Lap Infants Are A-OK: Don’t Require Children Under 2 To Have Their Own Seat

Turbulence can be dangerous on a plane, and it’s a good idea to wear your seat belt even when the seat belt sign is off. Problems are extremely rare, but jarring when they occur.

Here’s an image from the Lufthansa flight from Austin to Frankfurt that diverted to Washington Dulles earlier this month:

And here’s a Hawaiian Airlines flight from Phoenix experienced severe turbulence injuring several people enroute to Honolulu back in December:

Recently incidents have renewed calls for the FAA to ban lap infants, children under two who are permitted to travel without their own seat – and without their own seat belt. Flight attendants union head Sara Nelson, naturally, is making this an issue. She’s wanted a ban for awhile.

And when something bad happens to a baby or a toddler, it’s horrible, and you want to do something about it. A child with their own seat and a car seat or CARES harness is the safest option, and many parents choose that. Should we force all parents to do so? I’m not so sure.

In terms of actual risk, this doesn’t seem like it ought to be among our higher priorities. Meanwhile banning lap infants on plans – requiring families purchase seats for children under 2 – may make those children less safe.

  • Flying is safer than driving
  • Making flying more expensive encourages driving

It never shows up in the safety statistics for flying, but more people driving means more people in car accidents, and the resulting fatalities are representative of a phenomenon referred to as ‘statistical murder’.

Making air travel more expensive for families means making travel less safe for families who are forced to use other means of transportation instead. So I’m not sure requiring families to spend more on travel makes their children safer. But it’s a great issue. The next time something bad does happen, Sara Nelson can say “told you so!” And she bears no responsibility for car accidents, because she leads a flight attendants union.

Meanwhile, my advice to parents who can’t afford that extra seat? Fly Southwest. Their open seating policy means that on any flight that isn’t completely sold out you’ll probably have an extra seat free. Because nobody wants to sit next to a screaming baby! Fly especially at off peak times if you can to improve your chances even further.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. In Europe they use secondary belts that are connected to the parent. I stole one from a Turkish flight once and tried to use it several times in the US. Each time I was aggressively told this was disallowed. I even checked with the FAA and, sure enough, nothing can be “attached” to the primary belt.

    Why is this not a perfect solution? Why do we ban them?

  2. I’ve got 3 kids – all of whom I’ve flown with when they were small. There is no question that a seat for an infant / under 2 kid makes a flight more pleasant. But regardless if they have a seat or not, I can pretty much guarantee that on long segments of any flight they will be on someone’s lap, especially if they’re less than one.

  3. Turbulence throws around FAs too, as they’re often not using seatbelts, I propose we get rid of them for safety (and sanity) purposes. By their own reasoning, it’s the safest thing to do.

  4. Hilarious movie poster, not so hilarious movie. Not sure what it has to do with children on planes but ok.

    Complicated issue Gary but you leave out the overall big issue of
    “should we be encouraging people to travel at all?” You know, what with human activity heating up the planet? Despite most people wanting the “gubmint” to leave them alone, when a loved one dies in an everyday activity the first reaction is to run to the nanny state for protection. Look at all the Libertarians suddenly screaming at the Feds to protect their SVB funds!

    Granted, given the level of human greed and avarice, most activity should be regulated but there comes a point of diminishing returns…..

  5. @Babblespeak….Your logic is not logical. FAs can’t be belted or they can’t do their job. A logical person would know that. What job does a baby have that it can’t be belted? What’s next, eliminating lavatories?

  6. Babies are fairly lite and I doubt they would injure anyone if they became a projective in the cabin.

  7. I didn’t understand about seat belts on a plane. I thought what good is a belt when you’re falling from way up in the sky. Now I understand about the turbulence. I still don’t understand when it’s said that flying is safer than driving. Still for the same reason. In driving you’re not up in the air. And with the way people have been acting like hooligans on planes lately it’s becoming more unsafe than ever.

  8. How does Southwest police who has purchased a seat for their baby and who has not which can be important on a full flight?

  9. Let’s not take this to extremes with regard to FAs. If pilots know wind shear is likely coming up, they get seated too, with their harnesses on and if a cart is out, it’s quickly stowed. Adding to that, let’s not go to the extreme and discuss all those walking to a lavatory or in there. That’s not the point of any of this and all the commenters know it.

    Back to the main point. Gary, I can’t agree with you. You cite the stat, “That last time a child without a seat died in turbulence was 1994.” That’s true, but it’s a misleading stat. Since 1980 only 3 people have died on scheduled commercial airline flights due to turbulence. Of the three, one was a child. We could say that since 1980, one-third of all those dying on scheduled commercial flights were children. That could get people’s attention, but that too would be a misleading stat despite it being correct. Starting in 2009, (14 years ago) no one has died in a scheduled commercial airline flight due to turbulence. As I said the stat is misleading, despite it being true.

    Then you added another misleading stat., “About 150 children younger than 5 drown in bathtubs, buckets, toilets and other containers in and around the home each year.” You have to admit that the number of infants who fly is a tiny, tiny fraction of the number of children who are taking baths or in homes where they can drown. Naturally, those who drown, out number those who have died from turbulence during the same time period.

    According to the FAA, from 2009 to 2021, 30 passengers and 116 crew members sustained serious injuries (A serious injury is “any injury that (1) requires the individual to be hospitalized for more than 48 hours, commencing within seven days from the date the injury was received; (2) results in a fracture of any bone (except simple fractures of fingers, toes, or nose); (3) causes severe hemorrhages, nerve, muscle, or tendon damage; (4) involves any internal organ; or (5) involves second-or third-degree burns, or any burns affecting more than five percent of the body surface.”) due to turbulence. Of the 146 injuries 79.5% were crew members, the people on the plane that we’re almost assured were standing, not seated and belted, when the turbulence hit.

    Considering that flight crew are a tiny percentage of everyone on a flight, that infers that it’s really dangerous to not be seated and belted when severe turbulence hits a plane.

    I’ve personally been on three flights with severe turbulence, since I first flew on a scheduled commercial flight in 1955. (That flight was from PHL-SJU.) I was seated and belted during each incident, but was nevertheless bloodied in one of the incidents about 16 years ago. I was hit by a flying laptop computer. Three butterflies were required to close the gash. I was seen by a doctor a few hours later and got several stitches. I’m not a serious turbulence statistic because I didn’t qualify.

    There was a lap infant on board, but fortunately, when it flew out of its mother’s hands, it just missed the ceiling and the man in the seat behind her caught the girl and perhaps saved her life. The plane experienced the severe turbulence for about 20 seconds, though it felt like hours.

    No one can successfully hold an infant in their lap during severe turbulence, no one! I don’t agree with Sara Nelson very often, but in this case, I agree. There should be no exception that every passenger should have a seat of their own and when directed, wear a seat belt. Moreover, whenever seated, whether or not the seat belt is required, it should be worn. Children should be in a child seat, either one facing back or in a booster seat according to their height and weight.

    As to the children and being in a lap, Thomas said, “I can pretty much guarantee that on long segments of any flight they will be on someone’s lap, especially if they’re less than one.” My wife and I flew all over the world with our children. Some of the flights were 10 hours or more. We brought games for them, books, toys, all kinds of things, yet they were always in their own seat in a rear facing seat when infants and a booster seat until they were big enough to safely go without it.

    The one thing that is likely true is that requiring a seat for all, will drive some families to take driving trips. They are likely somewhat less safe in the cars. This whole exception is really about money. Airline sales money lost from families saying it’s too expensive for them to fly, though somehow, when the kids are 2 and older, they often find the money they couldn’t find before that. I can’t prove it, but I’m guessing that if everyone under two had to have a seat the lost sales will end up being many fewer than the airlines estimate.

    All that said, it’s time to not just save kids from dying from severe turbulence on planes, but also to prevent them from being injured. Having their own seat can do that. And as to the cars, it’s time to take measures to make car travel safer too.

  10. I’ll go Libertarian here and say that the parents should be able to make these decisions for their babies without government involvement.

