7 February 2000

Ban kids from flying?

by Kate Melville

If you're not a parent and you get stuck next to a bawling brat then vote YES.

One of a frequent flyer's nightmares, particularly of those who are not parents, is being stuck next to or near a crying child on a long flight (although it may be worse to be similarly located near a crying adult).

Having one of these terror flights is not just bad luck, especially when you realise that more than 5.5 million children aged two or less were aboard aircraft in the last year! Anyway this writer believes that airlines should either have special children's flights or have them fly with the animals in the cargo hold!

Airlines seem to look at children's safety as coming a very distant second to that of adults. We endure safety lectures at the start of each flight that exhort us to carefully fasten our seatbelt and identify emergency exits. Children on the other hand can't understand the safety briefing and are allowed to fly seated on an adult's lap either restrained with a supplementary belt (attached to the adult's belt), or in some cases to be seated totally unrestrained. If this were a child traveling in a motor vehicle such a low level of restraint would almost certainly be illegal. "It is time to get children off laps. End of story." said Roger Hardy, Director of the Cranfield Impact Centre in the UK.

Children seated on an adult lap are very vulnerable in an accident. Upon impact the child is pushed into the rear of the sat immediately in front (and generally the tray table) while at the same time being crushed by the weight of the adult from behind. If on the other hand the child is unrestrained they are hurled forward like a projectile until they hit something, a very dangerous state of affairs for both the child and other passengers in their path.

Some airlines do require a special safety seat be used by children but this is only on a minority of carriers who are non-US based. Personally I would have thought America's litigation hysteria would have motivated a much more proactive approach to child safety on airplanes, although when you see the madness of how much hand luggage is allowed onto US carriers you begin to wonder.

However, at the Federal Aviation Authority, Jane Garvey, a senior official declared, "We are committed to mandating child restraint systems in aircraft to provide equal protection for adults and children. The heart and soul of our mission at the FAA is safety, for young and old alike." So while the FAA are making all the right noises there still exists a situation where the safety of children on aircraft is severely compromised.

So unless my plan to ban children from the skies takes off, then I think some researchers out there should invent a better system to protect children on airplanes. The Impact Centre has done a study for the European Commission, which is developing new guidelines for this area. One simple suggestion they made was that existing manufacturers of child safety restraints have their devices approved for both car and aircraft use. This sounds very simple but you can bank on it taking many years to come up with a standard and then having it implemented.