Traveling with a baby means hauling tons of gear with you. Strollers are essential tools when trying to keep your baby contained in unfamiliar territory and help you transport him -- and his diapering essentials and toys -- from one place to another. Airlines have different regulations about strollers and whether you must check them at the ticket counter or an attendant can take care of them for you at the gate.
Checking at the Ticket Counter
All airlines let you check strollers at the ticket counter when you check your luggage. The downside of doing this is that you don't get to use your stroller as you move through the airport; you end up carrying your gear as well as your baby. Sometimes there's no option, however. If your stroller doesn't collapse, like many jogging strollers, you might be required to check it at the ticket counter. Some airlines have other requirements, such as American Airlines, which makes you check your stroller if it doesn't collapse or weighs more than 20 pounds. On the upside, the airlines don't typically count a stroller toward your luggage weight or quantity limit.
Checking at the Gate
If your airline allows you to use your stroller all the way to the gate, be prepared to hand it over to an attendant before you get on the plane. After you collapse the stroller for the attendant, she will tag it and give you a receipt, then stow it for you. When you exit the plane at your destination, show the attendant your receipt to get your stroller back.
Umbrella strollers are small and lightweight, but they might not meet your needs for your entire vacation as they lack storage and have lower weight limits than large strollers. You usually can stow them in the overhead bins on an airplane, eliminating the hassle of checking a large stroller. If you must have your large stroller on your trip, taking an extra umbrella stroller is still a good idea in case you have to check your large one at the ticket counter or if it gets damaged while stowed.
Airlines aren't always friendly to baggage, and that applies to strollers as well. The odd shape and size can be a problem during baggage handling, which is set up to deal with luggage. Try to have a backup plan, such as an umbrella stroller or baby sling, to help you transport your child if your stroller is damaged or lost. You can also buy a stroller bag that helps protect your stroller during baggage handling. Emptying all your baskets and hidey-holes is an important step; before you turn your stroller over at the gate or the ticket counter, make sure you've removed all your items from any upper or lower storage compartments.