Quantcast

Airplane Archive

An Open Letter to the FAA

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

Flying with a Car Seat? Know Your Rights!

When my son was 8 months old we flew from California to Chicago to visit relatives. Although I was not yet a Child Passenger Safety Technician, I understood the importance of using car seats, even on airplanes. So, as a diligent mother, I purchased him a ticket and installed his Britax Wizard rear-facing.

On three of our four flights, we had no problems. On the last one, though, the flight attendant insisted that I turn my son’s seat forward-facing because the passenger in front of him wouldn’t be able to recline. I knew the car seat should stay rear-facing, but with no proof and a plane full of anxious passengers, I acquiesced rather than put up a fight.

If only I had known about the Federal Aviation Administration’s Advisory Circular regarding Use of Child Restraint Systems on Aircraft, things might have been different.

The Advisory Circular, which was just updated a few weeks ago, details the FAA’s policies regarding child restraints on planes, and anyone traveling by aircraft with a child in a car seat would be wise to print out a copy and take it onboard. (Please note that the FAA regulations apply to U.S.-based carriers operating inside or outside of the United States. If you’re flying a foreign airline these guidelines won’t necessarily apply.)

To make things easy for you, the traveling parent, I am going to tell you exactly where to find the pertinent information so you can print out the Circular (like above) and highlight what you might need.

Airplanes, Carseats, and Kids—What You Need to Know Pt. 2

Is one seat better or easier for airplane traveling than another?  Perhaps.  It all depends on our mantra: the best carseat is the one that fits your vehicle, your child, and your budget.  We’ve obviously got 2 vehicles here: the airplane and the car.  You may think that your carseat looks too wide to use on an aircraft, but it may not be.  Remember that armrests can be lifted and often the widest part of the carseat is above the armrest on the airplane seat, so it can be done.  Some folks who travel often do buy a different carseat just for traveling because their main carseat is heavier or bulkier than the travel seat.  The travel seat can also be a backup seat for a babysitter or grandma’s car.

Airplanes, Carseats, and Kids—What You Need to Know Pt. 1

So you’ve planned the big trip: the luggage is picked out, you know what outfits the kids will be wearing, you know what snacks everyone will be eating on the plane, but you don’t know what to do about carseats.  Traveling with kids isn’t easy.  So many things can go wrong.  But with a little planning, your trip can be a breeze and when you settle into your seat on the plane, you’ll wonder why you spent so much time obsessing and worrying about the trip in the first place.

Last May, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released a Safety Alert urging parents to buy separate airplane seats for all children and to use appropriate child safety restraints for those kids.  Unfortunately, children under age 2 are permitted to ride as “lap babies” for free on planes.  Everything else on the plane—tray tables, beverage carts, coffee pots—are required to be secured during takeoff and landing and whenever the pilot has the seatbelt sign on.  However, these lap babies are only secured by their parents’ arms.  In severe turbulence, which cannot be predicted (can you see an air pocket in the sky?), unbuckled passengers and flight attendants have been thrown against the ceiling and injured, sometimes severely.  In survivable crashes or runway incidents, unbuckled children become projectiles, just like in your vehicle, but at much higher speeds.  There is a device, the Baby B’Air, that tethers a lap baby to the parent’s seatbelt, but it is not approved for takeoff or landing.  In an emergency, a parent using the Baby B’Air will be asked to put the child on the ground, wrapped in a blanket, so the parent can assume the brace position.

Fly Safe with CARES: CARES Harness Review

I’ve been flying a lot back and forth across the country recently and that involves flying over mountain ranges where turbulence is prevalent and there’s always some big storm to fly over that makes the plane ride feel more like a roller coaster ride.  The pilot inevitably announces that drink service must be stopped and the flight attendants should take their seats until the air settles down and it’s safe to move about the cabin again.  But wait!  Across the aisle is a child under the age of 2 who isn’t required to be restrained, being held in a parent’s arms.  Something is wrong here.