Lap children–what do you think?

You see them on almost every flight—a sleeping baby or bouncy toddler sitting on their parents’ lap. The recent stories about turbulence injuring flight attendants and travelers, the pilot who got disoriented and sent his plane into a dive, and lap children being the most unsafe passengers on a plane have got me thinking. What’s the deal with lap children?

First, the reality. Buying an extra ticket is expensive. Car seats often don’t fit into small airplane seats. And even if a child does have his own seat, will he really be buckled in the whole flight? Or will his parents set him up on the floor where it’s more comfortable?

Anyone without a seatbelt on, at any time, is risky. Turbulence can happen at any time—it’s not only for takeoff and landing. And if there is an impact, regardless of how much a parent my try to protect their lap child, the laws of physics could make it impossible to keep them safe.

Why are lap children allowed in the first place, if there are so many risks? It all harkens back to an FAA regulation passed in the fifties that said everyone on a plane had to have a seatbelt—except for children under 2. Of course, as the Time article states, in the fifties there were no car seats in cars either, so it may not have seemed such a big deal . But now that there is such an emphasis on safety, especially child safety, many wonder why the rules don’t change. According to the FAA, they have done the math, and if they change the regulations it will make families less likely to fly and more likely to drive, which is statistically more dangerous.

Readers, what do you think? Would changing safety regulations regarding lap children solve anything?

(For safety tips from the FAA, check out their new child safety page.)

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  1. @heike–Nope–currently expecting my first one. So at this point, I know that lap children make me nervous for safety reasons, but I have no real experience.

  2. Laughably transparent.

    Do you have any statistic showing lap children being hurt during turbulence? Or are you just looking out for lap children’s best interests since obviously their parents can’t?

    Wouldn’t it have been easier to write: “children under two on airplanes annoy me. I paid for a ticket, they did not, why should they have the right to annoy me? hmmmm let me think of a reason they shouldn’t be allowed on planes to solve my traveling toddler crisis.” Kind of a get off my lawn for the young exec on the go.

    I promise it is no fun traveling with children at any age. Nobody wants to do it. People like you that want to shake your head and complain only make it worse. but in the time honored tradition of things your mother told you, someday it will be you. Until then, I wish you screaming toddlers kicking your seat on all flights.


  3. congrats. 🙂 But I would love to see you/someone carrying around a babyseat together with a lot of bags, a stroller, a backpack, napkins…
    It is easy to say Bring a babyseat – but if Airlines don’t rent/have one – very few people will do that…

  4. “First, the reality. Buying an extra ticket is expensive.” Yes, but your child’s life is priceless. Lap children are at extremely high risk for death or permanent injury in the event of a crash landing. They can become projectives and kill or injure other passengers. They should not be allowed under any circumstances. Yes, I have children.

  5. As long as they dont change the rules in the next 2 years I am good to go. My 2nd(and last) just turned 1 today. He has done 1 international trip and 1 domestic. He will have at least 1 international and 1 domestic trip coming up in the next year. He will be lapping both. Requiring infants to have seats will, for the most part, ban them from air travel.

  6. “Lap children are at extremely high risk for death or permanent injury in the event of a crash landing.”

    I hate to point this out, but everyone on the plane is under this same risk or death or injury in a crash seatbelts or not. Crashes in planes usually result in death.

  7. I do have a kid that I travel with frequently and I do very much believe in buckling your little ones in on the plane. Is it statistically safer on an airplane sans restraint than in a car with a restraint? I’m betting yes.

    However, in my opinion, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t restrain children on planes whenever possible. I am extremely sensitive to the cost issue of an additional seat, and would never personally make judgement on any family who decided to hold their child on the flight. Heck, I tried it once myself on a 40 minute flight with my daughter.

    I hated every minute of that flight as I was afraid we would unexpectedly hit unstable air. I had a decent hold on her for most of the flight, but there’s no way I could have done that on a flight that was several hours in length.

    It is a royal pain lugging the car seat through the airiport, but there are very inexpensive things you can purchase to make it much easier. Once they hit toddler age, the CARES harness is much easier to throw in your purse and bring on-board than a car seat. Truthfully, I wish that they didn’t allow lap infants. Maybe if they sold infant seats at a discount (some non-US airlines do this), this could still be gentle on family budgets, but keep kids safer.

    As a parent, you are constantly making decisions with calculated risks for your kids. Heck, the swing set we have outside is risky. However, I think you have to always be able to live with the decisions you make. Speaking solely for myself, having my daughter get injured due to me wanting to save miles or dollars to not get her a seat is not something I could personally live with.

