Thoughts about having a Lap Baby

As parents, our number one concern is child safety. And so I ask, have you ever taken advantage of an airline’s “lap child” policy? My next questions: Would you ever sit your child on your lap riding on a roller coaster? How about cruising at 75 mph down the highway?Photo Credit: WexDub

A “lap child” is where children under age two are allowed to fly for “free” (here in the United States) if they sit on an adult’s lap the entire flight. Parents sometimes book a lap child hoping that the plane isn’t sold out so they can use an empty seat in their row.

During my years as a flight attendant, I would cringe every time a family boarded with a lap childbecause I believe there should be no such thing as a lap child. Why?

Physics plus a worst-case scenario can equal a devastating outcome.

Some parents assume that if the airline allows lap children, it must be okay.  After all, the airlines are the experts, why would they put any of their passengers in danger? These parents probably don’t realize something that I learned in my first flight attendant training class (I’ve worked for several airlines). If a baby is being held on the parent’s lap and an airplane crashes, the force of impact can be so strong that a parent’s arms will be comparable to spaghetti while the child’s weight, as it is propelled through the air, will multiply several times. In other words, your little 20 pound baby can turn into an 80-100 pound flying object that can not only get killed but also kill another passenger upon impact. In fact, I’ve seen children fall out of their parents arms during abrupt landings – and those were during a typical flight sequence.

This next topic isn’t discussed often, because it should be a non-issue. Never fasten your lap child into your seat belt. If the plane comes to a sudden halt or crash, your body will automatically be thrown forward and forced down, on top of your baby, possibly crushing him. I’ve witnessed several moms try to “sneak” this tactic even after I told them it was not allowed and extremely unsafe. Each mother asked something along the lines of, “But what’s going to keep my baby safe if something bad happens?”

My response was always accompanied by a slight shrug and a look of compassion, “I suggest you purchase a seat for your child the next time you fly.”

Crashes aside, what is even more common is something air carriers endure dailyturbulence.  Numerous times I, an adult, had to be held down by passengers in the middle of the plane’s aisle upon hitting a bout of clear air turbulence. I witnessed a man, not wearing his seat belt, who hit his head on the overhead bin when the plane hit a patch of unexpected bumps. The turbulence from that  storm was so bad on that flight, I had bruises on my shoulders from my jump-seat harness. Thankfully, there were not any lap children on board that evening.

Honestly, statistics say flying is safer than traveling by car – and it’s true. However, we’re talking aviation safety not automobile safety. The point is, turbulence happens every day around the world, airplane crashes do occur and lap children have died in survivable airplane crashes due to the reasons I mentioned above.  The only way to guarantee your baby is as safe as they can be, especially during take-off, landing, and turbulence, is for the child to be fastened into their own child restraint system.

In the meantime, I beg parents to purchase a seat for their child for safety sake. Not all parents may understand the dangers of a lap child – but you do.

39 Comments on "Thoughts about having a Lap Baby"

  1. Physics is the first thing they taught us in carseat tech class. It makes child seats and seatbelts make a heckuva a lot more sense.

    Your point about turbulence is excellent. When we discussed it in class, our instructor said that a carseat may or may not help a child in the event of a crash, but that it will be essential in keeping children safe during turbulence.

    Thanks for sharing your insights.

  2. Until airlines bring the prices down for their seats or discount a seat for child it is very expensive for a family of four (myself with twins) to travel anywhere on a plane thus why many parents choose the lap or we stay home. I’d be interested in the percentage of children that have been injured because of turbulence. Do you know that? I’d guess my children are more likely to get hurt falling at home than on my lap on a plane as often as we can afford to fly.

    • I agree, because my family is flying soon for a trip to visit family. The discounted “child rate” is half of the MOST EXPENSIVE ticket. Half off 900 is ridiculous!

  3. Airlines do have discounted seats for children- they just have to know you are flying with a child. I’ve never been able to get the discount online but always get it when I use a travel agent.

