Letters to the Editor
Subject: Should the government FORCE parents to purchase airline tickets for
From: Name Withheld
A writer has challenged my response in
FAQ # 5,
to those parents who cannot afford to
purchase an extra seat for their baby.
I have responded to the statements, in his first letter, by inserting
comments, in italics with brackets. His second letter follows the first, without
inserted comments. My final comments rely largely on
Briefing Paper No. 11
August 30, 1990 by Richard B. McKenzie and Dwight R. Lee:
ENDING THE FREE AIRPLANE RIDES OF INFANTS:
A MYOPIC METHOD OF SAVING LIVES
Richard B. McKenzie is Hearin/Hess Professor of Economics and Finance at
the University of Mississippi, and Dwight R. Lee is Ramsey Professor of
Economics at the University of Georgia. McKenzie is an adjunct scholar at the Cato
Institute. An earlier version of these comments was filed on May 30, 1990,
with the Federal Aviation Administration with reference to Docket no. 26142 by
the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.
I urge readers to read the entire Briefing Paper No. 11. It can be accessed
Unfortunately, the writer of the following letters, would not give permission
to publish his name or E-Mail. I will not speculate as to why permission was
Subject: FAQ#5 : How can we best protect
our baby when we fly?
To ignorantly suggest to the public the use of a device unintended for use as
a restraint, ala the front-carrier, for such use is irresponsible. [Also,
see the Rational
[Why is it ignorant and irresponsible? Are you suggesting that a parent is
more likely to be able to hold on to the child, during a crash or turbulence,
with just arms and hands than if the child was encased in a front pack that is
tied to the parent? If you are, I would be interested in hearing specific
reasons as to why you think that.]
To support a safety decision with general statistics in comparison to the
competition and the claim of a consumer that can't think for itself is
[I have no idea what this statement means. Could you try restating in a more
You devalue human life when you put cost before safety-the cost of a ticket
(Delta charges half price for toddlers which makes for an even cheaper
[Since any given safety device or policy has a dollar cost, the statement is
meaningless. I would prefer that all parents pay for the extra ticket --
whatever the cost -- but, in the real world many will opt to drive, rather than
fly, before they will buy that extra ticket. If they drive, they increase the
risk by about 30 to 40 times. That translates into more children killed than if
they fly. It seems to me that the one doing the devaluing of human life is the
one who chooses to expose his child to a significant increase in risk if he can
afford the lesser risk option.]
People like you should stay off the road.
[Why? What do you know about my driving record -- or do you make it a habit
to develop firm convictions before you have the facts?]
I am not going to put my child on a ride that could possibly take his life.
I'd rather walk to Alabama.
[I presume you are willing to swear, under penalty of perjury, that you have
never allowed, and will never allow your child to ride in/on:
1. A bicycle.
3. A horse or pony.
4. A horse carriage.
5. A bus.
6. Roller skates.
7. Skate board.
8. Ice skates.
9. Amusement park rides.]
If you are going to build machines to transport human lives why argue the
safest way possible with economics when you should be arguing physics.
[Not certain of what you mean, but I will guess. If by physics, you mean that
death is more likely in a plane crash, than in a car crash (because of the
increased speed), then I would agree. But, if SAFETY is really your concern,
then you must also consider statistics. No one, who is really interested in the
facts, will argue that driving is safer than flying. Death is much more likely
in automobiles than planes simply because they crash far more often. The
increase of frequency of crashes of road vehicles far outstrips the risk of
death in airplanes.]
Just because you have never heard of any incidents of CAT injuring babies
wouldn't make me feel lucky for mine to be the first.
[Of course you wouldn't feel lucky, if you suffered such a misfortune. But
what has that to do with the facts that none have been killed so far? Again, the
odds of your child being killed in an airplane, even without his own seat, are
far less than being killed in a car, with a seat. Risk is what I was talking
about. If you select a home and neighborhood that has a low crime risk, so your
children will be safe, then why wouldn't you give the same consideration to risk
factors when you transport your children?]
But then I guess it takes deaths, bad publicity and lots of lawsuits and
settlements to make anything safer more economical.
