Why I’ll always buy an extra seat

Jun 8, 2015

It’s the year 2085. You’re about to climb into the Family Truckster for a vacation. The drive is 8 hours, and your Truckster is one of the new models that goes fast. Very fast. Like 300 miles an hour fast. Your family consists of two parents and a one-year-old. Your spouse has a lot of experience driving the speedy car, and you and your son have ridden in it plenty of times.

Due to advances in technology, driving in 2085 is significantly safer than it was back in 2015, but every so often, there are storms or driver errors, and people get killed. But not many.

Also, let’s pretend that due to extreme politics taking over the U.S. government, there are no seatbelt or child restraint laws anymore. You decide and deal with the consequences.

So—back to loading the car. Knowing what you know about the situation, would you put your baby in a car seat, or just hold them on your lap?

Sounds ridiculous, right? You would always, always put your baby in a car seat. Especially at speeds of 300mph. Even if driving gets insanely safe, it’s hard to fathom a time when safety restraints aren’t a must for the well-being and survival of our babies.

Now let me turn the tables a bit.

It’s 2015. You’re booking an airline ticket for your family—mom, dad, baby—and you buy two seats. Then you call the airline and notify them you’ll have an “infant in arms,” intending to hold your baby on your lap during the flight.

See what I did there?

Are you making the connection?

Our society demands, and our government mandates, that babies be in approved child safety seats in cars. They start rear-facing, then turn forward-facing (though research shows we should be waiting to turn them, because their vertebrae are not solid enough yet). We mandate safety for babies in cars, despite the fact that most automobile travel maxes out around 75mph or so.

Yet we commonly step onto an airplane — a tin can that flies through the sky at over 500 miles per hour — and put our babies on our laps.

Why? Because it saves a few bucks.

Maybe you’re thinking that you can just put baby in a carrier strapped to your chest. Boom, problem solved. Not really. Regulations from the FAA do not allow babies to be in a carrier during takeoff and landing (the most dangerous times in a flight). So you will have to put them on your lap or on the floor. When you’re at cruising altitude, wearing your baby on your front will turn them into your personal airbag in case of a crash or sudden, severe turbulence. And baby head versus tray table = not a good combination.

I never thought much about flying “infant in arms.” In fact, we did this when we took Peanut to Mexico two years ago; she was just 11 months old.

Then one day I turned on the radio to an interview with Jan Lohr, a flight attendant from United Airlines Flight 232, which crashed near Sioux City, Iowa in 1989.

This particular crash was the result of an engine failure that rendered the plane’s systems useless. The pilots had to use the two remaining engines to steer the plane and lower its altitude. But without flaps, they couldn’t slow it down, and had to land at a frighteningly high speed.

The flight attendants prepared passengers for a crash landing. Four passengers on the flight were holding infants in their lap. One mother was distraught when she was told, by Jan Lohr, to put her baby on the floor in front of her seat. Lohr wasn’t going rogue; the FAA regulations clearly stated that infants in arms had to be placed on the floor in the event of an emergency landing. The FAA knew—quite correctly—that human arms are insufficient to hold onto a child in high G-force situations.

(Tiny science lesson: a 17-pound baby seems like no big thing to hang onto. Now imagine a 51-pound baby. That’s how much your 17-pounder will weigh when 3Gs of force is being applied. Not so easy anymore.

Here’s the bad news: 3Gs is not even close to what will actually occur in a crash. A “survivable” crash (striking at a relatively low angle, versus diving toward the earth like a javelin) will inflict about 12Gs of force on the people in the front third of the plane, 8Gs on the middle passengers, and just 6Gs on the folks in the back [yes, the back is the best place to be if you would like to survive a crash].)

Back to Flight 232, Sioux City, and Jan Lohr.

The plane landed, cartwheeled, broke apart, and caught fire. Dazed survivors wandered out of the cornfields. That same mother confronted Lohr on the tarmac. She was hysterical. “You told me to put my baby on the floor AND NOW HE’S GONE,” she sobbed.

He was gone. Killed in the crash. Two of the four mothers carrying infants couldn’t find their babies after impact.

I’ll pause a moment to let that sink in.

If that story alone isn’t enough to convince you not to fly infant in arms, nothing will.

The second mother was luckier. The pilot of Flight 232 later wrote, “One of the survivors started climbing out of the aircraft and heard a baby crying; he went back inside, found the baby in an overhead bin where she had been tossed [during the crash], took her out of the aircraft and brought her to her family that had been driven out by the thick smoke.”1

Jan Lohr testified at an NTSB hearing after the crash of Flight 232. She said, “We are required to secure all items from carry-on bags to galley items, including coffee pots, to comply with regulations aimed at ensuring safety onboard the aircraft. We do this because we are trained that in an emergency loose items can become missiles flying through the cabin. A lap child is one of those ‘loose items’ in the cabin that may not only suffer serious injury themselves but also injure others.”2

Lohr has lobbied in Washington ever since, trying to convince the FAA to heed the recommendation made by the NTSB in the Flight 232 crash report: require babies to have a seat with an approved restraint system (basically, a car seat for babies up to 22 pounds, or an FAA-approved harness for 22 to 44 pounds).

For us, infant in arms isn’t even a possibility anymore. But we also know how tempting it is to save money on a flight. For that reason, we’ll probably avoid air travel until Squeak is 2 years old. No air travel equals no temptation to save moolah. We won’t choose to drive instead of fly—we just won’t go. It’s a small “price” to pay, in my view.

Nothing is more important than the safety of my children—nothing. My eyes have been opened to the incredible danger posed by flying with an infant in arms.

Hopefully yours have, too.



Here’s how to travel with a carseat (on top of everything else)

It seems overwhelming, but trust me, you can do this. Get tips and tricks from my other post, Air Travel with Babies & Toddlers: Car Seats and the CARES Harness.

TL;DR version: For a small kiddo, a Cosco Scenera carseat that’s light as hell and easy to transport, plus a GoGo Babyz Mini carseat caddy which will make changing planes and getting to/from your plane a BREEZE. For a bigger kiddo, a CARES harness for a kiddo between 22 and 44 lb. (~10-20 kg) in weight, less than 40 inches (~101 cm) tall that’s capable of sitting upright and forward facing. Guess what? You can also rent a CARES harness for about $13, but if you travel often, it’s worth it to buy your own.


Postscript — Car Seats for the Littles, a great car safety website, has a great article about air travel. Here’s a small excerpt that I thought was worth sharing:

Most parents, when asked, will say that a car seat won’t save their child if the plane drops out of the sky. I will concede that fact; two hundred dollars of plastic and harness will not likely help at the stop of a six-mile vertical drop. However, crashes from cruising altitudes are remarkably rare, thank goodness. Far more likely are runway emergencies or turbulence during flight.

Runway emergencies are just like car crashes, except at 150 mph and not 30 mph. And most parents would pale at the thought of having their child on their laps going to the store at 30 mph, but think nothing of having their child on their lap on the plane at 150 mph.

At 150 mph your child would be your airbag, or they would go flying inside the cabin. A 20 pound child in a 150 mph crash would have 3,000 pounds of force to them. That’s enough to be fatal to themselves, and whomever they impact.

Even if baby is fine after being a projectile, and no one has been injured, if you have ten seconds to get off the plane due to toxic gasses or smoke filling the cabin, you’ll want your baby to be next to you to easily go. An infant can be six rows up and under the seats and easily overlooked during an emergency evacuation. If your child is next to you in a car seat, they’ll still be there after the crash. Remove baby and go.

Read more on this subject here, here, and here. And what the FAA says here.


Photo: Modified, GarrettZiegler/flickr. This post contains affiliate links.

About Me

Hiya! I'm Lydia. I live in Iowa with my husband and two children, both the result of iVF. I started this blog in 2011, so everything here's a wee bit... old. I don't do a ton of writing anymore... but I'm leaving the blog up, in case it's helpful for those who stumble across it.

Skip to the iVF

If you're going through infertility and want to see our journey, start in June 2011 (first two cycles) or January 2014 (third cycle). Hopefully reading about our rollercoaster with assisted reproduction brings you a little hope, and more than a few giggles. (Keep in mind that this information is over a decade old in most cases; please don't take anything you read here as medical advice. Consult your doctor for facts.)

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  1. I eye rolled and stopped reading at “nutso libertarians”.

    • She’s just telling the truth. Omg I said the word you libs don’t believe in… Truth…

      This is a great read and it made me giggle with that part 🙂

    • I stopped reading at “nutso libertarians,” too. Of course, I have a really small penis and am not very smart. Which is why I vote libertarian. Dur.

    • hahaha good you took the time to comment 😉

  2. I saw the link to this on Life With Levi’s facebook page, that is where I saw it shared!
    We travelled to South Africa with our daughter in arms a year ago, this was eye opening!

    • Thanks Debbie, I’m glad you found it helpful. 🙂

  3. Saw this posted on Life with Levi’s FB.

    • Thanks Samantha! 🙂

  4. I want to acknowledge the sentiment here: life is incredibly valuable, and what happened to those two infants is tragic. I can’t imagine what their parents went through.

    I also totally understand the idea that if there’s a small price to pay for increased safety, then by all means we should pay it. In this case, if you fly a couple times a year this would translate into a few hundred extra dollars a year for a couple years. That’s a little steep but tolerable.

    But danger in airline flights isn’t an isolated instance: the underlying logic here is that in activities that have a potential for harm, we should maximize protection or abstain altogether. There needs to be some threshold at which that is true. In this case, it’s 2 deaths in 25 years among billions of airline passengers a year.

    By the same logic, we should never let our kids ride bikes period or insist on all children wearing not only helmets but full body bubble wrap costumes – it is way more dangerous to ride a bike.

    I’m not trying to be glib, I’m just saying applying this logic uniformly quickly turns into a snowball and before long we’re all buried under thousands of “extra bucks.” Personally and from a policy perspective some of these things make sense; I’m not sure if this instance passes the test.

    • Sorry, that’s not true. This post only references two deaths but there have been more, and many more injuries. There have been instances where the only person injured on the flight was the unrestrained baby.

    • I agree with Seth. Using your logic, a cat has four legs, and a table has four legs, so therefore all cats are tables.


  5. I agree with your point about airline safety and the hypocrisy of the FAA and airlines that acknowledge and recommend in their own policies that it is safer for children under 2 to fly in a FAA approved car seat. However, I think you dimished your audience and your ability to reach people when you started name calling. Not all libertarians feel that lap children are a good idea, and they aren’t the only group of people that think the laws of physics don’t apply to their child until the age of two. Singling out one group of people for something so beyond that seems a little single minded.

    • All that good stuff up there, and you fixated on the word ‘nutso’? You definitely have missed the point, which is sad. And I refuse to back down on the idea that people who would abolish all seatbelt laws are indeed nuts. #sorrynotsorry

      • Yes Lydia many of us took notice that you called libertarians nutso. Just because you don’t believe, agree with, or understand our point of view, doesn’t mean you have to insult us. This isn’t even a political article, so why the need to mention libertarians at all? It takes away from your whole article. At a certain point if multiple people are criticising your article for that sentence, maybe you should consider the fact that you made an editing error and deletion is an option. Or you can dig in your heels and offend a passionate group of people for no good reason.

        • Okay, so am I to believe that you think abolishing all child restraint laws in cars is NOT nuts?

          It’s pretty clear — to me at least — that I was referring to *people who get rid of child restraint laws* as nutso, and *not all libertarians.*

        • I agree with elizabeth: don’t offend passionate people. I mean, they’re usually passionate because they’re in the right, not latching on to a moronic belief in something.

          It’s why I’ve joined ISIS.

  6. The chances of crashing are radically small. If you do crash, you and your child will likely die whether your child has her own seat or not. The chances that you crash and your kid having her own seat saved her life are so radically small that it doesn’t justify the extra cost. Your kid is much more likely to die from a regular car crash in a regular car seat. So if you’re THAT worried about your kid’s safety, you should never put them in a car at all. But you do (and you should) so you’re not taking a risk any worse than you already do every day by just holding them in your lap on the plane. So just hold your kid in your lap on the plane and don’t worry about these mom-blog “don’t your care about your baby?” scare tactics.

    • It’s not just about crashing (which, by the way, does not always mean assured death, as my post clearly explains). It’s also about unexplained turbulence, which happens every day, and you don’t hear about the babies with TBIs from hitting the top of the cabin.

      And as stated, cars may go around 75mph, but planes go 500mph. I don’t care about the chances of crashing being radically small. I obviously fully understand the odds are slim. But unrestrained babies are still unsafe. Bar none. Period. End of story.

      If this information scares people, good. It should. Folks who have been in plane crashes and the FAA/NTSB all think they should know it, and should be scared. They’re just too cowardly to mandate it.

      • If you want to exercise this same degree of caution consistently, then here’s a list of things you should never let your kid do, since the probability that they die or are severely harmed by these activities is higher (or much higher) than the probability that they die or sustain a TBI because their parent carried them in arms in a plane.

