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Keeping Your Child Safely Secured on an Airplane

As a parent, you're no doubt well versed in the proper use of child restraint seats in the car. (At least, we certainly hope so!) However, when it comes to air travel, the requirements and recommendations regarding child safety are different, and not everyone is aware of the differences involved.

Below is a list of safety factors that parents traveling with small children should know about, as determined by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Remember that while being properly restrained can help make it possible to survive a crash, it far more commonly helps to protect children from injuries caused by turbulence.

Bringing along a child restraint seat
For most of us, traveling with kids inevitably rules out traveling light. One of the most cumbersome but important accessories you'll likely be toting is your child's car seat, to ensure your child's safety not only on the airplane but also in the car that awaits at your destination. The FAA strongly recommends the use of child safety restraint seats for any child weighing less than 40 pounds. Book adjacent seats ahead of time for you and your child, and remember that his restraint seat must be placed in a window seat and not in an emergency exit row, so as not to potentially block your (or another passenger's) way in the event of a crisis.

Any currently manufactured child restraint seat approved for use on an airplane must bear an FAA approval label. If you have a seat that was manufactured between 1981 and February 1985, it should bear a label that reads: "This child restraint system conforms to all applicable Federal motor vehicle safety standards." For all seats made after February 1985, you should see a label with red lettering that reads: "This Restraint Is Certified for Use in Motor Vehicles and Aircraft." Keep in mind that not all seats are certified for aircraft use, so some will not have this label.

Check with the airline to make sure that your child's seat will fit in the airplane seat if you plan to fly on a smaller commercial plane. Generally, a child restraint seat with a base less than 16 inches wide will fit in most coach sections.

Obviously, properly securing the seat, as well as strapping your child in, is very important. Also make sure that your child's height or weight does not exceed the recommended limit for the seat--for airplane and for car travel.

Children under two
If you have a child less than two years of age, you can forego the purchase of an additional seat on the flight and instead take the child along as a "lap child." According to the FAA, this is permitted as long as the person providing the lap has purchased a seat and is over 18. It might sound tempting to go with this option, but it really is much safer for your child--and more comfortable for you--to buy another plane ticket if you possibly can afford it

If you've read or heard about the suggestion to use a front pouch carrier if your infant is going to travel in your lap, you should be aware that the FAA does not approve the use of anyrestraining device in such a situation. The use of a harness vest (a specially designed child restraint sometimes used when a child is unable to travel in a regular car seat) is also banned for use on airplanes as of September 1996, regardless of any prior labeling. The reason is quite simple: Airline seats are designed so that the force of the upper body of a lap-belted passenger will collapse the seat in front of him, and a vest can interfere with the seat's ability to function in the way it was designed.

For those of you trying to save money, but who would far rather have a seat for your infant or toddler, you may want to take your child's restraint seat with you to the gate. If you find out at check-in that your flight is not full, you can ask to be assigned next to one of the unassigned seats and use it to secure your child's restraint seat. Just remember that a child restraint seat must always be placed in a seat next to a window.

You can increase your chances of getting to use an empty seat if you book a flight at an off-peak time. If you get to the gate only to find out that the flight is full, simply ask to check the child restraint seat at the gate as you board the plane and then pick it up as you disembark at your destination.

Safety belts
According to the FAA, unless your child is under the age of two (or participating in sport parachuting!), he should wear his seatbelt or be secured in an age- and size-appropriate child restraint seat. Flight attendants routinely check to make sure that seatbelts are secured before takeoff and landing, but it's considered your responsibility as a parent to attend to your child's safety during the flight.

Booster seats
If your child has graduated to a booster seat, you should be aware that this type of child restraint system is not approved for use in airplanes. In part, this is because they are designed for use only with lap and shoulder belts, with the exception of the shield booster for children under 40 pounds. In addition, they do not pass the inversion test required by the FAA before any child safety seat is approved for use on an airplane, and they interfere with the airline seat's design when it comes to safety performance.

Please verify all information that you receive on this website.