Airplanes and Safe Travel for Children

While not mandated, the safest way for a young child to travel on an airplane is in an approved car seat.  Car seats are needed to protect the child against turbulence.  In non-fatal accidents, in-flight turbulence is the leading cause of injury to airline passengers and flight attendants. (FAA Facts About Turbulence).

Reasons to use your child’s carseat on an airplane:

There are very good reasons why you should invest in a seat for your child when traveling on an airplane. The first reason is for safety. Lap children are subjected to injuries or death during turbulence, sudden stops/turns, rough landings, or emergency landings. It is nearly impossible to hold onto the child during any of these occurrences. The child would be thrown around the cabin, resulting in serious injuries. Sitting on a parent’s lap puts the child in the “crush zone.” Children have been crushed to death by their parent. A child being tossed around the cabin is also a “projectile danger” to other passengers.

Secondly, it is much more convenient to have the child in his own seat. He is used to being in the seat and is much less likely to protest. A lap held child wants to stand, run, touch, poke, etc. Children riding in car seats are also more likely to sleep than lap held children. Not only are children more comfortable riding in car seats, but parents are as well.

Be sure to purchase a seat for your child to assure that you will be able to use your car seat. Many airlines offer discounted tickets for young children.

Who should use a carseat on an airplane:

If your child uses a carseat while riding in a vehicle, she should use it on the airplane. Install it the same way you would in the car. If your child rides rear facing in the car, she should ride rear-facing in the airplane. The same is true for forward facing. Older children above 40 lbs can use an airplane approved seat that has a harness weight over 40 lbs (such as the Britax Marathon and Nania Safety Baby Airway).

You cannot use a booster seat on an aiplane because airplanes have lap only seat belts. If your child uses a booster in the car, bring it to the airport with you. Check it either as luggage or at the gate so you can use it when you reach your destination. Secure the airplane’s lap belt snugly over your child’s hips.

How to tell if your child’s car restraint is certified for airplane use:

In order to be certified for use on an airplane, the car restraint has to met the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. Check the labels on the side of your car restraint for a sticker (words will be printed in red) for verification that your seat is safe for airplane use. See the example below:

If it’s not safe, why is a lap child allowed?:

Holding a child on your lap while traveling on an airplane is not recommended – not even by the airlines themselves. Take a look at what Southwest has to say about lap children:

* If you’re traveling with an infant or small child, you should know that proper use of an approved child restraint device (CRD) enhances child safety on aircraft. For this reason, Southwest Airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) strongly recommend that infants and small children who weigh under 40 pounds be secured in an appropriate CRD when traveling by air.

* Although not recommended, if your child is under age two and you would prefer to hold him or her on your lap when traveling, you may do so on Southwest Airlines without charge, and we’ll be glad to check your CRD for use at your destination.

That said, there are several reasons why a lap child is allowed on airlines. Most of it boils down to money. Current FAA law allows children under two years of age to be held in the lap of an adult. Airlines are concerned that if car seats are mandatory for all children, people will stop flying. Many parents, unaware of the dangers, have pushed for the lap-child laws. Best practice is to always use a car restraint on an airplane.

Travel Vests:

These products (such as the Baby B’ Air) would make very little difference, if any, in an incident over a child who was simply held in a lap with no restraint. The strap on these vests are long enough to allow the child to contact hard surfaces inside the vehicle. A child using a vest is still in the parents “crush zone.” These products are risky and should be avoided.

Tips to make your travel easier:

  • Bring along a few new toys that your child has not seen to help keep him entertained.
  • Crayons, stickers, books, coloring books, and a few other favorite toys help keep boredom away.
  • Bring along snacks to keep hunger at bay and a treat (such as a cookie) for when she gets fussy.
  • If possible, travel during naptime. He will be more likely to sleep.
  • Offer your child a drink during take-off and landing to help her ears pop.
  • Pre-board to give yourself a little extra time. Ask for help if needed. Flight attendents are more than willing to lend a hand.
  • Bring the stroller to wheel your child through the airport, and check it the gate.
  • Purchase a car seat carrying bag. This will allow you to wear the car seat on your back, leaving your hands free.
  • Bring along a change of clothes for your young child, as well as plenty of diapers (pack a few more than what you *think* you’ll need), wipes, and other necessities.
  • Let your child run around at the gate before boarding to burn off some energy
  • The in-flight magazine is your to keep if your wish. Let your child have fun tearing it, coloring it, folding it, etc.

Additional Resources: