Child seats urged for air travel
August 5th, 2004
Did you know that children under two aren’t required to wear safety restraints of some kind while flying? You are, during takeoff and landing and whenever else the pilot decides to turn on the seat belt sign. Not your baby. For some reason, the FAA simultaneously thinks that adults need to be belted in for safety during portions of the flight but that babies are perfectly safe sitting in your lap without a seat belt or car seat — as if they’re somehow immune from whatever can hurt an adult.
The NTSB’s [National Transportation Safety Board] unanimous vote is the latest move in a 25-year battle over how to protect children younger than 2 on flights. Three children who were riding in a parent’s lap have died in crashes in the past 20 years when the impact flung them across the cabin.
The NTSB has once again recommended mandatory child safety seats on flights. But the authority to enforce such an action lies with the FAA and they think differently. They claim that if people were forced to buy tickets and use car seats for infants on flights that more people would drive instead and that some of those people would be injured in car accidents — more than would be injured if they’d just flown with the baby on the parent’s lap. The NTSB did a study and didn’t find any evidence that this is true.
We flew to Denver two months ago and brought both car seats. Man, what a pain in the ass that was. Lugging two car seats, two (at times unconscious) kids, and bags through an airport (and security) is no fun. And then trying to get them down the Calista-Flockhart-sized-aisle in the plane itself is not for the faint-hearted or short. You’ve got to be able to carry the seat over your head so you can see and not hit anyone.
We flew on United, and despite the fact that I told them I was bringing infants and car seats when I bought the tickets, when we arrived at check-in we found out they’d sold me tickets that I wasn’t allowed to use the car seats with. Apparently, you’re only allowed to use the car seat in window seats. The check-in lady shrugged and didn’t seem to care very much. In the end I got the seat assignments rearranged so we could use them.
The whole experience was very weird. It’s like the whole system is setup to make it difficult to use a child safety seat. You’d think they’d be making it as easy as possible so that more parents would buy the extra ticket. As it is, it just seems like the entire airline industry doesn’t care about babies.
Ultimately, flying is very safe and you probably don’t need the seatbelt. Your child will probably be perfectly safe sitting on your lap and you’ll save some dough. And if the plane crashes, seat belts and child seats aren’t going to help you anyway. But what if your baby was one of those three that died? Does the FAA really think that the potential loss in revenue from families not flying because they won’t buy tickets for their kids worth the risk?