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Taking the Kids

Should Babies Be in Safety Seats?

April 05, 1998|EILEEN OGINTZ

Noelle Newman's first-class ticket was no protection against the other well-heeled passengers' ire. In no uncertain terms, the California financial consultant was asked to find a seat in the back of the plane.

Peg Rosen, already flying coach, had to endure icy stares from her fellow passengers for the duration of her hours-long flight from the Dominican Republic.

"It made me weep," said Rosen, a New York magazine editor.

What could these two polite, professional women possibly have done to provoke such hostility? They were flying with babies--twins in Newman's case. As adorable as these children were, they also were noisy and fidgety.

Rosen's son cried during most of the flight from a painful diaper rash, despite his parents' best efforts to keep him comfortable. "We were trying so hard and everyone was looking at us like, 'What's wrong with you? Why can't you control this child?' " Rosen said.

"They just don't like small kids on planes, especially in first class," said Newman, who has made the trek to the back of the plane on more than one flight.

With hundreds of thousands of parents flying with their little darlings, major airlines now are trying to make it easier--and safer--by offering parents half-price seats on domestic flights (substantially discounted children's fares also are available on overseas flights), so that babies can fly strapped securely in car safety seats.

But even though these discounts have been available for nearly a year, relatively few parents are buying them.

"I just don't think there's a great awareness of the discount out there," said David Castelveter, a spokesman for US Airways.

American Airlines spokesman Tim Smith adds that less than 25% of parents flying American with infants have bought the discounted seats since the airline became the first to offer the program.

This despite the fact that experts agree children are safer restrained, just as they are in cars. The Federal Aviation Administration found that five young children killed in plane crashes in the past two decades would have survived had they been restrained. Many others have been hurt when unexpected turbulence strikes.

Besides safety, there's the comfort issue. "Kids are used to sitting still or sleeping in their car seat," explains Carolyn Kolbaba, a spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics and a suburban Chicago mom of two.

The Academy of Pediatrics endorses the use of safety seats on planes, as does the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security: "The Commission believes that it is inappropriate for infants to be afforded a lesser degree of protection."

The FAA is seeking public comment on a proposed rule that would require parents to use safety seats on board planes for children under 2. Would you choose not to fly if you had to buy a ticket for your baby? (Send letters to the FAA, Office of Chief Counsel, Docket No. 29145, Room 915G, 800 Independence Ave. S.W., Washington, DC 20591. E-mail your comments to

Plenty of inexpensive, gaily wrapped presents help, too, offers San Franciscan Sally Geisse, who flies to Europe with her three children every summer to visit her husband's family.

Rebecca Katz-White, a Long Island, N.Y., attorney, says she's constantly replenishing the "surprises" she stashes in the orange backpack she keeps for travel with her two young children.

"The kids look forward to the flight because they see the backpack and they know they'll get a special treat," she explains.

Los Angeles mom Julie Mazur, meanwhile, says there's only one way to fly with a baby:

"More than one adult per child!"

Taking the Kids appears the first and third Sundays of the month.

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