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Flight attendants want to ban lap-babies (washingtonpost.com)
28 points by lxm 11 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 58 comments

This came up decades ago when Bob Machol was chief scientist at the FAA. A plane had pitched downward, and the parent lost their hold on the baby, which fell to the front of the cabin and died. A ban on lap babies was proposed.

Machol pointed out that requiring parents to buy separate tickets for babies would price some families out of the market for air travel, leading them to drive instead.

But driving is much more dangerous than air travel. Many more babies would have been killed by the rule change.

Machol was able to persuade the FAA to keep the rule.

This seems like it could be solved with a restraint for the baby. Like one of those baby carriers that parents wear with the baby resting against the parent’s chest. They don’t necessarily need to keep the baby in there for the whole flight but when the seatbelt light comes on the baby should be safely restrained.

The irony is today you literally have to take a baby out of those carriers for take off and landing, but can have them in it at other times on the plane. That said, there might be a way to make a new type of carrier that is safer.

This is mentioned in the article. The concern appears to be that a baby strapped to your chest will shoot out of the carrier (not clear how), not that it will be damaged by getting squished between your chest and your lap:

> The couple also secured Avalee-Rose in a carrier worn like a chest pack. “That felt safer because she was always on me, strapped in,” said Ejmont, whose family of five is based in Australia and spends about half the year traveling. But like the bassinet, the airline requires parents to remove their babies during certain maneuvers and conditions.

> Hoffman warns that the carrier is not foolproof, especially during severe turbulence. “The child can slip out of it because of all of that force. A plane that falls 4,000 feet in seconds — that’s like being shot out of a cannon.[1] A front pack is not going to do the same as a car seat.”

The obvious solution would appear to be:

1. Get rid of the rule that prohibits these carriers.

2. Look into what it takes for a harness to prevent something strapped into it from suddenly coming unstrapped.

[1] It's not clear to me what Hoffman might mean here. Falling doesn't exert any force. Force is needed to stop falling, but you have a lot of discretion over how that occurs.

Exactly my first thought too. Seems like a simple enough solution that protects the baby without requiring purchasing a second seat.

I agree, if you spend all my money i bet you can find a safer solution.

Just speculating... airplane seatbelts don't restrain the torso of the adult, so any strong forward motion could potentially injure or kill the baby restrained in such a manner?

A critical function of a seatbelt is to protect others in the cabin from a flying body tumbling about, in addition to being protecting the person buckled up.

Well that would have to be included: a shoulder belt as part of the system. This would keep the parent’s body from pitching forward and harming the baby.

It wouldn’t need to be on every seat. It could be something extra they attach to your seat when you bring your baby on board.

Car-styled seatbelts with shoulder restraints already exist in newer business class seats. The shoulder but detaches too so you only have a lap belt when lying down.

I imagine that the danger is also for other passengers. A 5 or 7 kg baby flying through the cabin is a deadly projectile for others as well.

This is what I am thinking about when I pack the back of my car (a SUV-like one where the boot is available to passengers if they reach behind their seats). I always try to imagine what happens if we hit a wall.

We had in France a gov ad (a public announcement of sorts about the dangers of cars) where a bowling ball was flying in slow motion during a crash. It was quite terrifying.

Shortly after he resigned as French prime minister in 1940, Paul Reynaud lost his mistress to an unsecured suitcase that came loose when he lost control of their car and hit a tree.

> But driving is much more dangerous than air travel.

This was probably valid back when car seats were rudimentary, but nowadays it seems like a strapped baby in a properly installed car seat is quite safe?

Relative to old-fashioned car seats, modern car seats are indeed quite safe, but relative to air travel they're not.

That's fascinating - do you happen to have a source for this? I tried Googling but came up empty.

Machol discusses it in this address he gave at a 1992 sciences conference; it's on page 10.


He says that the calculations they did at the FAA suggested that for each infant saved by requiring a separate ticket, six would have been killed in car crashes.

(That's not my original source; it's just the first thing I found.)

Here's a 2002 pediatric journal paper that comes to the same conclusion:


"Results of this study show that requiring CRSs on airplanes would prevent few airplane crash deaths and might cause an increase in motor vehicle deaths if many families switched to travel by car rather than paying additional fares for their young children. Irrespective of that possibility, the cost of the regulation per death prevented would be high­about $1.3 billion if the price of the round-trip ticket for the young child were $200.These findings suggest that a policy requiring CRSs on airplanes would be a poor use of societal resources."

Interesting. It would seem driving would be significantly safer for a baby than the driving parent.

> When the seat belt light blinks on, every passenger buckles up except for one group of fliers: lap-babies.

That’s not how it works though. At least not on the flights I have been.

We were given a special, additional seat belt, that loops over the adult one, and goes over the baby. And the airlines were enforcing it as much as the adult one.

