Should Child Restraint Devices be Mandatory on Planes? PART 2

January 2nd, 2011

Aviation New Journal Winter 2001

Written by Louise Stoll,former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Transportation and currently General Manager of Kids Fly Safe

(Cont. from Part 1) smallest travelers should not be considered optional or a luxury.” While the panelists all recognized the need for improved safety for the youngest fliers, only Mary Gooding could speak from the platform of actually providing such safety. Virgin Atlantic has long provided child restrai nts for its youngest passengers, and requires that they be used. Pat Friend reiterated the flight attendant union’s position: child restraints for young children should be mandatory. “As flight attendants we are required to secure all items in the cabin, galley, and lavatories – from carry-on bags to coffee pots….because we are trained that in an emergency, loose items can be dangerous flying through the cabin. A lap held child has the potential to be one of those loose items that may not only suffer injury to themselves, but also injure others.” While the FAA panelists acknowledged the danger to — and of — lap children, the agency has yet to mandate that every passenger must fly secured in his or her own seat in an “age appropriate” restraint. Their argument — not made with much conviction and challenged by many experts in transportation — is that if parents were required to purchase seats for the youngest fliers, some number of families would opt to drive to their destinations because of the extra cost: and the risk of injury is greater in a car than in a plane. This so called “diversion theory” was rebutted by the NTSB throughout the morning in various ways. The NTSB noted that there are numerous destinations to which families could not, or would not drive, such as a weekend destination hundreds of miles away; or to Puerto Rico from New York, for example. They cited statistics that show that drivers with children in their car drive more safely and have fewer accidents than the generalized statistics used in the FAA analysis. In the days after 9/11 for instance, and during an earlier pilot strike when airplanes also didn’t fly for several days, more families took to the road – but the accident rate did not increase. Then the discussion turned to matters of practicality and money. Today, children in the US under the age of two fly at no cost if they sit on a parent’s lap – but pay full fare if they are in their own seat. In addition, if they are too young for the seatbelt to provide sufficient protection, parents must bring their own child safety restraint on board or fly knowing their child is not as well protected as they are. The point was made many times that infants in automobiles are REQUIRED by law in nearly every state to be buckled into rear facing car seats in the back seats of automobiles until they are at least one year old, then in front facing car seats until the age of 4 or 5. The NTSB believes that the parameters relating to seatbelts in cars should also apply to children in airplanes. The NTSB urged the FAA to prohibit lap children on airplanes and to require that every child be in his or her own seat in an age appropriate, FAA approved child restraint. Until the child is 4 or 5, he or she has no prospect of being able to brace effectively in the event of turbulence or rough landing. If the NTSB had its way, babies would be in back facing car seats until they could sit upright, and in front facing car seats or an appropriate child restraint until they could reach the seat in front of them to brace effectively if needed. The discussion, naturally, moved to cost and responsibility: who should provide the child restraints on the plane? Who should pay for the extra seat if lap kids are no longer permitted? Several panelists and the NTSB noted that today all airlines are required to hand out extender belts to very large passengers for whom the seat belt would not otherwise fit – and that was the model they foresaw for child restraints. The NTSB also urged the airlines once again to offer reduced price fares to young children to encourage parents to purchase a seat for them. The NTSB conference on child safety in airplanes was a landmark in the effort to make travel safer for children. Today very few parents haul car seats through airports and onto barely receptive airplanes because they are bulky, heavy, impractical, difficult to handle in the airport environment and to install. In addition, they require the child to be watched by another adult while the installation takes place. But the safety issue for children in airplanes will not be fully addressed until every child is in his or her own seat with an airline- provided safety restraint that gives an equivalent level of safety to that of the adult passengers. In the mean time, the CARES aviation child safety restraint is an easy and safe solution. It is FAA and Transport Canada certified. It can be carried in a pocket or purse, takes only a minute to install, can be used in any seat in the airplane row, and is installed around the child while the child sits in the airplane seat. It fits into a compact 6 inch stuff sack so half a dozen could be easily stored in a corner of an overhead compartment. For more information on the CARES child restraint, please visit Winter 2011