Flying With Young Kids This Summer?

June 12th, 2015

John GogliaJohn Goglia Contributor

I write about the airline industry and aviation safety.

Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

Logistics & Transportation 1,316 views

As the heavy summer flying season begins, complaints from parents of young children about their flying experiences are starting to come in.  As I write, I’m waiting to hear back from a major airline and the FAA on yet another passenger’s report that she was prohibited from using an approved child restraint for her young child on a recent flight.  Her experience is not unique, as I’ve written before.  While more and more parents of young children across the country are aware of the safety risk of flying with lap children and are opting to buy them plane seats and bringing their own FAA-approved restraint system –whether a car seat approved for aircraft or the CARES harness, the only FAA-approved harness restraint system for children 22 to 44 pounds, the airlines don’t appear to be as knowledgeable of FAA rules as they should be.  It’s very disheartening to hear over and over that parents who have listened to aviation safety experts on the need to properly restrain young children on airline flights have their best intentions thwarted by airline crews unfamiliar with those rules.

Sometimes the parents are ultimately successful in persuading the crews that the FAA rule really requires an airline to allow a child (under the age of 18) to use an approved child restraint system when a seat is purchased for that child, as long as the child is within the weight limits for the restraint and is accompanied by a parent or guardian.  (The CARES harness is much safer for young children – even over the age of 2 as long as they are below the weight limit of 44 pounds – than an adult seat belt in the event of turbulence or rapid deceleration in an incident or accident.) In addition, if an approved restraint does not fit the seat you purchased for your child, the airline is required to accommodate the restraint system in another seat in the same class of service.

But it’s not easy to argue with a flight crew these days.  More than one parent has told me that they’ve felt intimidated that if they continued to argue they would be tossed from the flight, even if their arguments were made in a reasonable, non-confrontational tone.  And getting tossed off a flight is never a fun prospect – but even less so in the summer when flights are operating at or over capacity and missing your flight could mean ruining your vacation.  Parents are sometimes stuck making the difficult choice to fly without the safety benefits they’re entitled to for their young children.

So here are my tips once again for ensuring that your child is able to fly safely in his or her own seat:

–          Always purchase a seat (window seat so that the aisle isn’t blocked) for your child, regardless of age; it’s just not safe to fly with a lap child.
–          If you fly internationally, be aware that FAA rules will only apply to US certificated airlines, not foreign airlines even if operated under code-share agreements with US airlines.  A friend of mine found this out the hard way after booking with a code-share partner of a US airline; the foreign airline would not guarantee that an FAA-approved child restraint system would be allowed on takeoff or landing, the time when they are most needed
Ensure that the child restraint system you bring on board is specifically approved for aircraft use and is clearly labeled.  You will not be allowed to use an unlabeled restraint system, whether car seat or harness.
–          Make sure the restraint system is appropriate for the weight of your child.
–          Learn how to properly secure the restraint system before going to the airport.  The FAA has several helpful videos on its webpage.
–          Bring a copy of the FAA’s webpage and information for operators which states the FAA requirement that airlines cannot prohibit use of approved child restraint systems if a seat has been purchased for the child.
–          Bring a copy of the airline’s webpage, if any, regarding child restraint system use.
–          Notify the gate agent that you will be using an approved child restraint system in a seat you purchased and ask for assistance in ensuring the crew’s familiarity with federal requirements.  Be prepared to demonstrate that the restraint is FAA-approved and to educate the agent on federal requirements.  It’s better to keep everyone informed during the boarding process so any issues can be resolved early.
–         Request pre-boarding or early boarding so you have plenty of time to properly secure the restraint system.
–        Show the flight attendant in your cabin that the restraint is aircraft-approved and properly secured before the cabin door is closed.
And keep writing me your experiences travelling with young children – good or bad.