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Should Infants Have Seats on Planes?

Should parents be required to buy an extra ticket when flying with a child younger than age 2? Two federal agencies disagree on the question, which came into focus at a Dec. 9 forum held by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

No one disputes that small children would be safer buckled into a child safety seat on airplanes. But the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) allows kids younger than 2 to fly unrestrained if they are seated on a parent’s lap.

The NTSB wants that policy changed, and held the forum to once again air the issue, which has been debated for many years. "We are trained that in an emergency, loose items can be dangerous if flying through the cabin,” Pat Friend, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, told the forum. "A lap child has the potential to be one of those loose items."

The problem is that parents would be required to buy an extra ticket to guarantee they will be able to use a child safety seat, which in most cases they would have to carry aboard the airplane. Airlines will often allow parents with a small child to use an empty seat, but increasingly, flights are booked solid and no extra seats are available.

The FAA contends that requiring the purchase of an extra ticket would force more families to drive instead of fly. Motor vehicle accidents kill far more children than plane crashes. “It’s good public policy to not promulgate a rule knowing we’re going to put some children at greater risk. Instead of flying, which is very safe, they’d be put on the highway, which is far less safe,” says FAA spokesperson Alison Duquette. Nevertheless, the FAA advises parents to purchase an extra ticket for small children and to bring a child safety seat when flying.

For the FAA’s advice on child safety, see www.faa.gov/passengers/fly_children/crs

For the NTSB’s recommendation to require a separate airplane seat for young children, download this PDF file: www.ntsb.gov/recs/letters/2010/a-10-121-123.pdf

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