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ON THE SPOT: CATHARINE HAMM

The littlest fliers

March 01, 2009|CATHARINE HAMM

Question: I have a question about the seat belt regulations for infants, or lap children. I have been on European airlines and U.S. airlines and received completely opposite instructions on how I should seat belt my son for takeoffs and landings. Some airlines insist that I use a lap belt that attaches to my own seat belt. Other airlines insist that I not use anything, not even put my own seat belt around my son. What are the regulations and what's safest for my child?

Candy Berenguer

Santa Clara, Calif.

Answer: Trying to sort out the safety regulations for flying kids makes contending with a toddler seem like child's play.

What U.S. carriers and foreign carriers require is not the same thing. What the airlines allow and what is safest for your child are not the same thing. And what's safest for your child and what's financially practical also are not the same thing.

Airlines generally do allow a lap child -- that is, a toddler younger than 2 -- to share a seat with a parent.

In U.S. carriers, "the adult must have the seat belt around his/her waist and hold the child in his/her arms," said Ian Gregor, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration.

But European and Australian carriers require a "supplementary loop belt," said Steve Lott, head of corporate communication, North America, for the International Air Transport Assn.

"The loop belt provides an additional seat belt with stitched loops through which the adult seat belt is passed," he said.

So, yes, you can have a lap child. Now the only question is whether you should.

Consider this: Do you really want a kid squirming on your lap for five hours? Let's face it: Airline seats aren't all that comfortable for one, never mind one plus a half.

But, more important, experts say the turbulence and unexpected jostling on a flight can pose a significant danger to your baby.

"It is nearly impossible for an adult to keep a lap child safe by holding onto them during a rough landing, turbulence or an emergency landing," said Margie Leathers, a registered nurse and the manager of the Injury Prevention Program for Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. "The child will be tossed around the cabin or will be in the 'crush zone' between the adult's body and the seat in front."

The solution is to take a deep breath and buy the seat for your child, who then can be put in the proper restraint or carrier. If that sounds financially painful, well, at least you're not Octo Mom Plus Six.

However many kids you have, you know you'd lay down your life for any one of them. For your toddler, that also may mean laying down your credit card for another seat -- just to be safe. In the end, a temporary ouch is always better than an unending heartache.

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Have a travel dilemma? Write to travel@latimes.com

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