Lap-Riding Unsafe for Infants on Planes

From the WebMD Archives

Nov. 5, 2001 -- When pediatric experts talk, people listen. But maybe not when it comes to airplane safety.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is arguing against the current practice of allowing children under 2 years old to ride on the lap of an adult in a plane. They say that this is contrary to all restraint recommendations from the AAP, which places a high priority on safe transportation of children.

"The AAP believes that children should be afforded the same protection as other passengers and that restraint use in aircraft for children younger than 2 years should be mandatory during takeoff, landing, and conditions of turbulence, and should be recommended as much as feasible during flight as it is for all other passengers," says the AAP's committee on injury and poison prevention.

When the committee looked at airplane crashes from 1976 through 1979 in which some passengers had died and some had lived, they found that unrestrained infants in the U.S. were six times more likely to die compared with restrained adult passengers. When they looked at flights worldwide, the danger rose to almost 10 times as high.

And in a study comparing aircraft deaths from 1980 to 1990, head injuries were listed as the immediate cause in a third of children younger than 15 years. They suggest that restraints would clearly decrease the chance of head injury.

New technology, however, is needed to fully protect youngsters under 3. The committee points out that testing has shown that aircraft seat belts alone do not adequately protect a child of this age. The Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) Civil Aeromedical Institute is currently looking into development of a child safety seat specifically for use on airplanes.

AAP recommendations for restraining children on planes:

  • All children regardless of age should be restrained under the same requirements as adults.
  • All infants should be placed in a rear-facing child safety seat until they are 1 year old and weigh at least 20 pounds.
  • A forward-facing seat should be used for children 20-40 pounds. Larger children can use regular aircraft seat belts.


The AAP also offers the following tips to parents to help assure safe airplane travel:

  • When making your reservations, specify a window seat next to you in a nonexit row for the child safety seat.
  • Ask the airline whether the purchase of a seat is required to use a child safety seat and consider asking for the information in writing.
  • Ask about discounted fares and compare the benefits of various airlines.
  • If no discounted or free fare is available by any airline and it's not possible to purchase a ticket, select flights that are likely to have empty seats. You should inquire about the airline's policy regarding use of empty seats.
  • Remember that if traveling with a child safety seat, you can request assistance from the airlines between connecting flights.
  • Additional information on safe air travel for children is available from the FAA.


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