FAA: The Safest Place for a Child on a Plane is Not Your Lap

The Federal Aviation Administration has just issued an appeal timed for the summer travel season that strongly urges parents to “secure your child in a CRS [child restraint system] or device for the duration of your flight.”

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Child Restraint Seats for Toddlers, Babies

The plea is directed at parents of young children and even babies under the age of two that are not required to sit in an airplane seat. However, as an FAA spokesman told air travel analyst Rick Seaney not long ago, “There is simply no way to hold onto a lap child if you hit severe turbulence.”

CRS Seats: What to Look For

A child restraint system or CRS is not unlike a car seat except it is also approved for use on an aircraft. Things to keep in mind when purchasing a CRS:

  • Be sure it has a label that includes the words, “certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft”
  • Be sure the back measures no more than 16 inches wide so it will fit in most airline seats

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Weight of Children Matters

Be sure to select the right CRS for your child’s weight:

Child’s weight Choose this device
Less than 20 pounds Rear-facing CRS
20 – 40 pounds Front-facing CRS
More than 40 pounds Airplane seat belt

Parents of kids who weigh between 22 and 44 pounds can also choose to use an FAA-approved harness-type of restraint device which come without a seat and is approved for use in aircraft only.

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Dilemma: Safety vs. Cost of Airfare

It is not clear why the FAA does not mandate child restraint system seats, but it doesn’t and apparently has no plans to force this measure on the flying public. In other words, for now, children under the age of two can legally fly for free on a parent’s lap with no special seat or restraints beyond an adult’s arms. And in this season of high-priced airfare, some families may find that paying for an infant’s ticket – a ticket that is not required by law – can mean the difference between traveling and staying home.

The FAA suggests parents ask airlines for discounted tickets for children, but such fares – when available at all – can usually only be obtained on international flights.

Another FAA suggestion: ask the airline to use an empty seat for your child’s CRS. However, in these days of capacity-cutting carriers, finding empty seats on a plane can be impossible.

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Published: May 15, 2012