    To conclude my epic comment, it is also just much easier logistically to have a seat for your kiddo – especially once they become mobile.

    Road Warriorette, I think you found another very controversial topic. Throw in breast feeding on a plane, infants in first class, and family seating arrangements on the plane and you’ll have completed the circle of hot topics! 😉

  8. Interesting response Deb, but isn’t everyone at extremely high risk for death or permanent injury in the event of crash landing?

    Again, show me any statistic that says a baby acted as a projectile and killed/injured someone on a plane?

    A coke can can be a projectile, a laptop can be a projectile, should cans or laptops be forbidden on planes under any circumstances?

  9. @heike–thanks! That’s another thing to add to the reality side of things–car seats are huge and not easily maneuverable.

    @frankross–um, I’m pretty sure I didn’t say anything like what you think I did. I mentioned nothing about screaming babies, kids kicking seats, or anyone annoying me. In fact, I didn’t complain about kids at all! The fact that I’m about to have one has made me more sensitive to issues about traveling with kids. Inconvenience is a big part of traveling with kids, but so is safety. Why am I not allowed to be concerned about child safety even though I don’t have one yet? And the fact is, I never really thought about it until (as I stated) all of these stories about people getting injured by unexpected turbulence came out. These stories mention “passengers” but don’t specify whether they are adults or children. I don’t want kids to be banned off of planes–then my niece (four months) and my nephew (6 weeks) couldn’t come visit me! I just want everyone to be safe.

    @mommypoints The controversial kiddie topics are completely unintentional, just stuff I’ve been mulling over lately. But I guess it shows where my mind is most of the time these days!

  10. I was just kidding on the controversy. 😉 I totally understand why your mind is on these issues. I think I was surprised at first on how controversial some of these issues can be!

  11. Not just no, but hell no on the “lap child”.

    We tried the lap child thing once and it was a nightmare. From then on, we bought a seat and put the car seat in it. If it was a money issue that bad, I’d have cut back on trips or something to pay for fewer flights “back East” to visit relatives.

    Check all other luggage. Have one parent carry the car seat in and fasten it, and the other bring the baby. The mistake I see lots of parents making is trying to juggle multiple carryons plus baby plus car seat.

    There’s nothing better for cranky mom with tired child after nursing them and they are sleepy, than buckling them back in the car seat where they are typically USED to resting and taking naps anyhow.

    Babies have soft huge heads, weak necks and in turbulence can be severely injured. It is safer, it is better for everyone, and that the FAA still allows it is criminal in my book. If you went around with your baby sitting in the floor these days in your car you’d get a ticket and a stern warning.

  12. Many compain about handling car seat with air travel. But there are strategies to make it easier. We travelled to Turkey with DS at 5 months. Then he went on further with Mom (I had to return to work) to visit family in Italy, and she returned on a grueling 20-hour flight with stops and that was the last lap child trip. We learned a lot about what NOT to do. Like carry too much “stuff” babies don’t need much really other than milk, and a few diapers.

    Once our DS moved up from the baby-sized car seat to a larger Britax Marathon, we switched to using a GoGoBabyz cart fastened to it. Lots of times wheeled him around the airport in front of us just like another piece of luggage. One time in Hawaii he was still sleeping when the plane landed, we hooked the GoGoBabyz to his seat, wheeled him out of the airport and on the taxi and into the hotel room still sleeping. It was great!

    For boarding we detached the cart piece, stowed it in overhead bin. Old trick with carring these type seats in easier, is to loosen their shoulder straps all the ways and then slide them over your arms to wear it onto the plane like a backpack. Much easier on the arms.

    Now that he’s over 4, he sits in a regular seat. We don’t bring a car seat when travelling Back East usually, we have an extra one we left behind with relatives there for use on that end.

    Hope that helps. Wishing you many joyful baby moments!

  13. We will be taking our son (5 months old) as a lap child outbound and his own seat on the way back. This will be his first trip and it will be in first class. Our worry is not holding him on our lap, but having him buckled into the car seat. He hates car seats and 1-1.5 hrs is all he can take being buckled down.

    This is our first trip and we need to try out the two options to see what makes him comfortable on a 4 hr plane ride. Safety is important, but making sure he doesn’t scream and bother other passengers is another.

    For the intl trip (2-3 months later) their is a bassinet provided so that will be one more option to try.

  14. Is there any statistics that a lap child is particularly at risk on an airline? Turbulence related injuries are extraordinarily rare. As turbulence is often unexpected, a child in a car seat could easily be out of the seat for feeding, changing, or calming down when turbulence strikes.

