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I flew with my daughter as a lap child on a short flight once, in part to save some money/points, and in part just as an experiment of sorts to see what it was like. I knew she did best in her own seat, and I knew we appreciated having the extra space that came with having her seat, but I’ll admit that at first hesitations to have her fly as a lap infant were for logistical reasons, not safety reasons.
However, after the one experience I had with a lap infant I wrote:
“I stayed awake and kept a death-grip on her as I was afraid the whole time that we would hit some sort of turbulence and she would go flying.”
We ended up with the seat next to us open, but since I hadn’t flown with her car seat, and she was still too young for the seat belt to do much good, I just had to hold her tight. I was scared that even moderate turbulence would send her flying if I wasn’t holding on. If severe turbulence hit, then I wasn’t sure a decent grip would even be enough. Of course I knew that statistically most flights are 100% safe even from serious turbulence, but that didn’t make me feel much better when it was my little girl that was flying through the skies unrestrained.
I only flew with her that one day as a lap infant, and was thankful when she turned two and the temptation to fly with her in our lap to save money or miles was taken away. I always wondered when I would hear stories of flights that had injuries due to serious turbulence how often it was a lap infant that was impacted as they have to be some of the most vulnerable on the plane, next to the flight attendants.
Today I again read a story about a United flight from Denver to Billings, Montana, that hit severe turbulence and had three crew members and two passengers injured as a result. The article indicates that a passenger “saw a baby propelled out of the parent’s arms and landed in a seat nearby, but the infant didn’t appear to be hurt.”
I’m glad to hear that the baby didn’t appear to be hurt, and I am just guessing it was a lap infant that was propelled. I don’t live in a world operated by fear, but this is exactly why lap infants in particular scare me. It is very difficult to keep a good grip on a lap infant for the duration of the flight, and while you can put your baby in a pouch or carrier, you technically cannot have them in anything on take-off and landing due to FAA regulations. I have seen this interpreted differently by different flight crews, but essentially if you choose to fly with a lap child, then they will be unrestrained other than by your arms for at least part of the flight.
Odds are any given flight will be just fine, and if traveling with a lap infant is the only way your family can afford to get where you need to be, there certainly won’t be any judgement from me. I will just suggest having a car seat available in the event there is an open seat available you can use for free on the flight (gate check the car seat if there isn’t an available seat), and do pay attention to what is going on so that you can get a better hold on your lap infant in the event you do experience turbulence. Not all drops can be predicted in advance, but sometimes you do have a head’s up that turbulence is coming. You can also consider a BabyBjorn or similar that will at least have the baby strapped to you, just keep in mind you won’t be able use it during portions of the flight per FAA rules.