Are “Lap Children” Safe on Planes?

81273946_26d4b1da2c_b.jpgFor our upcoming January/February 2010 issue, we’re preparing tips on how to survive a plane crash. Don’t despair! The story’s not as morbid as it seems as your chance of being in a plane crash is about the same as giving birth to identical quadruplets! (1 in over 11 million). Fact-checking the story got me thinking about so-called “lap children,” kids two years of age and younger who sit on their parent’s lap while flying.

Is this a safe way for little kids to travel? Apparently the Federal Aviation Administration does not require infants to be belted in during flight though they do recommend parents use child restraint systems (CRSs) during take-off, landing, and turbulence. It strikes me as odd that kids have been required to be buckled up in cars since 1982, but they’re still not required to be similarly secured while on planes.

The FAA said in 2005 that it doesn’t mandate the use of safety seats on planes because this would require adults to purchase a separate seat for the infant, and that when forced to buy an additional ticket, many families will choose to drive rather than fly. And, as driving is a statistically much more dangerous way to travel, permitting kids to fly as lap children is seen as the lesser of two evils.

Most domestic airlines don’t charge for kids to fly as lap children, hence the perpetuation of this dangerous practice. Restraining your child in a CRS requires a separate seat, for which most airlines charge full ticket price. For many parents hoping to travel with their kids, it’s often too steep a price to pay, especially in these tough economic times, if flying with Junior as a lap child is free. While I’m not a mom and thus not personally faced with this decision, I’m inclined to agree with Consumer Reports contributing editor and aircraft dispatcher Bill McGee. Last summer he opined in USA Today that “[i]f a trip is too expensive for a child’s seat, then that’s a trip that shouldn’t be taken.”

What do you think?

Photo: Bertabetti via Flickr


  1. Layli Harbord
    March 29, 2010, 11:40 pm

    Obviously you never have flown with an infant, especially if you have family in another country which requires many hours of flight. If the odds are so low in being in a plane crash, then the benefit definitely outweighs the risks of crashing, and I’d rather be there to hold on to my baby during turbulence then have them freak out screaming because they get jostled awake in a separate chair thinking they are crashing. Car crashes and fender benders are obviously more common, but hmmm no safety seats required on buses, nor seatbelts for adults for that matter. I need to breastfeed to help their little ears pop to adjust and comfort for a 16 hour flight from Canada to India. I can’t imagine forcing my child to scream and cry while I can’t pick them up during routine take off and landing and think that’s cruel, unusual AND a money grab.

  2. David
    March 3, 2010, 2:23 pm

    I think its quite safe as far as you are awake.
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  3. Rachel Cotterill
    November 22, 2009, 5:50 pm

    I’ve never been on a US domestic flight (I’m British!) but on every international flight I’ve been on, I’ve seen a special kind of seatbelt which attaches an infant to the parent’s belt. With these available, I don’t see it as an issue.

  4. Hotel Barcelona
    November 22, 2009, 3:19 pm

    I am affraid to fly alone and i would never take my child with me. Hotels in Barcelona

  5. Mara
    November 18, 2009, 2:36 pm

    I’m not what I would consider an overly protective mother by any means, but after one trip with my son in my lap I decided that I would never do it again. I don’t worry so much about plane crashes as I do turbulence or a bumpy landing.
    My two sons are 4 and 7 now and we’ve flown many times – with them safely strapped into seats I paid for.