Air Travel with an Infant

Q: The airlines have been pushing the purchase of a second ticket so infants may ride in car seats. But I can’t find any statistics on the number of babies injured on airplanes. All I find is a rather flowery and often repeated statement : “The coffee pot is more secure than an infant”. Is this just a scam to sell more tickets?

When a baby is injured, it’s normally the result of a serious accident, and he or she is not the only one. Thus, I don’t know if separate statistics are compiled for infants.

If you want to play the lottery and hold your infant in your lap, well, that’s your call. You’re ability to do so is, in a way, a touching bit of libertarian freedom in an otherwise hyper-regulated environment, and it is very unlikely that something will happen.

But is it safe, inherently? No, in fact it’s extremely dangerous, and it’s tough to swallow that on one hand the FAA demands carry-ons be stowed securely, yet allows human infants to be unrestrained. Their logic says that parents might opt to drive rather than fly if forced to buy an extra seat, and the overall number of deaths would rise through traffic accidents. Instead you are given the option of purchasing that seat.

To the airlines, an infant in a car seat and occupying a cushion is a passenger like anyone else, and does not deserve a free ride. This is a fair argument. It’s been suggested they offer a row of bulkhead-mounted safety seats for infants, available for a smaller fee than a standard ticket. But then you have the matter of unattended infants during takeoffs and landings (liability trouble), and the potential for havoc during an evacuation (passengers rushing to grab their kids).


This Q&A is part of a collection that originally appeared on Salon.com. Patrick Smith, 38, is an erstwhile airline pilot, retired punk rocker and air travel columnist. His book, Ask the Pilot (Riverhead) was voted “Best Travel Book of 2004” by Amazon.com. Patrick has traveled to more than 55 countries and always asks for a window seat. He lives near Boston.