The end of lap children?

Enjoying my lap while she still can.

Enjoying my lap while she still can.

Thanks to fellow family travel blogger, Shelly Rivoli (she of the fantastic Travels with Baby blog and Travels with Baby book, which I’ve yet to review), I learned recently about a petition circulating to ban the practice of lap children on all commercial flights in the United States.

You can read the actual petition here, and can read Shelly’s post on it here.

In short, the formal petition effort charges the FAA to end the practice of lap children on all commercial aviation flights by mandating children under the age of 2 to be restrained safely and properly in an FAA-approved child-safety restraint seat/system, much the same way they are required to be restrained when they are traveling in a car.

The petition goes on to say that “Laptops and luggage are required to be secured/safely stowed for take-off and landing therefore more so should a vulnerable infant or toddler be safely secured in a plane traveling 500 miles an hour,” and that “turbulence occurs frequently and without warning, turning a lap held child into a potential missile putting other passengers at risk and flight attendants unable to do their job of safety for all passengers.”

In case you glossed over that last paragraph, let me reiterate that an official petition on the actual White House website calls for a ban on lap children because turbulence can turn “a lap-held child into a potential missile.”

Thankfully, as of today, the petition had fewer than 3,000 signatures and was more than 97,000 signatures short of the requisite 100,000 for review by President Obama’s administration.

Still, the gall of anti-family passengers never ceases to amaze me.

First, beyond crying or puking or stinking up the cabin with a smelly diaper, what REAL risk does a lap child present? One could argue that overstuffed carry-on bags clogging overhead bins present more of a risk to become “missles” than tiny humans do. Also, after last month’s news about aggressive passengers, I’d say grown-ups are the safety threats.

Second, at a time when airlines already are nickel-and-diming passengers for everything from baggage fees to sodas in the cabin, the petition seeks to give airlines the right to charge families for every single member who flies, even those members who weigh 20 pounds or fewer. Aren’t we giving these companies enough of our hard-earned money already?

Finally, as Shelly notes in her post, if we’re going to mandate that all kids under the age of 2 be strapped into car seats, the FAA first must get on the ball about which car seats are acceptable for airplane travel; currently there are suggestions but no formal guidelines, largely because there is no uniformity among airplane seats into which the car seats must be strapped (in many cases, especially when car seats are backward-facing, it’s impossible to recline the airplane seat in front).

Don’t get me wrong here; I support buying babies their own seats, especially when the kids in question are squirmy and make you sweaty. But every family traveler, especially those with young kids, deserves the right to bring our kids as lap children until the kids are 3. And whether or not we parents want to take our kids as lap children should be up to us.

I don’t know J.B., from Schaumburg, Illinois, the person who created this petition on September 17, 2014. But I can tell you this: J.B. either works for an airline, or he/she needs a cuddle.

UPDATE (as of 10/16): It has been brought to my attention (by the fantastic family travel blogger, Beth Blair) that J.B. actually was Jan Brown, a flight attendant on a flight that crashed in Iowa in 1989. Apparently the only passenger in Jan’s section to die from the crash was a baby who was flying as a lap child. According to Brown and a number of experts, the infant likely would have survived if he had been strapped in. Obviously, with this in mind, I’m guessing Brown isn’t actually anti-family travel. Furthermore, what happened to that little baby in that crash is horrible, and I can’t even begin to imagine the guilt his parents have had to endure over the years.

I certainly didn’t intend to offend anyone with my post. If I did, I apologize. Still, I stand by my take, and I bristle at the language of Brown’s petition (specifically, babies as “missiles”). Furthermore, there *are* alternatives between lap children and children in car seats; namely restraints and harnesses such as CARES, which can strap lap children to Mom or Dad. At the end of the day, taking your baby as a lap child is a calculated risk; without the child strapped in, something always could go wrong. But if you’re looking at the stats, even WITH your child strapped in, something could go wrong. The lap child option is an important one for some families. Banning it across the board, whatever the impetus, seems a bit over the top.

How would you react if lap children became illegal?

8 replies
  1. Robin
    Robin says:

    It’s tough. I’ve flown with a 23 month old lap child, and I can tell you it was NOT comfortable. Plus, at that age she was squirmy and not sitting still during turbulence. But I did it because it saved me $500. Not the best reason, but in economic times as these, that’s the difference between seeing my family an extra time this year or not. However, I could not imagine being forced to buy a seat for a newborn or even a 6 month old, who is not very mobile yet. (Don’t get me started on my pet peeve about baby carriers not being allowed. You really think in a crash, a baby is safer in my arms than the Ergo or Baby Bjorn?)

    In addition, what happens if someone with a newborn comes on board? Will they be required to bring a car seat? What if it doesn’t fit? Will the airline have extras? Will they just kick the family off? These are the details that frighten me.

    Hopefully this petition never sees the light of day. But I would love to see airlines add more child safety features. For example, I’d pay to rent a CARES for my kid if it was offered, or a baby flight vest. That’s a win-win on both sides in my opinion.

    • Matt Villano
      Matt Villano says:

      Robin: Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I think your second graf says it all; the problem with legislating against this is that, inevitably, there will be loopholes/challenges that will make the law untenable. Let’s stay in touch about some of the suggestions in your third paragraph. One of my goals as founding Board Member of the Family Travel Association is to advocate for more child safety features on planes, and these are some great places to start. Cheers!

    • Matt Villano
      Matt Villano says:

      Beth, thanks for bringing this to my attention. I’ve updated the post. Bottom line: Bringing your baby as a lap child is a calculated risk. There are ways to minimize that risk (special harnesses, restraints, etc.), but nothing exempts us from freak accidents like the one on that plane that crashed in Iowa.

  2. Jody Halsted
    Jody Halsted says:

    My understanding is that the woman behind the petition was actually a flight attendant on United 232 which crashed in Sioux City, Iowa in 1989. The only person in her section to die in that landing was a lap baby. In a situation like that there is no way to protect your child. Thankfully those types of accidents don’t happen often – but if you’re one of the few people each year that does experience extreme turbulence or a rapid drop of altitude, what is the safety of your child worth?

    I would love to see infant and child safety addressed on flights, but the FAA is such a mess I don’t foresee that any time soon.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *