Flight Safety for your Kid

We recently flew with my daughter who was exactly 25-months old and 10.5 kilos in weight. This was her first flight after she turned two and following regulations we purchased a separate seat for her. On the flight home she fell asleep on my lap head facing me. I put my seat belt around her just like the twenty times I’d done when we flew before she had turned two. I expected no trouble since an air hostess had once told me that this is the safest way to hold a young child during take off and landing. So I was surprised when the British Airways steward asked me to wake her up and place her in her own seat – strapping her down with the adult seat belt on her seat.

I was reluctant to do so because my daughter was going to cry the plane down when I woke her up. In addition I wasn’t convinced my daughter would be any safer in her own seat.  Indeed, how could she be safer seated on her own with a single seatbelt around her waist than she was already – strapped to me with my arms acting as secondary restraints. I also didn’t get how a 10.5 kg, 25 month year old is safer seat belted by herself while say a 15 kg, 23 month old is safer seat belted in his parent’s lap. The logic failed me.

So I created quite a stink and only gave in when the steward threatened to delay landing. After we got home I started researching the issue. I found that not only was I wrong to insist my kid remain on my lap, but that that no kid any age should be on a parent’s lap when the plane is not cruising. We’d flown 15 times prior to this flight and I was embarassed that I hadn’t educated myself about this earlier. Last week when 19-month old Sarina Aziz was evicted by Transavia Airlines, I realized I need to share what I’ve learnt so that parents are better informed and can choose to not fly with airlines that have poor policies around flight safety for kids.

Sarina - made to move from the safest child restraint device to the riskiest child restraint device by Transvania!

Sarina Aziz – forced to move from the safest child restraint device to the riskiest child restraint device by Transavia Airlines!

1. Putting a kid in your lap using a belly belt is dangerous, whether the kid is over two or a new born.

[cryout-pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”33%”]In the transport of the lap-held infant secured with a loop belt, the infant acts as an ”energy abhttp://blog.encyclokidia.com/blog/wp-admin/post.php?post=1039&action=editsorption element” for the adult. The loop belt does not provide any safety to the infant. – Study on Child Restraint Systems, TÜV Rheinland[/cryout-pullquote]

A belly belt is a separate contraption made of the same material as a seat belt that attaches to the parent’s belt. It offers no protection to the child, but its use is justified by airlines citing that they keep the child from flying through the cabin on impact. In truth, children are safer loose in the adult’s lap. In fact, during an emergency the air hostess will ask you to lay your baby flat on the ground. During a forward thrust, parents come down on their own child, crushing them. A belly belted child acts as a buffer for the parent – they become human air bags! Instead of you protecting your child, you are tragically using your child to protect yourself. For this reason, the air authorities in Canada, the U.S. and Germany ban these devices. The EU has discussed banning these devices but this issue was confused with requiring a car seat and so this hasn’t happend yet (Transavia is a Dutch airline).

I can only imagine this option exists because airlines can sell more full price tickets and because there’s little push from parents to change regulations – partly because it saves them money, partly because they may not know better. There may also be some lethargy on the subject because the likelihood of a plane crashing is very, very low. However, when you buy a ticket, you agree to the airline’s rules. So if they require a belly belt (like Transavia), you have no way out!! The only option parents of under-twos have is to avoid airlines like Transavia.

2. The safest way for a child of any age to fly is in a car seat.

This means you will always need an extra seat, irrespective of the child’s age. This also means that when Transavia stewards forced the parents of Sarina Aziz to move her from a car seat to a parent’s lap, they moved her from the safest travel position to the most dangerous travel postion! FAA guidelines below provide the best child restraint seat to be used by weight. The only thing Sarina Aziz’s parents could’ve done differently is to use a rear facing child seat instead of the forward facing one they had her in and that would only be relevant if Sarina was under 20 lbs (9 kgs) in weight.

FlyingKids_2

FAA (US) recommended Child Restraint devices for aviation

There are a couple practical issues with car seats. First you have to carry them and bring them back. This can be a real nuisance especially if you have more than one kid weighing under 40 lbs (18 kgs). I found some car seat travel bags on Amazon that could help with this. Conversely, taking a car seat may be advantageous if you plan to drive with the kids in your destination city.

The second issue is airplane seats vary in width. So you need to make sure that the car seat you own will fit in the seat of the airline you are flying with. This information is not too difficult to find. I googled “car seats” and “british airways” and the first link provided all the information I needed – BA Getting Ready to Fly. The bigger problem is that if your carseat doesn’t fit, you have to either change airlines or purchase a new car seat. (BTW, if you click on the BA link you will notice that they do not allow car seats for children under 6-months old nor do they allow rear facing car seats. So if you have a kid under 20 lbs (9 kgs) BA is not the right airline for you.)

3. A CARES harness is the only other FAA approved child safety device.

CARES harness - FAA approved child restrain device

CARES harness – FAA approved child restrain device

It is not as safe as a car seat because it has no side protection and no crotch strap. Kids can easily unattach the seatbelt and even when over 22 lbs (10 kgs) kids have slid down in it. It is allowed in North America, the U.K., Australia, Singapore and New Zealand, but European Union approval is still pending. I wasn’t able to verify this but I think you should still be able to use a CARES harness for over two-year olds, on any European airline, since the CARES harness doesn’t replace the seat belt but adds to it.

The good part about a CARES harness is that they are not bulky and can fit in a purse. They work with most seats, (though aparently not on BA’s first class and business class seats!).  The downside is they only work for kids between 22-44 lbs (10-20 kgs) so you still need a car seat for a kid that weighs less than 22 lbs (10 kgs). Plus they are expensive for the occassional traveler (£64.95), but I’d suspect there would be a good second hand market for the harness once your child outgrows it.

This device was approved in 2006. I don’t understand why most airlines don’t keep them handy instead of the ridiculous belly belt currently enforced.

Update: One of our mum readers informed us that you can rent the CARES harness. Check out eBay for those of in UK. For those in the US I found a website called rentcares.com. This is an excellent option if you do not expect to fly much.

4. NO OTHER item is approved as a flight safey device for children. This includes the following:

  • A vest the child wears that is then attached to the adult’s seatbelt, similar to the “belly belts” described earlier. It is advertised as “meets and exceeds FAA standards” when in truth, there are no FAA standards for them. The small print says that the item is only meant to hold a child during the flight itself, and not during take-off and landing.
  • Rider Safe vests get good reviews for cars. These vests need a shoulder belt or a LATCH hook, neither of which are available on aircraft.
  • Booster seats (including car seats that convert to boosters that are no longer used with the integrated harness). They basically only position the shoulder strap, which airplane seats anyway lack. Also, airplane seats collapse forward for use in an evacuation. For these reasons, only seats with hard backs and internal harnesses are approved for children’s flight safety.

So to summarise, you want to use:

Whichever option works for your child, rules on child restraint devices vary by airline and unfortunately have to be complied with even when outdated. So your only option is to avoid airlines like Transavia and even BA until they get their act straight. I have purchased the CARES harness for my daughter as we don’t drive much as tourists and lugging a car seat around doesn’t make sense for us.

I hope this post helps you to better manage your child’s flight safety. I’ve listed below the sources for this post – if you want to read more on the subject. Please share this with other parents. For sharing on twitter please use #FlyKidsSafe.

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