Safe Air Travel with Baby

“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.”

Any parent who has traveled with a baby knows the innate challenges involved. From packing the carry-on bag – anticipating every possible circumstance and trying to prepare for it while keeping the bag light enough to tote through airports – to keeping baby entertained on a long flight, the entire process is stressful and exhausting. Different time zones, overstimulation, and disrupted schedules only add to the tension. One solution? A baby carrier! Wearing your baby as you embark on a plane trip is the perfect way to keep him warm, close, and comforted as you schlep through airports, wade through crowds, and wait for luggage. The baby can sleep, rocked by the familiar rhythm of a parent’s body and untouched by well-intending strangers. This eliminates fussiness and allows parents to focus on finding the gate, passing through security, and tending to other children without the added stress of a crying baby.

While airlines used to charge half price for seats for children under the age of two, there are now only two choices for parents traveling with babies: buy a seat and bring an FAA-approved car seat or keep your baby on your lap. Given the current economic conditions, most parents are reluctant to purchase a full-priced infant seat; thus, many families opt to travel with their baby on their laps. While airlines insist that the lap child is a safe option, the FAA, whose purpose is to ensure the safety of all aircraft, recommends that all children be fastened in an approved child restraint system. From their website:

FAA strongly urges parents and guardians to secure children in an appropriate restraint based on weight and size. Keeping a child in a CRS or device during the flight is the smart and right thing to do.

The American Academy of Pediatrics also encourages the use of safety restraints for children on airplanes. According to their website:

Children younger than 2 years are the only occupants who, under current federal regulation, are not required to be restrained or secured on aircraft during takeoff, landing, and conditions of turbulence; even items such as coffee pots must be secured. This practice relating to non restraint of children on airplanes is inconsistent with all occupant protection recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in which priority has been placed on safe transportation of children.

With the support of these two major safety organizations, why are airlines still promoting lap children as a safe option? One possible explanation is that they want to keep our business. With the high cost of airline tickets, the industry may be afraid that charging for children under two will drive people to find other means of transportation when available, costing valuable customers. Why not discount seats for children under two rather than encouraging them to travel unrestrained?

On her website, Anya Clowers; mother, Registered Nurse, and world traveler, includes powerful testimony from experienced flight attendants regarding what actually occurs with unrestrained babies during a flight emergency. The following is an excerpt from, involving Jan Brown-Lohr, a flight attendant with 25 years experience and the Chief Flight Attendant in the 1989 crash of a DC10.

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 continues, “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.”

If the airlines will neither publicize this information nor require travelers to secure babies under two, what recourse do we have to ensure the safety of ourselves and our families while traveling? Unrestrained children pose a threat not only to themselves, but to all the passengers in the cabin. This is a concern for everyone!

Perhaps by educating flight attendants, cabin crew, and fellow travelers, we can raise awareness about the hazards to all travelers when there are unrestrained passengers, regardless of their age or size. If airlines were willing to reduce seat prices for children, families would be more likely to continue to travel by airplane, while ensuring the safety of all family members and fellow passengers.

Again, from

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)

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Hannah Sullivan was a contributor and co-editor for ERGOparent. She is a devoted mother of three, an avid enthusiast of babywearing, running, and vegetarian cooking. She is a working mom and lives on Maui with her husband and her children; ages 8, 5, and 2. Hannah looks forward to sharing her insights with other busy Moms.