You would think that the FAA, the agency charged with protecting the safety of the flying public, would take special care to ensure the safety of our most vulnerable flyers, those under the age of two. And if it knew something was unsafe, it would use its regulatory authority to make it right, right? You might reasonably think that. But you would be wrong.
Yes, the FAA, like everyone else in the aviation business, knows that kids are safe flying only when they have their own seat and an approved restraint. The FAA says as much on its Child Safety website. http://www.faa.gov/passengers/fly_children/. According to the FAA, “the safest place for your child on an airplane is in a government-approved child safety restraint system (CRS) or device, not on your lap. Your arms aren’t capable of holding your child securely, especially during unexpected turbulence.” And yet, notwithstanding its own admonition, children under the age of two are not required to be properly restrained when they fly. In the eyes of the law, a parent’s lap is perfectly legal, no matter how unsafe it is.
And there’s the rub. Many parents who would never think of driving with an infant or toddler unsecured in the backseat of a car seem unaware of the safety risk in an aircraft. (As with car seats, the type of proper restraint will vary with factors such as weight/height/age of the child.) While money may be a factor for some people, the vast majority I’ve spoken with over the years have indicated they would never risk their child’s life for the cost of another ticket. They just never thought they were risking their child’s life; they believe that if it were unsafe for a child to fly unrestrained, the FAA wouldn’t allow it.
Although the FAA acknowledges that a parent’s arms, no matter how strong, are inadequate to harness a child in the event of violent turbulence or rapid deceleration, the FAA still does not see fit to mandate safety seats. ( And it’s not just the child who is at risk; unrestrained, a child can become an uncontrolled flying object in the cabin with potentially catastrophic effect for other passengers.) A survivable accident could result in the serious injury or even death of an unsecured child. Speculative? Tell that to the parents who have survived a crash only to learn that their infant-in-arms was not so lucky.
From FORBES – John Goglia, Contributor
I write about the airline industry and aviation safety.
NTSB Child Restraint Recommendation Follows 1994 USAir Accident
The accident that finally drove this tragic point home to the NTSB was the July 2, 1994, USAir DC-9 accident in Charlotte, N.C. Two mothers on that fateful flight were holding their daughters (both under the age of two) on their laps. When the airplane experienced a powerful microburst on approach to Charlotte, causing it to land in a wooded area just short of the runway, the violent gyrations of the aircraft were too much for the two parents with unrestrained infants. While both mothers survived the crash relatively unscathed, their baby daughters were not so fortunate. One died on impact and one was severely injured. According to the NTSB report of the accident, the mother of the child who was killed stated that she was unable to maintain a secure hold on her child during the impact.
It doesn’t take a physicist to understand that the g-forces from a hurtling aircraft would make it nearly impossible to hold onto a lap child. As a result of this accident and the ensuing NTSB investigation, the Board recommended to the FAA in 1995 that children under the age of two be restrained on takeoff, landing and during turbulence. While the FAA conducted tests of child safety restraints, it has yet to do anything more than recommend their use.
And so while the number of survivable accidents has increased, parents with unrestrained infants run what could well be one of the worst case scenarios for any parent – to survive a plane crash only to have your infant not make it. Yes, I take kids seats personally. Maybe because I was the lead accident investigator for the IAM, USAir’s mechanics’ union, on the 1994 Charlotte crash. An image seared in my mind was the fireman carrying out the remains of the dead toddler, a child a mother’s arms could not restrain.