Federal legislation seeks study of infant and child safety on flights

Georgia lawmakers want the study on “lap babies” and other safety issues urged by flight attendants
Experts say the safest place for a child on an airplane is in a safety seat and not on a lap. (Kaspars Grinvalds/Dreamstime/TNS)

Credit: Kaspars Grinvalds

Credit: Kaspars Grinvalds

Experts say the safest place for a child on an airplane is in a safety seat and not on a lap. (Kaspars Grinvalds/Dreamstime/TNS)

Legislation introduced in Congress by Georgia lawmakers seeks a study on child safety in aviation, including child safety seats and infants on flights.

The move comes after the Association of Flight Attendants union called earlier this year for a ban on “lap babies,” or infants seated on an adult’s lap during a flight.

U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, D-Atlanta, introduced the bill in the U.S. House on Monday, saying the research the legislation seeks would be the first comprehensive study of child safety in the domestic aviation industry. U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia, co-sponsored the bill.

Williams said in a written statement that when her son was small, “I appreciated being able to hold him in-flight but I always worried what would happen if we hit turbulence.”

The bill calls for a study of age-appropriate child safety and restraints, as well as evacuation needs for children, including infants, toddlers and older children on flights.

The study would also evaluate the protection of strollers and child seats in aircraft cargo holds, the availability of airport diaper-changing stations and breastfeeding areas, security screening of children with disabilities and other airport policies to protect child safety.

U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., introduced companion legislation in the Senate, saying in a written statement that the measure is intended to “give parents peace of mind.”

Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, called at a Senate hearing in March for a mandate for infants and babies to have their own seats “and be properly restrained during critical phases of flight, just like requirements at all times in a car.”

Nelson’s written testimony said that “in the worst-case scenario of a crash of severe turbulence, it would be effectively impossible for a parent to hold onto their unbelted child.”

The Federal Aviation Administration also recommends against babies being held on laps. “The safest place for your child under the age of two on a U.S. airplane is in an approved child restraint system (CRS) or device, not in your lap,” the FAA says on its website. “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.”

The National Transportation Safety Board in 2021 recommended that the FAA and airlines work to increase the use of child safety seats.

But many airlines allow the option of children under the age of 2 traveling as lap babies, or with their own seat in an FAA-approved child safety seat or harness. For parents, traveling with their baby on a lap means they do not have to pay for a ticket for the baby on domestic flights.