Airlines' rules differ for 'lap' children

travel q&a seat belts

March 08, 2009|By Catharine Hamm | Catharine Hamm,Los Angeles Times

I have a question about the seat belt regulations for infants, or lap children. I have been on European airlines and U.S. airlines and received completely opposite instructions on how I should seat-belt my son for takeoffs and landings. Some airlines insist that I use a lap belt that attaches to my own seat belt. Other airlines insist that I not use anything, not even put my own seat belt around my son. What are the regulations and what's safest for my child?

What U.S. carriers and foreign carriers require is not the same thing. What the airlines allow and what is safest for your child are not the same thing. And what's safest for your child and what's financially practical also are not the same thing.

Airlines generally do allow a lap child - that is, a toddler younger than 2 - to share a seat with a parent.

In U.S. carriers, "the adult must have the seat belt around his/her waist and hold the child in his/her arms," said Ian Gregor, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman.

But European and Australian carriers require a "supplementary loop belt," said Steve Lott, head of corporate communication, North America, for the International Air Transport Association. "The loop belt provides an additional seat belt with stitched loops through which the adult seat belt is passed."

So, yes, you can have a lap child. But consider this: Do you really want a kid squirming on your lap for five hours? Airline seats aren't all that comfortable for one person.

But, more important, experts say the turbulence and unexpected jostling on a flight can pose a significant danger to your baby.

"It is nearly impossible for an adult to keep a lap child safe by holding onto them during a rough landing, turbulence or an emergency landing," said Margie Leathers, a registered nurse and the manager of the Injury Prevention Program for Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. "The child will be tossed around the cabin or will be in the 'crush zone' between the adult's body and the seat in front."

The solution is to take a deep breath and buy the seat for your child, who then can be put in the proper restraint or carrier. If that sounds financially painful, well, at least you're not Octo Mom Plus Six.

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