The safety of lap children

  • The safety of lap children casey

    We would never consider putting an infant or toddler into a car without a carseat, but we don't hesitate to do exactly this when getting onto a large airplane.

    If you aren't aware of the concept of a lap child, this is a child typically under 2 years of age who can board an airplane without an assigned seat and must be held by the parents for the duration of the flight (including takeoff and landing). The only safety consideration is that the lap child must be seated in a row with adequate O2 masks in case of depressurization (some rows have more masks than seats).

    I have always considered this to be an unsafe practice, but have never had data to back that up. It seems to me that holding on to a 20 lb child when subject to strong turbulence or unexpected maneuvering would be difficult. While not common, adults are occasionally severely injured in these events but I've never noted a lap child being hurt.

    Does anyone know of instances where a lap child was injured during a flight? I'm not interested in instances where everyone is hurt but rather instances that having been secured in a car seat would reasonably have prevented the injury.

  • Your instincts are correct, or at least the NTSB agrees with you - they don't like the idea of "Lap Children" on aircraft, and they've come out and said as much in this Safety Alert.

    They reiterated that position again in a 2010 letter to the FAA which includes a number of incidents from NTSB investiations, including:

    … on July 19, 1989, United Airlines flight 232 crashed during an attempted emergency landing at Sioux City, Iowa, after the fragmentation and separation of an engine fan disk. Of the 296 airplane occupants, 111 were killed, 47 received serious injuries, 125 received minor injuries, and 13 were not injured. Four children, ages 11 to 26 months,17 were aboard the airplane and were being held by adults. A 23-month-old child was killed, and the other three children received minor injuries. The parents of the four lap-held children were instructed to place their children on the cabin floor and hold them in that position while the adults assumed the protective brace position. After the accident, three of the parents reported that they were unable to hold onto their children during the accident sequence.


    … USAir flight 1016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The flight crew decided to continue an approach into severe convective activity and was executing a missed approach when the airplane collided with trees and a private residence near the airport. Of the 57 airplane occupants, 37 were killed, 16 received serious injuries, and 4 received minor injuries. Among those occupants who were killed was a 9-month-old child who was held by her mother on her lap. The child’s mother survived the accident but was unable to hold onto her child during the impact sequence, and the child struck several seats. The NTSB believed that the child might not have sustained fatal injuries if she had been properly restrained in a child restraint system.

    Granted both of these were pretty severe accidents, but the NTSB investigators found that the lack of restraints was potentially a major contributing factor to the injuries of children on these flights.

    In that same letter the NTSB also notes that unrestrained children are not just a hazard to themselves in a crash:

    Passengers are required to securely stow all carry-on baggage during takeoff and landing because of the potential risk of injury to other passengers in the event of an unexpected hazardous encounter. However, passengers are permitted to hold a child of equal size and weight in their lap. When children under 2 years of age are not required to be restrained for their own safety, the safety of their fellow passengers also becomes an issue.

    See here for more NTSB pronouncements on the subject of child safety in transportation.
    They even have some excellent videos and simulations showing restrained versus unrestrained children.

  • Although the FAA still allows lap children, the NTSB does not recommend it. According to the NTSB Child and Youth Transportation Safety webpage (emphasis my own):

    The NTSB Child and Youth Transportation Safety Initiative will promote child occupant safety in all modes of transportation with a focus on educating parents and caregivers about ways to keep children safe when traveling. The NTSB will also continue to push for adoption of its recommendations concerning child occupant safety, such as:

    Requiring separate seats and restraints for all airplane occupants, and requiring children younger than 2 to be restrained by an appropriate child restraint system during air travel

    They also issued a safety alert on the subject, in which they advise parents to "Purchase a ticket for all children younger than 2 years and restrain them in a child restraint system certified for use on aircraft", "Ensure that infants and small children are restrained in a child restraint appropriate to their size.", and to "Ensure that all children are properly restrained during takeoff, landing, and turbulent conditions or when the seat belt sign is illuminated".

    On the flip side, seat prices are expensive, and many parents may simply choose not to fly if they are forced to buy a separate seat for their infant, so airlines and the FAA do have some pressure to continue to permit the practice.

  • Cranfield University in the UK has long been involved in research on child restraint systems in aircraft.

    Roger Hardy, Director of the Cranfield Impact Centre believes, "It is time to get children off laps. End of story." A topic discussed at a recent seminar in Washington USA, which focused on 'Child Restraint Use in Aircraft' gave experts the chance to put across their views on this crucial issue.

    and list a number of relevant publications

    • Hardy, R.N., “The Restraint of Children in Aircraft”, Proceedings of National Transportation Safety Board Child Restraint in Aircraft meeting, Washington D.C. December 1999.
    • Hardy, R.N., “Dual Child Occupancy of an Aircraft Seat”, CAA Paper 93013, July 1993.
    • Hardy, R.N., “The Restraint of Infants and Young Children in Aircraft”, CAA Paper 92020, December 1992.
    • Hardy, R.N., “Restraint of Infants and Young Children”, 8th Annual International Aircraft Cabin Safety Symposium, Costa Mesa, California, February 1991.
    • Hardy, R.N., “Infant and Child Safety Research”, European Cabin Safety Conference, Gatwick Airport, London, September 1990.