    Buying a seat for your child is one of my travel tips, as well. Not only is it safer but it is also more comfortable- for everyone. I completely agree.

  4. Hear, hear. I have a friend who’s a pilot, and he pores over accident reports like other people read the back of cereal boxes. Lap babies are hurt and killed at a much, MUCH higher rate than anyone else in bad situations.

  5. Thanks for commenting, Linda, Jody and Jamie.

    Wanderer, I completely understand your concern about cost. Flying can be very expensive and with a family of six (four kids) we have to be particularly budget conscience when traveling, too. That’s why when we fly we purchase our plane tickets months in advance.

    As for statistics, here is a recent update on turbulence by the FAA:

    Toddlers are naturally accident prone, the difference is that your living room isn’t flying 500 miles per hour with the possibility of hitting deep “pot holes” (that’s what turbulence is comparable to).

    A woman was recently paralyzed from the neck down when the plane hit turbulence.

    If luggage, coffee pots and tissues boxes are required to be secured, I think children should be, too. Besides, after age two children are required to have a paid ticket. Families will have to either plan better or cut costs elsewhere, like fly the no-frills airlines, shorten the length of their vacation or stay in less expensive hotels.

    Please keep in mind that my passion stems from first-hand experience and seeing the danger such situations cause.

  6. Hey,
    this is a great piece and in general, I agree with all your points. Definitely there’s a risk/reward calculation going on and all parents should acknowledge that and at least accept the risk they’re taking.

    But, as someone who moved to the US with nothing but my backpack (seriously) and had a baby 18 months later, I can say from my heart that there’s no way I would have been able to travel to visit family in those first years if there wasn’t such as thing as a lap child option. In researching for the Traveling With Kids books, I heard this again and again from moms in similar personal situations.

    Just a perspective for you from a totally different population than you might not normally think of when writing about family travel.

  7. That’s why it’s up to the FAA or airlines to remove the lap child option. People will try to save money wherever they can, and airlines often do charge full fare for a child’s seat.

    I’m guilty of squeezing in a trip before my daughter turned 2 to take advantage of this. It was a full flight – and let me tell you – I would have paid any amount of money to get her off my lap mid-flight!

  8. First of all, when you bring a baby on a flight, you usually DO get an empty seat in your row, ’cause everyone is looking to get as far away from you as possible. 😉 I flew twice with my son as a “lap child” and honestly didn’t think much of it. I see all the points you make, though. Ultimately I think you’d end up paying for that ticket as a kind of insurance instead of for actual use, because at least in my experience, my son would have never sat in his infant seat. Both times (at 5 weeks and again at 5 months) he nursed on and off for the entire 5hr flight. It was the only thing that seemed to help with the air pressure and to relax him.

  9. Yes! Yes! Yes! One of the most popular, and most controversial, articles I have posted on Travel Mamas is an article titled, “Why You Should Never Fly with a Child on Your Lap” by Bill McGee for USA Today. I have received a lot of praise for posting and promoting this article and I have received a lot of negative feedback from parents who are angry to hear the truth about the dangers of flying with a child on your lap. Thank you for providing a flight attendant’s perspective on this dangerous situation. You just may save some lives with this post.

  10. Beth, great to find you here. Love your travelin mamas and will love this, too.

  11. Hi, Beth!

    Love your new site and great post. I would imagine many make this decision for economical reasons. Not that it makes it okay. I flew this week, and interestingly enough, had similar thoughts when seeing the image on the safety card of the mother covering the baby with her body. I wondered how many would feel compelled to “strap” them in with them or “tie” them down, which you also mentioned in this article. When I thought about it…I realized (as you indicated) it could cause all sorts of physical traumas.

    Good post!

  12. …and besides the safety issue…how about the concerns and compassion of the fellow passengers? Back in the early ’70s before deregulation you would see so few children on any flights. Why? It cost so much more then to fly in relative to the economy and average income of the population. Nowadays, flights are so cheap, and everyone wants to take along the entire family.

