Should You Be Required To Put Your Child In A Car Seat On An Airplane?

It’s an obvious point that many folks overlook.  Why is your infant safe in an airplane at hundreds of miles an hour sitting on your lap when they’re not safe at 55 mph on your lap in a car?

That’s the point that the outgoing chair of the National Transportation Safety Board made recently.

She’s right.  Now, there are a lot less airline crashes than there are car accidents.  And, you don’t need an accident in a car to hurt an infant (think slamming on your brakes to avoid hitting someone).

There are significantly less instances of “slamming on the brakes” in an airplane, it’s much more about turbulence.  But, there’s still risk to an infant who sits on your lap while flying.

Federal regulations allow parents to hold children up to 2 years old in their laps on flights. The NTSB urged the FAA to develop regulations for restraining all children during takeoff, landing and turbulence, putting children weighing up to 40 pounds in child-restraint systems approved for their height and weight.

“When I came on the board in 2004, it was almost unbelievable that that was still allowed to go on,” Hersman said of unbelted children on airliners, in contrast to state laws requiring child-safety seats in cars. “They’re just as valuable in the airplane as they are in the car.”

Taken a step further, the FAA won’t allow you to attach your child to you in any fashion if they sit on your lap.  This always surprised me.  The argument is that the FAA can’t certify that the device you’re using is safe for your child.  There are a number of wraps and harnesses moms (and the occasional dad) use to secure their child to them while walking, etc.  But, none of those wraps can be used when your child is sitting on your lap on a plane.  When we used to take our kids as lap children, my wife was even accosted by flight attendants telling her to remove wraps that she had our children in.

I’m not saying they were wrong.  It’s the law.  But, is it really better to rely on a mother’s arms to keep a baby from being a projectile?

Bottom Line It For Me, Ed

As a parent, it’s your right to sit your child on your lap for travel.  But, it’s at least worth considering the risks.  There’s certainly extra cost buying that airline seat when they could sit in  your lap.

But, this is one of those reasons I advocate keeping a stockpile of miles.  It’s a lot easier decision to secure your child in a car seat (in an actual airline seat) if you don’t have to pay cash.  Some airlines do offer discounts for child seats, but they’re generally not significant.

At the point at which your kids are 2 years old and you need to buy them a seat, I strongly recommend the CARES harness.  It’s currently the only harness certified by the FAA to restrain your child in the air with more protection than a standard airline seat belt.

Put Your


The CARES harness folds up and can easily fit into a purse or backpack.  We used it for both children and while our son was more persnickety about using it, it also made us feel safer.

What’s your opinion?  Should the current lap child system be replaced by a requirement to use car seats or similar restraints for young children?


  1. I’ve found it interesting to observe on non-U.S. flights parents of lap children using supplementary belts. The FAA believes a child “attached” to the parent like this could be crushed. I can’t help but feel that this is safer in most situations than the possibility of the child’s being launched projectile-like through the cabin. Neither is a great option in extreme circumstances.

  2. I think the danger is that if it is required to use a car seat and pay for an extra seat, many will choose to drive instead, and that will create many more fatalities, since we know that statistically flying is far safer than driving. I think such a requirement would generated too much in the way of unintended consequences.

  3. I’m against the mandatory car seat and in favour on the non-US approach of allowing the seatbelt loops. As noted, the biggest risk (by far) is turbulence and such restraints are effective in protecting the child from flying about in that situation. They may be worse in an actual crash, but government policy should be (yet so rarely is) based on risk-weighted probability and I’m certain that would suggest that the reduction in turbulence injuries would far outweigh the downside of worse crash results.

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