How to Fly with Two Kids and Not Pay for Checked Bags

Call us crazy, but we still fly with two kids two and under without paying for checked bags.  We live in Los Angeles and our family is in the Midwest, so we fly back several times a year and usually stay for a week or two.

When we went on our first trip with our two-year old and infant, I was a nervous wreck and kept saying to my husband “how are we going to do this!?”  Well, heavens to Betsy, we surprised me and figured it out by trial and error.  We tried two different ways, one with the convertible car seat in the plane seat, and the other by checking both car seats at the gate.



Something you should know up front is that you can check car seats and strollers free when flying.

  • We put a convertible car seat in a travel car seat bag and my husband carries it on his back (see below) just until we get to the ticket counter and they check it for free.  We took our liberty  and put a bunch of other stuff in the bag too but got a warning from the guy working at the ticket counter that we can’t do that again because the bag should weigh less than 25 lbs.  I suspect that we will put stuff in it again next time, but we may not push our luck so much.
  • We put the infant car seat in a plastic trash bag with the car seat base attached and carry it by setting it on top of one of the roller bags just until we get to the ticket counter and check it for free too (see images below).IMG_7259.JPG


Since we are paying for three tickets, we can take three carry-ons and three personal items.  Here are the bags and what we put in them.

  • Two roller bags.  My husband and I share one bag and we pack another bag for the kids clothes.
    • Tips for packing light:  We always do at least a load of laundry while we are there and we take as little as possible. If I’m taking two pairs of shoes, I wear the ones that would take up the most suitcase space.  I will take either a black or brown color scheme of clothes so I don’t have to take both black and brown shoes, tanks, sweaters, or accessories.  We only take enough diapers and wipes for the travel to the destination and a little extra if our flight is delayed by several hours.  Then we buy diapers and wipes when we get to our destination.
  • A small backpack with diapers, wipes, and snacks. which I carry on my back.  We put it under the seat in front of us.
  • Another small bag full of toys which we set on top of a roller bag or I carry.  We put it under the seat in front of us.
  • A bag of books, extra clothes for the kids, and back up diapers in a Hello Kitty backpack that we strap to the front of the roller bag.  We usually put this in the overhead bin.




  • We discovered that our two-year old loves riding on the roller bag by hanging it on the top handle.  She started doing this when she was 18 months old.  Now her legs drag, but she just picks them up and loves the attention and smiles she gets from everyone we pass (see image below).
  • I carry my six month old son in an Ergo orBeco carrier on my front and the small backpack on my back (see image below).




In summary, I carry my son, a backpack, and help my husband carry all the other stuff with my free hands.  If we wanted to take a stroller, I could push my toddler in a stroller and hang the bags on the handlebar.  Or I have one free hand to hold onto her while she walks.

My husband carries the two roller bags with my daughter hanging on the handle of one bag, and a car seat sitting on top of the other bag.  On his back he carries the convertible car seat.  Sometimes we get a cart and put all that stuff on it.  Remember, you only have to carry the car seats to the ticket counter, then you are free of those heavy beasts.


To clarify, we tried this method on our first leg of the trip.  Here’s how it turned out:

The convertible car seat was too wide to fit down the airplane aisle, so my husband had to carry it over his head.  I had to get both children and all the carry on bags down the aisle by myself (thankfully we had gate checked our larger roller bags).

We put the car seat in the designated airplane chair and put our overly tired two-year old in it.  She promptly FREAKS out, screaming and kicking the seat in front of her.  The car seat was positioned at a perfect angle to kick the seat in front of her with the force of a 200 lb man.  There was a poor middle-aged woman in front of our little firecracker and as soon as I saw her head being whipped forward and backward from the kicking I said “This isn’t going to work.  Take the car seat off the plane”.  My husband gave me an angry look because, of course, I was the one who insisted that she would be more comfortable in her own seat and sleep better if we brought it on the plane.

So, now there is a huge wave of people trying to pack themselves on the tiny airplane, and my husband is trying to get OFF so he can gate check the blasted car seat.  And he had to carry it over his head.  It was nightmarish.

BUT, maybe your child won’t act like ours.

In the case that you want your car seat(s) on the plane, or if you would just like the car seat(s) to double as strollers as you scamper through the airport and then gate check them, here is how.

Get a strap that tightens down to your roller suitcase.  It is best if it has a rachet device on it to get it super tight (see image below).  Here is a link to a car seat luggage strap (nope, I’m not making $ on this link) so you can see what I’m talking about.

It worked really well to cart our daughter through the airport, but it wasn’t worth the hassle of taking it on the plane.  Below is a picture of her strapped in!


When we get to the gate, we are often told that we can check our roller bags for free to save space on a full airplane, and we always accept this offer!

And there you have it folks!  Then comes the real challenge, entertaining your little monkeys on the four-hour flight.


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