Dear Federal Aviation Administration:

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post here about your policies regarding car seat use on planes. Shortly thereafter (purely through coincidence), the National Transportation Safety Board held a forum on Child Passenger Safety in the Air and in Automobiles, during which the NTSB recommended that children under 2 use carseats on planes.

Of course, FAA, this isn’t the first time you’ve heard this recommendation. The NTSB actually requested back in August that you make it a requirement that every passenger –not just those over 2–have a ticket and a seat. In fact, the NTSB has made that request numerous times over the past 20 years, but you have always nixed the idea.

The justification you give is that if parents can’t afford to buy a ticket for Little Billy, they will be forced to drive instead, therefore increasing the child’s risk of injury or death since car travel is so much more dangerous than air travel.

Okay, FAA, in a way you have a point. Vehicle collisions are, after all, the leading cause of accidental death to children, while the number of people killed each year on commercial airlines is miniscule. So why, then, does the FAA require seatbelts for adults?

Let’s examine your argument about people deciding to drive instead of fly.

Sometimes that might be the case. If I want to go to Phoenix from my home in Southern California, I could fly there in an hour or drive there in about eight (six if I don’t stop, but remember, we’re traveling with kids). Either way I could be there by the afternoon if I left early in the morning.

But let’s say I need to get from Miami to Seattle. I could fly there in one day, but driving would take a week. (Google says 54 hours, but again, if you travel with kids you need to make stops. Plus I like sleeping in actual beds.) So that’s two weeks roundtrip. When you add up time off work just to get there and back, plus lodging, gas, and lots of meals along the way, flying would likely be the cheaper and much faster option.

The point is that, yes, some people will choose to drive instead of fly when that’s a realistic option, but many times it’s not.

Also, FAA, if you’re so concerned about children’s safety in cars, you might want to think about what happens to the car seats that parents check in so they can hold Little Tabitha on their laps. Have you seen the way baggage handlers treat luggage? Do you know how many times I’ve heard complaints about car seats being damaged by airlines? A broken or lost seat isn’t going to do much good when the kid gets to his destination. Requiring parents to take the seat onboard insures against loss and damage.

You know what else? Having kids is expensive! There are a lot of costs we just can’t avoid, and if having to buy a ticket for the baby keeps parents from flying, they’ll have to forgo the trip. There are people who can’t or won’t buy proper child restraints for their own cars but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have laws saying that they must.

FAA, let’s be honest with each other. Your concern for children’s safety in cars is quite benevolent, but I don’t believe for a second that’s your true interest. In fact, I bet you’re in favor of requiring babies to have tickets but feel pressure from the airlines who could lose money if that were the case. If buying a ticket for Baby forces a family to drive, that means that Mom and Dad don’t buy tickets either, and the airline has just lost out on their fares, too.

Don’t be too concerned about the airlines, though. With the way they nickle-and-dime us these days, I’m sure they’ll be able to make up for those couple tickets by selling the seats to someone else at an inflated price and jacking up the checked-bag fee, plus charging $10 to borrow a “blanket.” Really, the airlines will be fine.

The airlines could also build up some goodwill among families by doing a couple pretty simple things, like letting people with car seats preboard. I know their TitaniumAmbassadorFirstPassClub members might not like having to share the plane with a couple of snotty kids for five minutes before the rest of the sardines are packed in, but everyone would be much happier in the end. And it would really help if airline employees were familiar with the FAA’s car seat regulations. Maybe you could send them a memo.

FAA, I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. Your policies regarding traveling with car seats are great, and much better than those of most other countries. But it’s time to set aside the pressure from airlines and do what you’re charged with doing. Your Mission Statement claims, “Safety is our passion. We work so all air and space travelers arrive safely at their destinations.” Start including infants and toddlers in that statement, FAA. If my laptop needs to be secure during takeoff and landing, my child should be, too.

Sincerely,

A Safety-Conscious Mom