January 18, 2010

Babies on the Plane

Flying has kept me super-busy lately, but in between my trips I had the pleasure of participating in the third episode of the Crew Lounge Podcast, which is a talk-show type panel of flight attendants talking about current issues in the airline industry & taking questions from the cabin. TCL is run by Bobby of Up, Up and a Gay and Sara Keagle of the Flying Pinto blog. This week's episode included Sky High Boy and Jen.

If you haven't already checked out the first episodes of TCL, go do it, I am sure you will love it. (But not until you've read this post first ;)

One of the topics that came up during our disccussion was the use (or non-use, as the case may be) of a device called an infant extension seat belt.

Basically, this is a seatbelt designed to be used by lap-held children up to the age of 2 when travelling in aircraft. This device is known as an 'infant/extension seatbelt' in Australia as it is a combination seatbelt- it can be used both as an extender for larger passengers, or to restrain a lap-held infant in flight.

The infant seatbelt is described as follows:

A device known as a “supplementary loop belt” provides an additional seat belt with stitched loops through which the adult seat belt is passed. The adult belt is fastened around the adult, and the additional belt is then separately fastened around the infant.

A picture will probably give you a better idea of what it looks like. (I have had some difficulty finding a photo, and the ones I have were lost in a computer crash last year). Once combined with the adult seatbelt, it forms a figure-8 like shape.

This seatbelt must be used for take-off, landing and in turbulence, or whenever the seatbelt sign is illuminated. Here is a baby in the seatbelt. Feeding & nursing can still take place when using this type of seatbelt.

Now here's where the confusion for travelling parents comes in. Different aviation authorities in various countries each have their own views on the use of these infant seatbelts. During the latest Crew Lounge podcast, it was discussed that these seatbelts are not mandated for use in the US or Canada. The view of the FAA is that having a child held on the lap by the parent is the safest method.

Picture showing the recommended brace position for parents with nursed infants:

However, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority of Australia holds the opinion that using the infant seatbelt provides the most protection in the event of sudden stoppage (e.g. the loads experienced during aborted takeoff) or in turbulence. However, they do make note of the fact that infant seatbelts provide limited protection in a crash compared to a child seat, and go on to say that a car seat or child restraint (such as the CARES child harness) is the best possible means of restraining a child or baby in-flight.
(From Civil Aviation Advisory Publication 235-2(1))

Where the trouble occurs is when families take multiple flights through countries having jurisdiction of varying agencies. For example, you might fly a US-based carrier to Sydney, then take a domestic Australian airline to Darwin. On the first leg of your journey, holding the baby on your lap (without any type of restraint or seatbelt) is acceptable and complies with the laws of the US. However, travelling from Sydney to Darwin, you would find that you would be required to make use of the infant seatbelt. This is mandated by the Civil Aviation Regulations and is not a negotiable option or choice for parents.

Generally, the laws of the country of registration of the aircraft you are flying in apply. I think this is where our flying family (mentioned in the Questions From the Cabin on Crew Lounge podcast #3) ran into problems. If you're unsure which rules apply to your flight, be sure to check with the airline/s concerned well before your flight. Even if a car seat/harness is allowed by law, the cabin crew still have the final say onboard the aircraft. If there is any doubt as to the integrity or safety of your device, you may be asked not to use it.

If you do want to play it safe and take a car seat, be aware that not all airlines allow car seats or child restraint systems. Check with your airline and also ensure what is included in your baggage allowance should you be required to check the car seat in.

For quick reference, I have compiled a list of Australian airlines and which allow the use of car seats. Again, be sure to mention your car seat when booking and check if your specific seat model is allowed by that airline.

Tiger Airways NO
Virgin/Pacific Blue NO
Qantas YES
Jetstar YES
Skywest YES

If you have any questions about car seats, travelling with babies & children, or anything else about flying- feel free to leave a comment or chase me up on Twitter!


  1. Hehehe somehow the title reminded me of snakes on a plane! LOL! lame i know...
    the picture of the sleeping baby is so cute! haha!

  2. Cute baby, TT!

    I have one for you...

    Whenever I fly internationally, it's almost always for work and in business class. Inevitably there's someone in there with a baby these days. Now I don't get too worked up about it, (as I am now expert at squishing those earplugs deep into my ear) but I have seen some people get most indignant.

    So my question is, do cabin crew get secretly amused when Mr Important in business class is inconvenienced by having a crying baby sitting in front of him all the way to London?

  3. @SHB- I was kind of thinking of that when I titled this post, just trying to be funny I guess!

    @Abe Now it would be unprofessional of me to find amusement in another's misfortune, but if said passenger has been treating others rudely, I consider a crying baby to be a form of 'traveller's karma' ;)

  4. Thanks for answering my question re the seatbelt. Just to clear up; we didn't ignore the BA staff on a Syd-Lon flight. I was asleep, the baby was strapped into a bassinet with a belt over her waist, sleeping. Whilst we were sleeping, the seatbelt sign went on for turbulance. We were unaware, as both adults were aslee. We did not ignore any request. On a short stopover in Bangkok, our names were put over the loud speaker to please wait and not disembark. After most passengers had then disembarked, we were called to a gally area where the Chief Steward told us we had repeatedly ignored requests to wake the baby and strap her in a seatbelt. As I said, we were asleep and ignored nothing. The crew that were coming on to the new flight had been "warned" about us and we were told that we were on alert and police would be waiting at Heathrow should we ignore any further orders.
    Thank you also for clearing it up re the difference that it is not used in the US, nor with US carriers. We fly from Europe to the US often and it is frustrating that one airline threatens arrest over these seatbelts and others will not provide them for safety reasons.
    We have never flown BA since that incident.

  5. Thanks for giving us your side of the story Carina. It was a bit difficult to know the full circumstances due to the nature of the Twitter messages, however things happening as you describe seem a bit excessive. Generally if parents have fallen asleep without the baby seatbelt on, I would wake them up to let them know the s/b sign has come on. Of course, if the crew were told to sit down immediately, it would be impossible to do so.

    Experiencing something like this certainly affects our choices when we fly, now that you know of the requirements I'm sure you will find the travel experience far less confusing and more enjoyable for both you and your little one. Have you tried to contact BA re: what happened? While the crew were only doing what they thought was right it could have been handled in a better way. Perhaps the company is unaware of how these rules are being 'enforced'?

    If you have any other questions about travelling with your baby, don't hesitate to get in touch.

    Happy travels!

  6. Wow! So, these airlines will NOT let you use a car seat on an airplane?! I don't get it. Why? Do they think it's safer to fly with a lap child than with a restraint?

  7. Hi Colleen, I believe the issue with car seats on low cost airlines is that to keep the fares low, they try to have a minimal amount of 'intervention' required by cabin & ground staff. To have the time to install car seats properly, would require longer turnaround times at the airport and therefore incur higher handling costs.

    The traditional "full service" airlines have longer times on the ground so usually allow them on board. Having said that, airlines such as Virgin & Tiger do take car seats, just as checked in hold luggage rather than in-cabin.

  8. Hi Amelia, I love this post (can't beleive I haven't seen it earlier)! I've put a link to it on our 'Travel Toddler' blog, as we are often asked about the loop belt. Hope thats OK. Regards, Donna

  9. Sure thing Donna, glad you found it useful!


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