What You Need to Know about the Lap Child
The Lap Child Policy
As a general rule, a child under the age of 2 is allowed to travel as a "lap child." This does not always mean "free." On international flights you are charged a "small" fee for bringing a lap child, but by the time fuel surcharges and taxes are added in, it can cost over $250. And you still have to hold your child!
All airlines have different policies and practices when it comes to the lap child. What I thought about the lap child before I started writing this has drastically changed since digging into the research. To be honest, I had not given it as much thought as I should have. When deciding whether or not to buy a seat, I usually thought about how convenient it was relative to cost and our budget. I am thankful when I look back, that those flights when my son was on my lap went without incident. However, now that I have read the facts and heard the stories, I am horrified that a lap child is even an option.
|I guess that because the option was there, I had assumed it meant that the FAA and the airlines thought it was safe for him to be on my lap. That is quite the opposite of the truth!|
Take a look at some of the links that demonstrate this point:
The Federal Aviation Administration explains the importance of securing children in a child restraint system, stating, "Did you know the safest place for your little one during turbulence or an emergency is in an approved child restraint system (CRS), not on your lap?"
|The FAA mission statement says their "mission is to provide the safest, most efficient, aerospace system in the world. . . . Our vision is to improve the safety and efficiency of aviation, while being responsive to our customers and accountable to the public. . . . Safety is our passion" (Read More).|
The FAA states that it is NOT safe to hold your child on your lap. They even have a campaign to educate parents. I, for one, had never seen these ads before I started digging through research.
Ad 1 | Ad 2 | Ad 3
Safe Ride News offers a resource website for health and safety professionals. "The goals of Safe Ride News Publications are to help save lives and prevent injury to children in traffic." The link that follows explains the importance of using a car seat on the plane, lists which car seats are allowed on planes, and gives suggestions for preparing to fly with a car seat.
|NO ONE says it is safe for your child to be a lap child.|
In 2001, the American Academy of Pediatrics came out very strongly in favor of child restraints: Read More
The American Academy of Pediatrics states that there have been preventable injuries and deaths in survivable crashes and turbulence due to children under 2 not being properly restrained in an aircraft. This link is an abstract summarizing their statements.
The required use of child-restraint systems for children under two is listed on the NTSB's (National Transportation Safety Board) list of most-wanted transportation safety improvements. Read More
NADA (National Air Disaster Alliance)
Stephanie Manus, a survivor of a plane crash in Arkansas, urges parents to purchase a seat. Her letter to parents also includes a note that can be sent directly to the FAA, urging them to take the necessary steps to mandate seat belts for children under 2. Refer to the link below to read Stephanie's letter.
|Everyone concerned with your child's safety states that it is safest for your child to be restrained during flight.|
I was told by numerous airline reservation agents that I did not need to buy a seat and actually was discouraged from doing so. I wish they could listen to the following radio ad from the FAA, and then explain to me what is safe about holding my child as a lap child.
Furthermore, I would like the FAA to tell parents the truth and demand that the airlines warn them of the dangers of a lap child. Listen to this radio ad that has lullaby music playing in the background as a woman's soft voice describes your precious baby and how she looks in your arms. Her voice takes on a threatening, horror-filled tone as she tells you that you can never hold a baby tight enough to protect her on an airplane. She states that unexpected turbulence does happen and basically that if you want to hold on to your baby for a lifetime, a safety seat is the best place for her on an airplane.
The FAA is, in effect, relieving itself of responsibility by creating these ads. I would understand their purpose more if these ads were significantly posted in airports and airlines were required to also share this information with you. However, every single person that I talked to had never heard of these ads. And they all were frequent flying parents!
So, if EVERYONE that has safety of the child in mind states that holding a child on your lap is not safe, then why is it not mandatory to have the child restrained like everyone over 2 years old? Why am I as a parent given the option to choose to disregard the safety of my infant-just because of his age?
|If the FAA and airlines give me, as a parent,
the option to hold my baby in my arms while flying 500 miles per hour, then they should make sure I'm educated about the truth and the dangers so that I am able to make an informed decision.
The reassurances the airline reservations agents gave for holding my infant as a lap child ranged from "everyone does it" and "sure it's safe" to "you shouldn't buy a seat because your baby will sleep better in your arms." After the research I've done, I'm convinced they shouldn't be saying those things.
The FAA states that they do not want to turn people away from flying and toward driving, due to the increased cost of purchasing a ticket for their child. Because of a higher rate of automobile accidents, that child would be at a higher risk on more dangerous highways and in fact be in more danger than on a plane.
|This made me wonder why it is not mandatory to purchase a seat on overseas flights where driving is not an option.|
Everyone else and everything else on a plane needs to be secured during takeoff, landing, and in the event of turbulence. A pet in a carrier under the seat, a laptop, and carry-on luggage all have to be secured. Yet, a child in the arms of a parent is not AT ALL protected when it comes to planes that are going 500 miles per hour! OR if the takeoff is aborted suddenly on the runway at 120 miles per hour. Why is it mandatory that every other human being and ITEM is secured, and not precious infants?
Jan Brown-Lohr Interview:
There is nothing as sobering as talking to someone who has been through a plane crash and walked out a survivor. I became especially convinced of the importance of purchasing a seat for an infant after interviewing Jan Brown-Lohr, the Chief Flight Attendant in the 1989 crash of a DC10. You can feel the emotion and horror that she faced when she looked into the eyes of the mother of little 22-month-old Evan, who was a lap child that did not survive the crash. Jan realized that day that the instructions to put your child on the floor to protect him sounded plausible in the classroom setting, but were absolutely ludicrous when faced with a real-life emergency.
Read this statement that Jan made as she represented the Association of Flight Attendants at the NTSB Advocacy Briefing on Child Restraints on Aircraft in February of 2004:
Following is the tragic story of the horrific crash of United Flight 232 in Sioux City, Iowa as told to me by Retired Chief Flight Attendant, Jan Brown-Lohr:
|There were 4 lap children on board the flight that day. One of the mother's had told Jan that she was specifically taking the flight to take advantage of a free flight for her son who was 22 months. (Current airline policy allows children up to 24 months to sit on their parent's lap for free -they are known as "lap children" and are not buckled in or restrained)
The DC-10 lost all hydraulics and flight control, and a crash landing was imminent. Jan prepared the passengers on how to get into the brace position.
As Jan had learned in emergency preparedness training, she instructed the parents of the lap children to place their children on the floor at their feet and lean over them. Jan relates with a tear-filled voice that to this day it makes her skin crawl that she had to tell parents to put their most precious possessions on the floor and hold them down.
The plane crashed with such force that it split into 3 sections. Jan's section of the plane (as well as the section of the parents with the 22-month old) turned over and was upside down in a cornfield next to the runway.
The first person Jan encountered outside of the plane was the mother of the 22-month old. She was going back to the plane to look for her child, Evan. Jan told her she couldn't go back. The mother looked at her and said that Jan had told her to put the baby on the floor and now he was gone.
Jan will always feel the pain and horror of losing that child. The G-forces were so strong, there was no way a child could be held, and he was killed.
Jan has worked these past 17 years as an advocate of children's safety. She will speak out until ALL children are required to be restrained on airplanes.|
Jan has been doing interviews, has testified in Congress twice, has started e-mail campaigns, and has been educating the public for the past 17 years. She has felt it her purpose to be the voice of Evan. She will continue to speak out until the regulations are changed and everyone is required to be safely restrained in a seat for all flights.
As Jan states, "Parents wouldn't dream of driving 50-60 miles per hour in a car on the highway without their child being buckled in. Yet they will put their baby in a metal tube that goes 500 miles per hour unrestrained."
Like I said earlier, I am a very protective mother and my first concern is always for the safety of my son.
|Yet, I allowed him to be a lap child, because I was under the impression that the FAA, with its role for keeping passengers safe in airplanes,
would not allow an unsafe policy.|
There is a poignant video of the United Airlines accident where at the time, they said to the parents, the best way (to secure) your child was to put them down on the floor and you lean over them and hold them instead of buckling them in, and 2 of the children just shot off like missiles. (Flight Attendant A, 28 years experience)
|All passengers are in danger of being injured
when there is even one lap child on board.|
A child's weight multiplies up to and more than 5 times their normal weight and that's why they'll go off like a bullet and that's why people don't realize; anybody sitting in a cabin with a lap child is at risk. Because if that child goes off like a bullet and it hits somebody, can you imagine what 100 pounds or more is going to do to the person it connects with? (Jan Brown-Lohr, Retired Flight Attendant, 25 years experience)
What can we as parents do to urge the FAA to change its regulations? An organized group of parents would be a powerful group, and the FAA/airlines want to keep the traveling family as a consumer. Jan recommends that we encourage the FAA by e-mail to listen to our concerns about the lap child option. She states: "The FAA would be the agency to besiege with e-mail regarding child seats, since in the end they are the agency responsible for mandating child restraints on planes."*Updated from printed version of the book: The head of the FAA is Randy Babbitt and his e-mail contact is firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you would like, you can copy this note in an e-mail to him.
