Infant Air Travel: Lap Child Danger

Infant Air Travel: Lap Child Danger

Many message boards are filled with questions about infant air travel and yet not many report on the danger of the lap child policy.  I did not fully understand it until I researched for my book- and by that time I had already flown with my son on my lap, unknowingly taking a risk.

Now that I know the truth behind this policy, this is what I have to say…

  • The airlines do not say this is a safe option. They instead recommend all passengers (regardless of age) are buckled in for safety.
  • The lap child option is a way of saying, “We don’t regulate what you do with that mass or object, but we do recommend every passenger is buckled in for safety.”
  • All safety organizations and those that investigate aviation incidents say ALL passengers should be restrained during take off, landing, turbulence, and at all times during flight unless necessary to be moving about the cabin (using lavatory, stretching legs).
  • Veteran flight attendants have strong opinions  about this topic (read post here)

True, budget is a consideration for every trip – but why do we buckle our own seat belt and ignore our irreplaceable child’s safety needs? For kids older than 2, we automatically figure the cost of a seat in – because it’s mandatory. Would you leave your seat belt unfastened in turbulence, a rough landing, or during take off? Nope. Most of us tighten that belt – at least we have that protection…. but what about the infants and toddlers? Passengers who are obese get a belt extender to make sure they have access to proper inflight restraint. But infants and toddlers (who are unable to brace themselves) are ignored when it comes to safety.

And those belly belts in Europe? (Banned for use in the USA) They are not used to protect the child. Believe it or not – they are protecting everyone else in the cabin from “mass” projectile through the cabin. Children held in place with a belly belt or infant carrier are at risk for hitting their head on the seat back or being crushed when the parent’s weight crushes them against the belt and into seat ahead. Carriers are also not designed for safety and an FAA video demonstrates the carrier will break in those cases.

It is not free to hold a child on our lap – it is costing us a risk of our child’s safety. Ask the parents of an infant who has hit his/her head on the overhead bin in unexpected turbulence or the mother of a toddler killed when she was unable to hold him in a survivable crash landing?  (Our arms are no match for those forces)

My mission is to inform parents of this risk – because I wish someone had told me so I was able to make an informed decision about the safety of my precious infant. Honestly, I was so busy thinking about how to keep him happy on the long flights or I was busy with destination plans – I didn’t think that his safety was at risk!

Holding kids on laps has been done for years – but that doesn’t make it safe. Remember how we used to ride around in cars without seat belts or car seats? Education and the law changed our view…

So I am going to again bluntly state this:

Holding an infant or toddler inflight is disregarding their safety needs.

Listen to this ad from the FAA:

What does all of this mean?

Parents should count their children and then purchase access to the same number of seat belts for safety. Prioritize.

It’s not easy for many parents to accept (everyone loves to get a “free” deal and save money). At my travel seminars, many parents would go into denial or put the blame on the airlines or even their spouse, who they tell me, assured them the lap child policy wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t safe.

Consider this….

1. If something happens to my child, I will be the only one that will suffer. NOT the airlines, NOT the FAA.

2. I am responsible for making decisions for my child that he is unable to make for himself. Safety is a basic need of every child.

3. If the airlines did not have this policy in place, I would not look at my young, defenseless child and state I cannot afford the trip because of him. Yet I hear that excuse over and over. Over 24 months and that child’s ticket is as automatic as the parent’s ticket when the travel budget is considered. Priorities matter in all aspects of parenting and finances.

4. Thanks to education and the law, I would not dream of taking my son out of his car seat when going 65 mph on the freeway. Yet the lap child policy allows me to hold my son in my arms going 200 mph down a runway where takeoffs can be aborted without notice and while flying 500 mph in the sky where unexpected turbulence occurs.

5. A safely restrained child also means it becomes necessary to be prepared for flight with many things that will keep a child content and occupied while sitting restrained in an airplane seat. (Toys, food, beverage, books, videos, and adult interaction!) Parenting is not easy at 37,000 feet for hours, but who ever said good parenting was easy?

6. Things like, “He will sleep better in my arms” or ” I have to breastfeed him so his ears don’t hurt.” or “There is no way he will sit still” become just plain excuses. Bottom line- safety of the child is being ignored. Traveling in an airplane

7. Statements like, “He is safer in my arms, I would not let him go” are ridiculous when talking about the force of unexpected turbulence or a crash. A passenger in a crash or severe turbulence does not even have control of his/her entire body, how can I expect to hold a child? (Note what the dummies in test car crashes look like – now remember on the runway planes are going over 200 mph!)