[That is why the FAA is referred to as the "Tombstone Agency." Many
of the safety improvements we have today, came about only after deaths and bad
publicity. I am speaking of those safety items that REALLY DO lower the
risk. But, forcing parents to buy an extra seat for a child under two is not one
of them. Many will opt to drive instead and that means MORE children will
die, not less.]
I think I am a better driver than gambler.
OKAY, let's see... Perhaps I can be less vague now that I know you do in fact
exist and obviously own feelings to this matter. You are the first of whom I
First of all, in order to trust that airlines are doing everything possible
to ensure the safety of its passengers, the facts about the risks are important.
The fact is a baby in a carrier designed to accommodate flight regulations
strapped in a seat places the baby at the lowest risk possible. Ignoring this
fact in order to keep people from fighting worse statistics on the road places
the baby on the plane and at higher risk to injury or death than anyone else on
the plane. I do not trust that airlines are doing everything possible to ensure
safety, but most people assume, without question, that since airlines allow
their young to gingerly perch upon their laps, in flight, unrestrained, there is
no inherent risk.
Furthermore, hearing you, sir, arguing the point with economics and
statistics bares little significance to me. The point being, of course, that
children under two should not be required a seat. The economics is that many
people can't afford the extra seat. That is no reason to put a child at a risk
that the government won't allow an adult to take, whether they can afford it or
not. Automobile statistics here are irrelevant. I won't make this choice and in
fact I don't think anyone should. I would feel a lot more comfortable with the
government allowing parents to sit in the child's lap, unrestrained. Now, the
statistics is that more babies die on the road than in planes. I ask that you
narrow your statistics down to babies traveling interstate on the safest route,
during the day, at low traffic, under good driving conditions, in a safe, family
car inspected by a qualified technician, with excellent driver dad or mom at the
helm. There are plenty of precautions to make to reduce the risks and the
statistics. These I would rather do than blindly trust a corporation that
doesn't make a whole lot of sense when supporting its concern for safety.
Finally, Mr. Editor in Chief, your advice for use of an infant "front
carrier" is irresponsible because you are making an uneducated guess about
its ability to restrain a child. In my opinion this is just another inaccurate
assurance that a child without his or her own seat is reasonably safe. And again
I believe most people will take that assurance to heart because they trust that
neither you, their airlines, or their government would allow it if it were not
true. I believe this is an abuse of their trust and is irresponsible.
"How many survive depends, in those cases, on how fast they are able to
evacuate the aircraft. In a case like that, 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."
How can this make any sense at all if the baby that was sitting on your lap
has been "wrenched from it's mother's arms"? Newton's first law of
motion: an object in motion tends to stay in motion. The baby is most likely
already dead and a speedy evacuation is of little concern.
At fourteen months an average child is approximately the same size in weight
as a two-year-old.
"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. 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..."
Telling someone to fasten his seat belt is a responsible thing to do. Telling
someone to place their child in a carrier approved for aircraft is a responsible
thing to do. Telling someone to use a device "not intended for use as a
restraint" in lieu of a seat belt is irresponsible, especially without
knowing the facts. Very irresponsible and in my opinion, liable. I think
airlines know that parents are not going to make a conscious choice to put their
child at unnecessary risk and would probably not fly if they had to do so.
Parents need to know that their babies are safe as the only ones in the cabin
unconfined by a seat belt. Somehow they are led to believe it.
Thank you for your reply,
P.S. I believe in the case of child safety the Free Market solutions are
P.S.S. It just occurred to me that even carry-on luggage is required to be
somehow restrained either in the overhead compartments or underneath the seat in
front of you but children under two are allowed to bounce around the cabin in an
event of gravitational trauma. I suppose such requirements are imposed in order
to protect us from the inertia of our own luggage. Is there nothing to protect
us from our own children?
Name and E-mail withheld.
Permission to identify the writer was not given.
EDITOR’S FINAL COMMENTS:
Excerpts from the Mckenzie and Lee Briefing Paper:
"…a movement is afoot within the airline industry and Congress to
nullify, in the name of safety, many of the benefits of deregulation by ending
the free ride of infants and toddlers. The airline industry's support of the
proposed regulation is understandable, although objectionable. If adopted, the
new regulation would enable airlines to suppress important competitive forces
and sell millions more seats each year.
