Nanny State

When a Kid Kicks the Back of Your Seat on a Flight Today, You Might be Saving a Life


As Americans board Thanksgiving flights around the country this afternoon, wary experienced flyers will be on the lookout for the worst case scenario: a toddler who is riding on his mother's lap. Being seated in front of jetsetting kid guarantees hours of the least relaxing shiatsu chair massage ever.

But in an age when car seats feature five- or six-point harnesses similar to those used by NASCAR drivers and fighter pilots, why do airlines continue to let kids bounce around the cabin (and into the back of my damn seat)? Turns out, that policy saves lives:

[The Federal Aviation Authority] maintains that [requiring kids to fly buckled into safety seats] would require families—now accustomed to children under 2 years old flying free if they sit in a parent's lap—to pay for the extra seat. That cost, the F.A.A. surmises, would cause some families to revert to car travel, which is less safe. "Consequently," states the agency in its latest response to the safety board, "entire families would be subject to far higher fatality rates, which would produce a net increase in overall transportation fatalities."

But non-dead families isn't enough for folks who see such issues in terms of equality instead of outcomes:

Not surprisingly, safety seat advocates dismiss this argument as beside the point. Requiring every passenger to be appropriately belted in is "a simple matter of equal protection," said Stephanie M. Tombrello, executive director of SafetyBeltSafe U.S.A., a nonprofit group that focuses on child passenger safety.

More from the Reason archive on flying safely here.