I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: actions have consequences, often unintended, and if the goal is to preserve life, then you cannot think about a single policy without weighing its foreseeable ramifications. Sara Nelson, known as the world’s most powerful flight attendant, is renewing her call for lap infants to be banned. But the consequences of her actions would put more children at risk. This is bad news.
No, Let’s Not Ban Lap Infants
Sara Nelson has renewed her crusade to prohibit lap infants, instead requiring them to occupy their own seat. In The Washington Post, she framed it this way:
“We’ve seen airplanes go through turbulence recently and drop 4,000 feet in a split second. The G-forces are not something even the most loving mother or father can guard against and hold their child. It’s just physically impossible.
“Sadly this has been more than a 30-year priority for our union. We must have children safe on the plane and in their own seats with a proper restraint device to make sure it never happens again.”
Speaking of 30-years, Nelson is referring to the 1989 crash of UA232 in Sioux City, Iowa, in which a lap infant tragically died (in that incident, flight attendants ordered the parents to wrap a blanket around their unbuckled babies and place them on the floor).
But View From The Wing rightly points out what I have also argued for in the past:
- Flying is safer than driving
- Making flying more expensive encourages driving
That’s the point. Banning lap infants (forcing them to pay for and occupy their own seat) might make flying for them safer. But if it drives more families to use an automobile instead of a plane for transport, in reality, the risk of death for these young souls increases, not decreases.
The risk inherent in living life requires tradeoffs. These tradeoffs cannot simply be weighed alone but must be weighed against alternatives.
Here, while the policy to ban lap infants is well-intentioned, it actually encourages more risk.
A better solution is for US airlines to use the additional strap for infants that European carriers use for lap infants. It hooks onto the seatbelt and gives toddlers their own seatbelt, thus reducing risk in case of unexpected turbulence.
This seems like a better compromise than an outright ban.
Ultimately, traveling with an infant is very safe…so safe, in fact, that there is not a sufficient risk to justify a ban of lap infants. Even so, US carriers (and regulators) can encourage added protection through the use of specially-designed seatbelts for lap infants that hook onto normal seatbelts.
“But if it drives more families to use an automobile instead of a plane for transport..”
I think your logic presents a false choice. I mean, that’s an awfully big “if.” Is there really proof that someone who had to pay for an infant seat would reasonably swap the entire family’s airplane ride for a car trip?
(Though I think your solution ultimately is reasonable)
I think Matt’s logic is that the cost of a full seat for an infant might tempt some parents to opt for driving instead if the cost of travel is effectively doubled or increased by 2/3’ds (a single parent with an infant would see price doubled, two parents with an infant would pay 33% more).
I think it would be rare for a parent to opt for driving instead of flying due to the cost of the proposal. That being said, I saw an interesting ted talk by a statistician about child safety seats.
Steven Levitt did a Ted Talk about a study by a statistician that showed that for children OVER the age of 2, car seats were little more safer than seatbelts but there was resistance to these findings, even hostility shown by car seat manufacturers to allow him to conduct testing, because it’s a 300 million dollar a year business.
In any case, it would generate profits for the airlines in selling seats. I personally found it uncomfortable sitting next to a pleasant woman with a 2 year old lap “infant” who was quite… large and his tossing and turning made her trip uncomfortable as did mine.
I think that’s the suspicion of the FA’s is that most passengers with “lap infants”, wink wink, secretly hope to score a nearby empty seat to put them. This woman gambled and lost and had an uncomfortable trip as did I.
“Sara Nelson, known as the world’s most powerful flight attendant”. Known by who? Is her from the same family as Pearl Nelson, the nurse that used to whisper on Biden’s ear? Just wondering!!!
Can someone explain to me what the FA unions beef with lap kids actually is? I’m not suggesting the union is totally indifferent to passenger safety but their role in regulatory negotiations is explicitly to promote their members’ interests. And the union has a very long history of being quite effective at promoting FAs interests above passengers when two interests don’t align. What’s their angle?
I agree with you. This isn’t about lap infants, it’s something else, and I can’t make sense of it.
This would lead to higher ticket revenue and higher profit margins for the airlines. That means more money to be used to pay employees more money and/or those employees seeing their direct or indirect shareholdings in the employer go up in value.
Also, infants in seats next to parents are served mostly by their parents. So an infant displacing an adult passenger means less work for the FAs and/or less food and drink stuff to give to passengers since infants consume less and are more typically dependent upon parents bringing their own food and drink supplies for infants and/or toddlers.
That said, between American FAs (a) using safety/security as an excuse so much to reduce their service workload and (b) believing the hype that they are there primarily for passenger safety, it’s not surprising that they want to crusade in the name of safety. We have green-washing, health-washing and safety/security-washing as reasons for cutbacks and de facto price hikes.
Less people to serve on planes, as a total
Typical union laziness
False Choice. You assume banning lap infants equals more people driving. This is based on what? your intuition or do you have actual data? Do you have data that people drive significantly more once their kid turns 2 and they have to pay for the seat? I doubt it, because I don’t think that data exists. Personally, I doubt that narrative your painting is correct.
I agree with the general premise that US carriers should do what European ones do in this situation and that flying with Lap Infants is perfectly safe.
Why do Americans drive instead of fly? COST.
It’s a logical deduction.
If there is a lap child ban applicable to the main US common carriers, a lot more families and their relatives will be driving rather than flying. And a lot more families flying with children under the age of 2 years will find themselves getting in trouble with airline employees over infants/toddlers refusing to sit down and/or a lot more crying and screaming children (and perhaps others too) because of it.
