Flight attendants are calling for a controversial policy change to help keep young kids safe on planes: the end of lap baby tickets
Nothing about flying is easy—especially when you have little kids in the mix. One thing that’s given parents a bit of a break (at least, when it comes to the cost of air travel) is that kids small enough to sit on Mom or Dad’s lap can fly free. But now, flight attendants are calling for the end of that loophole, citing safety concerns for their youngest passengers who they say need to have their own seats (and seat belts).
When infants and young toddlers ride on laps in planes, they’re exempt from safety mandates that other travelers have to follow. In other words, when the “fasten seat belt” light comes on, everyone is federally required to comply—except lap babies. Recent incidents of severe turbulence have made flight attendants wonder if this is still OK in our current era of climate change.
“We’ve seen airplanes go through turbulence recently and drop 4,000 feet in a split second,” Sara Nelson, the international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, told the Washington Post. “The G-forces are not something even the most loving mother or father can guard against and hold their child. It’s just physically impossible.”
Nelson’s union is one of the loudest voices calling for a change to the rules. Currently, children under 2 years old are allowed to fly free by riding on a parent’s lap. The union wants all passengers, regardless of their age, to be required to occupy a seat with a safety restraint.
Nelson points to multiple incidents where unrestrained children have been injured or died in plane crashes. As Ben Hoffman, president-elect of the American Academy of Pediatrics, puts it, “The safest possible thing is for everybody to be restrained.”
And while it’s true that plane crashes are very rare in the U.S., that’s not the only reason for concern over unrestrained babies on planes—as climate change alters the jet stream and makes severe weather patterns more common, experts say unpredictable turbulence is becoming more common, even in air that looks clear.
Of course, a change to the rules would put significantly more of a cost burden on families who travel with young kids. Having to pay for a separate ticket for infants might make flying unaffordable for many families. Because of that, some (including Hoffman, the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics) are also calling on airlines to offer lower fares for spaces on planes that can accommodate carriers and car seats.
Currently, Congress is working on a reauthorization bill for the FAA, which would include guidance on plane safety. Flight attendants lobbied for this change in the last reauthorization bill, in 2018, but lawmakers ultimately kept safety rules for lap babies the same. Whether they’ll change the rule this time still remains to be seen.