The first time I flew with my son, he was not yet two months old, and I was terrified. My husband and I arrived early at the airport and, at the suggestion of a friend, each ordered a beer. We braced ourselves for an hour and a half of baby wails, apologetic murmurs, and grumpy glances.
We were lucky: Our “lap child,” as airlines refer to children under two who fly for free in their parent’s arms, stayed generally sanguine thanks to a combination of intermittent breastfeeding and cuddles from mom and dad. If we had been required to restrain him in a car seat, this would have been a different story.
According to a recent news report, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA is lobbying Congress to require “a seat for every soul,” meaning that parents of little ones will be forced to pay for one more plane ticket.
In other words, a union is petitioning the government to implement unnecessary regulations with little likelihood of affecting safety and a high likelihood of affecting parents’ peace of mind — and checkbooks.
In her argument for this increased government safetyism, union President Sara Nelson recalls a deadly 1989 plane crash after which 112 people, including one lap child, died.
But the appeal to the United Airlines Flight 232 disaster is based on the outcome of outdated and patently ridiculous guidance that in the event of an emergency, lap children be padded with blankets and put on the floor rather than nestled in their parents’ arms.
The one lap child who died from the crash, 22-month-old Evan Tsao, was sent hurling to the back of the plane upon impact and died of smoke inhalation. A flight attendant who survived the flight recounts that his mother “looked up at me and said, ‘You told me to put my baby on the floor and now he’s gone.’”
The other three lap children on the plane survived.
There is a reason that children are not required to rest in a car seat on a plane but are required to use one in a car: “From 2015 to 2020, between passenger cars and trucks (light + large), there were 62,101,894 total crashes and 14,533,165 total injuries,” the website FlyFright reports. “For the same time period, commercial U.S. air carriers had a total of 176 total accidents and 111 total injuries.”
Even President-elect of the American Academy of Pediatrics Ben Hoffman, who recommends that parents buy an extra ticket for their babies and car seats, admits that this poses a problem. If cash-strapped parents “travel by car instead,” he says, “they will actually be putting themselves at a significantly greater risk because car crashes are so much more common than airplane incidents, whether it’s a crash or turbulence.”
Hoffman cited a 2003 study that weighed the relative risks of driving vs. flying, leading researchers to conclude, “Unless space for young children in restraint seats can be provided at low cost to families, with little or no diversion to automobile travel, a policy requiring restraint seat use could cause a net increase in deaths.”
The likelihood that the government would implement this new regulation while also providing a subsidy (read: taxpayer-funded handout) to parents buying tickets for children under two is low. And even if it could, should it?
My husband and I have taken a total of eight round-trip flights with our now 13-month-old. While mommy travel bloggers will suggest the parenting hack that airlines will sometimes allow you to bring your car seat on the plane for free if there is available seating, we have not once availed ourselves of this resource. We know from experience that once our baby is in a car seat, and it’s not in a moving car, he will kick and scream and glower his way to freedom.
If you think flying with small children on the plane is annoying now, just wait till you board a plane full of needy infants and toddlers who have to stare their parents in the face but miss out on their touch. This is a recipe for nonstop crying: an emotionally distressing experience for babies, parents, and fellow passengers alike.
Plenty of parents may find they or their children prefer that a lap child be restrained in a car seat or other device during the flight. And if that’s what works for them, that’s great. But there’s no mandate for the government suddenly to force parents to pay extra for a safety precaution that is likely unnecessary, especially while flying is still tremendously safer than traveling in a car.
The safest and best option is to let parents make that decision for themselves. As in so many other areas, government safetyism isn’t about safety, but rather the appearance of it, and it only serves to make our lives worse.