No More Lap Children on Airplanes?


With all the added expenses babies bring, it’s nice to know that you can fly them across the country to see grandma and grandpa without having to pay $350 for them to have their own seat.  If they were to have their own seat, you’d have to travel with the car seat, which is another thing to carry and means you might have to pay to check in an extra bag that you can no longer fit on board.  It sounds complicated, right?  But the National Transportation Safety Board argues it’s much safer.  They’ve recommended to the Federal Aviation Administration yet again that every passenger – even babies – must have their own seat on an airplane.  This time, they’re referencing a specific crash to prove their point.

A 10-seater plane crashed as it was landing in Butte, Montana in March 2009, killing all 14 people aboard, including seven children, according to NPR.  “Investigators say that several of the children were found far from the plane, suggesting that they weren’t properly restrained.”  Despite the facts in this case, FAA spokeswoman Alison Duquette said, “The agency will take a fresh look at the NTSB’s recent recommendation, but the agency has no immediate plans to change its rules.”

Now, you may be arguing that in the event of a plane crash, the likelihood of anyone surviving is slim, so why bother to harness a kid?  The NTSB’s recommendation acknowledges that the Butte crash “was so severe that it’s unlikely anybody would have survived even with proper restraints,” but the “accident renews the NTSB’s longstanding concerns about the restraints.”  The FAA agrees that it’s safer for children of all ages to have their own seat, but won’t require parents to buy a ticket for children under the age of 2 “because the agency believes many families with small children wouldn’t pay the cost of an extra ticket.”

Of course, the no ticket policy for children under 2 only applies to domestic flights, which I didn’t know the first time I took my daughter abroad to see her father’s family.  We showed up at JFK without a ticket for the baby, who was 6 months old at the time, and KLM charged us $450 for her to be able to board – which still didn’t entitle her to her own seat.  We were, however, seated in the bulkhead row which not only had plenty of room, but also featured a removable cradle hanging from the wall so we didn’t have to hold her while we slept.  That bassinette made her ticket price worth every penny, but I don’t know that it’s offered on other airlines.

The ability to survive a crash isn’t the only pertinent safety issue when travelling with small children.  On a subsequent international flight, taken just before my daughter was 2, she became restless on the lengthy return.  She started walking across our laps and suddenly fell and bumped her head against the bulkhead row wall.  Flight attendants swarmed our seat to see if she was okay – and she was – but it’s exhausting for parents who don’t have a seat for their children to have to constantly wrangle them on a 10 hour flight.  (I wonder if the recent slapping incident on Southwest could have been avoided if the child had her own seat.)  Plus, lap children have been crushed by their parents and thrown about the cabin in survivable emergency landings.  Take a look at these facts on Airline Travel and Child Safety before the next time you fly.

The FAA has considered requiring seats for all passengers, “but decided against it, citing statistics from 2004 that showed nearly 43,000 people died on U.S. highways, compared to 13 fatalities on commercial flights.”  Sure, commercial flights are safer than those taken in small, private planes like the one in the Butte incident, so maybe the regulations should be based on the size of the carrier.  The FAA suggests that forcing people to pay for seats for children under 2 would cause families to drive instead, which “could result in 13 to 42 additional highway fatalities over 10 years.”  But the NTSB doesn’t buy it.

They looked at travel in the years surrounding 9/11, “when domestic plane travel decreased 8.3 percent and highway travel increased 4 percent as a result of the attacks.”  The NTSB found that while there was a slight increase overall in motorist deaths, the number of children under the age of 5 killed in car accidents decreased.  They think the FAA is using car travel statistics as a diversion, and the only reason the FAA won’t require children be in their own seat is because they don’t want to lose business.  What do you think?  Should parents be forced to purchase airline seats for their infants?  Or be allowed to travel at their own risk?

Photo: Connect the Dots