    Anyways, I think parents are better off worrying about the other ten million things that are far more likely to injure their kids.

    Also, wouldn’t a baby carrier like a baby bjorn limit or even eliminate the already infinitesimally small risk of flying a lap child?

  15. Once…when my youngest was only 18 months old, we took a trip to Florida. He sat on my lap for the trip.
    It was the worst plane experience I had ever had. First of all, he stood on my legs for the better part of the flight (down and back) and because he didn’t have a seat, he ended up sitting on the floor space in front of me, which was quite gross.
    My thoughts are, if the seat is too expensive for you, then don’t take the trip.
    It’s just not worth it!

  16. @Jayson: generally child services frowns on that sort of thing. Not everybody has the ability (or desire) to dump their kids on someone else when they travel.

    “Is there any statistics that a lap child is particularly at risk on an airline? ”

    As noted above, physics tends to suggest that an untethered object is at some additional risk (beyond the default risk of bring strapped into a metal tube hurtling through the air at 6 miles up!)

    However, the statistics are also quite clear that it’s not a huge risk. Assuming 1 lapchild per plane, that would be almost 9,000,000 per year. Even assuming 1,000,000 per year … and the profound lack of incidents/stories … it sure looks like this is much safer than taking your kids to Chuck E. Cheese, or the local pool, or to a playground.

    We took our twins on 5 or 6 RT flights before they turned 2. We do have CARES, and on 50% of those flights they were able to sit in their own seats anyway. Even as actual lap children, we never had many problems. They were much less active when sleeping on mommy or daddy’s chest.

  17. Do the airlines have CARES harnesses available when a child is flying without a car seat? They should provide them for children just like they provide seatbelt extenders.

  18. When we took our two month old son out west to meet his grandparents we brought him as a lap child. On the JFK-SEA flight he was fine on our laps. On the return, we fanagled an empty seat for his car seat. Delta has a policy that if there are extra seats on a plane they will work with the families of lap children to put the child in that extra seat (in a car seat, of course).

    Him having his own seat made all the difference in the world and we will buy him his own seat for all future flights.

    Within the past year the FAA issued some sort of report that said that infants in seats are much more safer than lap infants but they did not want to make this a requirement as then people would fly less. If they flew less, the probably would drive more and driving is much more dangerous than flying. This being said, my quick search for this report or news coverage of the report did not unearth it.

  19. @Kaman,

    The bassinet we tried to use once, was far too small for anything other than a newborn or a fairly small child. At 5 months he was already too big for it we’d have had to stuff him in, no good.

    A car seat is the best answer IMO. Any major brand car seat will have an FAA-approved sticker on it, and can be fitted in aircraft seats although sometimes you’ll need a lap belt extension to make it work.

    Screaming children are a fact of life sometimes, and just as I don’t let DS wander loose in the car I never let him loose in the plane. We did make accomodations when DS was still very small, by driving from Sacramento to LA starting at his normal bedtime, so he just slept through the trip mostly. In cars at least he could only scream at us. On planes we’d carry packets of disposable earplugs to offer to nearby passengers, and offer to pay for their beverages. It’s a phase many parents live through, if you make it clear enough that you stay IN YOUR SEAT until released unless eating or excreting, they eventually figure it out and stop fussing about it. By age 1.5 he’d completely given in, and would even sit in the car seat if we had left it on the floor in the house, in order to take a nap or read a book. With age comes wisdom.

  20. One lap child was killed and another thrown 15 feet on United 232 to Sioux City. When that kind of force is at work it is near impossible to restrain your child.

    There are car seat strollers out there. These are convenient for parents and safer for the child.

  21. It’s a moot point really, because I don’t see the rules being changed anytime soon for the exact reasons mentioned by the FAA. But I agree with the point of view that having a lap child on a plane is not a safe option. Anyone should be able to see that. Most plane “crashes” are not fireballs of death; they are minor enough for people who are strapped in, but potentially deadly for babies who are not secured and become flying projectiles.

    And yes, any object can become a flying projectile; this is why personal items have to be secured during takeoff and landing and laptops are not allowed in seatback pockets (officially anyway…I have seen somewhat lax enforcement on this point).

    People need to consider the safety of their child (and yes, themselves and others) over their finances. A seat on a plane is a tiny drop in the bucket of required expenses for children. They’re expensive. Surely this is not news?

  22. Many European airlines have special seatbelts for lap children. It attaches to the parent’s belt and the kid is safely buckled up.

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