How can we best protect our baby when we fly? We canít afford to purchase an extra seat. Would it be safer to drive and keep him in a car seat?


Studies have been done showing that the risk is much higher if you choose to travel by car (even if they are properly restrained), than to fly. That is why the FAA has refused to require babies (under 2) to be strapped into their own seat. If they required that, enough families would choose to drive, to avoid the extra ticket cost. More children would be killed in auto accidents than would die in airplane crashes, or turbulence, even if they didnít have their own airline seat. This is one of the times I agree with the FAA (that doesn't happen too often). If the object is to minimize the loss of children's lives, then it makes no sense to issue a regulation that will, in the end, lead to more deaths because the imposition of economic costs causes a change in the behavior of traveling parents. 

For what it is worth, I am not aware of any turbulence accident that led to serious injury or death of a baby. In all the cases I have read, it was adults that were injured or killed (again, even those cases are extremely rare). The 1989 UAL crash at Sioux City, led to the death of one baby that was wrenched out of its mother's arms. Three others did survive that accident, however. One, was slightly over the age of two.

Another factor to consider, when evaluating risk, is that most survivable crashes involve the rapid spread of smoke and fire. How many survive, in those cases, depends on how fast they are able to evacuate the aircraft. In that kind of a situation, holding the baby on the lap may actually expedite the evacuation, whereas the time to get him unstrapped from his own seat could conceivably cause enough delay to allow you to both to be overcome with toxic fumes. I have no statistics on that, but do know that mere seconds made the difference in who survived and who died in the US Air crash at LAX, in 1991, and the British Airtours takeoff crash at Manchester, England, in 1985. In the latter, 55 died because they couldn't get out fast enough. The cabin was not damaged and there were no traumatic injuries; all the deaths were from toxic fumes inhalation when the plane caught fire.

Under the age of 2, the FAA permits you to carry your baby on your lap. Once he reaches his 2nd birthday, you must purchase a ticket so that he has his own seat. It is a violation of the FAA regulations to carry your child on your lap past the age of two. It is not uncommon for parents to lie to the airlines and tell them their child is less than 2, when he is actually past 2. Doing that constitutes a crime, under Federal Law.

The recent clear air turbulence tragedy, near Japan, is an extremely rare occurrence, but it does provide a graphic example of why we tell passengers to keep their seat belts fastened even when the seat belt sign is not on.

The best advice I can give, for a child under 2, is to obtain the kind of device I have seen on both mothers and fathers in shopping centers. It looks something like a reverse back pack. The baby is installed in it and it is then worn on the front of the parent so that the baby is hugging the chest of the parent. [Also, see the  Rational Solution]  Then, if you have your seat belt on when the CAT hits, you and your baby should remain in your seat, while those who are foolish enough to leave their belts unfastened will be thrown into the ceiling. I have no expertise on what kind of load (G-force) such devices can withstand. It just seems a matter of logic that it would reduce the odds of the baby flying out of your grasp in the event of an encounter with severe CAT. One reader has just advised me that Germany, starting April 1st, 1998, will require babies above 1year old to have such a restraint or they will be required to be in their own child seat. Of course, any experienced parent knows that the closer the child is to age 2, the more difficult it is to keep him tethered to a parent. That is a problem that varies, from one child to another, depending on size and temperament.

See also, the Deborah Spiegel letter, and reply.

March, 1998

Robert J. Boser    

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The Editor of this Web Page, now retired, was an airline pilot for 33 years and holds 6 specific Captain's type-ratings on Boeing Jet Airliners.


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