On kids on planes

Probably not the debate that you thought the title might suggest. I think I did that back in 2009 in the subtly entitled post ‘Why Does Our Society Hate Children?‘.

No, this has nothing to do with whether kids should be allowed to aurally terrorise innocent passengers travel on flights, but rather keeping them safe while they are up there.

There’s an interesting article here from the Washington Post about how best to keep babies safe on flights. The basic problem is that in episodes of turbulence or in the event of a crash, parents’ loving arms simply aren’t strong enough to hold onto their child:

Your arms aren’t capable of holding your in-lap child securely, especially during unexpected turbulence, which is the number one cause of pediatric injuries on an airplane.


And in the event of a crash, the supplementary belt seems to be there more for show than for actual function:

During dynamic testing, the forward flailing of the adult and the child resulted in severe body impacts against the forward seat.

Beautifully put. The use of the word “flailing” is particularly descriptive. Given the proximity of the forward seat in most economy flights, I’d guess that the flailing in question would be pretty brief.

So if we’re going to keep babies safe on planes, we need to find another way. And that other way is: by making them having their own seat.
Yep. The safest place for a small child is in its own seat.
So problem solved, right? No, not at all. In fact, additional problem created.

Because having to pay for an extra seat will persuade/force some families to choose a different mode of transport. Probably not for long haul stuff, but certainly for shorter journeys. And that alternative is often car, and car is much more dangerous than plane.

In fact, a 2003 study showed that “if as few as 5 to 10 percent of travelers hit the road instead of flying, the number of infant deaths caused by car accidents would probably exceed the number of fatalities averted by requiring child restraints on planes”.

At the end of the day, there doesn’t seem to be consensus about any foolproof way forward. Although there does seem to be some sort of unwritten agreement about using strikingly descriptive language when referring to potentially unfortunate scenarios for small children while they are on board a plane.
Like when putting your baby in a harness/carrier against your chest:

Hoffman warns that the carrier is not foolproof, especially during severe turbulence. “The child can slip out of it because of all of that force. A plane that falls 4,000 feet in seconds — that’s like being shot out of a cannon.”