It’s addressed in the article:

“On many foreign carriers, parents can (loosely) secure their child with a belly loop belt that wraps around the baby’s torso and attaches to the adult’s seat belt. However, the FAA prohibits this accessory on U.S. carriers because of its potential dangers.”

Fwiw when I’ve used the baby-belts they felt very secure. Always wondered why US airlines didn’t use them.

> Fwiw when I’ve used the baby-belts they felt very secure. Always wondered why US airlines didn’t use them.

There appear to be very good reasons.

From the Study on Child Restraint Systems: Final Report produced by TÜV Rheinland for the European Aviation Safety Agency in 2008 [0]:


The loop belt is derived from the normal lap belt (width, material, buckle). The normal lap belt is designed to support the webbing on the iliac crest of the adult. In biomechanical terms, the adult is restrained by the lap belt over his or her iliac crest in an accident (cf. section 2.1.1). In infants, however, the iliac crest is not yet fully developed. The loop belt therefore rests by almost 100 percent within the infant’s abdominal region. The induction of forces into the abdominal region of the infant results in extremely serious internal injuries.

For this reason, the loop belt is no safety system for infants in turbulence, aborted take-off, hard landing, in emergency landing conditions and other accidents.

Furthermore, the infant is seated within the adult’s excursion path. Dummy tests in emergency landing dynamic conditions illustrate the situation of an infant fixed with a loop belt on the lap of an adult. They show the following pattern:

The inertia forces resulting from the mass of the infant and the effective accelerations affect the abdomen of the infant via the loop belt. Since the abdomen cannot induce exterior forces, the loop belt drives into the soft parts. The infant is additionally loaded by the pressure of the downward movement of the adult’s upper torso and his or her femurs hitting upwards. The loop belt drives through the infant’s abdomen and only stops at the vertebral spine. The adult hits onto the infant. The infant is pushed through the legs of the adult and hits onto the floor.

Infants fixed with a loop belt suffer extremely serious to fatal injuries due to their position within the adult’s excursion path and due to the restraint method.

–end quote–

[0] https://www.icao.int/safety/airnavigation/OPS/CabinSafety/Ca... (pp. 74-75)

Sounds terrible, but it doesn't address the issue with simple turbolence, which seems to be a major issue without the lap belt. Isn't turbolence way more common than emergency landing?

This happened whenever the seatbelt sign was on, or only when it was on because of turbulence? We have never been offered that, and I've never seen other passengers offered such a thing. I've mostly flown in the US though; perhaps you are elsewhere?

Really? We flew for years when both our kids were infants and toddlers, through North America, Europe, Australia, and SE Asia. Every flight gave us an extra lap belt for any child that was too small to for a seat of their own (and almost always a “we’ll come and find you once most the passengers have boarded, we’ll need to give you a special seatbelt…” as we stepped on board and they checked out ticket). They’d always give us a special safety demonstration despite having used the belts dozens of times. If we had a bulkhead seat with a bassinet you’d have to take the child out of the bassinet and strap them into the belt on your lap if the seatbelt light came on.

I’m mostly stunned our experiences are so extremely opposite. As I’ve never not seen this!

Completely the opposite. Our kids were born in the last decade, and we only traveled in the continental US with them. Wish we'd gotten the same offers as your family.

Mine are under 10 too. In the US we probably only flew Alaskan and American Airlines. So maybe it was unique to them?

We flew last week non US Oman Air, and got a baby belt, but not on a domestic flight in the Philippines.

Maybe it's not required for us domestic? Domestic flights have more flexible regulation generally.

Is this a new thing? My kids are <10 years old, but we flew a ton when each of them were under 2 and I don’t recall getting a supplemental belt once. This was pretty much exclusively on Southwest, though.

No, it's just something the 95% of the world outside the US does.

I flew two flights last week with a lap-child and didn't see this. The in flight info just indicated to hold on tight in an emergency.

This is ridiculous. There are on the order of 10 million lap children per year. Over the last 40 years, it looks like there have been two lap children that died that might not have had they been in a car seat on the plane. Over that 40 year period, that would be 400 million lap children, so the additional risk is about 1/200 million.

If you figure a typical airline ticket costs about $150 each way, that comes to $30 billion per life saved.

Bottom line is if you want to spend money on your kid's safety, buying them their own airline seat is probably the worst way you could do it.

Of course parents always have the option to buy the extra seat if they want to, but to force parents to do this in the name of safety is asinine.

A lot of car seats probably wouldn't even fit into a standard airline seat these days. It would also slow down the boarding process. For that reason I think this change is unlikely to ever happen.

I’ve flown with a car seat. Many are FAA certified. And with families boarding before other passengers we’re able to get the seat installed before the plane gets busy.

They should be mandatory. No car seat = no baby.

Let alone the nightmare of having to bring a car seat with you on a 12 hours flight with 2 children, one of which is an infant, a stroller, 3 carry on (yes, you need toys and change for children and stuff for yourself) and a stroller.

A joy.

