David Cogswell TRAVEL PULSE
Babies Without Airline Seatbelts
July 7, 2017
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  • It looks like United Airlines didn’t learn much from Dr. Dao. Typically, after being yanked out of his seat, dragged down the aisle and losing his teeth, the doctor was paid a healthy settlement, agreed to silence, and the incident was allowed to gradually fade from memory.

    At least that’s what United hopes, but it doesn’t help when we have constant reminders that the airline’s brutal practices for cramming airplanes to their maximum capacity on every flight are seemingly unchanging, no matter how unreasonable or inhumane the incidents that arise from these policies.

    Very recently, a woman was forced to give up a seat for which she had paid $1,000 for her two-year old son in order to accommodate a standby customer.

    United attributed the incident to an improperly scanned boarding pass, which made the airline think the infant had not boarded so they gave away his seat. The woman was afraid to protest in case she would receive the same kind of treatment as Dr. Dao.

    This is a woman who agreed to pay a huge amount for the seat, yet then was forced to give it up. The airline refunded her money, of course.

    But this is about much more than a passenger giving up her seat. The worst part of the story is that infants on laps in airplanes are not safe. 

    The airline forced this woman to put her baby in mortal danger.

    The danger of flying without a seatbelt is not only for the rare case when an airplane crashes. Airline turbulence can also be deadly.

    Just last May, an Aeroflot flight from Moscow to Bangkok hit severe turbulence. According to a report in View from the Wing, a number of the passengers were not wearing seatbelts at the time, and 19 of them ended up in the hospital at the destination.

    A video posted by a passenger said, “Numerous air pockets one hour before landing led to broken bones, internal and external bleeding. Lots of people from the tail cabin have broken their noses, several people have probably broken their spines. Babies are covered in bruises, people lost consciousness. Thanks that we are still alive.”

    Anyone who has ever experienced a really serious incident of airline turbulence knows that a human being’s strength against the forces resulting from a lurching airplane is something like an ant trying to push your shoe off to prevent you crushing it when you are walking over it.

    The airline child safety issue is a personal pet peeve of William J. McGee, author of Attention All Passengers: The Airlines’ Dangerous Descent — and How to Reclaim Our Skies and the consumer advocate on the airlines for Consumers Union.

    In a Time magazine article, McGee wrote, “Regarding this question, there are no debates on the evidence: the laws of physics have been accepted by experts in the field, and they conclude that unrestrained children face additional risks during turbulence and emergency situations. But untold numbers of parents and caregivers have no idea of the risks — and no matter how much you love your kid and think the safest place for that little one is in your arms, unless your name is Clark Kent, you can’t argue with g-forces. Period.”

    McGee presided over a congressional subcommittee of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Future of Aviation Advisory Committee, which gathered together leading experts in the field.

    All agreed that the FAA should not allow children to fly without restraints.

    After a 1989 crash in Sioux City, Iowa during which an unrestrained baby was killed, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended to the FAA that it ban the practice of allowing children to fly on parents’ laps.

    But the FAA never took the recommendation.

    The stated reason, according to McGee, was the FAA’s “diversion theory,” which is that “if parents are forced to purchase airline seats for kids under age 2, some families will elect to drive instead, and statistically that’s more dangerous.”

    The FAA’s guidelines say, “The safest place for your child on an airplane is in a government-approved child safety restraint system or device, not on your lap … You aren’t capable of holding your child securely, especially during unexpected turbulence.”

    Yet, it does not outright ban the practice.

    The FAA justifies its reluctance to issue a ban by saying the highways are more dangerous than the airways. The airline, on the other hand, is more concerned with the lost revenue of parents opting to drive to Disney World rather than taking a flight.

    As ABC News reported, United’s manual does not pass on the danger warning from the FAA, but only says that “children under the age of 2 are allowed to travel on an adult’s lap.”

    As a result, most parents assume that the practice is safe because “If it wasn’t the FAA would not allow it.” Unfortunately, that is not the case.

    By the FAA’s own admission it is not safe. And yet it is allowed.

    It is one thing to give parents the “freedom” to put their children in mortal danger. But if this necessary regulation is to be waived, it is necessary for parents to be thoroughly informed of the danger.

    This is not presently happening.