Seating the littlest travelers on grown-ups’ laps during take-offs, landings, and turbulence is the norm on airlines these days, but further investigation into a 2009 Montana crash of a 10-seater Pilatus PC-12 that killed 14 people has prompted the National Transportation Safety Board to suggest that the Federal Aviation Administration require all flyers – no matter how young – to buckle up in their own seats.
This is hardly a new issue. In the last 20 years, the FAA has repeatedly rejected this recommendation, but the NTSB says that the investigation of the Montana crash is more proof that it’s just not safe for anyone to fly without a seat. In the crash, investigators said, four of the seven children on board were thrown far from the plane, which indicates that they weren’t buckled in properly.
Nonetheless, the FAA has no plans to change its procedures, and the logic is at least partially based in economics. More families will choose to drive rather than pay for an extra seat, the FAA reasons, and the highways are significantly more dangerous than the skies. Case in point: In 2004, 43,000 people died on U.S. highways, but only 13 were killed on commercial flights.
Beyond economics, the biggest problem with this revived recommendation seems to be that the Montana crash doesn’t mirror the flying masses’ average experiences. In this crash, the small plane was a private jet with just one pilot on board, there were only nine seats for the 13 passengers (eight in the cabin and one in the cockpit), and the children whose bodies were found far from the plane were all older than 2. These are all factors that flight attendants and pilots might monitor more carefully on a major commercial jet.
Of course, that doesn’t mean flyers should toy with fate, that the FAA should let them, or that even the smallest risks should be taken in the air. But with airfare escalating and à la carte fees on the rise, it’s understandably tempting for parents to hedge their bets and wonder if the miniscule chance of a survivable crash is worth a few hundred bucks.
Parents, families, what’s your take? Should the FAA demand that toddlers and infants have their own seats? Will you start purchasing an extra ticket regardless of federal regulations?