        – Ride a bike (threat: hit by car, run into tree, fall off and hit head, etc.)
        – Ride in a vehicle that isn’t a tank (threat: die or severely injured in accident)
        – Go to a sleepover with friends (threat: sexual assault)
        – Go to a family reunion (threat: sexual assault)
        – Play a sport (threat: overheating, brain injury, paralysis, etc.)
        – Go to a pool party (threat: drowning)
        – Go hunting (threat: hunting accident)
        – Be in a house with electricity (threat: electrocution)
        – Be in a house with a TV (threat: TV falls on them while playing)
        – Be in a house with plastic bags (threat: suffocation)
        – Be in a house with stairs (threat: falling down stairs and dying or being severely injured)

        I’ll let you imagine the thousands of other activities that could go on this list. Protecting one’s kid is important. But a parent who consistently exercises the degree of caution you recommend is not a good parent. Such a parent would be an absolute nightmare.

  7. Obviously car seats are the way to go in a car. The reason you can hold your infant in your arms on an airplane is because it’s SAFE! Flying is by far safer than driving duh!

    • The problem is people *think* it’s safe. If it were safe to be unrestrained, all the adults wouldn’t need to wear seatbelts either. It’s not safe to have your laptop out during take off & landing either, and we are told to stow them.
      I’m sure the parent of an injured lap baby would say, ‘Why didn’t anyone tell us this is NOT safe?’
      If you are prepared to take the risk, knowing what you know now, then take the risk, but don’t tell parents something is safe when there is a risk involved.

  8. Like others, I feel the need to add some context here. Chances of being on a flight with a fatality is 1 in 10 MILLION for flights with more than 10 passengers. Of these flights with fatalities, recent survival rates are 24% for remaining passengers. I risk my child’s life more than that every day just by leaving my house. I’m all for safety and raising awareness, but this feels more like fear mongering.

    • Very few people truly understand the fact that in a crash, a survivable one, they will not be able to hold onto their child, even if they have Herculean strength and the best of intentions. Spreading that information is not fear mongering. It’s education. The great thing about being human is free will. You can choose to do with this info whatever you please. I’ve no motivation to propagate fear. There’s nothing in it for me personally — I don’t work for a car seat company or the airlines. I just hope this information leads to one fewer baby with a head injury from turbulence, or one fewer infant fatality in a survivable crash.

      • Who says people don’t understand that? When I fly with my lap child (gasp!), I know 100% that if there’s a crash, I cannot protect her… Just like I cannot protect my child seated next to me. So why would I do something so unsafe? Because air travel is extremely safe!!! Airplanes and cars are apples and oranges. The comparisons you have drawn are exactly fear mongering. I’m not arguing the crash situation, I’m arguing that to present it in this way leads people to believe that this is a real danger. And it’s not. 1 in 10 million is not real danger. So many other normal life things present much higher risks… And I bet you still do them!

        • When I look at Facebook and see the people reposting my article, it’s often accompanied by the words, “Wow, I had no idea” and “I never thought of it this way.” I would say those are the words of people who didn’t know.

  9. Using one random crash example from 1989 to prove a point? The likelihood of actually being in a plane crash is sooo minimal, the focus should be on infant safety during air turbulence. And where are these statistics coming from that claim different areas of the plane experience less g force during a crash? It all depends on the crash, there’s no such thing as a safer seat for surving a crash! This article is not based on facts at all and people shouldn’t be so quick to believe random opinions presented as real information. Comparing the need for a car seat in an airplane vs a car is absurd. Most likely if the plane crashes, that car seat isn’t going to save anyone.
    So yeah, go ahead and avoid all those hundreds of plane crashes that happen everyday and drive in your safe vehicles on the road with imbeciles instead! *dumb*
    Airplanes are the SAFEST way to travel if you actually check the statistics… And the FAA is a lot smarter than random moms with their opinions on the matter.

  10. Nutso Libertarians taking over the U.S. Government? What have you been smoking, I need some of that.

    If you want to do justice to your cause, stay away from the ad hominems. Name calling is so incredibly childish.

    • You are entitled to your opinion. That’s liberty, right? 🙂

  11. You could just talk directly to me, since I am the one moderating the comments. Third person isn’t necessary.

    This post isn’t about mommy shaming. It’s about sharing information most people aren’t even aware of. If you choose to make a different decision based on this information, fine by me.