Kid Car Seats aboard Aircraft?

December 1, 2010 by Bruce Landsberg

Next week the NTSB will hold hearings on a pending recommendation that car seats be required on board aircraft.

Some observations:

Airlines —

1. Requiring children in car seats is a great idea when the aircraft is full because then Mom doesn’t have to hold a squirming, squalling child for four hours. The kid is happier too.

2. From a safety perspective, there might be some minor added benefit in a few crashes involving a moderately sudden stop.  The benefit in crashes that terminate on mountainsides, short of the runway after an IFR approach or in a fireball is far more limited.

3.  Passengers having to make a quick exit that require climbing over a car seat in an emergency could be significantly slowed down. Should  any rule prescribe that car seats can only be placed by windows or the center seat of wide-bodies with dual aisles?

4. Economics – requiring families to pay for an extra seat may force more to drive where the risk of fatality in a car crash is much higher than in airline flight even without the seat. The airlines probably don’t want to give up that revenue either. Net – more lives are lost but not in airplanes.

General Aviation – –

1.  Since the interior of GA aircraft are similar, but not identical, to cars – car seats are helpful for securing children too small to comfortably and safely fit under a seat belt.

2. In four passenger aircraft you won’t be able to wedge another Munchkin in and will have to upgrade to a larger flying machine. Sorry,  but the tool has to fit the trip or the trip has to be modified to fit the tool.

3. For those flying volunteer charity flights – we strongly encourage the use of car seats . In a survivable crash, they could make all the difference and we’ve seen one clear instance of that. Other losses are harder to pin down due to how the accident data is collected, but I’m confident that there have been other losses.

Turbulence is also a big consideration regardless of aircraft type and it makes sense to have the right kind of restraint when moderate or the occasional severe jolt comes along. A babe- in-arms is quite vulnerable under those circumstances.

As for another good reason why you might want to secure your toddler – Check out ASI’s Toddler Overboard Real Pilot Story.

Should car seats be required on Part 91 flights (non-charitable flights) for children under the age of two? Take the Poll.

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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  • Jenn Price

    Will FAA-approved aircraft harness restraints continue to be allowed in lieu of carseats for toddlers flying commercially?

  • Bruce Landsberg


    Great question and recommend everyone look at the link. I can’t answer as to whether these would suffice for any future FAA requirements on airliners but they seem to make a lot of sense for GA – better than a car seat, lighter and less bulky.

    Has anyone used them in a GA aircraft?

  • Louise Stoll

    You only talk about car seats …..they are obsolete in airplanes already for any children old enough to sit up – the CARES child aviation restraint,modeled on a flight attendant restraint, keeps the kids as safe as a car seat would, permits the child to be in any seat in the airplane row without blocking egress of other passengers – and should be handed out to little passengers just like an extender belt is to very big ones. Catch up with the times!!!!!

  • Gerard

    This is a very good topic and I am glad you brought it up.

    As with automobile restraints I do not think a one size fits all approach would work. The restraint needs to fit the need of the child and the aircraft. I think on airlines the CRS or CARES is a great solution for toddlers and kids under 50 pounds and it would be great if airlines would consistently provide these. However, I think if you still need to use a rear facing infant carrier/seat in your car you need to do the same on both airline and GA aircraft. I think restraints are a pretty good idea and I would use one for my young children regardless, but I also think the case can be made that requiring them could be burdensome and pointless in a catastrophic crash. I think they best serve to reduce the chance of injury during turbulent flight, but I am not sure if the statistic support making them mandatory.

    Now when it comes to GA, I think a car seat or other appropriate restraint should be used at all times until the child is large enough to no longer be required to use a restraint in an automobile. The child could clearly benefit from a child specific restraint in the type of accidents that commonly occur with GA aircraft. I would even argue that a more traditional style car seat may even offer a greater amount of protection to the child than a simple harness restraint. I would support mandatory use of a child restraint on GA aircraft.

  • Richard Lawrence

    Do you have a link where we can submit comments to NTSB?