    I once had a very comfortable seat on an Ozark flight (extinct). The plane was about to take off when a last minute boarding placed a woman with a toddler (lap child) right next to me. Not only did I have to put up with the kid kicking me for almost two hours, but the sleeve of my suit was sticky from the kid’s fingers constantly grabbing me. When I confronted the stewdardess she treated me like I was the nasty one. I learned my lesson there. I would no longer fly that airline (goes to prove that bad bussiness will shut down your bussiness), and I will pay more to avoid that kid-next-to-me scenario. I always book well in advance, and choose a seat with no neighbors. I also will never fly the discount carriers. I would rather shell out a $100 dollars more for a comfortable seat on a respectable carrier than pinch and save to fly on some discount airline which caters to families.

    As for anyone who would rather “lap” a child rather than paying for another seat, SHAME ON YOU! No risk is worth taking when you put your childs life on the line. I understand there are times when you have to take a child on a trip, but frankly, if you can’t afford the airfare….TAKE A BUS!

    • ” … frankly, if you can’t afford the airfare….TAKE A BUS!”

      What an outrageous statement to make. Snobbery aside, statistically air travel is among the safest so why you believe a child on a bus would be safer is a mystery!

    • And how exactly would you take a bus from New York to London? Stupid man.

  13. As a Flight Attendant myself, I couldn’t agree with you more.

    I know that no matter how cheap travel is these days, when you’re flying with a family those cheap costs still add up. But just as you budget for food and lodging, you need to budget for a seat for every child — even the baby.

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen some really large 2 year olds — I’m sure of parents who are just trying to squeak in one more flight before acknowledging that junior is too large to pass off as a 2 yr old for one more year.

    In my opinion, this is strictly an economics issue for the airlines, and they have successfully lobbied the FAA to keep the rule in place hoping that parents will continue to fly. But at least they should be honest about it — we’ll compromise the safety of your child to make a buck!

    You won’t find any Flight Attendants disagreeing with your position!

  14. Turbulence related injuries are NOT documented – although they DO happen. Ask ANY flight attendant. Or ask Flight Attendant Jan Brown-Lohr who witnessed a mother’s loving arms NOT be enough to hold a 22 month old (on a LAST free flight)in a crash landing where the seat belted mother survived. Little Evan never reached his 2nd birthday…

    I admit in my book (and the free chapter posted on my site dedicated to this topic that I also held my son before I researched this and discovered the risk I had unknowingly taken.

    Would you risk your child’s life going speeds of 200 mph (runways) or during unexpected turbulence just to save money? Is the trip really worth it?

    If something happens, only the parents will suffer. The airlines are covered legally- just read what the FAA, all airlines, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the NTSB, etc. have stated (and what the safety card in your seat pocket says).

    The FAA even has said something like,
    “If you want to hold your child for a lifetime, do NOT hold them on your lap in flight!”

    One more thing (I get very passionate about this topic)…
    Don’t wait for the airlines to change this rule. It is a political decision and will remain so. Instead, educate parents to really think about their actions and how the consequences will affect THEM – NOT the airlines. The airlines would rather have a last minute business fare traveler sitting in that seat than a discounted child’s fare.

    Two weeks ago I was contacted by an attorney working on a case where the lap child was injured.

    Think about it…

  15. I don’t have much to add here besides: Bravo!

    Fantastic piece, well argued, and the comments are bearing that out. Now if we could only get pieces like this places in newspapers like the L.A. Times, NYT, etc maybe people would stop putting their babies at such unnecessary risk.

  16. My husband and I did the lap seats with twins and it was a NIGHTMARE!! NEVER AGAIN. For my 1 year old we bought a seat and brought her car seat and she slept the whole flight both ways–it was worth every penny!!! Plus of course it is safer too (which I did not even think when I did the lap seats.)

  17. What do you know about wearing a baby in flight? Do slings or front-carriers (like a Baby Bjorn) make a difference either for or against safety?

