Thoughts on Laps and Seats
We fly with carseats mainly for comfort. The kids are more comfortable in them, and because they stay in their seats in the car the precedent has been set and so they stay in their seats on the plane. Because most of our flights are fairly long, and we usually have at least one connection, we even get a seat for the baby. I love my baby, but he sleeps better in his seat than in my lap for 9 hours, especially when I need to be helping out with two other small children.
We have done a couple very short haul flights with young lap babies. I understand not wanting to buy a seat for a 2.5 month old on a 1 hour flight when odds are high that you're going to have no choice but to be holding and nursing the baby the whole time anyway. I really feel horrible for everybody involved though when somebody takes a 23 month old lap child on a long haul flight, and it doesn't go well. I realize that some kids this age will sit quietly on their mother's lap for 10 hours with a stranger trying to sleep or read on either side, but I think that this is more than exception than the rule.
That said, after having watched every episode of Air Crash Investigation I feel better with our kids in their carseats. Plane crashes are a total crap shoot. People often ask about the right place to sit, and there is no right place. Sometimes the back is the best, sometimes it's the worst. A million factors play into what ultimately happens in any air disaster. This is what I know though :
- the pilots are wearing 5 point harnesses.
- I would not trust a child to be able to brace for impact.
- I would be better able to brace for impact if I was not holding a child in my lap.
- I could not safely hold a child during really bad turbulence, or if the pilots temporarily lost control of the aircraft and the plane went into something like a dive or spin.
I find it very difficult to fly with carseats and baby carriers at times. We get a different story every time we fly. Same airline, different flight crew... we can still get a different story! We've gotten different stories from the counter staff, the gate staff, and the cabin crew. But, planes do not take off until you comply with the cabin crew. We were on a British Airways flight three years ago and the plane was not taking off until I put on the double seatbelt.
I realize the odds of air disasters are very low, but as near as I can tell, the carseats will either help or do nothing. I can name several dozen episodes of Air Crash Investigation where carseats would definitely have helped, lots where they would have done nothing, and none where they would have hurt the situation.
The Hudson River landing was a landing, not a crash. I'm certain that lap children would be fine, but that whole flight was incredibly lucky. The Turkish Airways incident was a crash. The plane broke into three pieces. Based on reports from friends of a friend who were on that flight, carseats would have probably helped to reduce injury and I'm sure that they wouldn't have hurt anything. I suspect that the injury count in the media for that Turkish Airlines flight is too low. The people I know on the flight were initially classified as having minor injuries only to be diagnosed with more serious injuries (requiring surgery) later.
Unfortunately, safety guidelines don't change until after the fact. Typically, something horrible happens, the NTSB investigates (along with the local authorities, the aircraft manufacturer, etc), and then new requirements are generated based on what would have made a difference in that air disaster. Most flights don't have many babies or small kids though, and they're not looking at how one or two extra people could have survived or been less severely injured, they're looking at how the survival rate could have been improved significantly on this and future flights (or how the disaster could have been avoided entirely)... and even then, the airline industry will often resist the introduction of new safety requirements due to the cost. Because air disasters are rare, airlines are keenly aware that it can be cheaper to pay off injured passengers and the families of the dead on the off chance that something unlikely, but horrible, goes wrong.
With this setup, it's very unlikely that the industry will research and implement what truly is safest for babies and small children. And again, as near as I can tell :
- our carseats may help during an air incident.
- are unlikely to hurt anything.
- the carseats are safer in the cabin with children sitting in them (as opposed to on the tarmac getting sprayed with de-icing fluid, holy crap!).
- and the kids are more comfortable anyway.
So all around, the seats seem like a good idea.