Will she be a lap child? Get the scoop on current regulations for lap children vs. children in safety seats, as well as discount airline fares for infants.
Since 1997, U.S. airlines have allowed parents to transport children under 2-years in their own child restraint system (CRS), in a reserved airplane seat, for just 50% of the parents’ ticketed airfare. Credit for this “break” from the airlines should go to the Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which had long lobbied to end the practice of having “lap children” (infants carried free of charge on passenger laps) on board. They contend that in cases of in-flight turbulence, collision or crash, restrained children are safer passengers. But the debate about whether restraint systems, typically car seats, should be mandatory or not continued to rage.
Effective September 26, 2005, the FAA announced that it will not make the use of CRSs on airplanes mandatory because of the increased safety risk to families. “Statistics show that families are safer traveling in the sky than on the road,” explains FAA Administrator Marion C. Blakey. “We encourage the use of child safety seats in airplanes. However, if requiring extra airline tickets forces some families to drive,” her statement continued, “then we’re inadvertently putting too many families at risk.”
Risks of The Road
The agency said its analyses showed that, if forced to purchase an extra airline ticket, families might choose to drive, a statistically more dangerous way to travel. It has long been proven that the risk for fatalities and injuries to families is significantly greater on the roads than in airplanes; for example, in 2004, nearly 43,000 people died on America’s highways as compared to 13 on commercial flights.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which has been the country’s leading advocate for the use of CRS in automobiles, supported the FAA’s decision. Current FAA and NHTSA studies showed that requiring paid airplane seats for under-2s could result in another 13 to 42 added family member fatalities from highway accidents over a 10-year period.
Child Restraint Systems Still Recommended
The FAA continues to encourage the use of CRSs and says it will broaden the types of acceptable restraints for use on aircraft by amending its regulations; however, any new alternative child restraint systems will have to be approved by the FAA and provided by the airlines, not passengers.
Organizations including the Association of Flight Attendants and the American Academy of Pediatrics also recommend the use of CRSs to protect children from turbulence or an emergency landing. The alternative to putting your child into a car seat or other restraint strapped into an empty airplane seat is to keep the child on your lap, which, if your child is under 2, is free of charge on most airlines. Airlines have a lot of specific policies about pre-booking your seats and items such as bassinets, so you should check first with the airline you plan to fly for the fine print. A lot of restrictions may apply.
In any case, parents who prefer certified restraint systems for their children will find that the special infant fare is currently offered on all major domestic airlines; and some regional and international carriers have followed suit.
For now, the issue seems to have reached a logical resolution: transportation options are left open for parents to decide. To stay informed and keep up to date with official FAA policies, visit the FAA.
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