As a concerned parent/grandparent/traveler, I am writing today to strongly encourage the FAA to mandate child restraints for children under two on airplanes. I believe that the lap child option is a danger to children as well as every other passenger sitting on an aircraft. In the event of severe turbulence or a crash, NOBODY is safe when an object of any kind or an infant is free to propel through the cabin. I expect the FAA, as an advocate of airline safety, to enforce policies that will protect those who utilize airplanes as a way of transport, regardless of age.
Your name and address and any additional comments
The airlines are responsible for getting passengers from point A to point B. Parents are responsible for their children and
making informed decisions to keep their children safe.
The FAA is responsible for mandating aviation safety.... so why doesn't that include protecting children under two years old?|
The New York Times published an online article discussing the issue of child restraint seats for airplanes. The article, written by Michael Decourcy Hinds, states, "Given the F.A.A. policy, travelers may have assumed that unrestrained children face little safety risk on aircraft. In fact, an unrestrained passenger of any age faces a higher risk of death or injury in a survivable crash or severe turbulence than passengers who are strapped into safety seats or belts" (New York Times, August 18, 1985).
The decision to allow a lap child was made to prevent you from choosing driving over flying-not because it is safe for your child. I do understand that many people are budget conscious and yes, it does cost more money for an additional seat. On average, the estimated additional cost would be $200 per family. However, have you ever heard a police officer say, "Well I understand that you cannot afford a car seat, so it is okay not to buckle up your child"?
|Why does the smallest, most dependent person in the family get the least protection? Is it really a choice of IF you should buckle your child in and fly safely with them?|
I think that once you consider what you are risking, the cost of a seat for each and every one of your children becomes part of the budget. It is also interesting to me that on many of the message boards, mothers are asking, "Should I buy a seat or is it unnecessary?" The question is not that it will make the trip financially unattainable. I think many parents assume like I did that if taking a lap child is an option then it must be safe. And most parents are concerned with their child's safety above and beyond anything else. In severe turbulence ask a parent what they would pay to buckle their child in and be able to offer their child the same protection that they themselves have.
Thinking that you as a parent can hold your child as securely as a seat belt is not realistic. And how much of the time on that flight are you actually holding that baby securely? Babies will play on the floor, sit on your lap, and sometimes snuggle while both of you sleep. This happened to my son and me on a 5-hour flight. I am embarrassed to admit that I-a safety freak normally-fell asleep with my hand casually on my son's stomach. You may plan to be good about holding them securely, but 5 hours is a long time. Even two hours is long with a toddler . . . The reality is that you are not going to secure that child for an entire flight like a seat belt would.
Even though a child under two may sit on an adult's lap for takeoff and landing, it is not safe for the child to travel in this manner. After United Airlines DC10 lost hydraulic power and crashed into an Iowa corn field many summers ago, flight attendants have been lobbying the government to make sure all children are kept safe by being properly restrained during the critical phases of flight. United Airlines flight attendants recounted the fact that all the infants in that crash were not restrained by the adults that were holding them. (The force of impact is just too great.) ...It is still an option whether or not to buy a seat for a child under two but most parents do not understand what a dangerous situation this can be. (Flight Attendant Karen, 29 years of experience)
|My goal is not to tell you what to do.
My intent is to educate you so that your decision can be an informed one. Your child's safety is ultimately
Your children depend on YOU to take care of their needs and keep them safe.
Critics will say plane crashes are rare and ask, "What are the chances that anyone would survive a crash anyway?" My answer is that the danger with these unsecured babies is not just the crash; it is also the unexpected turbulence. And two of the people I interviewed for this resource were plane crash survivors - who not only survived, but went on to make an incredible difference in many people's lives.
|The danger with these unsecured babies is not just the crash; it is also the unexpected turbulence.|