8. The airline’s theory about losing passengers to the road trip (due to budget) and more children being killed on the road is true. However, what does that have to do with my child and his safety on the plane? Nothing. Most parents don’t have time to drive across the country to visit grandparents and they fly out of necessity. Once the decision has been made to fly, safety on the plane should be the focus.

9. AND if this theory of opting to drive instead of fly were correct, then why was I allowed to fly with my infant son to Europe, over an ocean, as a lap child? I cannot possibly drive to Europe.

10. It also means that even though stretching my legs and moving around is good for preventing blood clots, it is taking a risk every time my child or I are not buckled in. It is a necessity on long flights, but many people who are injured from turbulence were found to have been standing in line for the bathroom or unbuckled when the turbulence occurred.

11. Breastfeeding a baby during descent does help with the ear pressure. But it is not the only thing that can be done. Take off and landing (and turbulence) are the most dangerous times of the flight. Yet many times nursing mothers will take a child out of the safety of the car seat to nurse during these times. I recommend bottle feeding while in flight.

12. There is a reason that ALL things must be securely under the seat in front of me, or stored in the closed overhead bin during take off and landing. Yet, an infant who can fly just like one of those objects through the cabin, is not required to be restrained.

13. Which means that NOBODY is safe if there is even ONE lap child on board. A 20 lb. baby can turn into a 100 lb. object flying through the cabin.

14. Since turbulence and unexpected aborted take offs can occur without warning, I would have to at all times hold my child as secure as a seat belt during flight. Is this even possible? With a baby? Or a restless 18 month old?

15. It also is not safe for me to buckle my son into my seat belt with me. My body can be flung forward in an aborted take off or crash. Guess who I crush with all my weight right there in my lap?

16. This also means that the bassinet (Sky Cot) is not a safe option. It is not allowed to be used during turbulence. But since the most dangerous turbulence usually is unexpected, that bassinet and the baby in it will now be the objects flying through the cabin.


17. It means that if lugging the car seats is not a possibility for a single parent traveling with multiple children, it is appropriate to look at easier ways to transport the car seats (the Go Go Kidz, the Traveling Toddler, Tote a Tot, Radian Car Seat) or to use the FAA approved 1 lb. CARES harness for children 22-44lbs.) Or to ask for a gate pass so someone (friend or family) can accompany them to the gate.

18. This means that it will take more work to fly safely with a child or children. Does more work prevent me from taking the time to buckle up my child each time in the car, or to keep him safe in every other area of life?

19. This means that the row in front of and behind the Exit Row are not an option since car seats and children restrained are not allowed to be in them.

20. And that it is my responsibility to reserve a window seat for my child and his car seat so he is not blocking the row or taking the chance of getting hurt in an aisle seat by the carts and people going by during flight.

21. It means that this 1989 NY Times article is reality for those parents who chose to hold their child instead of bringing a car seat onboard: “One baby, 23-month-old Evan Tsao, died after his mother lost her grip on him as the plane crashed on the runway in an attempted emergency landing. Three other unrestrained infants survived. One, 11 months old, was ripped from her mother’s arms but was saved from the wreckage by another passenger.” (That 11 month old was found in an overhead bin after the crash!)

22. It also means that after learning all of this -I was furious that I, a safety freak mother and registered nurse, flew with my infant son as a lap child. And that was after I was repeatedly reassured by airline representatives (those on the phone who are in an office building all day and not at 37,000 feet) that this was a safe option.

23. However, most flight attendants (who work in their “office” at 37,000 feet) will tell you about injuries they have witnessed due to unexpected turbulence or aborted take offs. They will also state emphatically that there is a reason tray tables must be put up and everything stowed during take off and landing.

24. This also means that anything other than using an FAA approved car seat or CARES harness in flight for small children and infants… is risking injury or death.

25. Writing so strongly about this has not helped my popularity. Many parents have gotten angry with me – preferring to not hear these things. However, I have chosen to write as a friend. I was angry I took a risk I was unaware of – and as soon as I learned about it – my son only flew in his own seat, safely restrained in a FAA approved car seat or the CARES harness. I care about children and their parents. I know some parents will leave my site angry with me and that is ok. Some will disagree or ignore this info. However, I have received thanks from parents who, like me, were unaware of the safety implications of the lap child option. So for the child who may benefit from this content, I will keep writing. I may lose numbers -but I am not in it for popularity.

Children depend on us, their parents, to provide for their safety… no matter what the cost.

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