Is Flying with a Lap-Child Dangerous to the Child?

This new study that was released is a bit chilling.

From the Wall Street Journal, here are some highlights:

“ a new study that analyzed in-flight pediatric deaths found them to be very rare, but almost all of the children who did die aboard planes were under the age of 2 and traveling on long flights between continent”

“What was unexpected was the number of healthy lap infants who ended up dead. It’s a rare event but this is clearly a pattern,” said Alexandre Rotta, lead researcher on the study and chief of pediatric critical care at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital, which is part of the University Hospitals health-care system in Cleveland. ”


“The Federal Aviation Administration has refused to require car seats for infants on board flights on the assumption that some families, if forced to purchase a ticket for an infant, would choose instead to drive, which is statistically a more dangerous mode of transportation. The FAA did join with airlines in an educational campaign in 2012 in favor of separate seats for children and use of car seats.

“Why is it OK for a mother to hold a baby on a plane traveling many times faster than a car, and it is not OK for her to hold the baby in a car?” said Dr. Rotta.”

Read the article for much more detail.

I do remember the whole controversy over the car seats in air.  I do remember the stats pointing at car travel being even more dangerous, though Dr. Rotta’s point that parent’s cannot hold a child in a car is well taken too.

What do you think?  Is the risk worth it?  Is it safer than pushing people to drive rather than fly?


About Jeanne Marie Hoffman

Former bartender, still a geek. One equal part each cookies, liberty, football, music, travel, libations. Stir vigorously. +Jeanne Marie Hoffman Jeanne on Twitter

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  1. I wish the FAA would change the rules to have infants required to be in a car seat in their own seat. Admittedly, I traveled with my son without a car seat on a couple of flights before I realized I was seriously putting his safety at risk. At any time unexpected turbulence can hit and it could be very hard to keep your child safe. My son, now 3, travels on a plane in his own car seat and I feel much safer now!

  2. Yes! I shutter when I see a mother holding a baby on her lap on an airplane. Even heavy turbulence could cause injury. I think all babies/small children should be required to be in a car seat buckled onto the seat same way they do in a vehicle.

  3. Unfortunately, this article is just scare mongering and the comments above reflect our ultra precautious to-a-fault modern American culture. I’m an economist and look at this kind of data and it’s amazing how few people understand the cost of focusing on this vs. other places where our energy would be much better spent.

    There is scant data that says “if this child were in a car seat, this child would have survived.”

    First and foremost, as more people raise families in urban areas, you have more babies that basically never go in a car seat. Those babies are going to HATE being in a car seat on a plane and make everyone around them miserable too. This leads to poor compliance.

    Second, even babies who have their own seat and sit in a car seat for some of the time, are not in the car seat all of the time.

    Third, put your baby in a carrier like an Ergo Carrier. Is it as perfect as a car seat? Probably not but it is still very secure. If you as the adult are belted in, the baby is not going to fly out of the Ergo carrier in turbulence.

    Fourth, Dr. Rotta’s comment is inane. Sure planes travel faster than cars but per passenger mile traveled, cars are far, far more dangerous. We don’t even require people to wear seat belts in taxis, busses, and all sorts of road-based transportation. People don’t have to wear seat belts in trains either or in planes because these two are so much safer than road-based transportation.

    Fifth, even as the article describes it, being in a car seat doesn’t specifically improve anything. It’s a “mystery”. All the people are just postulating about why.

    Everyone can do their own risk-based analysis but chances are that if a plane crashes, and infants are in carriers, there will be absolutely no statistically significant difference in mortality results.

    Sheri – it’s “shudder” not “shutter” unless you meant that you literally close up shop when you see a mother holding a baby.

  4. As a pediatrician, I really wish people understood the risks of lap infants on flights. I would no sooner fly with a child-in-arms than I would drive with one. My dad’s a pilot and I grew up flying – always in a booster or infant seat!

  5. We haven’t flown in years, and it was so convenient to keep the infants on my lap so I could nurse them and keep them calm. However, I do see the risks of a child not being more safely buckled.

  6. Oh man, flying in a carseat in the air I feel would be SO hard! I guess I see the risks, but air travel is sooo much safer then driving. Will have to muse over this more

  7. Agreement with AnonCHI.

    If one is worried enogh about a child on a plane not being in a car seat, have them buy an extra ticket and put the child in the car seat. The same is true if you do it for your own comfort. For the government to require this is without merit, as the article says “it’s a rare event”.

    Emotionally, I totally understand the feeling of how can you take this risk with a baby. However, the numbers show that if that is your concern, then you should never leave your house, without a doubt, don’t put a baby in a car with a child seat. By far more babies get hurt while in a car with a car seat than while as a lap child on the plane. This is true not only in absolute numbers, but also when adjusted for passenger mile.

    Again, if you want to do it, go ahead, there is nothing wrong with taking the extra measure of safety and having the additional comfort on a long flight. But requiring this will only lead to more babies getting hurt.

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