If the world cared more for its most precious cargo, every infant flying on an airplane would be strapped into a safety seat rather than riding on the lap of a parent. But until now, parents on domestic flights have been given the choice of paying an adult fare to ensure their baby's safety or gambling that an adjacent seat will be available for free. Lose the gamble and you must hold the baby on your lap.

Too often, parents select "free" as the more attractive alternative.

On the other hand, for most airlines, guaranteeing a free seat for babies would interfere with bottom-line realities.

Now, thanks to American Airlines, it is only half as expensive as it had been to buy another ticket for the baby. Not to be outdone, the airline's major competitors quickly followed.

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Over the years, "lap babies" have been injured when tossed about in turbulence. In one recent incident, for example, an unbuckled child was thrown upward and pinned to the overhead light fixture. There have been harrowing stories and film clips of crash survivors searching for infants torn from their arms. As a result, flight attendants have been pushing for wider use of safety seats.

The Federal Aviation Administration launched a campaign, "Turbulence Happens," last December, touting the seats. But it stopped short of requiring parents to purchase a separate ticket for each child, fearing that the cost would drive families away from air travel. Parents still will have the option of placing their infants in an empty seat for free, if space is available. The half-price safety-seat fare might tempt more parents to pay a little more for their vacation to protect their babies.

The half-price solution isn't entirely altruistic. American expects it will produce a modest increase in revenues. As flights become more crowded, however, the compromise will become more important.

The solution is not ideal, but it's a modest break for travelers and yet another step in improving safety in the skies.

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