FAA Approved Car Seats That Don’t Fit

by Anya Clowers, RN on February 2, 2011

Help! My infant car seat doesn’t fit in the airplane seat!

MSNBC Travel Writer Harriet Baskas invited me to weigh in on this topic this week. Her article brings attention to the increasing incidents of FAA Approved infant car seats not fitting on airplanes. Full article here: http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/41371887/ns/today-todaytravel/

I have been very vocal about the ridiculous lap child policy the airlines and FAA allow. Holding an infant on the lap in an airplane is dangerous. More info here.

But for those parents who wisely purchase a ticket securing an airplane seat for their infant or toddler (child under 2) and fly with an FAA Approved car seat, it can be shocking and extremely frustrating to find the infant car seat doesn’t even fit into the cramped airline seat and row. This is occurring both with narrow seats (wide bases) and with infant car seats not fitting length (depth) wise in an airplane row.

This was the case recently with Melissa Bradley and her family of 5, when she was removed from the United Airlines Flight because their rear facing car seat would not fit in the row due to space. United states the Bradley family was actually removed because they were disruptive, but it does make me wonder what was considered disruptive…

She is not alone. I received an email from a veteran flight attendant and new mom who was horrified at the treatment she received from Hawaiian Airlines when her infant seat also wouldn’t fit into the cramped row.

According to her email,

“Hawaiian Airlines has adjusted the seats on board their aircraft so that it does not accommodate infant seats, and when I would not agree to placing my son in my lap, and check his seat that we paid ($800) for, they were going to remove us from the flight.”

When I spoke with her on the phone this week, over a year after the incident occurred, she was still upset about the matter and told me her family now goes out of its way to avoid Hawaiian airlines. At one point she was told to just “lie her infant on the seat”. Both her and her husband, a veteran pilot, refused to fly with their infant son unprotected.

What is happening that FAA Approved car seats no longer fit on the aircraft they are certified for?

Is there a disconnect between the FAA and the airlines on infant safety?

Sarah Tilton is a child passenger safety advocate with Britax Child Safety Inc., a leading car seat and stroller manufacturer. She acknowledged the increasing potential for issues,

“Compatibility issues between car seats (rear or forward facing) and aircraft seats could increase as we see airlines decreasing the leg room to accommodate more passengers in the cabin.  This decreasing of leg room will limit the space to install a car seat rear-facing.”

But how can these seats be FAA Approved if they don’t fit? According to Tilton, this is the process for airplane certification:

“Aircraft Certification Process: The testing required for aircraft certification includes the car seat being installed on a replica of an aircraft seat.  The seat is rotated 360 degrees forward – pausing momentarily at 180 degrees (upside down) and then rotated 360 degrees sideways – pausing momentarily at 180 degrees (upside down).  This test is to verify retention of the occupant in the car seat during turbulent conditions.”

With this description, it appears car seats are certified for turbulence safety, but what about airplane cabin design?

Are the FAA Approved seats able to be secured safely?

This is perfect timing with the recent NTSB initiative to promote child and youth safety when traveling. Let’s take a look at aviation safety!

I realized today more information is definitely needed on the JetWithKids site on this topic. Join me as I research more about inflight safety for infants. Sign up for our newsletter or RSS feed for this blog to stay informed about safe, healthy, and practical issues when flying with kids.

Do you have a story or feel strongly about inflight turbulence or infant safety? Visit the new special transportation committee Safe Seat for Every Traveler. Our Facebook page is www.facebook.com/childseats

To file a complaint about air travel:

Contact the airline customer relations department as well as the Department of Transportation visit http://airconsumer.dot.gov/


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