Until your child is 2 years old, airlines will let her fly free as long as you hold her in your lap. We strongly urge you to buy her a ticket, however, so you are assured of having a seat in which to properly restrain her.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recommends that parents of under-2s buy a ticket and use a car seat on the plane. The federal government has been weighing the benefits and disadvantages of requiring this through government regulation.
We realize that this adds to the cost of travel, but it could save your baby from serious injury if the plane encounters sudden turbulence. It makes no sense to us that everything except babies must be secured in an airplane for takeoffs and landings. During turbulence or a crash, it could be impossible for you to hold onto your child.
Some airlines offer discounts up to 50 percent on tickets for children under age 2, so tell them you have a baby when you make your reservation.
The Right Seat for the Right Child
The FAA advises parents to:
- Use a rear-facing child safety seat for babies under 20 pounds.
- Use a forward-facing child safety seat for children between 20 and 40 pounds.
- Use the plane's seat belt if your child weighs more than 40 pounds. Booster seats and harness or vest-type restraints are not permitted by FAA regulation. If you bring a booster seat to use in a car at your destination, you can check it as luggage.
- Make sure your child safety seat is labeled as “certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft.”
The FAA also requires that a child safety seat be placed in a window seat so in an emergency it will not block the escape path for someone sitting next to the child. The seat can't be used in an emergency exit row.
When you haul a car seat through an airport, you'll need all the help you can get. Try to avoid flights on which you have to make a connection. If you can't avoid them, most airlines will provide personnel to help you get to your connecting flight, but you've got to arrange for it in advance. If you schedule flights in off-peak hours, when the planes are less crowded, you'll usually have more time to strap your car seat into the plane seat and stow away your diaper bag and other baby paraphernalia.
Measure your child safety seat to make sure it is no wider than 16 inches. If it's wider, it's unlikely to fit in a coach seat in a plane. Even if the armrests are moved out of the way, a wider seat is unlikely to fit the seat frame properly.
For more information on safe flying, call the FAA's consumer hotline at 800-FAA-Sure (800-322-7873) or visit the Web site www.faa.gov.
In the event of an emergency evacuation, you'll be responsible for both your child and yourself. Pay attention when the flight attendant describes safety features of your plane, noting especially the location of the exits and how to use the floatation devices.
Kids Flying Alone
Many kids are veteran flyers who travel solo. It's common for unaccompanied children to fly to their grandparents for a visit or, in the case of a divorce, spend summers with a parent who lives far away.
If your child will be flying alone, check with your airline for its specific rules about unaccompanied children. In general, airlines don't let children fly alone until they're 5. Unaccompanied children between ages 5 and 7 can fly only on direct flights, but children age 8 or over may take a connecting flight. You may be charged an extra fee for an unaccompanied child in addition to the regular fare ticket price.
You or another responsible adult must stay with your child until he has boarded the plane, and you should remain in the airport until the plane has departed. Another adult must meet your child at the arrival gate. Tell everyone, including the reservations clerk and the gate attendants, that your child is flying alone.
When kids reach age 12, they don't get special assistance, such as help with making a connection, unless you specifically request it when you make your reservation. Be sure your child knows that if flights are delayed or canceled, she should seek help from the airline personnel and never leave the airport with a “helpful” stranger.