Families with small children board separately, often after the highest-tier flyers, but before the mere mortals.

US only

European airlines have seatbelts for babies. Emirates has them, too.

Same with Australia, the UK, New Zealand and every Asian country I've been to with small kids. This article confused me so much. Parents aren't strapping their small kids in the US? Wild.

It's bloody stupid.

No parent will be able to hold onto a baby in case of sudden turbulence.

No one wants to pay full airfare for an infant:

> Hoffman recognizes the drawbacks of requiring parents to purchase airplane tickets for their youngsters. The main concern is that families will not be able to afford the airfare and will resort to driving, a more perilous mode of transportation.

>“If they travel by car instead, they will actually be putting themselves at a significantly greater risk, because car crashes are so much more common than airplane incidents, whether it’s a crash or turbulence,”

that analysis they did sounds kind of silly, since at 2 years and 1 day you’re paying full boat anyway.

The logical conclusion of their assessment: at 2y1d people can afford the fare so fly but 2 days before that they couldn’t so would drive instead? The argument doesn’t actually bear weight.

Such arbitrary decisions are part of our day to day life. This is not new.

You can vote at 18. Why not 19, why not 18.1? You can drink at 21, why not 18, why not 20.5? When buying tickets, there are tickets for children and senior. When buying food, there is senior discount - in some places it is for age 55, some places for 60, well actually the numbers could be anything from 50-67 (starting age).

We draw such arbitrary boundaries every day. They could be based on statistics, or marketing, but they are part of life.

For airlines, I presume at some age, the weight/space taken starts becoming a factor, so they likely picked 2 year as a boundary in this case.

I agree with all that. But I still think if they move the free passenger bar from 2y to 0y it will be an undetectable change in the number of flights booked

Curious, whenever I’ve taken a flight with a lap infant I’ve been given an extra belt that attaches to mine to restrain the child, but the article suggests they get no restraint at all.

Either way I’d very gladly swap a lap infant for an infant in their own seat. But there’s no such thing as a child fare on a plane so the price difference to pay for the full adult fare is staggering, it’s no wonder people opt for lap travel.

This sounds great — what airlines do this? It was certainly never offered to us.

Every one I've ever travelled outside the US.

> Hoffman warns that the carrier is not foolproof, especially during severe turbulence. “The child can slip out of it because of all of that force. A plane that falls 4,000 feet in seconds — that’s like being shot out of a cannon. A front pack is not going to do the same as a car seat.”

How common is it for a plane to fall 4,000 feet in seconds? Sounds like it would result in deaths for anyone who isn't strapped in at that moment.

We've used car seats at times, but also have used an Ergo to strap our kid to our front. It is more than enough for the type of turbulence that we've ever experienced in a combined 80 years of flying, though of course there is a possibility that something stronger could hit.

> How common is it for a plane to fall 4,000 feet in seconds?

It wasn't 4,000 feet, but last month a United Airlines flight leaving Hawaii dropped 1,425 feet shortly after takeoff: https://www.popularmechanics.com/flight/airlines/a42887614/u...

That event got world wide news coverage, indicating that is was highly unusual.

Not that unusual. Just a month earlier, 25 passengers were injured on a flight coming into Hawaii from Phoenix, 6 of them severely enough to require hospitalization. [0]

"Between 2009 and 2021, at least 146 people, including passengers and crew members, were seriously injured by turbulence ..."

[0] https://www.nytimes.com/2023/01/14/business/hawaii-airlines-...

Considering the billion people flying in that time frame, 146 serious injuries is less than a rounding error.

It’s precisely because we’ve treated these “rounding errors” seriously that aviation is so incredibly safe. It didn’t used to be, it got that way because the engineers treated even a single injury as an unacceptable failure.

Except this isn't even a rounding error, it's less than that. You can't engineer out the basic physics of turbulence for winged propelled aircraft.

Agree that turbulence is inescapable, but that's exactly why every passenger should have a seat belt.

I don't know how many feet it was or how many seconds, because it was the kind of experience that messes with your perception to say the least, but I was on a transatlantic flight where the plane went into freefall and kept dropping long enough that I started to seriously worry that it wasn't going to stop. It was probably not more than a few second, but it was quite an unpleasant experience.

Not necessarily death, but risk of serious injury is a real possibility.

Why do you think staff have their seatbelts on whenever they sit down? Less risk of injury and dying.

Do you not wear a seatbelt when in a car?

I took a car seat onto an airplane on exactly one trip and am glad I will never have to again. It’s nice when it’s installed, but getting it into and out of the plane on top of all the other shenanigans really sucks.

It’s weird that the only specific incidents described are plane crashes. While turbulence issues are mentioned the article doesn’t say how common they are.

I don’t optimize my life based on how likely I am to survive a plane crash and I doubt most others do either. On the flights I’ve been on, the seatbelts feel mostly vestigial.

Next under 8s in business please!

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