Thursday, August 9, 2012

Lap Rockets

Most, if not all, airlines allow children under the age of 2 to fly for free if they are seated with an adult.  The term for these children is "lap baby."

It's easy to see how one would assume that since it is allowed, it is safe.

But it's not.

There is nothing magical about the age 2 that makes your child suddenly need to be properly restrained.  ALL children should be restrained by a car seat at all times in a moving vehicle: bus, plane, or car/taxi.

The FAA even recommends that all children under 40lbs use a car seat:

(These are the bare minimums.  The law of physics doesn't stop just because you are 30,000 feet in the air. You can always rearface your 20lb+ child)

When faced with a decision on whether or not to buy an infant his own ticket on the airplane, the majority of parents I have spoken to responded with something along the lines of: 

"If the plane crashes, a car seat won't save him"


"Plane crashes are extremely rare- traveling by plane is much safer than by car"

These are both true.  If a plane drops out of the sky at an altitude of 30,000 feet, everyone will be dead.  Luckily, this is extremely rare.

However, runway crashes, turbulence, and hard landings are NOT rare, and they CAN and will kill a child not in a safety seat.

If you think your child needs to be restrained in a car traveling 25mph, but not in an airplane taking off at 180mph, then you my friend...are a hypocrite.

A runway crash or extreme turbulence is the same as a car crash, except going up to 5-6x faster.  At 180mph, your "lap child" becomes your own personal airbag, IF you are lucky. Otherwise, they become a projectile flying through the cabin. Your 25lb toddler, at 180mph, has 4500lbs of force to them.  Any person they hit is more than likely to be killed instantly, in addition to being fatal to themselves.

During a flight, there is only one thing not required to be properly restrained.

Can you figure out which one??

It's actually none of these.  You see, the only thing on a plane not required to be properly restrained is: 

A child under the age of 2.

Pretty sad that a pot of coffee and a bag of airline snacks has more priority than your child.  Every single person on a plane must be buckled, every item: laptops, plane trays, food carts, carry-on luggage etc MUST be properly restrained during take off, landing, and when there are any signs of turbulence...but a CHILD, a delicate, fragile CHILD can be left to sit in a lap.

Makes sense now, doesn't it? **sarcasm**

Turbulence can occur at any time during a flight without warning.  It can be severe enough that people, food carts and unsecured luggage are thrown several rows, hit the ceilings, or other passengers.  Because of this, unless you are using the rest room, you should always fasten your seatbelt and your child should *ALWAYS* be in the their car seat.

In the off chance that your child survives being thrown around like a rag doll when the airplane hits unexpected turbulence or a hard emergency landing and the plane is evacuated, it can be difficult to find your child during the mass hysteria.  Your child could also be trampled if vision is impaired due to the cabin being filled with smoke.

Is this risk really worth the cost of a plane ticket?

Should your child not be given the same priority as you are, in terms of safety?

 If this wasn't enough to change your mind....

Things to remember when flying with a child:

1. IT'S EASIER TO PURCHASE A TICKET! Sit on a couch for two hours holding your child.  Only get up to use the bathroom, and make sure to take your child with you when you do.  Try drinking from an open cup with nowhere to set the drink down (because you can't use a tray with a lap child).  Now try sitting on the couch with your child near you in a bouncer, exersaucer etc. When the child is asleep, you have time for yourself and can relax a little bit.  You can get up and use the restroom in peace.  Which sounds more pleasant?

2. CHECKING YOUR CAR SEAT AS LUGGAGE IS THE SAME AS CRASHING YOUR CAR WITH IT INSTALLED.  I'll assume you've already read my blogs about crashed car seats so I'll elaborate on it.  Luggage handlers do not care about your property.  Most things get thrown to and from the conveyor belts to the plane. Not to mention, if the flight experiences turbulence, your car seat is being thrown around with the rest of the luggage, completely unrestrained. Since you will never know exactly what type of treatment your car seat has received, a "checked" car seat should always be considered "crashed."  You don't want to wait til you are in an actual wreck and the car seat fails to protect your child, to realize it was unsafe.

3. LUGGAGE GETS LOST ALL THE TIME.  Imagine if you did check your car seat instead of installing it on the plane.  You get to your destination and the seat doesn't come around the baggage claim conveyor.  You can't legally leave the airport what do you do?

4. EACH PASSENGER IS ALLOWED BAGGAGE.  Just another perk to purchasing your child his/her own seat.  No more cramming everybody's stuff into one suitcase.

5. IF AFTER READING THIS BLOG, YOU STILL THINK THAT IT'S WORTH THE RISK RISK TO YOUR CHILD TO BE A LAP-ROCKET, REMEMBER IT'S NOT ALL ABOUT YOU.  If your child becomes a projectile during a flight or hard landing, and manages to hurt or kill another person....let's just say that a $200 plane ticket is pocket change relative to how much you are going to be spending in court costs, law suits, etc.  Be prepared to give up your house, your car, basically every little thing you own.  Still worth it?

6. AIRLINES WILL WORK WITH YOU.  So you've booked the flight and your family is ready to go, then you read this and realize you want your child to have their own seat but you just can't afford it.  Call the airline. I can't stress that enough.  9 times out of 10 if you explain the situation, they will give an extra ticket at a steep discount, or even free.  No airline wants to see a lap rocket on their plane, they will do whatever it takes for everyone on the flight to be safe.


I cannot count how many times I tried to explain the dangers of lap-rockets to somebody and they said they just couldn't afford another ticket.  Is your child's life really not worth an extra couple hundred dollars?? 

If you cannot afford a ticket for each passenger, then drive, or don't go at all.  

Please do not compromise your child's safety over something so trivial.