  18. Hi Elizabeth,

    Thank you for the question, it’s a good one:

    Q: What do you know about wearing a baby in flight? Do slings or front-carriers (like a Baby Bjorn) make a difference either for or against safety?

    A: Slings/front-carriers are not recommended for the same reason you shouldn’t fasten your baby into your own seat belt – in an accident your body can be forced down on top of your baby – hurting him/her and you.

  19. Great article, i will be traveling soon and haven’t consider the idea of buying a ticket for my 16 month old son, I would imagine paying an extra hundred dollars is worth it. I wouldn’t take the chance to put my baby in danger. Although tickets can be really expensive and sometimes the prices are ridiculous.
    Thanks for your advise!

  20. For some the sky is always falling. USe a car seat on the plane if desired but look at the facts before saying it’s dangerous. There are virtually zero children dead each year and extremely few injured despite a huge number of flights. There is a very simple way to avoid injuries, use the seat belt when asked to.

    If you want the real fact about any potential danger for children, check out the FAA website. It shows once again there is nothing safer than flying with our children (without a car seat).

    • TwinCitiesGal | July 27, 2010 at 3:58 pm |

      Steve, I wish you were correct.

      Just last week 30 people were injured due to turbulence:

      This is verbatim from the FAA website (link follows):

      “Did you know the safest place for your little one during turbulence or an emergency is in an approved child restraint system (CRS) or device, not on your lap?

      A CRS is a hard-backed child safety seat that is approved by the government for use in both motor vehicles and aircraft.

      FAA has also approved a harness-type restraint appropriate for children weighing between 22 and 44 pounds. This type of device provides an alternative to using a hard-backed seat and is approved only for use on aircraft. It is not approved for use in motor vehicles. Learn more about harness-type restraint.

      FAA strongly urges parents and guardians to secure children in an appropriate restraint based on weight and size. Keeping a child in a CRS or device during the flight is the smart and right thing to do.”

  21. As someone wrote & the FAA states ‘there aren’t that many child deaths on planes’ however which parent wants to take that risk. From my firsthand experience in a crash & several encounters with a mother who told me she took the flight with her 22 month old son before he turned two, I cannot adequately describe the nightmare of having to deal with the loss of your child. Our section of the plane flipped over into a cornfield and this beautiful child was wrenched from her grasp as was another 11 month old girl. She was miraculously missiled into an overhead bin & her cries heard by a passenger about to leave the smoke-filled burning wreckage led him to find & save her. The 22 month old’s body was later found beneath wreckage. Is it only one child? No. In 1994 a plane about to land in Charlotte, NC suddenly crashed and though the mother instinctively tightened her grasp around her tiny daughter’s body, she was unable to hold her and she was gone. Only two deaths? In 1999 a plane abruptly dropped several thousand feet and a lap child was propelled to the ceiling, fracturing her skull. The FAA is waiting for enough deaths before mandating child seats. When it comes to children under two who are unable to protect themselves, WE should be protectors and not gamblers. How many deaths will it take for the FAA to do its job? Just because they allow it, does not make it safe! If & when anything happens, it will undoubtedly be the flight attendant and the parent who face the reality while the FAA, operates in their safe DC office absorbed in their rules & rulemaking. And next time a parent decides to fly, are you looking at your pocketbook or your child?

  22. Maybe a silly question.. But is it really the case that you guys in the states are not forced to hook lap children into a seatbelt that is then attached into your own seatbelt?

    If not that is insane. This is the way its done on all flights that I know off in europe.

    Yes, there is still a risk, but just sitting there with your arms around your baby is just madness.

    • TwinCitiesGal | January 25, 2011 at 7:54 am |

      It is madness. As for the lap child extensions, that is true our planes do not accommodate them. But there is a reason. If the plane stops suddenly or crashes, the parent’s body can crush the child.

