In safety recommendation a-10-121-123.pdf issued by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) this week to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the NTSB revisits the long-standing debate about child safety on airplanes. Since regulation of flight began, children under the age of 2 have been allowed to sit in their parent(s) lap as a “lap child” without purchasing a separate seat. On domestic US flights, this is the equivalent of a free ticket for baby; on international carriers, lap children under 2 don’t fly free but typically pay only 10% of the economy fare for the flight.
The FAA clearly acknowledges that airplane passengers in seat restraints are much safer than those without. However, the FAA has for many years advocated that children under the age of 2 be allowed to fly as lap children in parents’ arms, without requiring their own seat. The FAA believes that the cost of purchasing an additional airplane ticket for each infant would force more families to drive to their destinations, a statistically less safe mode of transport.
While the FAA has successfully argued its case on the basis of ultimate safety, the NTSB is requesting once again that the issue be reviewed. In its safety recommendation, the NTSB shares data gathered from several recent airplane accidents involving children. Confirming that restrained passengers are always safer than unrestrained ones, the NTSB asks why the FAA — if they’re worried about making parents buy tickets — ever chose age 2 as the cutoff for a critical sfety standard?
In the NTSB review of FAA legislation and rulings since 1971, they point out that the FAA also used to approve the use of one seat belt to restrain two passengers as long as their combined weight was not more than 170 lbs and “the structural strength requirements for the seats are not exceeded.” This rule was overturned in 1996 at the repeated request of the NTSB.
In the current argument, the NTSB cites several accidents in which unrestrained occupants of airplanes suffered greater injuries than others. They contend that since the FAA exception for passengers under 2 applies to small, private aircraft in which tickets are not sold, as well as to large commercial carriers, at the very least the FAA should require child restraints to be used in private aircraft.
NTSB Vice Chairman Christopher A. Hart adds in a dissenting statement that since carseat child restraint sysems have improved since the original FAA rulings were made, new studies examining the injury rate for children in planes vs. cars should be undertaken immediately to determine if the FAA’s fundamental position is still valid.
With the airlines so hungry for any additional revenue stream, the time may be right for their lobbyists to get behind the NTSC to prohibit the free transport of children of any age.
Will buying an airplane ticket (most airlines sell domestic seats for under-2s at half price) keep you from flying less with your baby? Will you travel as much but fly to your destination instead? Join the debate.
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