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Safety first everywhere – except for babies on airplanes!

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I just don’t get it.

Parents stress more about their babies annoying other airline passengers than whether they are safe on board.

They wouldn’t think of driving anywhere without securely strapping their baby in an appropriate safety seat and spend countless hours considering which safety seat to buy. But on airplanes, you are more likely to see infants and toddlers sitting in a parent’s lap than in a safety seat.

This despite the fact that everyone from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board recommends safety seats for young children, but many parents continue to ignore the advice. See what the FAA says at (www.faa.gov/passengers/fly_children/crs).

The NTSB has recommended that each passenger — including those under two — be restrained in a separate seat in an appropriate child restraint system during takeoff, landing and turbulence.

Everything on a plane — including coffee pots — has to be restrained during takeoff and landing and in times of turbulence–everything, that is, except young children sitting on a parent’s laps.

More than 7 million children under the age of two fly on parents’ laps on American carriers each year, according to government estimates. But you are not required to purchase a seat for your baby until they turn two and airlines don’t charge for families to check a car seat. That is the crux of the issue that has stymied safety experts and pediatricians for years and has perhaps lulled parents into a false sense of security.

“I don’t believe she’d be much safer in a seat. Having flown hundreds of flights, I’ve never experienced turbulence so strong it would cause me to lose grip of a child,” one dad emailed me.

“It’s cheaper and we are trying to take advantage of the savings before having to buy her a seat,” said another.

In fact, the FAA has traditionally argued that requiring the use of child restraint systems would significantly raise the price of travel for young families and concluded that this would prompt some families to drive instead, in turn resulting in an increase in highway fatalities of children.

But other experts say that other research has found no clear relationship between the two.

Parents don’t appreciate that the use of safety seats can be — and has been — a matter of life and death. There have been cases where young children survived air crashes because they were restrained in safety seats and others in which children died when sitting in the lap of a parent who survived.

Take the case of the United Airlines DC-10 that crashed in Sioux City, Iowa in 1989. The parents of the four lap-held children were told to put their children on the cabin floor and hold them in that position while the adults assumed “the protective brace position,” But three of the parents reported to investigators they were unable to hold on to their babies and a 23-month-old died.

Five years later a USAir Flight crashed in Charlotte, N.C. Among the 37 who were killed was a nine-month-old baby held by her mother, who survived. NTSB investigators believed the baby might not have sustained fatal injuries if she had been properly restrained in a child restraint system.

The NTSB has been arguing for more than 15 years that each passenger should have their own seat, but the NTSB can only make recommendations. www.ntsb.gov/children.

It is up to the FAA to take action and so far, all they have done is “strongly urge” parents to use a safety seat approved for air as well as auto travel.

 Meanwhile, it is up to you. Yes, that means you would have to buy a seat for your baby. Tell all your friends they should too. If you don’t want to lug your safety seat to the gate, check out www.kidsflysafe.com , which makes CARES, the Child Aviation Restraint System, an FAA-approved, harness-type safety device — designed by a grandmother — that fits into a six-inch stuff sac and adjusts to fit airplane seats. It is designed for kids weighing 26 to-44 pounds (typically one to four years old).

I know in this economy it is tough to justify buying an extra plane ticket when you don’t have to, but isn’t your child’s safety worth it?

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. heidi

    As a mom who has flown both with and without a seat for our under 2 year old. I agree. Buy a ticket for them. It is a little extra effort to bring the car seat but it is familiar to them and they might even sleep! One thing this article didn’t mention the access to oxygen masks. In hind sight I would ask about where the extra masks are located to make sure you’re in the right row. My son was listed with my partner but sat with me.

  2. Jeremy

    Unfortunately, while it seems like purchasing a seat for your infant is the “great” parental thing to do, it isn’t as simple as you say.

    I have flown with an FAA approved rear-facing carseat for my infant daughter six times on two different carriers. For the first four flights, I didn’t purchase an additional seat but, because the flight was not full, one was available to use.

    During *every* flight the airline policy was to grudgingly “allow” the use of the carseat, but only after 10,000 ft and only after stern lectures by the flight crew with the assurance that the airline would not assume any responsibility. On most flights, airline policy strictly prohibited the use of the carseat during take-off and landing. I had to take my daughter out of her carseat when others were turning off their electronic devices. Instead of the carseat, I had to hold my daughter in my lap. On one flight, a special mommy+baby seatbelt was provided.

    I was repeatedly told that if a carseat was to be used on the flight then it shall be a forward facing carseat. Of course, those are unavailable for children under 2 years and, furthermore, proven less effective.

    The FAA can say whatever it pleases, but until airline policy changes or a law enacted, there’s very little you can do.

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