  11. Outside of the US – lap belts are provided for lap infants

    (the lap belt attaches to the parent’s belt so the lap infant is ‘secured’)

    Why the FAA disallows this in the US is the issue – as the belt solves everything and is not an issue anywhere else in the world

  12. I wonder why it is being treated as if the choices are unrestrained lap child or disallowed lap child. The entire rest of the world provides you with a seat belt for the lap child.

  13. Christian, I’m sorry, but there’s more to it.

    1. Society has an interest in the well being of the child. Parents aren’t permitted to make decisions that endanger their children. We have thousands of laws to protect children. We sometimes intervene and require parents to do things about which they don’t believe as a child can’t think for themselves and sometimes parental incompetence can’t be permitted.

    2. A baby or infant could become a projectile in severe turbulence. In my example, the baby flew out of the parents hands and landed behind the parent’s seat. It’s possible that the baby could have actually injured someone according to how it flew.

    No Christian, the parents don’t get to make a bad decision as a child is involved and their lives are literally at stake. This isn’t like deciding for the child if it’s going to play Little League or not.

  14. “ Some of the flights were 10 hours or more. We brought games for them, books, toys, all kinds of things, yet they were always in their own seat”?

    You refused to have their diapers changed and/or let them use the lavatories? If you didn’t refuse diaper changes and lavatory use, then they weren’t “always in their own seat” for those flights of “10 hours or more”.

    It’s better that families save $500 by flying U2 infants and toddlers as lap children and using the money more often for better and newer car seats for their children and other health and safety measures that provide a greater return on the money with regard to child well-being.

  15. “ Parents aren’t permitted to make decisions that endanger their children.”

    Yes, they are. Look at kids whose parents put their kids into various sports from a young age and later. If I am not mistaken, Bill Gates made decisions to not only encourage but to fund his eldest daughter’s horse riding. And we have millions of parents around the world that have their children playing soccer and football and skiing even as those comes with increased risk of injuries than the chess club and debate club.

  16. The flight attendant-pushed ban on lap children is a bad form of virtue-signaling. The idea that airline flight attendants care more about their passengers’ children than the children’s parents on the flights speaks to a hubris reminiscent of Icarus and a respect for the truth reminiscent of Trump. May this lap-infant ban idea supported by flight attendants crash and drown in an ocean of (increasingly rare) sensibility.

  17. @Christian.
    Let the parents make their choice? Fine. But get their signatures on an airline form that bars the parents from filing a lawsuit against the carrier if the lap child is injured or killed during extreme turbulence. It’s only fair that if they are willing to expose the child to that possibility (however remote), the carrier be protected. It’s not the carrier’s fault in this case.

  18. Greggb57,

    Then why wouldn’t you also be ok with mandating that all passengers sign liability waivers for using the restroom on the flight and everything else on a plane that can come with a passenger injury — including those caused by airline cabin crew?

  19. All this would serve to do is make the flight more miserable for the parents, flight attendants, and all other passengers. If my wife didn’t feed my infant on the ascent and descent (to help with their ears and the discomfort) and they were confined to a car seat, they’d be screaming the whole way.

  20. Sean,

    I agree, not being able to hold my infant would make the whole plane more miserable. Would also make my wallet more miserable.

    NSL14 falsely compares it to car travel. The thing about car travel is if you’re driving, it’s private. Your kid can have a melt down, you can stop and give the kid breaks, what have you. Airplane travel you’re stuck in a tube, more like long distance train or bus travel, neither which require seatbelts in most areas.

    And it does get cost prohibitive, many families do dramatically reduce traveling once they have the extra seat. We certainly did. We went from spending 4K per year on flights to 6k, that’s already a 2k difference. And after our next child hits 2, that will be 8k. Having a couple years of a 2k break is helpful.

    And to his comment (less parents will travel), yes, because for many families, that price increase takes years to save up for. For the couple ppl who got injured, it’s more worth it for lap infant belts than to ban the practice. My child couldn’t fall asleep while he was an infant unless k was holding him, and even at two needs to have his head in my lap for uncomfortable situations

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