And the million dollar question:

WHY are lap-babies still legal if it's so unsafe?  (Because that's the logic here in's legal so it must be safe)

The answer?



Although the NTSB is pushing to make lap rockets (as they refer to them) illegal, it's a long road ahead.  Airlines will lose too much money because less people will choose to fly places.  In a time where many airlines have gone bankrupt and needed bailouts, they can't afford to lose any more business.  Like stated above, the FAA does recommend all children be secured in their own seats.  It shouldn't have to be a law for parents to make their child's safety a priority.

Even if you don't read this entire post, please watch this video and think hard about your seating arrangements for your family's next flight.


  1. In Europe, they require a child seat belt extension be used for lap children. That prevents the baby from flying through an aircraft, but does not protect a child from a collision, like the video showed.

    A few hundred dollars more for a domestic flight is do-able. $1200 more for an international flight is harder. Not that my kid is worth less than $1200, mind you. Just that $1200 adds up a lot faster than $200.

    1. Short haul flights are likely where you would run into trouble anyway - longhaul jets are much more stable. It would be nice if the FAA would approve the safety belts like Europe, Asia, and Oceania because they do make a lot of sense.

  2. What about getting them out of their seat for a short time? Ex: to burp them (mine had bad reflux and HAD to be burped) or to change their diaper. Would you just suggest NOT getting them out at all? What about on long, overseas flights?

    1. Pilots usually know where the airpockets are ahead of time on longhaul flights (my husband is a pilot) we usually arrange for a bassinet seat for the baby, which has a restraint belt should unforeseen turbulence occur. On longhaul, widebody, 777, 787, A380 etc. this is very rare. As a courtesy to other passengers, please go to the bathroom to change your baby. :)

  3. Frequent Flier here - a few thoughts. There a few problems with this - most crashes as you noted occur during landing and take-off. In this case, ideally the plane is evacuated within 90 seconds.

    The reason the carseat is only allowed to be in the window seat is because it is a potential hazard to other passengers trying to evacuate the airplane. Seconds count because the airplane often catches fire in these. Fumbling with restraints can put your child at risk for fire and smoke inhalation - yes, your child may break a few bones if they are restrained on your lap - however, it is far easier to grab them and run if they are already there.

    I've traveled extensively in Asia and infant seat extensions are required. The flight attendants show you the best way to put the baby in a "brace" position to minimize their potential for injury. By having them restrained but on your lap, you can lose your belt and run with your child immediately - which is very important to be able to do.

    There is back and forth debate about what is better between the different worldwide safety organizations, Europe, Asia, Oceania the FAA etc. Europe, Asia and Oceania require the infant safety belt during take-off and landing to make it easier to restrain your child and then run.

    Air travel is different from car travel in many ways. Plane crashes are far more likely than cars to catch fire due to the jet fuel. That is why every second counts in being able to get off the airplane.

    I agree with you that the child should most definitely be restrained, but I don't think carseats are necessarily the best way to do it. For kids over the age of one the Cares Safety Harness is likely the best way to go. But the child has to be able to sit on their own for that, and there is still the question of it being easier to already have the child on your lap to run off the airplane. Again, every second counts.

    Just putting that out there - there is debate as to whether the carseat is actually the safest during air travel, and that is why. Thoughts?


      The Cares Harness


      For infants during turbulence

  4. Okay - last comment on this and I will stop - it is really important if you are going to purchase a seat and bring a carrier that you check with the airline to make sure that it is FAA approved. If it is not, you will not be able to use it on the aircraft.

    Most American carseats are banned on foreign flights. If you are taking a foreign carrier, you will need to check with the airline and the carseat manufacturer to see if it is approved.

    Toddler seats are not approved; you can get the CARES harness for a child over 22 inches.

    If you are switching between foreign and domestic - best carseat (approved for Europe, Asia and by the FAA) is the Maxi-Cosi Mico. Understand seat sizes vary from country to country, so most American carseats will not fit on foreign carriers and are not approved. Maxi-Cosi is owned by Dorel (Europe) so it is more a happy-medium size and can be used on all carriers.

    You must reserve a window seat in advance to use a carseat on an airplane. They are hazards to other passengers during an evacuation.

    Air travel is far safer than auto-travel. You have highly trained pilots (my husband is one) who spend many years and long hours learning the safest practices. Any idiot can get a license to drive a car. Boeing and Airbus are rigorous about safety and many engineers (some are my friends and family) work hard to make the airplanes as safe as possible. Yes, there are risks, but they are really low.

    Again to emphasize - it needs to be noted that carseats are made for cars. They are not designed for airplane seats. They may not fit. Your carseat - if you don't do your homework is likely to cause you problems.

    Infants getting carry-on luggage is a given only in the US. If you are traveling on a foreign carrier, they may not see it the same. You must check with the airline ahead of time.

    Safety seats are not used in most Asian aircraft. If you bring it, there is a high likelihood of it being rejected and you getting charged for the extra weight. They are very accommodating with infant safety belts, bassinet seats and making sure your baby has a infant life preserver - they are very safety conscious however, their standards are different.

    For full disclosure, my son is five months, has been on 14 flights, none of which were American, so he has yet to use a carseat on a flight. All have been Asian or European. Some of us due to our jobs have to be very mobile - I've paid attention to the instructions for the infant safety belts, and talked extensively with the foreign flight attendants and pilots - our life is inextricably fraught with air travel. For those who have no choice but to be on the road - breathe a little more easily :)

  5. Whenever I travel, I make sure that I bring infant carriers with me because I feel like my child is more safe in there than putting him in the seat. Air travels make me nervous and even if I have traveled with my kid several times, I still never get used to it. I get mine from if you want to check it out!