Traveling with a baby on your lap? A few notes before you take off
When you travel with your baby on your lap you are taking a huge risk
The airplane is taxiing on the runway. All passengers have been asked to keep their seats upright, fasten their seat belts, and prepare for take off. Everyone is safely buckled in except for the most precious cargo of all… infants.
During the many trips I have taken with my seven-month-old son, flight attendants have wrongly advised me that the safest place for my baby is in my arms. To my dismay, I also discovered that many flight attendants are unaware of how to safely install a child restraint system (CRS), such as car seats, on an aircraft seat.
Although the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of the United States explicitly states on its website that “your arms aren’t capable of holding your child securely, especially during unexpected turbulence” and strongly recommends securing any child below 40 pounds in an age appropriate CRS during air travel, it still allows lap babies for economic reasons. An infant ticket is a fraction of the price of an adult ticket thus enabling huge cost savings for parents. The FAA’s main concern is that parents who are unable to afford an additional seat may opt to travel by car, which is statistically less safe than traveling by air.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in the United States, however, disagrees and continues to push the FAA to require, not merely recommend, parents to purchase a separate seat for all children below the age of two and place them in a CRS, i.e rear facing car seat or the CARES safety harness for children between 22 and 44 pounds.
Babies on the floor?
Sled tests have shown that unrestrained lap-held children (even with an extension seat belt) are at risk of crushing and head injury during a crash landing. During the United Airlines crash at Sioux City, Iowa, parents were actually recommended to place their babies on the floor, as that was considered safer than a parent’s arms. One of the babies was found in the overhead compartment and miraculously survived, another bounced against the wall like a tennis ball and was caught by his mother, and the third one was thrown all the way to the back of the plane into the fiery wreck and did not make it.
In the Perimeter Aviation Flight 993 crash in 2012 in Canada, the six adult passengers and two crew members survived but the six-month-old baby onboard died from multiple traumas when he was ejected from his mother’s arms.
Moreover, most accidents happen in-flight during turbulence. Strong turbulence alone is enough to cause an infant to fly out of your arms, as was illustrated in a United Airlines flight in 2014 when a baby was flung from his mother’s arms during very strong turbulence. Parents should also consider purchasing FAA approved infant vests that protect against turbulence when your baby is on your lap.
When you travel with your baby on your lap you are taking a huge risk. It is true that flying is statistically the safest form of travel and that accidents are rare, and that the FAA still gives parents the choice, but do you really want to take the risk when it comes to the safety of your child?
This article was first published on the Saudi Gazette on Jan. 29, 2016.