Tips to help keep your lap child safer in flight

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Flying high in our Baby B’Air flight safety vest, designed to help protect lap children against unexpected turbulence.

The FAA has for years banned the use of “belly belts” on U.S. flights – the safety belts provided to parents and their lap-held children by other major airlines around the world – which are made of the same materials used in regular airline safety belts and secure a lap-held child to its parent’s safety belt to help protect against turbulence.

Yet now there is new discussion about the possibility of requiring parents to purchase seats for all children under 24 months flying within the U.S. in order to help protect them against the risks of flying as a lap child–namely turbulence (read more about the risks of turbulence to lap-held children in the FAA safety brochure).

Few would try to argue that your infant or toddler is safer riding on your lap in an airplane than he would be buckled in to his own car seat installed in the aircraft (assuming it fits), and that’s not what I’m about to do here. Though I find it strange that if safety is the paramount concern, the only discussion here continues to be an all-or-nothing proposition (car seats / CARES or no restraint at all).

If you intend to breastfeed your child during take-off or landing as recommended to help ears adjust in flight, or you will spend any amount of time during your flight with your child on your lap anyway (feeding, soothing, snuggling), you may end up with a “lap child” during some portions of your flight whether or not you’ve purchased a seat for him. 

Here are a few ways to help keep him safer if and when you do:

  • Use a Baby B’Air flight safety vest (or belly-belt when provided by the airline) to help guard against unexpected turbulence and any possible “roll of risk” if you might both be snoozing during the flight. The Baby B’Air is a cotton vest that fits over the infant or toddler’s head and adjusts for a snug fit with a crotch strap, side straps, and buckles (read more about it here). It is FAA-approved for use during cruising portions of your flight, when turbulence is the greatest risk, but not during taxiing, take-off, or landing, during which times the has apparently felt FAA your lap child is safer riding without any restraint at all.
  • Raise your armrests out of the way to remove some very hard and unforgiving protrusions right beside you and your child. This is one good reason to avoid seats on the bulkhead row where armrests are usually fixed in place and cannot be raised.
  • Choose seats away from the aisle to avoid injury by passing drink carts, suitcases, and items that may have shifted in the overhead bin–especially those that may weigh more than the owner can manage.

Remember, many airlines still offer a discount for children under 2 years of age–often 50% of the adult fare. If it isn’t clear on the airline’s website or through the airfare search engine you use, call the airline to ask if a discount is available (or check the table in Part 5 of Travels with Baby), and be sure to bring your child’s birth certificate or passport to verify his age and eligibility for the discount at the time of travel.

Related posts and pages:
The real reason babies need babies and toddlers need I.D. for domestic flights
One very good reason to fly British Airways with your baby or lap-held toddler
Tip #5: Beware the Bulkhead Bassinet
Tip #6: Flying with twins on laps
Ask Shelly: Tips for long-haul / overseas flight with baby?
Review of the FlyeBaby air travel hammock
Review of CARES flight safety harness
Recommended car seat alternatives
Best car seat travel bags and carriers

Safe journeys,

Shelly Rivoli
Author of Travels with Baby and the new Take-Along Travels with Baby   Travels with Baby on Facebook  

All content of this blog (c) Shelly Rivoli 2007 – 2011

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