Should Babies Be Allowed To Fly On Parents' Laps On Planes?

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has been trying to convince the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to change policy and require babies under age 2 to be buckled up in separate seats rather than in their parents' laps on planes.

On Dec. 9, the NTSB will host a conference on child safety in Washington, with lap-held babies on planes among the topics. FAA representatives will not only be attending but on a panel responding to questions.

In advance of that meeting, NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman talked with AOL Travel News about the group's concerns and things every parent should know before taking their young children onboard planes.


Deborah Hersman NTSBAOL: If I'm a parent, is it safe to have my baby in my lap on an airplane?

Hersman: The safest place to have your baby on an airplane is in a child safety seat and strapped into their own seat. Just like adults, babies need that protection, being properly restrained.

AOL;: How dangerous are we talking if I do keep my baby in my lap?

Hersman: The NTSB has investigated accidents in which we identified restraint-use as critical to surviving that accident. The FAA also agrees that the safest place for a child to be is properly restrained in a child safety seat and as they get older in their own seatbelt.

AOL: Have there been many cases where baby's lives would have been saved had they been restrained in a seat?

Hersman: The saddest situation is when we investigate an accident and we find that a parent or an adult survived with serious injuries and a child was even more seriously injured or was killed in an accident. We've seen instances in both commercial aircraft accidents and also general aviation accidents where children survived because they were restrained.

AOL: So I'm a parent and my child is being fussy on a flight, so we walk around. Should I be concerned about turbulence?

Hersman: There are specific times where the flight crew is going to ask all passengers to buckle up – take-off, landing and during turbulence. You want to extend that same protection to a child or a baby. They are very vulnerable. They are unable to make decisions themselves and so they're relying on you to make sure that they're safe. You would not want to lose hold of your child in an event like turbulence. And sadly no amount love in the world can hold onto them if the forces of physics are working against you.

AOL: The NTSB has called for separate seats and restraints for everyone on planes as a policy. You've asked the FAA to make this change (requiring those under age 2 to have a separate seat). Where does that stand at this point?

Hersman: The FAA has not required that parents purchase tickets for their lap-held children under the age of 2, but they have recommended and provide guidance to parents that the safest option for traveling with (young) children is for them to be restrained in a child restraint seat that's approved for use on an aircraft.

AOL: Has the FAA indicated to you that there will be a policy change down the road?

Hersman: No.

AOL: You are having a conference upcoming on child safety. The FAA is going to be there. Will you be putting pressure on for them to consider the policy change?

Hersman: The safety board will be discussing the safest ways to transport children in the air and on the road. And we're looking forward to having a very good dialog with the FAA as well as others in the industry about the best way to transport our children. We know that every day parents bring babies onboard flights. They drive to the airport, they take their child out of the child safety seat, and we don't want them to be checking that child safety seat at the ticket counter and then picking it up at the baggage carousel on the other end. We want them to be using it, so that that child is just as protected inflight as they are in the car.

AOL: People use the argument that if you don't allow people to carry babies in their lap (on planes) they'll drive and driving is more dangerous. What do you say about that argument?

Hersman: The safety board disagrees. In periods where we have seen increased diversion from the air to the highways – 1981, 1991, 2000, 2001 – we saw more people going in their cars than flying because of gas prices or the Persian Gulf or 9/11. We did not see an increase in highway fatalities for children under the age of 5 during those periods of time.

AOL: Are there any restraints that are more safe than other restraints?

Hersman: Parents should only use FAA-approved devices when transporting their babies on airplanes. Most car seats also bear a label that they are approved in cars as well as airplanes.

AOL: Bottom line your argument is that lives can be saved through parents not traveling with babies on their laps?

Hersman: We believe that death and injuries can be prevented if everyone is properly restrained in a size-appropriate restraint whether they are on the roads or in the air.

AOL: So if I'm a parent on a budget and I'm considering a trip, this (buying an extra seat for my baby) should be a factor in my planning?

Hersman: Absolutely, just as it would be a factor in your planning once your child turns 2 years old and 1 month, it should be a factor in your planning when your child is 1 year old and 11 months.

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