This is so beautifully written and so informative that I just HAD to share it. It was written by a well-respected CPST, Wendy Thomas. With the holidays coming up many people are traveling, so I found this to be the most opportune time to share some air safety tips!
“Traveling with children can be a fun and exciting time. Many parents dread flights they might take with their children. The long confinement, tight quarters for diaper changes, or unwanted bathroom needs at inconvenient times. But most parents don’t think of the safety aspect of flying. They assume that since the FAA doesn’t require seats for children under two that their most precious cargo is perfectly safe while flying.
They’re not. There’s nothing magical about two years old that makes a child suddenly need a restraint. The FAA recommends that all children use a restraint on board from birth to 40 pounds.
Most parents when asked will say that a car seat won’t save their child if the plane drops out of the sky. I will concede that fact. Two hundred dollars of plastic and harness will not likely help at the stop of a six mile vertical drop. However, crashes from cruising altitudes are remarkably rare, thank goodness.
Far more likely are runway emergencies or turbulence during flight.
Runway emergencies are just like car crashes, except at 150 mph rather than 30 mph. And most parents would pale at the thought of having their child on their laps going to the store at 30 mph, but think nothing of having their child on their lap on the plane at 150 mph.
At 150 mph your child would be your airbag, or they would go flying inside the cabin. A 20 pound child in a 150 mph crash would have 3,000 pounds of force to them. That’s enough to be fatal to themselves, and whomever they impact.
Even if baby is fine after being a projectile, and no one has been injured, if you have ten seconds to get off the plane due to toxic gasses or smoke filling the cabin, you’ll want your baby to be next to you to easily go. An infant can be six rows up and under the seats and easily overlooked during an emergency evacuation. If your child is next to you in a carseat, they’ll still be there after the crash. Remove baby and go.
Turbulence can happen at any time, and it can be violent enough to throw people into the ceiling or several rows away. While it can be unpredictable, if you are seated you should at least fasten your belt, and your children’s harnesses, snugly enough so that they do not have to worry about unexpected turbulence. Just as the pilot and flight crew suggests.
Remember, on the flight the only things not restrained during taxi, takeoff, and landing are children under two. Children and adults over two, the flight attendants, all carry on baggage, books, computers, soap in the lav, coffeepots, and snacks are secured. But a lap baby is not. For some reason they’re not given the same priority as the peanuts.
In addition to the lack of safety for a child and the people nearby, there is a risk to checking a carseat. If you must check a carseat, put it in its original packaging with padding in the box. Or maybe another box with padding. And then gate check it (it’s far more convenient to use the seat on board than to drag a big box to the gate). All too often I see parents check their carseats at the ticket counter, wrapped in nothing but a plastic bag to keep the cover clean. The cover being clean at the other end is the least of the concerns. The worst thing that can happen is that a carseat arrives at the other end with damage that cannot be seen. The only way to find out that there’s damage is during or after a crash when the seat has failed.
The second to worst thing that can happen is that the seat is lost. Either it didn’t come on your flight with you, or it’s been sent to an alternative destination. Once you check it, it’s baggage, and everyone has either had baggage lost, or knows someone who has. This is fairly common, and not something the airline guarantees against. They will get you your bags, or money enough to replace what was lost, but when it comes to a carseat, that won’t help in the here and now when you’re picking up your rental car or getting picked up by friends or family. Someone will have to go to the nearest store and buy whatever is in stock to work for the trip. Sometimes airlines have seats you can borrow, or rental car companies do. These should not be used. You don’t know their history, if they’ve been treated well, cleaned properly, peed in, puked in, pooped in, eaten in (especially worrying if your child has allergies), recalled, expired. They are not to be trusted.
The third worst thing would be that the seat is obviously broken when you pick it up. This is at least an obvious replacement, and so again, someone will have to go to a store and buy a new seat, but at least it’s known that the seat is broken and should not be used.
Disregarding the safety aspects for both the carseat and child, it’s far saner to travel with the carseat than without. Yes, it’s something extra to bring through the airport and install, but that’s not the bulk of travel, generally.
To demonstrate this, sit with your child on your lap on your sofa. Sit there for however long your flight is. Every two hours, get up to walk around for a few minutes, use the restroom, and change diapers. Then sit down again. Don’t let your child down, don’t put them on the sofa, and only play with the three closest toys and books. Try to have a snack during that time, and take a drink from an open cup. With a child on your lap your tray is unusable, so you’ll have to balance everything.
Now, imagine the difference in that experiment if you have your baby in a carseat (or high chair for the house, bouncy seat, something to represent the carseat) next to you on the sofa. You have room to eat, you have room to drink and fold down your tray. When your baby is asleep you can read comfortably, you can get up and use the restroom, or you have room to sleep yourself. Having two seats for two people just makes the most sense. And it’s the most comfortable (hint: if you’re traveling with two people in a row, either just you and a child, or you and your spouse each have a child in a row, book the window and aisle. The middle is the last seat to fill, and no one is upset about having to trade out the middle seat. You may end up with three seats for two people).
And lastly, remember that as a ticketed passenger, your child has their own baggage allowance. So any free bags, carry on, all of that, they have as well. Since people love to give babies things, this may come in handy.
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