After Boeing Mishap, Talk Turns to Infant Safety

FAA recommends, but does not require, they be in a separate seat
By Gina Carey,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 21, 2024 8:59 AM CST
Are Babies Safe on Laps in Planes?
   (Getty / chameleonseye)

As we continue to digest the story of Alaska Airlines Flight 1282's mid-air blowout, people are wondering about the wisdom of letting babies sit on a parent's lap during flights. To recap, a piece of the Boeing 737 Max 9's bodywork detached while airborne, and nearby passengers were saved by their seatbelts while anything untethered, from cell phones to a teen's T-shirt, was sucked out of the resulting hole in the plane. Nobody ended up injured, but ABC News reports that at least three babies were in the laps of caregivers on the plane. That has renewed the question whether children under 2, who are allowed to spend flights hanging out on a lap, should have more stringent requirements in the air, notes Wired.

The FAA recommends children under 2 sit in an approved car seat—on their own separate plane seat—during flights, but has not made it a requirement. Wired notes the agency is obligated to show a cost-benefit analysis to justify such rules, and that's where things get tricky. The FAA's research suggests that the number of parents who would opt to drive instead of fly to save cash would cause more roadside deaths—about 72 per decade—compared to the very few it would prevent (3 deaths in about 30 years). Outside the US, European and UK authorities require a tandem belt for babies sitting with parents, but the FAA has banned them as evidence shows risk of injury may be greater during crashes.

While the scenario that played out on Flight 1282 was incredibly rare, experts like Kwasi Adjekum, an assistant professor at the University of North Dakota's Department of Aviation, say current regulations are not enough to protect kids from the unpredictable. "If there had been a passenger holding a kid close to where that panel blew off, the explosive force was such that a kid being held would have been torn from the hands of their parents, and they would have been sucked out the plane," he tells the Washington Post. "The practice of holding kids on your lap, especially for takeoff and other vulnerable phases of flight—it's highly frowned upon and discouraged."

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Wired suggests pressuring airlines to heavily reduce seat prices for children under 2 to maximize safety without packing roads with more cars. This could also reduce the risk of unrestrained children being injured in other ways. Turbulence, which is worsening with climate change, is the No. 1 cause of pediatric injuries on planes, and secure seating is the best method to prevent them. Placing parents with young kids at window seats would also help avoid more common injuries—bumps from the aisle, luggage falling, and hot drinks spilled on them. One dad has a thorough analysis of the pros and cons of lap travel, plus some creative solutions—like coming prepared to snag an empty seat. (A stowaway survived 2.5 ours in a plane's landing gear.)

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