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airplane stockDon’t get too excited. As much as I’d like to say that the FAA’s new rule regarding child restraints is to require them for children under 2…I can’t. Instead the new rule, which goes into effect on October 30 and requires full compliance by February 29, 2016, probably won’t make much of a difference for most parents.

Way back in 2012, the FAA Modernization and Reform Act required the FAA to require airlines to post the maximum width for a child restraint to fit in its airplanes. Now, three years later, that rule has been amended and finalized with some changes. Instead of airlines posting the maximum width of the child restraint, they will now need to publish the width of the narrowest and widest seats in each class.

In a way, that’s a good thing. Because the contours of child restraints can vary so much (some are kind of boxy, some taper, etc.) a one-size-fits-all measurement might not be accurate or even helpful. There are a lot of seats that might be wider than an airline’s stated limit but that will still fit. It would be unfortunate for a flight attendant to declare a child restraint too wide without giving the parent a chance to try it. (Most airline seats have movable armrests, and putting those up means nearly any child restraint approved for airline use will work.)

The new regulation—requiring airlines to post the width of their seats—gives parents some more flexibility. Maybe they’ll decide to pay a little more for a wider seat, or maybe they’ll just breathe a sigh of relief knowing that their child restraint is close to that number, and will surely fit once the armrests are raised.

JetBlue compaison chart

There are some downsides, though. The measurements will be taken between the inside edge of the armrests, meaning that in most cases, people will still be given a sort of unrealistic idea of what can actually fit. I understand that, though. Measuring with armrests up (would it just be one armrest or both?) would be kind of nebulous.

This will also still lead to confusion among parents who see that an airline seat’s measurement is, say 16″ but their child restraint is 17″. That’s probably not any more or less confusing than giving parents the “maximum width” their child restraint can be, but it certainly isn’t any more helpful. Will the child restraint fit or not? (Answer: Probably.) I’m sure there will also be instances where a parent sees that the seat’s measurement is smaller than their child restraint’s measurement and decide to not take the restraint at all.

In the Child Passenger Safety world, we’ve gotten used to regulations that don’t really help anything. It’s taken more than a decade to finally get LATCH standards more-or-less uniform, and even those still don’t make complete sense. The FAA seems to have taken a long time nit-picking over a relatively minor issue that doesn’t even come close to addressing the real issue: Airlines need to make air travel easier for people with child restraints, and the FAA should require that all passengers have seats of their own on the plane.

You can read more CarseatBlog posts about children on aircraft here:

Travel Carseats: The Ultimate Guide to What You Want to Take on A Plane

Flying with a Car Seat? Know Your Rights

An Open Letter to the FAA

Lap Babies on Airplane—A Warning All Parents Must See

Flying with Kids & Carseats – the checked carseat controversy

And here is a list of our recommended seats for airline travel:

Recommended Seats for Airplane Travel