Children in Aircraft

“We are flying to my mother’s, and I see that I can carry my 1-year-old on my lap, which will save us a lot of money . . .”


The temptation to save money by having a child under age 2 ride on a parent’s lap presents a common dilemma for families.  Adding to the confusion is the fact that airlines and the FAA seem to condone the unsafe behavior and that most people figure a plane crash cannot be survived, with or without a CR.

The truth is that all passengers, including young children, are safer when buckled up on an airplane. Although the FAA concluded in August 2005 that it would not require families to purchase a seat for children under age 2, the rationale was data (since convincingly refuted) showing that families would prefer to drive (generally more risky) if they otherwise would have to purchase a plane ticket for the child.

The FAA does, in fact, strongly urge families to use appropriate CRs for children whenever possible.  The agency cites turbulence as a major reason to buckle up— as in a car crash, a parent’s arms cannot hold a child in some turbulent conditions.

Additionally, people actually can and do survive many plane crashes, and a properly buckled child is more likely to be among the survivors.

Another plus to using the child’s CR on the plane is that it will remain in the family’s care.  A CR checked as baggage could be lost, treated roughly, or even damaged.  You can’t know for sure what types of forces a CR has been subjected to once it has been checked as baggage.

Tips for parents who plan to use a CR on an airplane:

  • Use CRs in essentially the same way on an aircraft as in a vehicle. If an infant seat can be used without its base, this may be an easier way to install it on an aircraft.
  • Locate the CR label that says it is certified for airplane use. Take along the manual.  Remember that BPBs and vests may not be used on aircraft.  “Belly belts” that strap the child to the parent may not be used on aircraft during take-off or landing in the U.S.
  • The FAA guideline is that a CR of 16” or less in width should fit into an aircraft seat.
  • Consider using an aircraft-approved harness if the logistics of bringing a CR poses a problem.  Currently only one harness, the CARES system, is approved for aircraft use for forward-facing children between 22 and 44 lbs.  Keep in mind that this harness cannot be used in automobiles, so the family will still have to arrange for a CR to use at the destination.
  • Airlines require CRs to be used only in non-exit row window seats.