Related questions and answers
  • We would never consider putting an infant or toddler into a car without a carseat, but we don't hesitate to do exactly this when getting onto a large airplane. If you aren't aware of the concept of a lap child, this is a child typically under 2 years of age who can board an airplane without an assigned seat and must be held by the parents for the duration of the flight (including takeoff...? I'm not interested in instances where everyone is hurt but rather instances that having been secured in a car seat would reasonably have prevented the injury.

  • Without getting into the mess of redesigning existing Flight Data Recorders, I have a simple proposal that I think would help in deep water crashes. I propose that several floating cushion sets be distributed around the plane (tail section, along fuselage, etc.). These FDR floaties would be about the size of a seat cushion, but they'd be wrapped in a water soluble cover. When a plane crashes.... This is just so we can find plane crashes in the sea when we don't know precisely where they went down (and to get basic data when the black boxes are too deep to get to immediately). Malaysian flight

  • When I took delivery of a new Cessna 182T last year, I did a test flight for certification purposes. During the test flight we had to perform a power off stall but that didn't go as planned as it was simply impossible to stall. What happened is this: when the airspeed dropped well below the power off stall speed we simply started to sink slowly with a nose-high attitude at about 35 KIAS... this to happen? (My guess is it is CG related) And most importantly: If I would have continued this "mushing" flight, would it be possible to have entered a flat spin or a simple "drop out of the sky

  • Recently I was checking in to a flight and was asked if I'd like a window or aisle seat as usual and choose a window seat. I was then told that there are no more window seats available but I could get an aisle seat without someone sitting next to me and then just take that window seat. The plane was an ATR-72 so the rows were 2+2 seats. I know about weight distribution to the front/back but I couldn't come up for a good reason to do this. What could be the reason for not giving me that apparently free window seat right away?

  • to the cloud or a remote location either in lieu of or in addition to the physical devices installed in commercial aircraft. I would think this would be an accident investigator's dream come true, with almost instant access to vital investigative information, while drastically reducing instances of going without these crucial tools when the physical devices are unrecoverable. So, does anyone in the know...Another enthusiast question. I watch a lot of the National Geographic Channel's "Air Crash Investigation", for better or worse, and it seems accident investigators make tremendous use of the Cockpit

  • I'm from Brazil, and here we use the West/East rule, so we use an odd flight level when we fly between 0/360 - 179, and when we fly between 180 - 359 we fly in an even flight level. But what should you do in other countries? Where I can find those rules? I've heard that in Europe it's totally different, and that in some countries in Asia they use meters, instead of feet. Where can I find this information?

  • Sometimes, when I'm flying on the airlines, I'll board an aircraft where the aisles seem incredibly cramped, where it's almost impossible to move past without bumping every seat. I can't imagine how much of a nuisance it'd be for people larger than me! I once saw an obese person a bit stuck between one of the aisles, blocking the way for others to move into the aircraft. But then I thought about what would happen in an emergency. What if there were numerous large people on board, and there was a fire? So, are there any limits to how much the airlines can squeeze their planes' aisles?

  • Typically, a pilot will have airplane insurance (or renter's insurance, if flying un-owned aircraft), car insurance, home insurance, life insurance and then for good measure purchase an "umbrella"-type insurance (usually up to $1MM). Have there been cases where this wasn't enough insurance, or the pilot thought he or she was insured but there was something unforeseen that rendered his insurance policies ineffective of shielding him or her from liability? This question is specific towards American pilots, in this case if would be for an "average" person, owning/flying a small single-engine

  • (b) Authorization to perform certain solo flights and cross-country flights. A student pilot must obtain an endorsement from an authorized instructor to make solo flights from the airport where... to another airport that is within 25 nautical miles from the airport where the student pilot normally receives training The student must be endorsed with something along the lines of: I certify that (First name, MI, Last name) has received the required training of section 61.93(b)(1). I have determined that he/she is proficient to practice solo takeoffs and landings at (airport name

  • and those who really need to work during the flight). The enclosed space would inherently reduce some of the risks of passengers being thrown around in turbulence or an emergency landing; safety belts (or cargo restraint webbing? I'm not sure I'm joking) could handle the remaining risk. No, I don't really think it would be commercially viable ... but I'm wondering whether folks who actually Know...The airlines are always trying to jam more passengers into each plane. I'm smaller than today's average, and I'm still often uncomfortable in a standard Economy seat. It occurred to me

Data information