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