However, the traveling public should object to the proposed rule not only
because it would raise travel costs but also because it would actually increase
the death rate of traveling infants and toddlers and their parents.
Statistical analyses by both the Department of Transportation and private
researchers indicate that the proposal [to force parents to purchase a seat for
infants] could endanger more children than it would save if the increased cost
of airline travel put more families back on the highways.
In case the FAA resists changing its seating rules, Rep. Jim Lightfoot
(R-Iowa) and Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) have introduced legislation to mandate the
use of safety seats by the 5,000 to 10,000 infants and toddlers who fly daily on
the nation’s 16,000 flights. Lightfoot was spurred to introduce his bill by
the death of an infant in the crash of United Airlines flight 232 in Sioux City,
Iowa, last July. He reasons that rules requiring the use of safety seats in
automobiles should be extended to airlines because "the potential for
injury in an aircraft flying at 550 miles per hour is much greater than the
potential for injury in an automobile traveling at 50 miles per hour."
Lightfoot maintains that his proposal does not mandate the purchase of
additional seats, only the use of safety seats by infants. He reasons that
parents can use automobile safety seats, which have also been approved for air
travel, and continue to use empty airline seats free of charge, as they now do.
However, the safety seat rule would have the effect of requiring parents to buy
airline seats for their infants and rent child restraint systems, if they do not
have their own. Very few parents would buy their own tickets— especially the
cheaper advanced tickets that are not refundable—and take the risk of not
being able to board at the last minute because adjoining seats were unavailable.
However, what child safety advocates and the FAA have not yet considered is
that the proposal, if adopted, could have precisely the opposite effect of the
one intended: the rule change could increase the travel injuries and deaths of
infants and toddlers--and their parents and siblings. Those perverse results
would probably occur because the rule change would drive up the cost of air
travel and drive many families back to the nation's highways. And automobile
travel remains far more dangerous, at least 30 times more so in terms of death
rate per mile traveled, for all travelers--parents and children alike--than air
travel by all scheduled (large and commuter) airlines.
In a study prepared for the FAA, Department of Transportation researchers
concluded that mandatory infant safety seats could have prevented at most only
one infant death since 1978. All other infant fatalities in airline crashes
occurred in sections of planes where no one survived. On the other hand, nearly
1,200 children under five years of age were killed in automobile accidents in
1988. That means that there were approximately one-quarter more automobile
deaths of very young children in 1988 alone than there were total deaths of
children and adults on scheduled airlines during the entire 1980-88 period.
Nevertheless, our own econometric research (undertaken with colleagues at the
University of Mississippi and Clemson University) on the impact of airline
deregulation documents a point that the FAA and Congress must keep in mind: Air
and highway travel are interchangeable. Changes in airline fares significantly
alter the amount of highway traffic, and highway accidents, injuries, and deaths
are highly correlated with the amount of highway travel and congestion.
Indeed, we found that airline deregulation, which led to lower air fares and
an expansion of flights, increased air travel by an annual average of 11 percent
and reduced passenger car travel by an annual average of just under 4 percent
between 1978 and 1985. Accordingly, airline deregulation significantly reduced
highway accidents, injuries, and deaths.
The proposed rule change might reduce very slightly the number of air
injuries and deaths. However, the improvement in air safety will probably be
extraordinarily small because there are so few infants who are air victims,
because the safety seats will not be close to 100 percent effective, and because
many parents will continue to hold their infants and toddlers in their laps,
especially when the youngsters need to be fed or otherwise cared for to keep
them from disturbing surrounding passengers.
The resulting increase in automobile deaths, although quite small, could
easily be several times--quite possibly as many as 60 times--the reduction in
airline deaths. Congress and the FAA should not be in the business of creating a
travel safety problem that is bigger than the one they are trying to
Again, I urge the readers to go to http://www.cato.org/pubs/briefs/bp-011.html
and read the entire Briefing Paper by McKenzie and Lee. Those who do, will
notice a stark contrast between the dispassionate and rational safety analysis
of the authors and the irrational and emotional approach of the unnamed letter
writer. See also, the Deborah Spiegel
letter, and reply. [Also, see the Rational
Robert J. Boser
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