How do you know she's a mommy?
Children: She has kids around her (or has a stroller).
Me: How many kids should she have?
Children: A lot!
Children: So she won't judge you!
But don't get lost: I typically tag the kids with wristband from Name Bubbles when we go out and about in the city. The wristbands say, "Tversky kid, please call (my phone number)." The 9-year and 11-year old now know my phone well enough they don't need them. Finding a mom with ideally four plus kids, still applies.