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For safety, buy your baby an airplane seat

Consumer Reports News: June 20, 2011 02:08 PM

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With the summer travel season about to kick into high gear, you may want to think about how you’ll keep your child safe during airplane flights.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has launched a year-long Child and Youth Transportation Safety Initiative to raise awareness of the best way to transport children, whether in cars, airplanes or boats.

For airplane travel, the NTSB recommends that all children be in their own airplane seat, with their own Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-approved child safety restraint system. FAA requires only that children over the age of two fly in their own seat with FAA-approved restraints, but the NTSB recommends that children two and under also fly in a seat with an FAA-approved restraint system. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) makes the same recommendation.

Be aware that not all car seats meet FAA standards. Those seats that meet the standard for use on airplanes will have an FAA-approved sticker.

The issue has as much to with preventing injuries as with potentially reducing fatalities in the event of a crash.

During turbulence, take off and landing, or abrupt changes in altitude during the flight, small children need to be in a child safety seat that is buckled to their own airplane seat, said Stephanie Davis, safety advocate in the office of communications at the NTSB.

Still, given that the expense of buying that extra airplane seat may discourage parents from flying, choosing to take a long car trip instead, which statistically carries more risk?

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2009 there were 1.13 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. That same year, according to the NTSB, there were 52 fatalities on U.S. air carriers, and only 30 accidents. Some researchers have suggested that if parents of children 2 and under were required to buy seats for those children, more of those parents would choose to save money by driving long distances, exposing their children to greater risk of injury.

The idea that parents would shun air travel in favor of car travel, known as the “diversion” argument by researchers, is acknowledged by the NTSB. “But we don’t feel it’s a reasonable excuse,” Davis said.

See our buying advice and Ratings for car seats.

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Merri Rosenberg

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