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Airplane Archive

Flying with Kids & Carseats – the checked carseat controversy

The issue of how to best handle flying with kids and their carseats is something that comes up repeatedly on the Car-Seat.org forum. Many safety-conscious parents will bring the carseat with them knowing that their child will need to use it once they reach their destination. I applaud all those parents for doing the right thing! However, for a variety of reasons, most parents don’t actually bring the carseat onto the plane and use it for their child during the flight. I suspect that many of those checked seats that I see on the baggage carousel belong to children who wound up as lap babies on the flight. For the record, here at CarseatBlog we always recommend that you buy a ticket for your child (regardless of their age), bring their carseat and use it on the plane.

Regardless of why parents chose to check their carseats, the fact remains that most travelers flying with CRs in tow do check them instead of lugging them through security and using them on the plane. And seats checked with regular luggage probably get tossed around and manhandled the same way luggage does. I somehow doubt that the baggage guys suddenly look at the carseat and decide to handle it with care so they don’t crack the EPS foam, know what I mean?

Checked carseat

But what if you’ve already traveled with your carseat and checked it? Perhaps even multiple times? Is it still safe to use? That’s the controversy.

There are some child passenger safety advocates that will argue that a checked carseat could have sustained significant damage during the time it was out of your sight and should be replaced as a precaution. Some might actually go so far as to suggest that the checked carseat is now “as good as crashed”. I personally think that stance is a little over the top but I understand the logic behind those opinions. I’ve seen how beat-up my luggage is sometimes when I reach my destination. Plus, many frequent flyers have witnessed first-hand some of the abuse that luggage endures as it’s loaded and unloaded from the aircraft.

What we’ve lacked in the past is any type of official policy or statement from the CR Manufacturers regarding checked carseats.  The instruction manuals are full of do’s and don’ts and even show us how to install the [harnessed] carseat properly using the lap-only belt on the aircraft. But there has been absolutely no attention given to encouraging use of the CR on the plane, and subsequently no mention of what you should or shouldn’t do if you’re flying but not planning to bring the carseat on board.

Just recently, the Manufacturers Alliance for Child Passenger Safety issued a statement for CPS Technicians/Instructors on the subject:

Car Seats Gate-Checked or Checked as Luggage
Car seats are designed to withstand most motor vehicle crash forces. In general, the MACPS does not consider a gate-checked car seat or a car seat that is checked as luggage to be one that has experienced forces equivalent to a motor vehicle crash. Once the destination is reached, it is recommended to inspect the car seat to make sure no visual damage has occurred and all aspects of the car seat function properly.

(August 2012)

 

I think that’s certainly a reasonable policy but I would really like to see all CR Manufacturers take it a step further and include language in the instruction manuals that encourages the use of the CR on the plane and discourages checking it with regular luggage. Gate-checking the carseat should be encouraged if and when it isn’t possible to use it on board the aircraft for the child. If nothing else, a gate-checked seat is much less likely to be lost than a seat that was checked with luggage.

I appreciate that the MACPS has taken the time to address the issue. I trust that they looked at the issues seriously. I’m not a carseat engineer, nor do I play one on TV, so I’m going to defer to them on this issue and trust that they know what their products can withstand.

On this end of the table, we’re going to continue to advocate for securing children in aircraft with the same passion and dedication that we have for securing them in motor vehicles. With that in mind, let’s list the top DO’s and DON’Ts of flying with kids and carseats.

  • DO buy a plane ticket for your child, even if they are under age 2. Lap babies can be seriously injured during turbulence and in cases where emergency maneuvers are required (aborted take-offs, emergency landings, etc.)
  • DO use an FAA-approved child restraint with a 5-point harness for kids under 40 lbs.
  • DO bring your child’s carseat to the gate even if your child is under age 2 and you haven’t purchased a separate seat for them. Most flight attendants will make every effort to seat you next to an empty seat (if the flight isn’t full) in order to accommodate your properly restrained child.
  • DO gate-check the carseat if it’s not possible to bring it on board and use it for your child. Items that are gate-checked have less opportunity to be mishandled and are much less likely to be missing when you land.
  • DO know your rights! Well-intentioned but misinformed flight attendants can ruin even the best laid travel plans so be prepared!
  • DON’T check your carseat with your regular luggage if you can help it.
  • DON’T rely on car rental companies to provide an appropriate child restraint. There have been too many horror stories over the years regarding outdated, dirty or lack of available appropriate seats.
  • DO your homework and read our previous blogs on kids, carseats & airplanes:

 

Check out our related blog posts on flying with kids and carseats:

Lap Babies on Airplane – A Warning All Parents Must See

Flying with a Car Seat? Know Your Rights!

Recommended Carseats for Airplane Travel

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

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

An Open Letter to the FAA

 

Lap Babies on Airplane – A Warning All Parents Must See

Have you ever experienced severe turbulence during a flight? I’m talking way past little bumps and jolts? If you have, chances are you’ll never forget it. I can think of one particular flight out of JFK on a crazy windy Spring morning. My stomach does flips just thinking about it.

Now think about this – the plane can’t take off if my purse is on my lap, right? And there’s like 3 pages of regulations on how the coffee pot needs to be properly secured. But babies? Sure, they can ride totally unsecured because apparently babies are able to defy the laws of physics on an airplane!

Okay, so we know that’s not true. But have you considered what happens to lap babies when the plane suddenly, and without warning, drops several hundred feet in an instant?  This video from NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) really spells it out. Please take a few minutes to check it out and pass on the information to other parents.

 

 

The FAA’s continued allowance of lap babies is shameful and ludicrous. Unfortunately, many parents will continue to take advantage of this “freebie” because it saves them money. Of course, they’ll have to cough up the dough for the Little Prince/Princess to have his or her own seat on the plane once they pass their second birthday. So what’s the big deal with requiring it for all children regardless of age? Traveling is expensive. Heck, kids are expensive!  But please don’t be penny wise and pound foolish when it comes to your most precious cargo.  Buy a ticket for your child regardless of their age, bring a 5-pt harness carseat on board and buckle your child in it just as you would in the car. Your children will not only be safe in case of turbulence or (Heaven forbid) in case you have to make a rough emergency landing but they’ll be happily contained in familiar surroundings. And if you’re really lucky they’ll just fall asleep so you can have a relaxing and, hopefully, uneventful flight.

 

Looking for more helpful information on flying the friendly skies with kids? Check out our related blogs on the subject:

Recommended Carseats for Airplane Travel

Flying with a Car Seat? Know Your Rights!

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

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

 

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.