  23. I am shocked by the amount of people who would put saving money over the safety of their child. Would you skip buying a car seat to save money… because it would be extremely dangerous. An plane travels at over 100 miles per hour during take off and landing, and faster in the air. Also quit demanding the airlines offer you a reduced seat charge. If your kid taking up a seat, they pay full price. It shouldn’t matter if they are little or an adult. A seat is a seat.

  24. Thanks for commenting on such valid points, Alex.

  25. We are going on vacation and I hadn’t bought my third child, my baby son, who is 8 months old a ticket. The airline acted like it was perfectly fine. I happened to be looking on Disney’s site for something else and came across a mom panel that was speaking about flights and somehow came across this subject. I started frantically searching online and researching. After much prayer and realizing how dangerous it could be my husband and I bought our baby son a ticket this evening. It was a hundred dollars more than we paid for everyone else’s in the family and it took a huge chunk out of our funds for fun while we are there. BUT he is so precious and we worked so hard to get him here. We love him so much. My spirit would not be settled over the matter. As soon as we bought that ticket we were so joyous feeling. It isn’t right that I have a belt to help me in survival situations on a plane ride and he isn’t. He is my baby. He was intrusted to me by God and God tells us to gain wisdom, seek it, and then use it. It would be nice to save money…but he is our treasure. Thankyou for posting this! I never knew! Thankyou for caring about my baby and educating me today.

  26. Her vest green | February 23, 2013 at 2:03 pm | Reply

    To spite everyone’s Opinions the FAA has yet to cease lap infants riding for free and probably will Always allow it. They have the facts before any passenger or flight attendant.

    • You meant to say “Despite everyone’s opinions” not “To spite everyone’s Opinions”. FAA may or may not have “the facts” but they aren’t acting on facts, that’s the whole point of this discussion. Are you paying attention?

  27. Suzanne Palidori | December 13, 2013 at 12:18 am | Reply

    Well this is a decision for the parents. I don’t agree with you trying to take away these rights. I am a single mother and every dollar I can save helps out more for my child rather than a seatbelt which who knows might even hold him well. Children do not sit still and trusting them in a separate seat has its consequences too. I don’t think any mother who is carefully watching her child and herself would have any harm done to their kid. The sling will not force you on to your baby. I have never heard of any domestic flight that had turbulence so bad to make everyone slam themselves on their laps. This is a nice gesture but I would refuse it anyday and save the $500.

  28. I have been browsing online more than three hoiurs as of late, yet I never found any attention-grabbing article like yours.

    It’s beautiful value enough for me. In my view, if all
    webmasters and bloggers made excellent content material ass you did, the
    net will probaably be much more useful thwn ever before.

  29. Preston Bennett | November 8, 2014 at 12:26 am | Reply

    Think about it, which is safer: going from DC to Boston in a carseat on an all-day drive up congested interstate 95, or a 90 minute plane trip in mom or dad’s lap? Statistically, the child is far more likely to be killed or injured on the car ride.

  30. i’d like to see actual statistics of children getting hurt while on their parents’ lap, because all i’m hearing here is unsubstantiated fear-mongering. yes there’s turbulence, yes you are high up in the air but that still doesn’t tell me about the actual risk. i bet you the risk of riding a bike without a helmet, going down a slide with your kid in your lap or having your kids on your shoulders is riskier than a lifetime of flying (these actions actually do, fairly often, result in injury). So maybe at least spread your disgust a little more evenly rather than firing it at other mothers who are obviously not financially positioned to devote large sums of money to mitigate very small risks. none of us want our kid on our laps – no one likes that. we do it because with a tight budget we can’t justify spending hundreds of dollars for what is, objectively, a tiny risk. many of us avoid flying altogether until they’re older but are stuck having to get on a plane for an unfortunate reason. but thanks, so much, for the disgust. it’s such a pleasure flying on a plane with an infant to start off with – having the flight attendant telling us that they’re disgusted by our behavior really adds to the wonderful experience.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.