Either way, banning lap children is truly unnecessary in a holistic safety sense. What this unionized FA will be doing is driving up peak season airfares even higher and giving power-tripping flight attendants yet another basis upon which to put on their Little Napoleon hats.
How about forcing airlines to provide a seat for the infant at no charge, they should be free till they are 6 years old
So if they require infants to have their own seat, are they going to ban parents from holding them mid flight? Nelson references unexpected turbulence, so to protect against that they would need to always be strapped in. Good luck when parents can’t hold their kids to soothe them
No fly list for that bimbo Sara Nelson
Pax who fly with lapkids who are held in arms without additional safety restraints are making the choice on their own. Be responsible and accountable if things go south in an accident of sorts. Airlines and crew have protocol, rules, and regs to protect pax with lapkids. Crew us to get pax from point a to point b safely. What’s more impirtant, saving cash or the safety of the lapkid?
The safety of the booked lap-child is highest when there is no additional cost to having the child fly as a lap-child rather than have the child be transported by car even in a car seat as required by law.
I was on a SQ flight in Y two weeks ago. Sat next to parents and an infant. I had never actually seen the lap infant belt (nor a bassinet). The SQ FA patiently assisted the mom with the belt. Being in public safety, I was curious how this would work. I was surprised to see that it fit quite loosely and wonder how much good it would do in severe turbulance.
Infants can’t remain in bassinets when the seatbelt sign is turned on — at least on most transatlantic flying legacy major airlines.
The lap-child belt attachments that various European and Asian carriers use can be adjusted to be made tight enough that the child won’t be flying into the ceiling or down into the floor any more than the seat-belted adult.
Is it safer for a child to be seated in an FAA-approved CRS for the entirety of the flight? Of course, but not every increase in incremental safety expense is worth the money. I would rather that there be lap children on my flights and that the money saved from allowing lap children on flights be used for families to more often buy better and newer child-restraint seats for use on the roads. $500 of annual savings from flying with a lap-child means $500 that can be used for things that maximize child health and safety more than padding the airlines’ revenues and income.
“We’ve seen airplanes go through turbulence recently and drop 4,000 feet in a split second. The G-forces are not something even the most loving mother or father can guard against and hold their child. It’s just physically impossible.“
Speaking of physically impossible. No aircraft could withstand the forces of a 4,000 foot drop in a split second. A perfect example of being sensational as opposed to correct.
Former flight attendant here. The point being made is simple: infants are not safely securred during an accident on any US based airline The airline industry has consistently fought any regulations that might compromise a cent of revenue. The FAA has pandered to the airline industry even refusing to consider options other countries currently use. Whether you like Sara or not, she makes a valid point.
Except as Matthew said, more families will choose to drive, which places the child at greater risk
They are more securely transported as a lap child on common carrier flights than as a separately seated child in a car or bike carrier/carriage seat for an infant.
What’s the next step, to mandate
diaper use/piddle packs for all passengers — including adults — and eliminate in-flight food and drink service just because sudden, extreme inflight turbulence is a possibility and all movement during the flight should be banned in the interest of “safety”?
This is up there with the fact that most all school busses I’m aware of, still don’t have seat belts. Lots of excuses but geez it is 2023. As a passenger I certainly wouldn’t want a lap kid next to me where I constantly have to fend them off from grabbing stuff.
And I also don’t buy the “they will drive instead of fly”. They would be in very limited circumstances. People aren’t going to drive 12+ hrs when you can fly in an hour or 2 and cover 500-800 miles in the air.
If they don’t go fly to a destination because of cost, they may instead stay more local with driving instead. And then may even drive more if staying closer to home or at home.
Most personal vehicular accidents occur within less than 2o miles of the residences. The closer to home they remain and the more they stick to driving, the greater the risk of a serious accident than if flying on common carriers serving the US.
If we really want to improves the safety of children then first of all Matthew is right. Making flying more expensive will drive more families to drive and ultimately lead to more dead and injured children. That’s basic statistics. Note too that the actual impact will be utterly impossible to quantify if a lap child ban was put in place.
But other reforms can and should be made. First the requirement for FAA approval of lap child restraints needs to be dropped. Let’s be frank any method of securing a child in an aircraft is superior to them just being held in their parents arms. For example May parents of infants use carriers that strap the child to their chest. Current rules require that during takeoff and landing the carriers be unstrapped since they are not FAA approved. That’s utter idiocy.
Here is the basic rule that should be adopted. Lap Children who are not required to be restrained in an FAA approved restraint may be restrained by any methods that the parents elect as long as that method does not appreciably interfere with the ability of other customers to evacuate.
Those body-worn baby carriers not approved by any US or European safety authority for either plane or car use should not be considered a generally reasonable substitute to the current standard for flying on US and European airlines. In an evacuation into water, having a child strapped to the body of the passenger is extremely problematic. In a land evacuation, a child strapped to the body may be more likely to be subject to crushing or asphyxiating forces in a stampede or being stuck in a fire trap.
The status quo is sufficient.
I’m sorry no. Having the infant strapped to your chest in an evacuation is “extremely problematic” it’s actually a safety feature. Because with the child strapped against your chest your arms and hands that would otherwise be occupied holding the kid are now free to help you get out.
And again if being crushed in a stampede of some kind is the concern once again having your hands and arms free is a benefit.
Agree. Flew Cayman Air this weekend with a lap child and they issued the child strap that you referenced. Easy. Anytime I hear a union honcho calling for something that seems altruistic on first glance, I become instantly skeptical. These organizations are 100% about themselves. This is about having fewer infants on the plane, and for the reasons that you mentioned, fewer families on board which on average are probably more labor intensive for FA’s than business or solo travelers.
I would argue the high cost of flying isn’t keeping many from flying.