  • Robert Booth

    Is the NTSB looking for a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist? How many children have been killed in airline accidents in which their parents survived?
    Putting the children in cars increases the chance that they will die.

    Neither of these arguments apply to general aviation, which is already more dangerous than cars. Some sort of restraint for children should be in cars.

  • Robert Booth

    I meant to say “in general aviation planes.”

  • John Rivas

    I have been flying in family airplanes since Dad got his license when I was about six years old. With no car seat belts or car seats back then I’m totally amazed that I’ve reached the ago of almost 66 with all of my limbs attached. I flew on several long trips sitting in a custom small seat in the baggage compartment of a C140.

    We first took our 2 children, who are in their 30’s now, flying in our plane when they were 3 weeks old. The worst incidence we had was when our 3 year old son threw up in the back seat – what a mess.

    I feel that if people want to use some sort of car seat – fine, but if we had ever had any kind of serious accident, I doubt that a car seat would have made any difference. I’ve always been more concerned about accident when driving to and from the airport than in the relative solitude of being in the air. Put me down as opposed to another governmental program to “help” us.

  • Rene

    We have been flying consistently with out kids from the time they were babies, and were able to get 2 car seats into the back of our 1972 Cherokee 180. IT did take a little bit of searching to find the right seats, but once we did those stayed in the plane until the kids grew up enough to transition to different seats. Our daughter who is now 9 still prefers to use her booster seat so she can get a better view.

    We did try this in a 172 once and the seats would not fit at the same time, so we chose not to fly.

  • Walt C.

    Are car booster seats safe and legal for part 91 (noncommercial)? I have a 6 year old grandson that is about 50 lbs. The seat belt in the back seat of the Cessna 172 SP I fly crosses his belly a bit too high, in my opinion Plus, I think he would be able to see outside better with the little bit of height the booster seat provides.

    The reason I ask, is that I thought I saw in FAR-AIM that car booster seats have to be FAA-approved.


  • Lewis Thomas

    These discussions provide great information to help parents decide how best to take care of their children. But the question posed is whether or not certain restraints should be required? Absolutely NOT! As a father, I trust my wife and myself to take care of our four children far more than I trust bureaucrats to tell me what to do with my children.

  • Doug Milam

    We can make our own decisions about risk. There is one piece of information that should not be lost in the debate, however. Rarely can an adult successfully restrain a child in their arms through the deceleration of impact. I first became aware of this while on the pediatric surgical service at a major trauma center. A four place single made a successful off field landing with a sudden stop at the end. Both parents walked away from the crash. The child had a palpable crack through the length of his skull and didn’t fare well. Whether it is a seat, a booster, or a belt, the kids are much less likely to become injured if they are attached to the airframe.

  • Kevin English

    Government should not mandate. However My wife and chose to put our infant/Now toddler in her car seat because it secured her better, gave her a better view and was the same familiar seat she uses in the car. Commercial is an entirely different question.

  • Keith Mendoza

    At the end of the day, it’s the parents who are responsible with their children. Requiring car seats on GA and commercial airlines won’t really matter if the parents don’t want their kids in the seat. Parents already ignore car seat laws as it is, do you actually expect them to follow car seat laws in GA aircraft? In a commercial airliner the cabin crew can say bring a car seat or you’re not getting on that plane. Even in charter flight the flight crew can require it. More importantly, in GA crashes, will the car seat really help? Ask a mechanical engineer and they would agree that a person’s survivability is directly related to how well can the passenger be contained inside the vehicle and how well can the vehicle remain as intact as possible.

  • http://AirSafetyInstitute Brad Kressin

    I think were all asking the wrong question. For me, and I think for most parents, the question is when on earth are manufacturers going to provide LATCH attach points in the GA aircraft so our same kids who ride in LATCH based car seats every day will have the same safety, support, and comfort they have in the car applied to the airplane. To me this is negligence on the part of the mfg and me. If Cirrus can do it, then I’ll fly a Cirrus and if the others don’t want to compete in the market, fine.


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