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).
- 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.