When a United Airlines flight from Denver, Colorado to Billings, Montana encountered severe turbulence this week injuring five passengers, an infant flew out of a parent’s arms and landed in another seat. Though the infant fortunately did not appear injured, the flight incident is but another reminder of the dangers inherent in children under the age of 2 flying without seats and age-appropriate restraints by sitting on a parent’s lap.
As accident investigations performed by the National Transportation Safety Board concluded, children who died in survivable plane crashes likely would have survived if they had been seated in infant seats with proper restraints. The Federal Aviation Administration and airlines such as United Airlines have nonetheless maintained an infant seat exception permitting children less than 2 years of age to fly unrestrained or ride on a parent’s lap.
I, along with retired flight attendant Jan Brown and attorney Lindsey A. Seeskin (Epstein) published an article concerning the infant seat exception and the need to provide babies with the protection of a safe seat and proper restraints during air travel.
The FAA and the NTSB both recommend the use of child safety seats on airplanes. However, the FAA has not made the recommendation a requirement even though they are aware of the danger facing unrestrained infants. The NTSB emphasizes every child under the age of 2 should be restrained in a separate seat position with an approved child restraint system during takeoff and landing and during periods of turbulence. The need for a child safety seat mandate was on the NTSB Most Wanted List for 15 years, ending only in 2005 when it was removed for unspecified reasons. The FAA has the authority to make such a regulation but has declined to do so, choosing instead to focus on improving communication to parents to encourage them to purchase seats for their infants.
The FAA justifies the infant seat exception by arguing the additional cost of buying a seat for an infant will cause parents to drive, rather than fly, and the infant would be exposed to a greater risk of harm posed by car travel. However, an NTSB follow-up study determined there was no increase in infant deaths in car accidents during periods of decreased air travel.
Airlines often allow children less than 2 years of age to fly for free, if they ride in a parent’s lap. However, this is just a financial incentive for parents to place their children in danger. Some parents may even believe that having a child ride on their laps is safe, simply because if it weren’t safe, it would be outlawed. The absence of laws prohibiting the practice may cause cautious parents to make unsafe choices for their children. The infant seat exception places children in danger. The infant aboard yesterday’s flight thankfully appeared unharmed, but the next infant may not be so lucky. Parents need to know this truth so they can protect their children. Children on planes should be properly restrained during takeoffs, landings and turbulence, just like every other passenger.
David Rapoport represents those injured in aviation accidents nationwide from his office in Chicago.
David Rapoport is the founding and managing partner of Rapoport Law Offices. In his over 31 years as a full time trial attorney, he has won numerous multi-million dollar jury verdicts and settlements in personal injury and wrongful death cases. Mr. Rapoport is a member of the invitation only American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA), an association of premier trial attorneys who are dedicated to preserving the right to trial by jury. ABOTA's general mission is "to foster improvement in the ethical and technical standards of practice in the field of advocacy to the end that individual litigants may receive more effective representation and the general public be benefited by more efficient administration of justice consistent with time-tested and traditional principles of litigation." For over 20 years Martindale-Hubbell, through its Peer Review RatingsTM program, has consistently ranked David Rapoport as AV® PreeminentTM, its highest professional rating. This is a testament to Mr. Rapoport's abilities as an attorney and commitment to maintaining the highest ethical standards. Mr. Rapoport has also been selected by Thompson Reuters, another prominent legal publisher, as an Illinois “Super Lawyer” every year since the inception of the Super Lawyer program. Super Lawyer designation is limited to the top 5 percent of lawyers in a state in any given year. Since 1990, David Rapoport has been board certified* in Civil Trial Advocacy by the National Board of Trial Advocacy ("NBTA"), the oldest and largest not-for-profit American Bar Association accredited trial attorney certification program. Attorneys with NBTA certification have proven ability in their field through specialized written examinations and meeting rigorous criteria for trial experience and ethical ratings. Mr. Rapoport has proven his currency and substantial trial experience through NBTA recertification in 1995, 2000, 2005 and 2010. David Rapoport has served as a leader of the movement to encourage board certification for trial lawyers for more than twenty years. Currently he is the President of the National Board of Trial Advocacy and its parent organization the National Board of Legal Specialty Certification. He recently explained: "In this era of Wild West style minimally regulated lawyer advertising, it has never been more important for the public to have easy and reliable means of identifying members of the small fraction of practicing attorneys who truly have substantial experience trying cases. Board certification programs help consumers of legal services make more informed choices. Too many lawyers are out there claiming to have substantial trial experience when in truth they have never tried a case. Board certified trial lawyers have proven their substantial trial experience in ways the public can trust." Mr. Rapoport is a member of the President's Club and Leader's Forum of the American Association for Justice and the state trial lawyer associations in Illinois, Wisconsin and Kentucky. He is also a member of the Economic Club of Chicago. * Board certification is not required to practice law in Illinois and the Illinois Supreme Court does not recognize specialties in the practice of law.